Timeline: Major Islamic Extremist Attacks
A former secretary of the Navy and member of the 9/11 Commission identifies the real enemy in the current war and assesses progress.
Are we winning the war? The first question to ask is what war? The administration of President George W. Bush continues to befuddle a national understanding of the war we are in by continuing to call it "the war on terror." This political correctness presumably seeks to avoid hurting the feelings of the Saudis and other Muslims, but it comes at a high cost. One reason the 9/11 Commission has had such an impact is that its language and logic are simple, clear and free of cant. The investigation established that we are at war with an ideologically extreme Islamist worldwide movement. Some have even called it World War III. The enemy has adopted terrorism as one of a number of weapons that have proved very effective against the United States. We are not at war against terror any more than World War II was a war against kamikazes.
We are at war with Islamic jihadists motivated by a violent ideology based on an extremist interpretation of the Muslim religion. This enemy is decentralized and geographically dispersed around the world. Its organizations range from a fully functioning state-Iran, for example-to small groups of individuals in U.S. cities.
By speaking in riddles, the administration has confused the American people, Congress, and apparently itself. The 9/11 Commission laid out thoroughly and indisputably what happened in the attacks on 11 September 2001, how they were organized and executed, and who was responsible. The answer established by the commission was that Islamic jihadists were responsible, as they had been for an increasing number of violent attacks against Americans and many other non-Islamists over the previous 30 years.
The commission report contained a concise historical tracing of the roots and rise of Islamic jihadism and identified this worldwide militant religious ideology as the core enemy the United States must defeat. With no interference from the United States over three decades, this violent movement has become global, well-funded, and technologically advanced. The investigation identified Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran as the principal sources of funding not only for the jihadists themselves, but for the schools, mosques, and madrassas throughout the Muslim world that are the proselytizers and recruiters of Islamic jihadists. To confront these realities, we must fight the war on three fronts.
The Home Front
The Bush administration deserves much credit for the fact that despite determined efforts to carry them out, no Islamist attacks have been successful within the United States since 9/11. This is a significant achievement, but there are growing dangers and continuing vulnerabilities.
The 9/11 Commission report described a government woefully unprepared to deal with Islamist attacks. One of the most deep-seated of these problems is the U.S. government's tendency to treat this war as a law enforcement issue. Each of the last four presidents has publicly reacted to Islamist attacks by saying "we will bring these criminals to justice."
Thus, after the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, $80 million and five years went into prosecuting the "Blind Sheik" and his accomplices, a group we now know was the core of al Qaeda. All the valuable intelligence gathered in that investigation was put under seal and withheld from everyone outside the judicial process, including the President and the CIA director, in order not to jeopardize the legal case. It was, however, provided to the Blind Sheik's attorneys and was promptly transmitted to al Qaeda in Sudan. Osama bin Laden thus had the FBI's intelligence three years before CIA Director George Tenet was allowed to see it. This is the process the American Civil Liberties Union and many in Congress wish to apply to captured terrorists in the future.
Our report catalogued in depressing detail the FBI's total focus on law enforcement and how that mentality led to failure after failure in connecting the dots prior to 9/11. If evidence-Arab males taking flight lessons in suspicious circumstances for one-was insufficient to take to a grand jury, then it was ignored.
Following a commission recommendation, Congress sought to remedy this by creating a national security service within the FBI to focus on preventive intelligence rather than forensic evidence. This has proved to be a complete failure. As late as June 2006, Mark Mershon, an assistant director of the FBI, testified that the bureau will not monitor or surveille any Islamist unless there is a "criminal predicate." Thus, the large Islamist support infrastructure the commission identified here in the United States is free to operate until it actually commits a crime. Our attempt to reform the FBI has failed. What is needed now is a separate domestic intelligence service without police powers such as the British MI-5.
The 9/11 Commission catalogued in detail how our intelligence establishment simply does not function. We made priority recommendations to rebuild the 15 bloated and failed intelligence bureaucracies by creating a strong national intelligence director to smash bureaucratic layers, tear down the walls preventing intelligence-sharing among the agencies, and rewrite personnel policy to bring in new blood, not only from the career bureaucracy, but also from the private sector. The Bush administration completely rejected this approach, deciding instead to leave this sprawling mess untouched and to create yet another bureaucracy of more than 1,000 people in the office of the Director of National Intelligence and to recruit only career people from the failed intelligence agencies-the exact opposite of what we had recommended.
The greatest terrorist threat to the home front is, of course, the use of weapons of mass destruction by Islamists. Here the President has moved to establish a national counter-proliferation center to share and act on intelligence, and he has recently initiated an agreement with Russia and our allies to cooperate in preventing nuclear materials from getting into the hands of the Islamists and to undertake joint crisis management if such an attack takes place. These are real accomplishments.
The commission made dozens of additional recommendations for urgent action-on emergency preparedness, transportation security, border security, immigration reform, and congressional reform. Very little has been done on any of these, and much of the blame must lie with Congress. While all of these universally acknowledged vulnerabilities remain unfixed, Congress continues to dither. And while the Islamists gouge out the eyes and cut off the genitals of living American prisoners, Congress intends to spend the rest of this year seeking to pass legislation to see that when captured, such Islamists are afforded full rights under the Geneva Convention, which even the convention itself explicitly denies to terrorists not wearing uniforms.
The Operational Front
Our objectives are to destroy the capability of Islamist organizations to attack us, and to deny them geographic sanctuaries to recruit, train, and operate. The post-9/11 threat demanded preemptive attack against Islamist bases, and this was done without delay in the invasion of Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda and remove the Taliban government that was its ally and supporter. It was a brilliantly executed operation in which all of our armed forces and CIA operatives combined in a ruthlessly efficient victory. While Osama bin Laden escaped, al Qaeda was destroyed as a meaningful military force, and the Taliban was defeated and dispersed with a democratic government taking its place.
The skill and effectiveness of our military capabilities gratified our friends and awed our enemies. In the succeeding years, however, the Taliban and al Qaeda have been able to regroup, rebuild, and re-attack because they enjoy a secure sanctuary largely free from attack within the border areas of Pakistan. Despite continuing strong support and active participation by our NATO allies, the level of violence appears to be increasing, and developments outside the major cities are disturbing.
The next military operation of the war was of course the invasion of Iraq. Here again, the combined military operations of the United States and Britain were brilliantly successful in defeating Iraqi forces and removing Saddam and his regime. But in the aftermath of this victory, grave blunders were made in totally misunderstanding the requirements for successful occupation.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was proved right in keeping the initial invasion force small and agile, but desperately wrong in disbanding all Iraqi security forces and steadfastly refusing to send the additional U.S. Army divisions needed to replace them. Certainly it is hard to understand now the logic of that decision. In the long bloody insurgency that has been the consequence of that blunder, U.S. and British military forces continue to perform extremely well and continue to maintain remarkably high morale and professionalism.
Recent allegations of soldiers raping and murdering civilians are of course serious, and justice must be pursued. Nevertheless, even if they are proved correct such incidents have been very rare and through history have been an inevitable consequence of sustained warfare. In World War II, U.S. forces executed more than 300 of the Greatest Generation for crimes and depredations against civilians. We cannot expect the Army and Marine Corps to continue to maintain the highest standards for acceptance that have been the hallmark of the peacetime all-volunteer force. They must lower the standards to continue to meet requirements. The alternative of a draft would produce an even lower standard of people. The difference between World War II and today is that the media did not publicize those crimes in World War II, because such publicity obviously gave aid, comfort, and encouragement to the enemy, which such publicity is clearly doing today.
Another very unfortunate consequence of this continuing insurgency is that it has effectively suspended reform of Pentagon procurement. Secretary Rumsfeld announced a set of reform initiatives before 9/11 that were urgently needed to stop the astronomical escalation of the costs of goods and services in the Pentagon. Costs for ships, aircraft, and weapon systems in all of the services have spiraled out of control in a virulent form of unilateral disarmament. Unfortunately, after 9/11 the total focus of the Pentagon came to be on fighting the war, and essentially none of the proposed reforms have been accomplished. As a consequence, a military occupation in Iraq that is quite small compared to, say, Vietnam or Korea is consuming the entire defense budget and stretching the Army to its operational limits. This is understood quite clearly by both our friends and our enemies, and as a result our ability to deter enemies around the world is disintegrating. Diplomacy is the shadow cast by military power, and our diplomacy is fast becoming ineffective.
The Strategic/Political Front
The jihadist regime in Iran now feels no reservation about flaunting its policy to go nuclear and has unleashed Hezbollah, its client terrorist organization, to attack Israel. In Somalia, a jihadist group has seized control of the government. In Pakistan, Islamists are becoming more powerful, and attacks within India are increasing. Governments in Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, Algeria, and Jordan are under increasing Islamist pressure. In the Pacific, North Korea now feels free to rattle its missile sabers, firing seven on American Independence Day. China is rapidly building its 600-ship navy to fill the military vacuum we are creating in the Pacific, as our Fleet shrinks well below critical mass. Not one of these states believes we could credibly undertake any additional military operations while we are bogged down in Iraq.
Another strategic objective is to "drain the swamp," again in Secretary Rumsfeld's words, by choking off the political and financial support that has built and sustained the jihadist forces around the world. We must motivate the broadest possible coalition of friends and allies to act in concert against this movement, and to deter states and organizations sympathetic to the jihadists' cause from providing support to them.
The commission urged measures to cut off the flow of resources and support to the jihadist movement, closely associated with the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the Shiite fundamentalism espoused by the Iranian regime. The indoctrination and recruiting of jihadists from Indonesia, South Asia, and the Middle East is done through religious establishments supported overwhelmingly by Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Even in the United States some 80% of Islamic mosques and schools are closely aligned with the Wahhabist sect and heavily dependent on Saudi funding. Five years after 9/11 nothing has been done to materially affect this root source of jihadism. The movement continues to grow, fueled with an ever-increasing flow of petrodollars from the Persian Gulf. There is no evidence that the administration has ever even raised this with the Saudi government as a high-level issue, and just as damaging, it has never acknowledged it as an issue to the American people. Thus, Secretary Rumsfeld's question-are we killing, capturing, or deterring jihadists faster than they are being produced?-must be answered with an emphatic no.
In reviewing progress on this war-including the foiled August plot to explode bombs on airliners bound from Britain to the United States-even the most sanguine optimist cannot yet conclude we are winning. And we cannot win without some significant changes in policy.
Secretary of the Navy Lehman served in the Reagan administration and was a member of the 9/11 Commission.
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Major Islamic Extremist Attacks
Palestinian Black September terrorists seize Israeli athletes at the Olympics in Munich, Germany. In a botched rescue attempt, nine hostages and five terrorists are killed.
66 Americans taken hostage from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, by radical Iranian students.
An Islamic Jihad car bomb at U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, kills 63—including 17 Americans—and injures 120.
Islamic Jihad suicide bombers attack the U.S. Marine barracks (241 killed) and the French military barracks (50 killed) in Beirut.
Iranian Shiite suicide bombers attack U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait City, killing 5 and injuring 86.
Hezbollah attacks restaurant near a U.S. Air Force base in Torrejon, Spain, killing 18 U.S. servicemen and injuring 83.
Islamic Jihad detonates van full of explosives at a U.S. embassy annex in Aukar, Lebanon, killing two U.S. servicemen and injuring 20 Americans, including U.S. ambassador Reginald Bartholomew. Visiting British Ambassador David Miers also sustains injuries.
Bomb claimed by various Islamic groups kills 18 and injures 82, including 15 Americans, at a Madrid, Spain, restaurant.
Lebanese Hezbollah gunmen seize TWA Flight 847 and force it to land in Beirut and later Algiers. Navy Petty Officer Robert Stetham is killed, and his body is thrown onto the tarmac. Hostages are released in Damascus, Syria, after 17 days.
Palestinian Liberation Front terrorists take more than 700 hostages on board the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro.
Marine Lieutenant Colonel William Higgins kidnapped and murdered by Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.
Bomb planted by Libyans on PanAm Flight 103 explodes over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 259, including 189 Americans.
Followers of Egyptian cleric Umar Abd al-Rahman detonate a bomb under the World Trade Center in New York City, killing 6 and injuring more than 1,000.
Unidentified gunmen fire on a U.S. consulate van in Karachi, Pakistan, killing two U.S. diplomats, Jacqueline Keys Van Landingham and Gary C. Durell, and injuring a third, Mark McCloy.
An Islamic Movement of Change car bomb at the U.S. military headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, kills seven people, including five Americans, and injures 60.
A fuel truck bomb kills 19 U.S. Air Force personnel and injures more than 500 Americans and Saudis at the Khobar Towers housing complex near Dharan, Saudi Arabia. Several groups claim responsibility.
A car bomb kills 247, including 12 Americans, at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, and another 10 are killed at the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. More than 5,000 are injured. Authorities suspect Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.
Suicide bombers attack the USS Cole (DDG-67) in the port of Aden, Yemen, killing 17 Sailors and injuring more than 30. Authorities suspect Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.
Muslim Abu Sayaf guerrillas capture 16, including three Americans, on Palawan Island, the Philippines. One American is beheaded and two are in captivity for a year.
Al Qaeda-hijacked aircraft are crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people are killed in the attacks.
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is kidnapped and killed by Islamic militants in Karachi, Pakistan.
A suspected al Qaeda and al Qanin car bomb kills 11 and injures 51 near the U.S. consulate and Marriott Hotel in Karachi, Pakistan.
Al Qaeda claims responsibility for a car bomb explosion outside the Sari Club discotheque in Bali that kills 187 and injures 300.
Al Qaeda suicide bombers attack foreign worker compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing 35, including 10 Americans, and injuring more than 200.
A suspected Jemaah Islamiah car bomb kills 10 and injures nearly 150, including two Americans, at the Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Suspected al Qaeda bombings of the commuter train system in Madrid, Spain, kill 191 and injure more than 1,800.
Gunmen ambush and kill four U.S. civilian contractors in Fallujah, Iraq, drag their burned bodies through the streets, and hang them from a bridge over the Euphrates River. Brigades of Martyr Ahmed Yassim claim responsibility.
Purportedly in revenge for abuse of Iraqi prisoners, Nick Berg of Philadelphia is beheaded by Islamic militants on video.
Islamic militants behead hostage Paul Marshal Johnson, an American engineer for Lockheed Martin, in Saudi Arabia.
A coordinated bomb attack by Islamic extremists on the subway and bus system in London, England, kills 52 and injures 700.