Weekly Current Affairs

Fifteen years of the war on terror [Security]

  • On September 11, 2001, the U.S. saw the biggest attack on its homeland ever. The al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden launched coordinated attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. 2,753 people lost their lives that day.
  • The attacks gave birth to the U.S.’ war on terror, which initially focused on the alQaeda, and the Taliban that had sheltered bin laden in Afghanistan.
  • It has evolved into a long-drawn-out conflict with multiple battlefields, many allies and myriad enemies.
  • Fifteen years later, its initial enemies are but shadows of themselves. However, new enemies such as the Islamic State (IS) were spawned.
  • The 15 years also saw the rise of the home-grown terrorist, the biggest worry for security establishments.
  • It has been exacerbated by technology, which has helped terror organisations break down physical barriers such as borders by taking their ideology online.
  • The 9/11 attack, the jihadi ideology behind it and the wars that ensued also altered the political climate in many countries, leading to revolutions and coups. It also put millions adrift, creating a refugee population that the world has probably never seen before.
  • Over the last 15 years, recounting the key incidents:
    • October, 2001-present, Afghanistan
      • The U.S.-led invasion successfully forced the al-Qaeda leadership to flee to Pakistan. It also ousted Taliban from power.
      • Since the international combat troops pulled out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014, leaving behind only a largely training and advising contingent, insurgency had intensified.
      • Last month, President Barack Obama said that the U.S. had decided to keep a large number of American troops in Afghanistan wipe out the IS in the country.
    • Oct 2002, Indonesia
      • Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda affiliate, killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, in a bomb attack in Bali.
      • The episode of violence, on a scale of unprecedented proportions in South-East Asia since the 9/11 attack, firmly turned the spotlight on Indonesia.
    • March, 2003-present, Iraq
      • On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq.
      • The then President, George Bush, said that the military invasion was to bring that country, suffering from brutal dictatorship, to democratic governance.
      • Moreover, the United States took upon itself the task to wipe out weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had allegedly kept in his possession, which later turned out to be smoke with no fire.
      • The invasion led to a quagmire as the country descended into sectarian strife.
      • President Barack Obama pulled out the U.S. troops, leaving the country in the hands of a shaky government and nascent military.
      • The period of the U.S.-led invasion also saw the rise of Al Qaeda-backed extremists.
      • It also created the governance and security vacuum that was filled by the violent Islamic State, which announced a caliphate in northern Iraq and Syria.
      • In 2014, the IS seized control of Fallujah and Mosul, Iraqs second biggest city.
    • March 2004, Spain
      • Madrid train bombings by an al-Qaeda cell killed 192 people and injured around 2,000.
    • July 2005, U.K.
      • Coordinated suicide bomb attacks in central London killed 52 people and injured over 700.
      • 4 allegedly blew themselves up while carrying out what the police called Western Europe’s first terrorist attack involving a British “suicide” squad.
      • They were described as “clean-skins” men who did not appear on the “security radar” because they had no previous record of involvement in a terrorist activity.
    • 2006-present. The emergence of social media
      • Facebook and Twitter were open for public use. The year marked the start of a new way of communication. Social media and encryption become new tools for militant radicalisation.
      • Over the next decade, over 300 brutal beheadings and crucifixions were posted on the internet.
      • The IS, in particular, has been able to differentiate itself from other terror organisations, in terms of being tech-savvy.
      • IS has sought to portray itself as a way of life and has glamourised its movement as one seeking spiritual purity.
      • Thousands of educated Muslims, including women, have thus been inveigled into joining the IS.
    • 2007-present, North Africa
      • al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) began operations in Algeria, Mali and Mauritaniaa.
    • November 2008, India
      • Lashkar-e-Toiba and militants based in Pakistan carried out coordinated attacks across Mumbai, killing 164 people and wounding at least 308.
    • November 2008, India
      • Lashkar-e-Toiba and militants based in Pakistan carried out coordinated attacks across Mumbai, killing 164 people and wounding at least 308.
    • 2009-present, Yemen
      • The al-Qaeda groups in Yemen and Saudi Arabia merged and became the alQaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
      • There have been more than 250 U.S. drone strikes against the AQAP to date.
    • 2010, Arab Spring; 2012, Syrian civil war and how it lead to the formation of Islamic State
      • With an act of self-immolation, a 26-year-old fruit-seller in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia unleashed a year of turmoil that toppled at least three autocrats in a region once thought to be immune to democracy.
      • By the end of February 2012, rulers had been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.
      • In the same year, a major civil war in Syria erupted, pitting President Bashar al-Assads government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, against alliance of rebel groups supported by the West and Turkey.
      • After losing territories in Iraq and feeling the heat of American and Russian air strikes in Syria, the IS soon expanded its presence in civil war-stricken Libya. The country had no central authority and a military command.
      • Nearly 1.3 million refugees travelled across Mediterranean or through Southeast Europe to EU to seek asylum.
      • According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), more than 3,50,000 migrants and refugees have tried to cross the Mediterranean sea into Europe.
      • Almost 2,600 refugees have died in the Mediterranean Sea from January to August 2015 alone.
      • Most of them are from West Asia, particularly from the war-ravaged countries of Syria, Iraq and Libya; many are also from the disturbed areas of Africa.
      • Two pictures – of children at the receiving end of the barbarism – went viral on social media. The first one was an image of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, sitting alone in the back seat of an ambulance, with his face bloodied and covered with dust. The second on was that of a Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who had fled the civil war with his parents, found lying dead on a Turkish beach, provoking strong reactions from around the world.
    • May 2011, Pakistan
      • Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was killed in Pakistan in a Special Forces operation by the United States.
    • July, 2011, Norway
      • Anders Behring Breivik, a self-styled anti-Muslim militant, planted a bomb outside the Prime Minister’s office in Oslo which killed eight people.
      • Following that, dressed as a policemen he headed for Utoya Island where he killed another 69 persons, members of a youth camp organised by the Labour Party.
    • 2012, Somalia
      • Terror group Al Shabaab pledges allegiance to Al Qaeda. In 2015 , 148 people, mostly students, were mercilessly mowed down by the groups militants on the Garissa University campus in eastern Kenya, not far from the border with Somalia.
      • The UN-approved African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) which included military forces from Kenya, helped take on al-Shabaab in 2012, but the latter has since then again turned into a guerrilla group engaged in indiscriminate violence both within and outside Somalia.
    • April 2013, U.S.
      • Boston Marathon bombing killed three civilians and injured at least 264.
      • Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was sentenced to death by lethal injection for the bomb attack.
      • The incident brought the focus on homegrown terrorists and 8lone wolves.
    • April 2014, Nigeria
      • Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in Nigeria. The group later pledged its allegiance to IS.
    • 2014-present, Bangladesh
      • Bangladesh in recent times has seen a spate of attacks on secular and liberal thought.
      • Bloggers, journalists and students have been brutally hacked to death by fundamentalist elements in the country.
      • This thread of violence by radical Islamists runs from the most recent murder of an English professor at Rajshahi University.
    • January 7, 2015, France
      • Two gunmen attacked satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing 12 people.
      • The AQAP claimed responsibility for the attack.
      • Since 2006, when it first published the Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammed, Charlie Hebdo had been under threat of violent attacks by Islamist groups.
    • 2015-present, Turkey
      • Between July 2015 and June 2016, almost 200 people were killed in attacks. The biggest outrage, in October 2015, killed 103 people in capital Ankara.
    • January 7, 2016, U.S.
      • Five people killed in shooting attwo military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
      • U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said officials were treating the attacks as an act of domestic terrorism.
    • Mar 22, 2016, Belgium
      • Bombs exploded at the Brussels airport and one of the citys metro stations, killing 34 people and wounding dozens.
      • Claiming responsibility, the IS said its members detonated suicide vests both at the airport and in the subway.
    • June 12, 2016, U.S.
      • In the worst mass shooting incident in the U.S., at least 50 people were killed and 53 injured by a gunman at a night club in Orlando, Florida.
      • The shooter, Omar Mateen, an American citizen of Afghan origin, was killed in the police operation that followed.
    • July 14, 2016, France
      • An attacker killed up to 80 people and injured scores after he drove a heavy truck at high speed into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in the French Riviera city of Nice.
      • The attack, which came eight months and a day after IS gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in Paris, appeared to be a work of a lone assailant.
      • The incident brought the focus back on 9lone wolf attacks.
  • The first is the tactical question of how to deal with the “lone wolf”, the solitary potential terrorist motivated by everything from bigotry and mental illness to a genuine belief in the ultra-violent, nihilistic philosophy of the IS.
  • Secondly, a question that countries such as France must ask themselves is a strategic one. For instance, how could the French leadership do more to re-examine the roots of the social alienation and economic misery that engulf so many among its almost five million Muslims and leave them vulnerable to radicalisation?