Grand Strategy in the War against Terrorism

By Thomas R.Mockaitis; Paul B.Rich | Go to book overview

Warfare by Other Means: Special Forces, Terrorism and Grand Strategy

ALASTAIR FINLAN

The terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 have generated a new strategic environment for the US and its coalition partners in which the bulk of their conventional forces appear asymmetric. The nature of the new war (transnational and focused against an elusive network of terrorists) has forced these nations to wage warfare by other means or in other words turn to Special Forces (SF). These units are the logical military response to the threat posed by Al Qaeda in view of their expertise in unconventional warfare and traditional anti-terrorist role. The employment of SF in Afghanistan in concert with air power and indigenous forces has proved to be highly successful and ultimately created the conditions for the formation of the Afghan Interim Government on 22 December 2001.

The events of 11 September 2001 have etched an indelible mark on global society. Who will forget the Dantean imagery of the 'Twin Towers' of the World Trade Center wreathed in smoke or for that matter, the burning Pentagon? Incredible scenes to those of the modern age but not so surprising perhaps to a survivor of the Blitz, Dresden, Stalingrad or Tokyo. 1 War touched America in 2001 but not in the form that is universally recognised. No hostile warplanes appeared over the targets, and the enemy did not manifest itself nor openly claim the strike. Instead hijacked civil airliners with military precision and timing flew calmly into each tower under the horrified gaze of millions, if not billions of people watching televisions, surfing the Internet or actually standing in the streets of Manhattan. Just under 3,000 people died in the collapsing buildings, not soldiers but instead office workers, businessmen, stockbrokers and the extraordinary firemen and police who rushed to their assistance.

This unique form of attack has been labelled 'terrorism' 2 as it was initiated not by another state but by a non-state entity that the US has identified as the Al Qaeda network led by the infamous Osama bin Laden. 3 To a significant extent, the suicidal assault on the US falls into Christopher Harmon's fifth category of terrorist strategies that encompasses violent acts carried out 'for international effect'. 4

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