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US National Strategy for Counterterrorism


US National Strategy for Counterterrorism outlines the gains of the United States in the last decade in the war against terrorism after the September 11 attack. By building on the gains, the strategy describes the threat of terrorism to America, the location of the threat, the measure to be used against the threat, and the objectives of counterterrorism strategies. The paper reviews the US National Strategy for Counterterrorism by providing its summary. Subsequently, it presents an assessment of the strategy including practical criticism for its application in different parts of the world. The National Strategy for Counterterrorism is a strong document for managing terrorist activities within and without the U.S.

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The 11th September 2001 attack is the epitome for terrorist attacks against the United States. Since that time, the United States has redesigned and improved its war strategies against terrorist activity. The country has strengthened its defense and lobbied the international community against such attacks. With international backing, the United States has brought the war against terror to the backyard of the terrorist organizations, mainly Al-Qaida. Due to the war, the American forces have successfully eliminated most of the top leaders of the terrorist organization including Osama Bin Laden. Nonetheless, terror attacks against the United States are always looming. More often than not, the country needs to be more prepared for any attack. Terrorists are adapting and changing the patterns of their attacks. It is, therefore, suitable to develop better and more adaptable countermeasures in anticipation of these threats. The paper reviews the U.S National Strategy for Counterterrorism.

The National Strategy for Counterterrorism outlines measures from top national security organizations to disrupt, disintegrate, and defeat Al-Qaida as well as the other terror groups it partners with. The counterterrorism strategy aims at protecting the American citizens and the countrys interests. In the strategy, there are tools employed by the government to fight terror activities. The strategy incorporates earlier strategies and is more focused and specific. The counterterrorism strategy specifies that the U.S is at war with Al-Qaida. The strategy is a multidepartmental and multinational plan that extends from conventional intelligence, military, and policing agencies. It is integrated within the military and civilian values of the American power. The interplay of these factors is meant to exclusively defeat Al-Qaida that is the main terror threat. However, broader measures are also employed to solve the terror problems within the strategy. These include diplomacy, strategic communication, and private sector empowerment. Further, the strategy is backed by laws and values to empower counterterror personnel. It also includes resource support. The strategy outlines its goals, areas of focus, terrorist threat, and countermeasures.

Overview of the US National Strategy for Counterterrorism

The US National Strategy for Counterterrorism includes the sources of terror threats, location, goals of the strategy, and suitable action items within the implementation regions. The strategy is summarized below:

The Terror Threat Faced in America

The National Strategy outlines terrorist attacks as the threats from Al-Qaida as well as its affiliates and adherents. The affiliates of Al-Qaida are groups whose activities are aligned to those of Al-Qaida. On the other hand, adherents are individual with links to Al-Qa ida who act on its behalf and promote its activities or ideologies. Al-Qaida was formed by Osama Bin Laden and has held an ideology of promoting violence against the United States, its citizens, and interests. The strategy acknowledges that even though Al-Qaidas founder is dead, its existence and activities are still alive.

The Goals of Counterterrorism Strategy

The goals of the counterterrorism strategy can be outlined as:

  • To protect the citizens of America, the countrys homeland and interests;
  • To create a disruption among Al-Qaida to ensure it is defeated and dismantled with its affiliates and adherents;
  • To prevent the acquisition and the use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists;
  • To eliminate the spatial extent in which Al-Qaida can operate.

Principles Guiding Counterterror Wars

There are four core principles that govern the war against terror:

Adhering to the U.S core values. The fundamentals of the U.S core values include fairness, dignity, hope, and equal opportunity. This is unlike terrorists that promote unjust practices, disorder, and destruction in the United States. The U.S core value is respect towards the rights of all people, for example, the right to free speech, congregation, and democracy. Terrorist activities limit the extent to which such freedoms can be enjoyed. The acts of terror are not against the values but the rule of law. To fight the war against terror, the U.S fights with efficient skills and professionalism. Similarly, the core values also promote responsive governance in the U.S foreign policy. The value places the will of American people first, and any change should be fostered through peaceful means. This is unlike Al-Qaida that champions for change through violent mechanisms. It goes further to destroy livelihoods established by governments for their citizens. The values also respect privacy and civil rights. This extends to upholding the rule of law. Finally, the values guide the American government in the provision of the information about the challenges faced by the citizens in terror acts. However, a balance should be struck between security and transparency.

Building partnerships. The United State cannot fight terrorist groups alone. As a result, it builds partnerships with other like-minded countries to combat terrorism. The partnerships are built on training, resource mobilization, and community support programs. At the same time, the strategy notes that multinational institutions can be engaged to fight the war against terror. The multinational organizations at regional and global levels become partners in the war against terror and give the war a universal face. From these partnerships, the U.S does not duplicate counterterror activities already in motion from other partners.

Effective application of counterterror tools and capabilities. The acts of terror activities are always evolving. Therefore, the United States must revaluate its programs to be consistent with the laws, values and long term plans. In pursuit of a holistic government, tactics and strategies must be well coordinated and effective for counter terrorism. Equally, there has to be a balance between short and long term counter terrorism measures. In this case, the war against Al-Qa ida is fought sustainably such that its defeat kills the intent of its ideology.

A culture of resilience. Resilience builds a higher level of preparedness that enables prevention and quick response in an event of terror acts. This is a counter measure to Al-Qaida that believes it can force the U.S to change its foreign and national security policies based on economic and psychological damage. The development of stronger protection measures proves to Al-Qaida that the U.S is not an easy target. Even in the event of an attack, individuals will always join each other to build any wreckage from a disaster of any kind.

Location of the Threat

Al-Qaida is primarily located in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its affiliates are found in the Middle East, East Africa, Maghreb, and Sahel in West Africa. They are unique in their activity but inspire to promote the regional and global interest of Al-Qaida. The groups destabilize their nations and extend their terror acts to the U.S and Western nations. In some cases, the groups also have intentions to attack the U.S territory. The strategy notes that the war against terror can only be won at the local level. This is because that is the point where Al-Qaida radicalizes, recruits, and mobilizes people to join its programs.

The strategy creates segments for consideration when implementing counterterrorism measures. These include Homeland, South Asia, Arab Peninsula, East Africa, and Europe. The United States of America forms the homeland. After the events on September 11, the strategys purpose is to avoid the repetition of an attack on the U.S. The strategies within the homeland involve disintegrating planned attacks and increasing defensive capabilities within the country. South Asia is also a region of focus in the war against terrorism. It is enclosed to prevent protection zones from terrorists including the activities against Al-Qaida and Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Arabian Peninsula is another zone of focus according to the strategy. Al-Qaida in the region does not only extend a direct threat to the American interests but also has financial support from different sympathizers to do so. In this region, the strategy promotes responsive governance that oversees respect for the rights of citizens. The other areas of focus are East Africa and Europe.

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Assessment of the U.S National Strategy on Counterterrorism

The proponents of the U.S National Strategy on Counterterrorism argue that the strategy is a comprehensive document that integrates with a whole of government outline. However, a different section also holds that the strategy is a collection of aspirations. The core goal of the strategy, which promotes it is its mandate in maintaining and promoting the security of American citizens. The intension is to make America stronger and more secure to overcome the challenges from Al-Qa ida. The strategy takes note of the steps that have been taken abroad for instance in Iraq. It then comes back to assess the situation in U.S soil. The ultimate environment to be created by the strategy is a safe environment where the economy can grow and children go to school without fear.

According to Smith, the National Strategy on Counterterrorism has recently singled out domestic terrorism among other threats facing the country. Further, the document acknowledges the link between the foreign counterterrorism activities in military, diplomatic, and intelligence and terror acts from the citizens. This outlines the responsibility of the US Homeland in the national strategy.

The development of the US national strategy on counterterrorism shifts from the use of force into softer approaches to fight terrorism. The strategy builds on the US counterinsurgency approach of 2006 that placed emphasis on the development projects and local cultures to fight terror acts. Gilmore noted that the shift in plan is less effective, because it does not empower the local population to maintain a high fighting mentality based on the war on terror. Whereas long-term peace remains bleak for these countries, the U.S military integrates human security principles in its operations. These principles are outlined in the modern counterterrorism strategy to fight terrorists. Therefore, the war against terror takes greater value in humanity values and principles.

Van den Herik et al. noted that the multinational organizations such as the United Nation Security Council lead in the war against terrorism. After 9/11, the Security Council declared terrorism as a threat to the International Peace. The authors further argue that institutional capacity of these organizations should be strengthened in the war against terror. The counterterrorism strategy outlines the need for multinational involvement that includes the development of stable governments to manage terrorism.

In line with the strategy style, the United National Security Council acknowledges that terrorism is a global problem that requires domestic justice response. The United States is a permanent member of the Security Council. According to Poling et al., the strategy uses legal means to explain the rational of its efforts against terrorism. The strategy notes that actions must be taken to prevent Al-Qa ida from affecting more Americans. Apart from the discussed values, the strategy acts within the law to ensure that Americans are safe.

According to Hellemich, the US National Strategy on Counterterrorism has failed to build an international face in the Arabian Peninsula. The Yemen government is uneasy in fighting terrorism due to the impacts of earlier U.S policies. At the same time, Al-Qaida has been fighting for legal recognition within the country. As a result, it draws a lot of support from the people. The inability of the U.S to continuously support the Government of Yemen makes it vulnerable to Al-Qaida and strengthens Al-Qaida in that region. Thus, Hellemich concludes that strategies taken by counterterrorism have little impact on Al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula.

To the contrary, Anderson argues that denying terrorists safe heaven is a positive step to managing terror activities. It limits their operations and the impacts of terror activities. Further, the act strengthens governance and destabilizes the regions. For instance, terrorist activities that are aligned to internal insurgencies for power control have destabilized places such as Yemen, Somalia, and Mali. The terrorist groups integrate into the society and make it difficult to root them out. The recent case was of ISIS capturing parts of Iraq and declaring it an Islamic State. The war against terror takes cognizance of the Taliban hosting Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaida in their region.

Spangler notes that diplomacy and aid appears to be changing Pakistan into the views expressed in the counterstrategy paper. According to Spangler, the interests of Pakistan and the United States are very divergent. However, the two countries are continuously joining hands to fight terror. Pakistan is a strategic partner of the United States in the war against Iraq and global terror. As a result, the U.S engages military aid for help from Pakistan to fight terrorism. In other areas, the application of the strategy is different. According to Polin et al., President Obama in the strategy deliverance speech promised support for democratic transition for the Arab spring. The President argued that peaceful existence for individuals would help to revoke the existence of violent extremists.

However, the White House identifies a legal barrier in the strategy. It draws attention to the inaction of military against the affiliates of Al-Qa ida since the law on Authorization for the Use of Military Force does not legally acknowledge the affiliates. The application of affiliates in the strategy widens the scope from which terrorism can be viewed. In implementation, the use of drones and associated fire power in the war against terror is sparking concern in the international community. According to Bocanegra, the acts expand the extremism ideologies and, as result, fail to curb terrorism. Bocanegra advocates the use of humanitarian aid and government stabilization to have economically stable governments.


The US National Strategy on Counterterrorism remains a critical document in the war against terrorism and national security for the United States. The comprehensive document outlines the goals of the war against terror and exclusive areas of focus where the real threat lies. It helps to define the scope of terrorist activities that threaten American interests. Further, by acknowledging that terrorism is evolving, the strategy alerts institutions and all citizens to be innovative as well to win against terror acts. The strategy indicates the war against terror as not limited to military action. It includes interactive development, diplomacy, and community sensitization against terrorist acts. Therefore, counterterrorism tool is an important tool that redefines the combat against terror with immediate and long-term successes. It is evident that the availability of the information on terrorism can possibly make terrorists terminate their activities and ideologies.

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