By Sunjay Melkote
The Obama administration has forever prioritized targeted killings to create a shiny shell of news that depicts the decapitation of terrorist groups, including the SEAL Team Six raid of Osama bin Laden’s stronghold in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and recent ventures into killing the Al-Shabaab leader in Somalia, who conducted the 1998 World Trade Center bombing and the more recent attack on the Kenyan shopping mall on 21 September, 2013 . Under this gleaming shell of violence, however, lies a vast network of unrecognized counterterrorism strategies that establish far higher success rates than targeted killings, but garner far fewer headlines.
One of the most effective tools the US uses involves providing Middle Eastern civilians with humanitarian aid and disaster relief. Such a strategy targets the root of terrorist recruitment without requiring any violence. Indeed, a key tool terrorists use to gain more members is providing aid, such as clean water and electricity. However, Ana Bortelleto, from Western Connecticut State University, professes in the Social Sciences Journal that US aid provides citizens with care better than regional alternatives, therefore cutting off a source of new members for terrorist organizations . US action during 2010 in Pakistan corroborates this notion: when the US briefly suspended humanitarian aid to Pakistan during a flood in 2010, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) terrorist organization filled the void left by the US and provided disaster relief services, attracting 400,000 new members . Therefore, the US restricts the ability of extremist groups to grow by minimizing their attractiveness to local populations.
While limiting growth is essential to combatting terror, limiting their access to vital resources is another stepping stone to long-term success. To ensure the perfect mix operations, the US can plunder terrorist organizations of their monetary assets, thereby minimizing their operational budget. For example, through missions in cyberspace, the US has frozen $200 million in funds , and has put an effective bounty on al Qaeda suppliers . Ultimately, al Qaeda’s annual financial assets have tumbled to 90% of its original income since September 11, 2011 . Thus, the US starves the beast.
Moreover, the US doesn’t simply follow a lone-wolf initiative and operate without assistance, but operates with several allies, many under-recognized. The Brookings Institution reveals that 69 formal and informal bodies actively fight terrorism with the US , while only a few of the big names – like Britain, France or other major UN or NATO players – are frequently associated with terrorism. One underappreciated country is Jordan. Indeed, an analysis published by George Washington University finds that Jordanian-US counterterror cooperation is “essential to the US in regards to information-sharing, training, and on-the-ground cooperation.” Specifically, the US helped to fund the King Abdullah II Special Ops Training Center in Jordan, to unify worldwide counterterrorism efforts under US-led counterterrorism policy. Moreover, Indonesia has taken to an innovative method of stopping terrorism on the streets: law enforcement. Writing in the Georgia Political Review, columnist Jordan White reports that Indonesia has created Special Detachment 88, a spec ops contingency of the police force reliant on US funding and training, to target terrorists with “undercover operations, stakeouts, and stings,” much like any ordinary police force would operate with more common domestic crimes . The US unites the world against a common threat.
Ultimately, US counterterrorism police is more diverse than what it seems at face value. While the modern paradigm of US efforts seems to gravitate toward targeted killings, this remains just one tool in the United States’ immense toolbox of a vast array of resources.