Oil and water: what the “war on terror” missed

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(MENAFN- Asia Times) Recent photos from Al-Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria show a group of women and children looking for food thrown in a landfill. Al-Hasakah governorate is currently under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by US forces stationed in the region as part of their campaign to combat Islamic State (ISIS).

The irony is that the same photo shows the pomp of an oil field, pointing out that these families have lived through the long and perilous “war on terror” the last chapter of which is waged in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State.

When US President George W Bush announced the “war on terror” in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks 20 years ago, US counterterrorism operations were not expected to expand into rural areas of the United States. Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. .

Academics, journalists and the public continue to wonder why the West got trapped in what can best be described as the “perpetual war on terror,” as expressed by Bruce Hoffman in his 1998 book Inside Terrorism.

One of the main reasons for the West’s failure to defeat the Taliban and prevent the rise of ISIS after its initial defeat in Iraq in 2008 is that the West has never fully invested in support local communities in peripheral areas to prevent them from becoming hotbeds for radical groups.

Since the start of the “war on terror”, radical groups have continuously sought refuge in rural areas. In addition to being remote areas, which may offer better protection against counterinsurgency operations, these areas are inhabited by local tribes. Extremist groups have used the carrot and stick approach to build support and influence among local tribes. As a result, the “war on terror” turned into a war against tribal communities.

In one of the most fascinating books written by Akbar Ahmed, The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, the author draws on numerous case studies to demonstrate how states -United are involved directly or indirectly in tribal societies.

Beginning with Waziristan and extending to societies in Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere, Ahmed demonstrates how American firepower indiscriminately targeted the tribal populations of these societies. . Too often the victims are innocent children in school, women in their homes, workers just trying to make a living, and worshipers in their mosques.

Beaten by military attacks and drone strikes, the tribes lament: “Every day is like September 11 for us”. Drawing on tribal codes of solidarity and honor, the Taliban and ISIS have called on tribal members to take revenge on the transgressors, which in this case is the United States and its allies, according to them.

This constant cycle of revenge and counter-revenge created opportunities for Islamist groups to recruit members of local tribes into their ranks, increasing their numbers and geographic distribution, which in turn expanded the “war on terror.” “.

The image of destitute families searching for food in a rubbish dump is an example of the mismanagement of economic resources in areas of counterterrorism operations which are under the control of Western powers.

Since ISIS’s defeat in Syria in 2015, northeastern Syria has been the scene of multiple protests against the SDF for failing to properly distribute revenues from oil and gas resources in their territories. Poverty and lack of economic means among local tribes in rural areas create opportunities for ISIS to continue recruiting inhabitants from its sleeper cells who, in turn, try to regroup and wait for an opportunity to recover.

The same could be said of Afghanistan, where the United States and other Western powers have not invested enough in resolving rural grievances. Numerous reports have warned that urban-rural inequalities in Afghanistan are hampering the country’s progress towards stability.

Neglecting rural economies and focusing on large urban centers in US nation-building efforts diminished the popularity of the United States and the Afghan government and increased the Taliban’s recruiting capacity. For the past 20 years, the Taliban have played on the grievances of rural populations and used outlying areas as the starting points for their insurgency against the central government and US forces in Afghanistan.

In the rare cases where links were established with local communities, the priority of the United States and its allies was to use them as proxies against terrorist groups. This is clearly demonstrated in the case of the “Sons of Iraq” movement which was created in 2005.

This movement was made up of members of the al-Anbar tribes and was paid by the US military to patrol neighborhoods and fight against al-Qaeda forces in western Iraq. While such an action may have had fruitful results in the short term, in terms of weakening Al Qaeda in Iraq, its long term consequences for the local population have been disastrous.

Supporting certain tribes against al-Qaida in Iraq generated tribal competition where those who failed to gain US support struck deals with al-Qaida because they felt out of the game for political negotiations. and economic.

What was also shortsighted about this policy was that it distributed resources directly to tribal leaders who accumulated some for themselves, creating divisions and tensions among members of the tribe itself around. economic benefits.

While some view the US withdrawal from Afghanistan as a failure of the “war on terror”, others argue that the objectives of the war in Afghanistan were achieved because Al Qaeda was dismantled and Osama bin Laden was abolished. What is agreed, however, is that the United States and its allies failed in the nation-building process there.

Any future attempt to fight terrorism around the world should recognize that this is not just a military battle. Rather, it is a battle that should be aimed at investing in sustainable development projects in rural areas of Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere where extremists could exploit grievances to recruit people and strike back.

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