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Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
The Terrorist Enemy
 - Most Wanted Terrorists
 - Terrorist Groups
  

The Terrorist Enemy

Defining the Enemy
Defeating the Terrorist Enemy
Defeating the Terrorist Enemy: Attack All Levels of the Threat Complex Simultaneously
Conditions that Terrorists Exploit
Regional Dimension of the Problem
The Regional Strategic Initiative (RSI)
Key Concepts Underpinning the Regional Strategic Initiative
Summary

Defining the Enemy
Terrorist networks currently pose the greatest national security threat to the United States. The greatest threat and the most wanted terrorists come from the al-Qaida (AQ) network, which includes a core al-Qaida organization and numerous confederated extremist groups.

The al-Qaida network has many of the characteristics of a "globalized insurgency" and employs subversion, sabotage, open warfare and, of course, terrorism. It seeks weapons of mass destruction or other means to inflict massive damage on the United States, our allies and interests, and the broader international system. AQ aims to overthrow the existing world order and replace it with a reactionary, authoritarian, transnational entity. This threat will be sustained over a protracted period (decades not years) and will require a global response executed regionally, nationally, and locally.

Read about specific terrorist groups.

Defeating the Terrorist Enemy
Links between global, regional & local actors allow extremists to aggregate local complaints into ideological grievance and local actions into strategic impact. Breaking links hastens the isolation and fragmentation of extremist groups, and contributes to reducing the threat over time - ultimately marginalizing terrorists who can then be dealt with by local governments.

Defeating the Terrorist Enemy: Attack All Levels of the Threat Complex Simultaneously
The "enemy" comprises a three-fold threat complex:

  • Leaders - Global Actors, including al-Qaida and associated networks, which provide leadership, resources, inspiration and guidance to extremists.
  • Safe Havens - Space that provide a secure base for extremist action, including:
    • Physical space - failed/failing states, under-governed areas and sponsors who provide safe areas where terrorists train and organize. Many safe havens sit astride international borders, demanding a regional, rather than solely national response.
    • Cyber space- electro-magnetic and internet-based means for communication, planning, resource transfer and intelligence collection. These means allow terrorists to organize, communicate, spread propaganda and transfer money.
    • Ideological space - belief systems, ideas and cultural norms that enhance the enemy's freedom of action. These include ethnic identities, religious attitudes and political cultures.
  • Underlying conditions - Local groups, grievances, communal conflicts and societal structures that provide fertile soil in which extremism flourishes, and provide the "fuel" that the enemy exploits. Many of these grievances and conflicts are pre-existing and resolving them is a related but separate issue to combating terrorism, per se.

Conditions that Terrorists Exploit
"The key factors that spawned international terrorism show no signs of abating over the next 15 years. ... Lagging economies, ethnic affiliations, intense religious convictions, and youth bulges will align to create a "perfect storm," creating conditions likely to spawn internal conflict. The governing capacity of states, however, will determine whether and to what extent conflicts actually occur. Those states unable both to satisfy the expectations of their peoples and to resolve or quell conflicting demands among them are likely to encounter the most severe and most frequent outbreaks of violence." [National Intelligence Council, Mapping the Global Future, December 2004.]

Regional Dimension of the Problem
There are at least six regional safe havens world-wide, spanning more than 27 countries on four continents. Because terrorist safe havens tend to cross national boundaries, addressing them effectively demands a multi-national effort by partner nations and a regional approach by the U.S. Government Counterterrorism Team. Regional terrorist groups operate in theaters spanning several countries, exploiting local grievances to further global ends. Except for the Department of Defense, the U.S. Government has, in the past, organized its counterterrorism efforts through bilateral country teams. Such an orientation has had the potential to create stovepipes, lack of focus, and loopholes that terrorists could exploit.

To maximize the impact of U.S. Government counterterrorism efforts, the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism (S/CT) has initiated the Regional Security Initiative, a series of regionally-based, interagency, strategy planning activities, hosted by U.S. Embassies.

The Regional Strategic Initiative (RSI)
The Regional Strategic Initiative seeks to create a flexible network of coordinated country teams, to deny terrorists safe haven. The goals are to:

  • Identify key counterterrorism (CT) issues and concerns across a region.
  • Develop a common strategic approach to address counterterrorism issues.
  • Pool resources and tasks to generate unified effort across the U.S. government.
  • Create ongoing interagency partnerships to address CT issues.
  • Form a basis for closer cooperation between regional partner nations.
  • Leverage resources from such partners as the G8 (G-8/Counterterrorism Action Group (CTAG)), and other international organizations, etc.).
Key Concepts Underpinning the Regional Strategic Initiative
  • Bring all instruments of statecraft to bear, in a calibrated fashion, through coordinated interagency strategy.
  • Create a shared diagnosis as a basis for interagency self-synchronization.
  • Build trusted networks to displace enemy networks.
  • Promote field-driven interagency cooperation.
  • Theater, not-Bureau-based.
Summary
  • The enemy is a federated terrorist threat complex with the character of a global insurgency.
  • Our strategy acts to create conditions for enemy collapse, by disaggregating the extremist networks through attacking enemy leadership, safe havens and the conditions that terrorists exploit with all elements of U.S. national power.
  • We must build trusted networks that displace terrorist networks; undermine, marginalize and isolate the enemy; and empower legitimate alternatives to extremism.
  • The Regional Strategic Initiative is a regional, field-driven, interagency approach designed to successfully bring all the elements of national power to bear on the terrorist enemy.

  
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