Making the U.S. Military’s Counter-Terrorism Mission Sustainable

 In Afghanistan, Iraq

One of the many hall­marks of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has been its capri­cious approach to troops deploy­ments, espe­cial­ly ones relat­ed to counter-ter­ror­ism. President Donald Trump has zigged and zagged on whether to main­tain troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, some­times send­ing Pentagon plan­ners scram­bling to keep up. Over the week­end, his admin­is­tra­tion threatened to pull out U.S. forces from Iraq as a way to pres­sure the gov­ern­ment there to rein in Iran-backed mili­tia groups. Meanwhile, in the back­ground, Defense Secretary Mark Esper has been con­duct­ing a review of each com­bat­ant com­mand to ensure they have the right mix of per­son­nel and resources to meet the 2018 National Defense Strategy’s priorities. The review has not been entire­ly devoid of drama. It advo­cates reducing the U.S. military footprint in Africa, a move that has engendered pushback from Congress and U.S. allies. One should not equate Trump’s manic demands, which appear driven almost entire­ly by elec­toral cal­cu­la­tions, with Esper’s more sober review, but both high­light the chal­lenges of reduc­ing the military’s counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion.

The 2018 National Defense Strategy made a stark dec­la­ra­tion, “Inter-state strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion, not ter­ror­ism, is now the pri­ma­ry con­cern in U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty.” The military’s counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion is not going away, how­ev­er, and likely will require atten­tion, resources, and man­pow­er for the fore­see­able future. In addi­tion to exert­ing ongo­ing pres­sure on ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions, American forces enable intel­li­gence col­lec­tion — espe­cial­ly in hos­tile envi­ron­ments — and pro­vide the means to con­duct swift action against indi­vid­u­als and net­works involved in plot­ting, direct­ing, or attempt­ing to inspire attacks against the United States. A mil­i­tary counter-ter­ror­ism pres­ence can facil­i­tate activ­i­ties con­duct­ed by civil­ian depart­ments and agen­cies as well as make U.S. part­ners more effec­tive. This is not an argu­ment for main­tain­ing the status quo, which appears unsus­tain­able and dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly large rel­a­tive to the current terrorist threat, but rather an affir­ma­tion that the mil­i­tary still has an impor­tant role to play in counter-ter­ror­ism. The issue at hand is, or should be, how to adjust this role rel­a­tive to the ter­ror­ist threat and other U.S. pri­or­i­ties.

Two years after the pub­li­ca­tion of the National Defense Strategy, the Department of Defense is still work­ing on how to rebal­ance its counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion in line with this new pri­or­i­ti­za­tion. One of the rea­sons it is strug­gling is that it lacks a rubric for doing so. Almost two decades after 911, the Pentagon still has not devel­oped a com­pre­hen­sive frame­work for bal­anc­ing risks and resources when it comes to counter-ter­ror­ism. As I argued in a recent paper for the Center for a New American Security’s Next Defense Strategy project, the absence of such a frame­work makes it more likely that the Defense Department either remains overly com­mit­ted to counter-ter­ror­ism because it lacks a mech­a­nism for dri­ving sus­tain­able reform, or over­cor­rects in a way that takes on unnec­es­sary risk of a ter­ror­ism-relat­ed con­tin­gency that threat­ens the United States and dis­rupts its shift toward other pri­or­i­ties.

The Need for a Sustainable Counter-Terrorism Mission

In a speech ear­li­er this month, Esper blamed the focus on counter-ter­ror­ism for leav­ing the mil­i­tary less pre­pared for a high-end fight against near-peer adver­saries. This is a con­ve­nient excuse that covers over a range of fail­ures to mod­ern­ize the force as Paul Scharre, my col­league at the Center for a New American Security, has pointed out. The Pentagon was steadi­ly invest­ing bil­lions to deter and fight big wars against nation-state adver­saries while U.S. troops were fight­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan. It just wasn’t investing in the right weapons sys­tems, accord­ing to Scharre, or prop­er­ly rethink­ing how the mil­i­tary needs to fight future wars. Yet while the focus on counter-ter­ror­ism might not be the pri­ma­ry reason for the military’s fail­ure to mod­ern­ize effec­tive­ly, it con­tin­ues to strain U.S. readi­ness.

When it comes to resourc­ing America’s counter-ter­ror­ism oper­a­tions, it is impor­tant to dis­tin­guish finan­cial resources from the people and plat­forms that money pays for. There is no line item for this mis­sion, which makes esti­mat­ing poten­tial budget sav­ings dif­fi­cult. Expeditionary war­fare is expen­sive. The train­ing and per­son­nel pipeline for spe­cial oper­a­tions forces, who bear the brunt of counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sions, is also more expen­sive than for con­ven­tion­al forces. The oper­at­ing costs of the con­ven­tion­al assets still used for counter-ter­ror­ism, especially air platforms, can also add up. Even so, poten­tial cost sav­ings from cut­ting counter-ter­ror­ism expen­di­tures is likely to be small rel­a­tive to the over­all defense budget. The Pentagon should still seek ways to reduce finan­cial resources, but this over-spend­ing is less prob­lem­at­ic than the readi­ness issues that it is facing.

The days of mas­sive counter-insur­gency cam­paigns are long gone, but the United States still has thou­sands of troops deployed for this mis­sion. There are approx­i­mate­ly 8,500 in Afghanistan (although that number is set to decline to 5,000 by November), 3,000 in Iraq, and small­er num­bers in Syria, Somalia, Yemen, the Sahel, and else­where. These forces are mainly work­ing by, with, and through local part­ners — who do the heavy lift­ing — and con­duct­ing direct action strikes to sup­ple­ment these indige­nous efforts. These mis­sions, many of which are intend­ed to suppress terrorist threats and maintain a modicum of political stability in conflict zones, have the impres­sion of sus­tain­abil­i­ty because they require com­par­a­tive­ly small­er num­bers of forces than large-scale counter-insur­gency efforts and rely heav­i­ly on local forces. Yet for many local part­ners to be effec­tive, they need the U.S. mil­i­tary — typ­i­cal­ly spe­cial oper­a­tions or con­ven­tion­al mil­i­tary forces, but also CIA para­mil­i­tary forces or even pri­vate mil­i­tary con­trac­tors — to pro­vide inten­sive oper­a­tional sup­port. This, in turn, neces­si­tates the use of enabling plat­forms like intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance, and recon­nais­sance; close air sup­port; air­lift; and mede­vac. These plat­forms are required for uni­lat­er­al raids con­duct­ed by U.S. spe­cial oper­a­tions forces as well.

Even airstrikes conducted by drones typ­i­cal­ly require forces on the ground. The level of invest­ment in terms of troops and plat­forms nec­es­sary to main­tain the cur­rent scope and tempo of “light-foot­print” oper­a­tions may be unsus­tain­able in terms of avail­able forces and plat­forms given the Defense Department’s pri­or­i­ti­za­tion of strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion with nation-states.

Special oper­a­tions forces, who carry a dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly large share of the burden when it comes to counter-ter­ror­ism deploy­ments, are “fatigued, worn and frayed around the edges,” accord­ing to a comprehensive review con­duct­ed at the direc­tion of the com­man­der of U.S. Special Operations Command. Even if this were not the case, spe­cial oper­a­tions forces cannot main­tain this oper­a­tional tempo while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly con­tribut­ing to strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion as envi­sioned by the National Defense Strategy, prepar­ing for a poten­tial con­flict with a near-peer com­peti­tor, and meet­ing their goal of a 1:2 deployment-to-dwell ratio. The prob­lem is not simply the overuse of spe­cial oper­a­tions forces, but also the misuse of dif­fer­ent spe­cial oper­a­tions ele­ments. The “all hands on deck” approach that defined the last two decades com­bined with the absence of a frame­work for adju­di­cat­ing mis­sions and resources has cre­at­ed an envi­ron­ment in which var­i­ous spe­cial oper­a­tions forces are used for the wrong pur­pos­es. For exam­ple, units assigned global response mis­sions against immi­nent threats, such as the Army’s Delta Force and some Navy SEAL teams, have been used for train­ing mis­sions, while Army spe­cial forces teams that should be focused on train­ing and advis­ing have been called upon to con­duct direct action mis­sions.

Moreover, spe­cial oper­a­tions forces don’t travel alone. The Pentagon con­tin­ues to ded­i­cate enabling plat­forms — such as manned and unmanned aerial plat­forms used for intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance, and recon­nais­sance and armed over­watch, as well as manned plat­forms for elec­tron­ic war­fare, air­lift, and mede­vac — to sup­port counter-ter­ror­ism. These plat­forms also require people to use and main­tain them. Special oper­a­tions forces need addi­tion­al logis­ti­cal sup­port as noted above. As a result, con­ven­tion­al forces con­tin­ue to deploy in sup­port of counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sions despite the ser­vices increas­ing focus on high-inten­si­ty con­flict. Of greater con­cern, the overuse of some of these plat­forms for counter-ter­ror­ism has cre­at­ed readi­ness issues, most notably for the Air Force because its bombers and fighter jets have been used for direct action. In other words, the Pentagon not only failed to invest in the right types of assets needed for a high-inten­si­ty con­flict, it also wore down some of the assets it did invest in by over-using them for counter-ter­ror­ism.

Spinning its Wheels

Optimizing the U.S. mil­i­tary for strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion and a poten­tial con­flict with a near-peer com­peti­tor will neces­si­tate more than just reign­ing in the counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion. This does not obvi­ate the need for reform. The issue is not whether the Defense Department is devot­ing too much or too little to counter-ter­ror­ism in absolute terms, but rather how forces, plat­forms, and resources are allo­cat­ed rel­a­tive to the ter­ror­ism threat and other pri­or­i­ties. Risk aver­sion regard­ing the poten­tial of a future ter­ror­ist attack is part of the prob­lem, but it is also the case that some of the global com­bat­ant com­mands use counter-ter­ror­ism as a ratio­nale when writ­ing require­ments for spe­cial oper­a­tions forces and enabling plat­forms. The Trump administration’s escalatory approach towards Iran — and the ways in which this has become inter­twined with the U.S. counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion — com­pounds the prob­lem.

The most obvi­ous danger of fail­ing to devel­op and imple­ment a frame­work for con­duct­ing a more sus­tain­able counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion is that this mis­sion remains unsus­tain­able. There are other dan­gers, how­ev­er, one of which is a depart­ment-wide over­cor­rec­tion that increas­es the risks of a ter­ror­ist attack against the United States or its inter­ests over­seas. Another is a dis­joint­ed tran­si­tion away from counter-ter­ror­ism, which already appears to be occur­ring accord­ing to mem­bers of the spe­cial oper­a­tions com­mu­ni­ty with whom I have spoken. The Army is pulling away many of its intel­li­gence spe­cial­ists and tech­ni­cal capa­bil­i­ties from the counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion. This has not been coor­di­nat­ed with a com­men­su­rate draw­down in Army spe­cial forces counter-ter­ror­ism oper­a­tions, how­ev­er, making these oper­a­tions more dif­fi­cult and riski­er. The Air Force has also pulled back sup­port for counter-ter­ror­ism oper­a­tions, cre­at­ing pres­sure to fill loom­ing gaps in the var­i­ous types of enabling sup­port that U.S. and part­ner forces have come to rely on.

It’s tempt­ing just to call for a “zero-based” review of the entire counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion. The prin­ci­ple of such a review is that all counter-ter­ror­ism deploy­ments would need to be jus­ti­fied against a goal of zero oper­a­tional forces deployed. The prob­lem is that such a review would be based on a static assess­ment of threats at the time the review is being con­duct­ed, where­as the threat envi­ron­ment is dynam­ic. Realizing the type of sys­temic change needed will require putting in place a frame­work for align­ing threats, mis­sions, resources, and risk accep­tance, and a pro­gram for con­duct­ing net assess­ment of the counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion. Because of the poten­tial of unfore­seen events, any effort to scale back the counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion should also include con­tin­gency plan­ning. Absent clear direc­tion and back­ing from the sec­re­tary to make all this happen, there’s a real risk that the Defense Department will keep spin­ning its wheels.

A Comprehensive Framework

A com­pre­hen­sive frame­work for assign­ing counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sions is crit­i­cal for avoid­ing the extremes of path depen­den­cy on the one hand and over­cor­rec­tion or a dis­joint­ed tran­si­tion on the other hand. It would also pro­vide a mech­a­nism for recal­i­brat­ing counter-ter­ror­ism-relat­ed force struc­ture and pos­ture require­ments as ter­ror­ist threats and Defense Department pri­or­i­ties evolve. Finally, such a frame­work could also help the Pentagon eval­u­ate the counter-ter­ror­ism-relat­ed infra­struc­ture that it has devel­oped since 911: author­i­ties and exe­cute orders, policy shops, and mil­i­tary task forces, includ­ing the role of the the­ater spe­cial oper­a­tions com­mands under the geo­graph­ic com­bat­ant com­mands.

The frame­work below pro­vides one model. It would need to be pres­sure tested to deter­mine whether these are the right fac­tors to include and how the Defense Department should weigh them. The Pentagon could use plan­ning sce­nar­ios to flesh out and stan­dard­ize its approach to pri­or­i­ti­za­tion and threat assess­ment, the assign­ment of mis­sions, and the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of resources required to accom­plish a mis­sion.

The first step the Defense Department needs to take is to create a stan­dard­ized, uni­ver­sal list of ter­ror­ist groups and assign groups to a fixed number of pri­or­i­tized tiers based on the level and nature of threat. This may seem like a no-brain­er, but almost 20 years after 911 the Pentagon still lacks a single list that includes all the ter­ror­ist groups it is com­bat­ing. Creating a stan­dard­ized list will do more than just iden­ti­fy the uni­verse of poten­tial ter­ror­ist groups to combat. The Defense Department has had a ten­den­cy to pri­or­i­tize ter­ror­ist threats with­out always doing threat assess­ments first. Creating a uni­ver­sal list will enable the Defense Department to iden­ti­fy its counter-ter­ror­ism pri­or­i­ties based on the same set of fac­tors, in terms of the groups them­selves and the types of threats these groups pose to the United States. This list will need to be a living doc­u­ment, evolv­ing in line with the chang­ing nature of the ter­ror­ist land­scape. For exam­ple, in the future, near-peer com­peti­tors may increase their use of non­state prox­ies or sup­port for ter­ror­ism to advance their inter­ests below the thresh­old of con­flict. Of course, if a sim­i­lar doc­u­ment exists else­where in the gov­ern­ment and is suf­fi­cient for the Defense Department’s pur­pos­es, it could adopt that one.

Once the Pentagon has iden­ti­fied the ter­ror­ist groups it is con­cerned about and tiered them based on the threats they pose, it can assign a spe­cif­ic mis­sion to each group. The chart below sug­gests six mis­sions — from most to least inten­sive — based on the pri­or­i­ty accord­ed to a group: defeat, dis­man­tle, degrade, dis­rupt, mon­i­tor, and iden­ti­fy and under­stand. Each mis­sion should include cri­te­ria for defin­ing and achiev­ing suc­cess, which in turn should enable defense plan­ners to iden­ti­fy what actions are nec­es­sary. This is impor­tant not only for ensur­ing that the Defense Department achieves its counter-ter­ror­ism objec­tives, but also may help reduce the poten­tial for counter-ter­ror­ism to be used as a ratio­nale for employ­ing troops and plat­forms for pur­pos­es that are not ter­ror­ism relat­ed.

Figure 1: Framework for Assigning and Resourcing Counter-Terrorism Missions

Next, the Defense Department should assign resources to each mis­sion (Column 1 lists the pos­si­ble mis­sions described above that the Pentagon might assign) based on the fac­tors out­lined in the chart. Columns 2 – 4 include fac­tors for con­sid­er­a­tion that could enable or encum­ber pur­suit of the mis­sion, as well as pos­si­bly increase risk to U.S. forces. When con­sid­er­ing the threat envi­ron­ment, the Defense Department should assess not only the risks from the ter­ror­ist tar­gets, but also those posed by other actors (e.g., near-peer com­peti­tors and nation-state adver­saries) that are phys­i­cal­ly present or able and intent on pro­ject­ing power into the coun­try or region in ques­tion. Regarding the con­tri­bu­tions that other U.S. gov­ern­ment agen­cies (e.g., CIA, State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development), allies, and part­ners could make to a counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion, it will also be impor­tant to con­sid­er whether and how their efforts might rely on U.S. forces or plat­forms. Depending on the cir­cum­stance, the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty or State Department may devel­op or expand coop­er­a­tion with and sup­port for part­ners’ law enforce­ment, border author­i­ties, and intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ties. Column 5 fac­tors in the poten­tial value of a counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion to advanc­ing strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion objec­tives. There are costs and ben­e­fits to includ­ing this in the deci­sion cal­cu­lus. It could enable the Pentagon to max­i­mize the util­i­ty of its forces and resources in cer­tain places, but also might be used to jus­ti­fy counter-ter­ror­ism activ­i­ties that the Pentagon oth­er­wise would not con­duct or sap resources that could be used to advance strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion objec­tives more effec­tive­ly else­where. Column 6 deter­mines the resources required to accom­plish the assigned mis­sion, fac­tor­ing in the ele­ments iden­ti­fied in Columns 2 – 5. Column 7 iden­ti­fies poten­tial known risks to U.S. inter­ests, the mis­sion, and U.S. forces if the resources required are pro­vid­ed.

Finally, on an ongo­ing basis, defense plan­ners ought to assess the cumu­la­tive resources ded­i­cat­ed to the entire counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion rel­a­tive to the over­all ter­ror­ism risks that the pres­i­dent and the sec­re­tary of defense are pre­pared to accept, and then re-adjust indi­vid­ual mis­sions and resources accord­ing­ly. If the Pentagon remains over-resourced toward counter-ter­ror­ism rel­a­tive to require­ments for other pri­or­i­ties, the approach out­lined here would enable the sec­re­tary to make an informed deci­sion about whether to accept more risk from ter­ror­ism, and, if so, where to accept that risk.

Pursuing mis­sions in accor­dance with this frame­work should help adjust direct action mis­sions and train, advise, and assist mis­sions that involve aggres­sive oper­a­tional sup­port in line with cur­rent ter­ror­ism threats and other pri­or­i­ties. This would likely free up spe­cial oper­a­tions and con­ven­tion­al forces and resources for other National Defense Strategy pri­or­i­ties. It also would inform deci­sions about where the Defense Department engages in more rou­tine train­ing and pro­vides other secu­ri­ty assis­tance for counter-ter­ror­ism capac­i­ty build­ing, as well as how much and what type of assis­tance. Even a scaled-back counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion will still require con­sid­er­able intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance, and recon­nais­sance, as well as some logis­ti­cal sup­port and armed over­watch. Demands for air­lift, quick reac­tion forces, and mede­vac might decline, although it is pos­si­ble that a small­er foot­print leads to less force pro­tec­tion on the ground, which in turn could affect demand for these capa­bil­i­ties. Relying mainly on unmanned plat­forms for intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance, and recon­nais­sance; close-air sup­port; and pre­ci­sion strike, in the types of aus­tere and per­mis­sive envi­ron­ments where the United States is likely to con­duct counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sions could fur­ther reduce the strains on readi­ness.

While the frame­work above allows for recal­i­bra­tion, conducting a net assessment would sig­nif­i­cant­ly enhance the Defense Department’s abil­i­ty to pri­or­i­tize, adapt its lines of effort, and ensure the effec­tive allo­ca­tion of resources rel­a­tive to ter­ror­ism-relat­ed risks. The Defense Department cur­rent­ly lacks this type of net assess­ment process, which should include sev­er­al ele­ments. First, the Pentagon needs to explic­it­ly iden­ti­fy its cri­te­ria for mea­sur­ing effec­tive­ness for the over­ar­ch­ing counter-ter­ror­ism mis­sion, as well as the indi­vid­ual mis­sions that make up its com­po­nent parts. Second, it should devel­op met­rics based on the actions required for suc­cess and the way the mil­i­tary defines suc­cess for each mis­sion. These met­rics should factor in assump­tions made regard­ing inter­a­gency efforts and coop­er­a­tion from allies and part­ners. Third, the Defense Department should use these met­rics to drive the col­lec­tion of data about U.S. counter-ter­ror­ism efforts and those of its part­ners, the behav­ior of ter­ror­ist adver­saries, and the effects on the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion in the coun­try or region where these efforts occur and ter­ror­ists oper­ate. Fourth, although met­rics should be tai­lored to actions and there­fore need not be uni­ver­sal, the Pentagon should devel­op a common method­olog­i­cal tool­box for assess­ing effec­tive­ness.

Because there may be instances in which con­tin­gen­cies arise (e.g., ter­ror­ists seize strate­gic ter­ri­to­ry, or devel­op or recon­sti­tute exter­nal oper­a­tions capa­bil­i­ties that pose new threats to the United States) the Pentagon should also ensure it has ade­quate con­tin­gency plan­ning in place. It will be crit­i­cal to ensure ongo­ing intel­li­gence col­lec­tion — uni­lat­er­al­ly by Defense Department ele­ments or other mem­bers of the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, or pro­vid­ed via intel­li­gence liai­son with reli­able allies and part­ners — for the pur­pos­es of indi­ca­tions and warn­ings. The Pentagon, in coor­di­na­tion with other U.S. gov­ern­ment agen­cies, should also devel­op a plan for emplac­ing addi­tion­al intel­li­gence col­lec­tion assets quick­ly if nec­es­sary. Planners also will need to ensure the global force readi­ness required to move mil­i­tary assets into var­i­ous loca­tions where the United States scales back its efforts. These assets could be required for a range of oper­a­tions, includ­ing increased oper­a­tional sup­port to allies or part­ners, lim­it­ed counter-ter­ror­ism strikes, and even a troop surge of sev­er­al thou­sand U.S. forces. Pentagon plan­ners will need to iden­ti­fy the level of per­sis­tent for­ward engage­ment nec­es­sary to enable access and place­ment to sup­port this range of oper­a­tions.

Contingency plan­ning should factor in poten­tial con­tri­bu­tions from and the effect on allies and part­ners as well. In areas where the U.S. mil­i­tary pulls back con­sid­er­ably, part­ners will need to assume more of the burden and more risk. Preparing them for this even­tu­al­i­ty will be crit­i­cal. This means work­ing with the part­ner forces to iden­ti­fy and address pri­or­i­ty gaps in capa­bil­i­ties, equip­ment, and rela­tion­ships with other secu­ri­ty forces, among other things. There may be instances where allies and high-end region­al part­ners have suf­fi­cient capa­bil­i­ties and vested inter­ests in counter-ter­ror­ism and in their rela­tion­ship with the United States to make joint con­tin­gency plan­ning worth­while. Where this is not the case, the Pentagon at the very least should iden­ti­fy close allies and high-end region­al part­ners who might be able to assist in the event of a con­tin­gency, and lay the ground­work for coor­di­nat­ing with them.

Conclusion

The over-mil­i­ta­riza­tion of U.S. counter-ter­ror­ism efforts has had per­ni­cious con­se­quences both for these efforts and the U.S. mil­i­tary. Focusing on inter­state strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion requires invest­ing the mental energy nec­es­sary to devel­op a more sus­tain­able approach to counter-ter­ror­ism. In the absence of such an effort, the mil­i­tary risks remain­ing overly com­mit­ted to counter-ter­ror­ism because of iner­tia, or over­cor­rect­ing in a way that makes it more likely the United States will face a ter­ror­ism-relat­ed con­tin­gency that could dis­rupt its shift toward inter­state strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion. Failing to do this intel­lec­tu­al home­work also risks leav­ing the Pentagon unpre­pared to respond effec­tive­ly in the event near-peer com­peti­tors increase their use of proxy war­fare or sup­port for ter­ror­ism to dis­tract the United States and sap its resources, or as part of a larger con­flict. It is under­stand­able for Defense Department lead­er­ship to want to turn the page on counter-ter­ror­ism, but equal­ly crit­i­cal that they real­ize the page won’t turn itself and that there are risks to clos­ing the book too quick­ly.

Stephen Tankel is an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at American University, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and a senior editor at War on the Rocks. He has served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Tankel is the author most recent­ly of With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror.

Image: U.S. Army (Photo by Spc. Sara Wakai)

 

 

 

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