Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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Showing posts for "Terrorism"

Challenging the Terrorist Safe Haven Myth

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President George W. Bush during a briefing at the Pentagon on September 17, 2001, at which he said the United States wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." (McNamee/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President George W. Bush during a briefing at the Pentagon on September 17, 2001, at which he said the United States wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." (McNamee/Courtesy Reuters)

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Amelia M. Wolf.

For thirteen years, U.S. counterterrorism strategy has relied on an assumption that arose after 9/11: international terrorist attacks against the United States require a safe haven. Denying safe havens in Iraq and Afghanistan took nearly seven thousand American lives and will have an eventual estimated cost of $4 to $6 trillion.  More recently, this assumption served as the rationale for launching an open-ended war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is nearing its sixth month of engagement. Read more »

What the Pentagon Wants in a New AUMF: Perpetual Warfare

by Micah Zenko

During his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress “to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant].” The White House has claimed repeatedly that such an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) is not legally required because the president already has the authority to conduct operations “against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces” as provided in the 2001 AUMF. Given that the United States began bombing Iraq on August 8, it is clear that Congress tacitly accepts this interpretation and is in no hurry to pass an updated authorization for ISIL, just as they have never made serious efforts to reform the 2001 AUMF. Read more »

Tracking Eight Years of Airstrikes in Afghanistan

by Micah Zenko

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Amelia M. Wolf.

On October 7, 2001, the United States and United Kingdom, as part of the military campaign to topple the Taliban, began conducting airstrikes in Afghanistan. The air attacks were carried out by five B-1 and ten B-52 bombers operating out of Diego Garcia, twenty-five F-14 and F-18 fighter aircraft launched from naval carriers in the Arabian Sea, two B-2 bombers from Whiteman air force base in Missouri, as well as some fifty cruise missiles fired from off shore. Those initial airstrikes were against thirty-one targets consisting of air defense radars, Taliban airfields and command-and-control facilities, and al-Qaeda training camps. After the Taliban was removed from power and remnants of concentrated al-Qaeda fighters had dispersed, airstrikes were significantly curtailed by the end of December 2001. According to the U.S. Air Force, during the initial 76 days of bombing, some 6,500 strike sorties were flown, with 17,500 munitions dropped on over 520 targets. Read more »

If Cyberattacks Are Terror, Who’s the Biggest Terrorist?

by Micah Zenko
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks about immigration reform at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on December 10, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks about immigration reform at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on December 10, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

Yesterday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared on CNN’s State of the Union where he proposed placing North Korea on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Menendez contended that the additional sanctions announced by the White House last week were insufficient, and that “we need to look at putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which would have far more pervasive consequences.” Beyond claiming this would have additional consequences for North Korea, he disagreed with President Obama’s characterization of the alleged Sony hack as “an act of cyber vandalism”: Read more »

Guest Post: Booking a Return Flight

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A masked man speaking in what is believed to be a North American accent in a video that Islamic State militants released in September 2014. (FBI handout via Reuters/Courtesy Reuters) A masked man speaking in what is believed to be a North American accent in a video that Islamic State militants released in September 2014. (FBI handout via Reuters/Courtesy Reuters)

Harry Oppenheimer is a research associate for national security at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken on an international flavor as foreign fighters continue to pour into Syria and Iraq from eighty nations as disparate as Kyrgyzstan and Spain. The number of foreign fighters is currently estimated to be as high as 16,000. While the most foreign fighters originate from Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, up to 2,000 are from the United Kingdom (UK), 930 from France, 300 from Sweden, 300 from Belgium, and 450 from Germany. The growing scope of the foreign fighter problem has made it a priority in policy discussions on ISIS, either as Daniel Byman and Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institution wrote, “Homeward Bound? Don’t Hype the Threat of Returning Jihadists,” or as Pascale Siegel, founder of Insight Through Analysis, warned, “Foreign Fighters in Syria: Why We Should Be Worried.” These discussions ignore the real question—what happens when these people want to return to their home countries? Read more »

How U.S. Officials and Congress Have Defended Drone Strikes in Light of the Torture Report

by Micah Zenko

Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, White House, December 11, 2014.

Q: And finally, has the President ever sought a formal assessment from the intelligence community about whether the drone program is a net asset, either because of our moral authority, or in terms of creating more enemies than it takes off the battlefield? Read more »

The CIA’s Torture Report Response

by Micah Zenko
An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field, Florida on May 3, 2014. (Bainter/Courtesy U.S. Air Force) An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field, Florida on May 3, 2014. (Bainter/Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

There will be a tremendous number of reactions to the graphic and troubling findings contained in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) study’s executive study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. There will be far fewer reactions to the CIA response to the SSCI, in the form of a June 27, 2013, memo that the CIA released today. According to a forward from Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan, “The CIA’s comments on the Study were the result of a comprehensive and thorough review of the Study’s 20 conclusions and 20 case studies.” However, there is one CIA acknowledgment that should be as disturbing as anything that is contained within the SSCI study itself. Read more »

America’s 500th Drone Strike

by Micah Zenko

The most consistent and era-defining tactic of America’s post-9/11 counterterrorism strategies has been the targeted killing of suspected terrorists and militants outside of defined battlefields. As one senior Bush administration official explained in October 2001, “The president has given the [CIA] the green light to do whatever is necessary. Lethal operations that were unthinkable pre-September 11 are now underway.” Shortly thereafter, a former CIA official told the New Yorker, “There are five hundred guys out there you have to kill.” It is quaint to recall that such a position was considered extremist and even morally unthinkable. Today, these strikes are broadly popular with the public and totally uncontroversial in Washington, both within the executive branch and on Capitol Hill. Therefore, it is easy to forget that this tactic, envisioned to be rare and used exclusively for senior al-Qaeda leaders thirteen years ago, has become a completely accepted and routine foreign policy activity. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Obama on Proxies, and U.S.-China Military Relations

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama waves after holding a news conference at the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Brisbane on November 16, 2014. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama waves after holding a news conference at the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Brisbane on November 16, 2014. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

Remarks by President Obama at G20 Press Conference, White House, November 16, 2014.

Obama: But we’re also very firm on the need to uphold core international principles. And one of those principles is that you don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections. Read more »

Guest Post: Developing a Narrative for Success in the Battle Against ISIS

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with military leaders from twenty-one nations to discuss strategy in the Middle East at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on October 14, 2014. The discussion was part of a ongoing effort to build a coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and integrate capabilities. (Cullen/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense) U.S. President Barack Obama meets with military leaders from twenty-one nations to discuss strategy in the Middle East at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on October 14, 2014. The discussion was part of a ongoing effort to build a coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and integrate capabilities. (Cullen/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense)

Col. Stephen Liszewski, U.S. Marine Corps, is a Military Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He most recently commanded the 11th Marine Regiment based at Camp Pendleton, California.

Victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is not only a matter of military success; President Obama recently made this point to coalition military leaders. The fight against ISIS is part of a larger struggle with violent extremist ideology. Read more »