Global Policy Forum

The War on Terror, Five Years on:


By Tom Coghlan and Kim Sengupta

September 4, 2006

Five years ago this week, the Taliban's al-Qa'ida allies made final preparations to launch devastating attacks on America that would precipitate the "war on terror," the US led invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. Far from ending terrorism, George Bush's tactics of using overwhelming military might to fight extremism appear to have rebounded, spawning an epidemic of global terrorism that has claimed an estimated 72,265 lives since 2001, most of them Iraqi civilians. The rest, some 30,626, according to official US figures, have been killed in a combination of terror attacks and counter-insurgency actions by the US and its allies. The figures were compiled by the US based National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT).

A US led-invasion swept away the Taliban regime in a matter of weeks, and did the same to Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party in 2003, but far from bringing stability and democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq, the outcome has been one of constant warfare. Yesterday hundreds of NATO troops, backed by warplanes and helicopter gunships, were involved in the offensive on the area, southwest of Kandahar, that has been a centre of Taliban resistance. NATO said more than 200 Taliban fighters were killed in the fierce fighting in which four Canadian soldiers also died. Eighty Taliban fighters were captured.

The district where the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, was born, south-west of Kandahar, is again under Taliban control, a situation mirrored across large swaths of the south of the country. The government of Hamid Karzai clings on to the cities of the south while NATO forces in Kandahar and Helmand are locked in an all-out war. In Punjwai and Jerai districts south-west of Kandahar, as many as 1,500 Taliban fighters have been holding off repeated attempts by Afghan and Canadian soldiers to dislodge them since May. Their resistance has marked a new phase in the growing Taliban insurgency, an evolution from the hit-and-run raids by groups of eight to 15 fighters that characterized the attacks in the south previously to large bodies of fighters taking and holding territory.

Operation Medusa, the latest attempt to dislodge them, began on Saturday and involves some 2,000 troops. Highway 1, which links Kandahar to Lashkargar, has been cut since June. Yesterday NATO forces placed a ban on civilian movement along the road as helicopters and aircraft together with artillery pounded suspected Taliban positions.

In Iraq, three and a half years after the invasion, the situation remains equally dire and the numbers of Iraqi casualties has soared by 51 per cent according to US figures. Some 3,000 civilians are now dying every month in Iraq the Pentagon says. President Bush has shifted his approach in an effort to shore up faltering public support for the war. No longer does he stress the benefits of securing peace in Iraq, but rather he is laying out the peril of a failure.

Observers of the President say that in recent weeks his language has become increasingly grim as he details what he believes would be the consequences of US withdrawal. "We can allow the Middle East to continue on its course, on the course it was headed before September the 11th," he said in a speech last week. "And a generation from now, our children will face a region dominated by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons. Or we can stop that from happening, by rallying the world to confront the ideology of hate and give the people of the Middle East a future of hope."

Away from such rhetoric, the situation on the ground in Iraq only appears to be getting worse. According to a new, grim assessment by the Pentagon, Iraqi civilians are increasingly suffering as a result of the violence and chaos. In recent months the numbers of Iraqi casualties ¬ both civilians and security forces - has soared by 51 per cent. The deaths are the result of a spiral in sectarian clashes as well as an ongoing insurgency against the US and UK occupation that remains "potent and viable". The average number of attacks of all types now stands at around 800 a week.

"Although the overall number of attacks increased in all categories, the proportion of those attacks directed against civilians increased substantially," the Pentagon report said. "Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife, with Sunni and Shia extremists each portraying themselves as the defenders of their respective sectarian groups."

The report said in the period since the establishment of an Iraqi government in mid-May and 11 August, Iraqi civilian and security personnel have been killed at a rate of around 120 a day. This is an increase from around 80 a day between mid-February to mid-May. Two years ago the number stood at 30 a day. Calculated over a year, the most recent rate of killings would equal more than 43,000 Iraqi casualties.

The Pentagon report, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq, added: "The core conflict in Iraq changed into a struggle between Sunni and Shia extremists seeking to control key areas in Baghdad, create or protect sectarian enclaves, divert economic resources, and impose their own respective political and religious agendas."

While the Pentagon may seek to portray such sectarian violence as the biggest challenge, it admits that the anti-occupation insurgency remains strong. Indeed other figures, released this summer by the US military, suggest attacks against US and Iraqi forces had doubled since January. The figures showed that in July US forces encountered 2,625 roadside bombs, of which 1,666 exploded and 959 were disarmed. In January, 1,454 bombs exploded or were found. The figures suggested that the insurgency had strengthened despite the killing of senior al-Qa'ida fighter, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June.

Yesterday, the Iraqi authorities announced the arrest of a man they say is the second-in-command ofal-Qa'ida in Iraq. Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, said Hamed Jumaa al-Saedi was detained a few days ago. Mr Rubaie said the man was behind the bombing of a Shia shrine in Samarra in February.

More Information on Iraq
More Information on the Occupation and Rule in Iraq
More Information on the "War on Terrorism"
More Information on US Military Expansion and Intervention in Afghanistan


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