Fighting terrorism is a ‘long war’: US defence secretary

July 31st, 2008 - 8:21 pm ICT by IANS  


Washington, July 31 (IANS) Even winning the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will not end the “long war” against terrorism, so the fight against Al Qaida and other terrorists should remain the top military priority for the US in the coming decades, according to an analysis by Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates. Gates has called for the military to master “irregular” warfare rather than focusing on conventional conflicts against other nations, and the US must harness both military assets and “soft power” to defeat a complex, transnational foe, according to the Gates’ strategy report, Washington Post wrote Thursday.

Significantly, Gates sees India as an ally which will “assume greater responsibility as a stakeholder in the international system, commensurate with its growing economic, military, and soft power”.

The new National Defence Strategy he approved last month has not been released yet - the Post acquired the document from InsideDefense.com, a defence industry news service.

Though it is unusual for a defence secretary - Gates took over in late 2006 - to come out with a comprehensive military strategy so late in an administration’s tenure, in a foreword to the document Gates himself acknowledges that the new president will soon reassess threats and priorities. He, however, believes this document is a “a blueprint to success” for a future administration.

“Iraq and Afghanistan remain the central fronts in the struggle, but we cannot lose sight of the implications of fighting a long-term, episodic, multi-front, and multi-dimensional conflict more complex and diverse than the Cold War confrontation with communism,” according to Gates’ 23-page document.

He has also employed the term “long war” that Donald H. Rumsfeld, former defence secretary, invoked to equate the fight against terrorism with struggles against Soviet communism and Nazi fascism.

But while Rumsfeld focused on pre-emptive military action, Gates recommends US leaders to work with other countries to eliminate the conditions that foster extremism.

“The use of force plays a role, yet military efforts to capture or kill terrorists are likely to be subordinate to measures to promote local participation in government and economic programmes to spur development, as well as efforts to understand and address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies,” the document said.

“For these reasons, arguably the most important military component of the struggle against violent extremists is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we help prepare our partners to defend and govern themselves.”

Gates sees Iran and North Korea in particular as threatening “international order” and meriting US concern. His strategy also warns about potential threats from China and Russia, and he urges the US to build “collaborative and cooperative relationships” with them to blunt their rise as potential adversaries.

The document has met with mixed response from defence experts and the US army’s top brass.

Michele Flournoy, president of the Centre for a New American Security, said the document appropriately emphasises irregular warfare - focused on terrorists and rogue regimes bent on using insurgency or weapons of mass destruction - but might go too far.

“I think irregular warfare is very important, particularly in contrast to preparing solely for conventional warfighting, but it shouldn’t be our only focus,” Flournoy was quoted as saying by the Post. She added that countries such as China likely are preparing for “high-end” warfare and attacks involving anti-satellite technologies and cyberspace.

The US Defence Department has not officially released the National Defence Strategy — which lays out a general plan for the Pentagon to deal with major threats and was last issued in 2005 — but officials recently have provided copies to the House and Senate armed services committees.

Gates’s strategy has met resistance among the Joint Chiefs of Staff because of its focus on irregular warfare, the Post said quoting defence sources.

Gates met with the Joint Chiefs to present the rationale behind his strategy, and they expressed concerns over the long-term risks of shifting the focus too far from conventional threats. The service chiefs have worried publicly about shunning preparation for conventional warfare because it could give adversaries a competitive advantage in key arenas, such as in the skies or in space, the Post said.

“The chiefs were provided an opportunity to review the document by the secretary,” Navy Captain John Kirby, a spokesman for Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was quoted as saying. “They were grateful, and they did provide comment and are comfortable with the final product.”

The Joint Chiefs separately prepare a biannual National Military Strategy for the armed forces, and Kirby said it is still being crafted and edited.

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