War on Terrorism in US


On Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers crashed commercial airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington D.C., killing thousands of people. The attack was the most devastating act of aggression on U.S. territory since the Civil War (1861-65). Declaring the assault an act of war, U.S. officials vowed to strike back against the person accused of orchestrating the attack, Osama bin Laden, who is believed to have either masterminded or supported the deadliest terrorist attacks against the U.S. in recent years.

In addition, some policymakers called on President Bush (R) to undertake a wide-ranging effort to defeat terrorist organizations around the world. Indeed, in the wake of the attacks, in early October the U.S. began launching airstrikes against targets in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban government provides a haven for bin Laden and an international terrorist network, Al Qaeda, that officials believe bin Laden heads. (Polk, 2005) The U.S. has long battled against international terrorism. In recent years those efforts have focused on bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi Arabian exile, and Al Qaeda. Among the attacks attributed to bin Laden are an attack on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and an attack on the U.S.S Cole in a Yemeni port in 2000. (Boyne, 2005).

The recent attack, however, far exceeded the devastation of earlier attacks against U.S. targets. On the morning of Sept. 11, hijackers took over four commercial U.S. aircraft. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center’s “Twin Towers,” eventually causing the 110-story buildings to collapse. A third plane, which officials say may have been headed for the White House, crashed into the side of the Pentagon. A fourth plane crashed in a rural section of western Pennsylvania but may have been headed for a fourth landmark. (Mueller, 2006) Although the immediate death toll of the attacks is unknown, authorities estimate that nearly 5,000 people died when the towers collapsed. In addition, hundreds more died at the Pentagon and aboard the hijacked planes. (Jones, 2004) National leaders immediately promised a forceful U.S. response to the attack. In a nationally televised address to Congress nine days after the attack, Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over bin Laden and his associates. “The Taliban must act and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate,” Bush said. (Sara, 2006).

Many analysts say that the scope of the U.S. response may extend beyond retaliation against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, however. Many officials within the Bush administration believe that the U.S. must lead a worldwide effort to wipe out international terrorism altogether. “Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda,” declared Bush. “It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” (Polk, 2005) Indeed, in the aftermath of the September attack, many public officials declared the U.S. to be at war, even as the exact identity of the enemy remained unclear. Was the U.S. at war with Al Qaeda? With Afghanistan? With every nation suspected of sponsoring terrorist groups, including Iran and Iraq?

The lack of a clearly defined enemy has spurred debate throughout the country. Many people have called for an extensive operation to eliminate terrorism worldwide, starting with an attack against the Taliban but eventually including attacks against any nation that supports or harbors terrorists. Proponents of that approach argue that an operation focused solely on eliminating bin Laden is pointless since it would fail to prevent future terrorist attacks by other groups.

Other people, however, insist that the U.S. must undertake a more focused, measured response. To defeat bin Laden and prevent future attacks, the U.S. will need assistance from the international community, particularly from Muslim nations with strong anti-American tendencies, they argue. If the U.S. overreacts in its response to the recent attack, analysts warn, it risks alienating those nations and others, impeding efforts to track down bin Laden and possibly sparking a massive war with the entire Islamic world. (Jones, 2004) How should the U.S. respond to the recent terrorist attacks? Should the nation concentrate mainly on capturing or killing bin Laden and his associates? Or should policymakers initiate a broader effort to fight terrorism throughout the world?

Terrorist Attacks against the U.S.

Terrorism has been a primary focus of U.S. foreign policy for much of the past 10 years. During the Cold War, U.S. officials were chiefly concerned with the possibility of a massive war with the Soviet Union and its allies. Indeed, during that time few nations other than the Soviet Union had the military capability to pose a serious threat. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, the threat of international terrorism has grown. The Soviet Union’s collapse took away a major source of stability in surrounding regions. (Simon, 2001) As a result, analysts say, terrorist groups and rogue nations, such as Iraq and North Korea, that had been relatively powerless are now able to obtain or develop weapons of mass destruction nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Among terrorist groups, experts say, Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, pose an especially dangerous threat to the U.S. Although most Muslims say that their religion preaches peace, some radicals in Asia and the Middle East believe that the U.S. is at war with Islam. In particular, observers say, the radicals hate the U.S. for its support of Israel and its cultural influence on their part of the world. (Polk, 2005) Fundamentalist terrorists have frequently targeted the U.S. for the attack. In 1993, Muslim extremists detonated a bomb in a garage underneath the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others. The blast and subsequent smoke forced the tower’s 50,000 workers to evacuate and caused millions of dollars in damage. The terrorists, led by Egyptian Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, reportedly had intended to destroy landmarks throughout New York City, including the headquarters of the United Nations (U.N.), and also intended to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. (Jones, 2004). They were eventually caught, tried, and sentenced to prison.

For the most part, however, attacks against the U.S. have been against U.S. targets abroad. One of the deadliest attacks was the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Those attacks killed 263 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded more than 5,000 others. U.S. officials quickly traced the attack to bin Laden, who had been suspected of organizing bombings of U.S. military facilities in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996. Those attacks had killed more than 20 Americans and wounded hundreds more. (Sara, 2006).

In response to the embassy bombings, U.S. President Bill Clinton (D, 1993-2001) ordered massive airstrikes against terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. (Bin Laden had lived in Sudan until 1996 when Sudan’s government expelled him under pressure from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.) In calling for the strikes, Clinton cited evidence that bin Laden was planning further attacks, and that the governments of both nations had supported his terrorist activities.

Although most policymakers supported the airstrikes, that operation has recently come under criticism. Most officials now admit that the strikes did little to derail bin Laden’s organization or capabilities. Moreover, they say, the U.S. retaliation reinforced anti-Western sentiment among radical Muslims, increasing bin Laden’s popularity. “The Americans have suddenly created a Muslim hero out of bin Laden, whereas last week he was considered a fanatic nut,” said Sudanese scholar Abdulrahman Abuzayd following the U.S. retaliation. (Polk, 2005)

According to observers, bin Laden resurrected his campaign against the U.S. in October 2000, when a small boat exploded alongside the U.S.S. Cole as the destroyer was refueling in Aden, Yemen. The attack, which was subsequently attributed to associates of bin Laden, killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded 39 others. (Lustick, 2006) Analysts now say that those attacks should have been seen as a signal of the increasing terrorist threat to the U.S. Yet in terms of death and devastation, the previous incidents pale in comparison to the recent attacks. Although some policymakers have been calling for an increased effort to fight terrorism for years, support for that fight is now almost universal. Indeed, in the aftermath of the September 2001 attack, Congress immediately, and nearly unanimously, authorized Bush to use force in retribution for the attack. Moreover, public opinion polls show overwhelming public support for a military response.

The Role of Media

It is a well-known fact media plays an important role in modern society. Due to the media, we get quickly informed about the political situation in the world. Media builds the opinion of society towards any specific topic discussed. It all depends on the way the information is presented. No wonder people get different views on the same problem, which is exactly why media should be highly responsible for the revealing of the truth before the public. The media may be used as propaganda also. During the dreadful terrorist attacks, the media worked hard to provide the entire world with the current events. No doubt it has shaped a definite opinion towards terrorism against the U.S. Nowadays media still keeps track of terrorist attacks, revealing at least 9 of them per day.

Besides, terrorists must have publicity (usually free publicity that they cannot afford or buy) to draw attention, inspire fear and respect. The media gives it to them.

Risks Involved in U.S. Attack on Afghanistan

Despite strong public support for the assault against Afghanistan, some military experts say that the U.S. response should be more subtle and multifaceted. Bin Laden and his followers hide in caves in remote regions throughout Afghanistan. As a result, a broad and imprecise attack such as airstrikes or a ground invasion could miss the terrorists altogether, analysts say.

“There’s tremendous pressure for a big, visible response,” says Michele Flournoy, a senior adviser for the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “But some of the more effective means of dealing with terrorism are covert. The irony is that the most visible response may not be the most effective, and the most effective may not be as visible.” (Sara, 2006).

Indeed, most analysts say that the best response would be to follow the airstrikes with the deployment of special commando forces in Afghanistan. The airstrikes, they argue, could weaken the Taliban and force the terrorists to abandon their hideouts, making it easier for the soldiers on the ground to find them. Currently, the U.S. has 46,000 special operations soldiers, who are trained to carry out missions on land, sea, and air. Those units include the famous Army Green Berets and Navy SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) teams. Although military analysts insist that a mission using special forces is the best option, they maintain that any U.S. military operation faces several obstacles. In particular, they worry about deficiencies in the U.S. intelligence network that have become apparent in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. (Chossudovsky, 2005) U.S. officials have been unable to acquire crucial information about the activities and plans of bin Laden and his associates, yet such information is vital in the efforts to defeat the terrorists and defend against future attacks, observers say. Indeed, better intelligence will be needed to complement any U.S. operation in Afghanistan, analysts say. Due to its difficult terrain and harsh weather, Afghanistan is perhaps the most difficult nation to invade in the world, they point out. As a result, good intelligence will be crucial for U.S. troops to be successful.

Due to the need for better intelligence, the U.S. will be forced to depend on help from other countries in the region, particularly Pakistan. Although relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have long been strained, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf agreed to “full cooperation” with the U.S. following the terrorist attack. He agreed to seal off Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, make Pakistani airspace and land available to U.S. forces, and exchange intelligence information with American officials.

Despite Musharraf’s initial support, many analysts express concern that he might change his mind or that his support could spark an anti-American revolt in Pakistan. (Chossudovsky, 2005).

Many people in Pakistan support bin Laden and the Taliban, putting heat on Musharraf’s decision.

Because of such strong anti-American sentiment in the region, analysts say, U.S. leaders may choose to complement its military response in Afghanistan with support for the Northern Alliance, a rebel group opposed to the Taliban. Although the rebels currently control only a small part of the country, they have a better knowledge of the region and are more likely to receive popular support within Afghanistan than any Americans, experts say. Supplied with U.S. military and technological support, military experts say, the rebels may offer the best chance of defeating the Taliban and finding bin Laden.

However, even that plan might not work, officials acknowledge. The Northern Alliance’s charismatic leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, was killed by a suicide bomber just two days before the attack on the U.S.

War on Terrorism Debated

Many policymakers have vowed that the U.S. response will not end with retaliation against bin Laden and the attack against the Taliban. They contend that the U.S. must defeat not only the terrorists responsible for the recent attacks but all terrorist groups worldwide. “This is a war not against a specific individual, nor will it be a war against solely one organization,” Bush declared. “It is a war against terrorist activities.” A major reason for that policy is the belief among many officials that bin Laden’s defeat would not greatly reduce the threat of terrorism. “The problem is much bigger than bin Laden,” says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (Boyne, 2005).

Many within the Bush administration, particularly Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, are thought to favor a broad attack against other known sponsors of terrorism, particularly Iraq. The U.S. currently considers seven countries, in addition to the Taliban, to be sponsors of terrorism: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea, and Cuba. (Chossudovsky, 2005).

Although most U.S. officials attribute the Sept. 11 attacks to bin Laden, many observers say that there is evidence of Iraqi involvement, which could lead to a military strike against that country. “If we do determine that the Iraqis had an active role in this, I think you’ll see a ferocious military campaign in three parts,” says Thompson. (Sara, 2006) “You’ll see the continuation of our standard bombing campaign, only bigger, a focused ground intervention to destroy their weapons of mass destruction, and a special operations force sent in to kill Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.” (Polk, 2005) Analysts warn that the U.S. faces several challenges if it chooses to retaliate against any groups or nations other than bin Laden and the Taliban, however.

Indeed, a more forceful mission could backfire on the U.S., observers argue. If the U.S. decides to enact a broad war on terrorism, it risks losing the international support and thus, the international intelligence that it needs to carry out the mission against bin Laden and Afghanistan. Due to international concern, in recent weeks U.S. officials have said that the use of military force is to be only one part of a multifaceted U.S. response to the attacks. U.S. policymakers must use diplomatic and economic power to weaken support for terrorist groups around the world. The war on terrorism is unlikely to resemble any other war in history, observers say. (Lustick, 2006) Instead of relying on military power, it will likely combine covert operations with intelligence networks, police work, and diplomacy. Moreover, it will require the cooperation of as many nations as possible to reduce the number of places where terrorists can hide and flourish. Moreover, observers caution, in its attack against terrorists, the U.S. must make sure to limit its assault to clearly defined targets or risk angering not just the Islamic community but the entire world.

As U.S. officials prepared the military response to the terrorist attacks, policymakers began to implement some aspects of the nation’s new antiterrorism policies. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and other officials worked to create a coalition of nations supporting the U.S. battle against terrorism. Those efforts included several quick successes, including a statement of support from Pakistan and an authorization of the use of force by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the military alliance between the U.S., Canada, and Europe. (Mueller, 2006).


The U.S. has also already begun using its economic strength as well. Bush ordered U.S. financial institutions to freeze the assets of people and groups suspected of being involved in the terrorist attacks. Moreover, the nation lifted sanctions against Pakistan and India, in effect since 1998, as a reward for the support that those countries had pledged to the U.S. campaign. Those sanctions had been levied after Pakistan and India had developed and tested nuclear weapons.

At the same time, U.S. policymakers are taking steps to improve defenses domestically as well. Justice Department officials, for example, requested increased surveillance powers to improve their intelligence capabilities. That request received some opposition, however, from those who argue that the added surveillance capabilities would infringe on many Americans’ right to privacy.

Other officials are focusing on the possibility of future terrorist attacks against the U.S. Indeed, many terrorism experts say that an attack using chemical or biological weapons could prove even more devastating than the September attack. Despite growing concerns about chemical or biological weapons, most analysts say that the U.S. is unprepared for such an attack. Bush and other policymakers must now shift their priorities to focus on fighting and defending against terrorism, observers say. For example, some analysts predict that Bush’s plan to build a national missile defense will lose support in favor of defenses against terrorist attacks.

No matter what course of action policymakers follow in response to the recent terrorist attack, most observers agree, the terrorist threat will not be dismissed quickly. While the military campaign against targets in Afghanistan might satisfy many Americans’ need for revenge, experts argue, a truly effective battle against terrorism will occur on many fronts over many years.


Boyne, Walter. (2005) “Operation Iraqi Freedom: What Went Right, What Went Wrong, and Why”. New York City: Forge Books.

Polk, William. (2005) “Understanding Iraq”. New York City: HarperCollins.

Sara A. Daly, and Scott Gerwehr. (2006) “Al-Qaida: Terrorist Selection and Recruitment”. McGraw-Hill Homeland Security Handbook.

Jones, Terry. (2004) “War on the War on Terror”. Publisher: Nation Books.

Chossudovsky, Michel. (2005) “America’s “War on Terrorism””. 2nd edition Global Research.

Lustick, Ian S. (2006) “Trapped in the War on Terror”. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Simon, D. Jeffrey. (2001) “The Terrorist Trap: America’s Experience with Terrorism”, 2nd edition, Indiana University Press.

Mueller, John. (2006) “Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them” Publishers: Free Press.

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