At the Heritage Foundation, Dr. Mary Habeck, an adjunct lecturer at John Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (known as SAIS), noted that terrorism has spiked since 2011. She said that today, “the terrorist threat against the U.S. has never been greater.” She added, “You have to go back to the Algerian civil war to find” this number of terrorist attacks.
Habeck said, “First of all, al-Qaeda and ISIS [known as the Islamic State, or ISIL] have a plan and they’re executing it.” “They have created a whole series of campaign plans for each country,” Habeck said, and “ISIS inherited this plan.” It is no secret that their plans are predicated [on] and predicted U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East” and then, “they would take advantage” of the power vacuum. What sets ISIS apart from others, she said, was that “the ISIS guys seem to believe to impose [their] beliefs” on a population and then act like Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who tortured and intimidated people to obey his rule. ISIS uses this intimidation technique to intimidate the West, such as France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.
She felt that “our strategy is failing” because the U.S. “can’t depend on partners alone to keep ourselves safe and to achieve our national security aims.” She added, “We need to have more consensus about…the size and scope of the problem… [and] what we’re actually confronting.” Habeck pointed out, “Counterinsurgency is not the same thing as counterterrorism” and that “attrition alone will not solve this problem.” She continued, “Counterterrorism is absolutely necessary from a defense [perspective]” and yet, “counterinsurgency needs eight to ten years to be effective.” To have an effective plan, “You have to be there for a generation. That’s the way it works.” She outlined how radicalized communities are the norm and it has become “a generational issue” in the Middle East, where ISIS fighters marry locals and build specific ethnic and religious communities around their ideology.
Attrition is where the U.S. government eliminates terrorists by drone strikes or other means. “Of those 300 members [of al-Qaeda], we’ve killed 2,500…we cannot kill our way out of this problem.” She pointed out how drone strikes have made al-Qaeda and ISIS adjust their tactics, “Unfortunately, it’s a Darwinian process. We’re killing them off…making them smarter.”
Habeck said not to despair, but “it’s just going to take more” to get the job done. She noted that ISIS has had some defeats at the hands of al-Qaeda, and due to recent trends, “we’re looking forward to a flood of al-Qaeda inspired problems” instead of “ISIS-inspired problems.”