“Coming of Age”: A Fresh Look at the War on Terror


2019 marks the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States. In the September 2019 issue of the CTC Sentinel, Daniel Byman’s feature article, “Eighteen Years On: The War on Terror Comes of Age“, reflects on nearly two decades of war and counterterrorism, and the state of the international landscape in the wake of these efforts. Even though such reflection seems to be a recurring theme, this year is particularly poignant, as Byman points out that “later this year, a U.S. service member is likely to be deployed to Afghanistan who was not yet born on September 11, 2001.”

This well-written article is straightforward, and divided into five sections. The first is a status report on jihadi attacks in the US and abroad that also takes into considerations factors such as public fear, which contributes to overall terrorism danger. Sections two and three are opposites, discussing both the positives and negatives of US counterterrorism policy and efforts in past years. Section four applies the framework and lens of analysis of previous sections from the perspective of the jihadi movement. In the final section, Byman discusses the future and suggests that the jihadi movement as a whole will continue to localize and regionalize.

It is a dichotomy: “The United States has scored impressive successes against al-Qa`ida, the Islamic State, and other jihadi groups, decimating their leadership and limiting attacks on the U.S. homeland. At the same time, the jihadi cause has far more local and regional influence than it did in the years before 9/11; it is better able to inspire individuals in the West to act on its behalf; and groups have proven resilient despite the fierce U.S.-led onslaught against them.”

The United States has done a great job in denying havens, intelligence cooperation, and homeland defense. Moreover, the U.S. has also sought to enhance the capabilities of allies, instead of duplicating them. Yet, even as the U.S. has worked so hard to counter attacks and threats from jihadi terrorism, attacks from homegrown violent extremists have eclipsed foreign fighters in both the United States and Europe. Going forward, Byman argues that the U.S. counterterrorism strategy must be carefully designed – it is critical to continue to disrupt terrorist safe havens and cooperate with international partners, but it must be balanced against U.S. interests and the feasibility and support for physical U.S. commitments.

The HSDL maintains many resources related to the subject of National Security, which can be found in our Featured Topics on Global and Domestic (U.S.) Terrorism. The HSDL also has an archive dedicated to the September 11, 2001 Attacks. Please note that an HSDL login is required to view some of these resources.

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Author: Kendall Scherr

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