War on Terror Not Confined to
Al Qaeda, CENTCOM General Says

By Sara Wood

TACOMA, Washington — The enemy in the war on terror is not limited to al Qaeda and its associated movements in Iraq and Afghanistan, but includes a global network of extremist groups, a U.S. Central Command general said.

"If we declared victory and walked away from Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow, we would be fighting this fight for years and years," said Army Brig. Gen. Mark T. Kimmitt, CENTCOM’s deputy director of plans and policy, speaking at the Pacific Northwest National Security Forum. "We are fighting an insurgency, a terrorist movement, that is represented by al Qaeda, but it is far more than al Qaeda."

The terrorist network the United States is facing in this war includes extremist groups around the world, and it is a network the nation has been fighting since before Sept. 11, 2001, Kimmitt said. The extremist groups are made up of primarily Sunni Muslims whose goal is to reclaim what they see as the holy lands in the Middle East and to remove Western influence, he added. Their ultimate goal is to establish a caliphate in the region, where Sharia, or Islamic law, rules, and the people are oppressed, he said.

To defeat this network, CENTCOM is pursuing an aggressive campaign to defeat terrorists where they are active and to prevent the spread of their ideology, Kimmitt said.

One of the important aspects of the CENTCOM strategy is that it will take a network to defeat the terrorist network, Kimmitt said. The global terror network uses people, the Internet, smuggling, nongovernmental organizations that are sympathetic to their cause, legitimate governments, front companies and safe havens to achieve its goals, he said.

"If that’s the way that the enemy is going to fight us, it is important to understand that it’s going to take far more than the military to defeat this network," the general said. "Our network needs to be equally strong, and it can’t simply rely on the military."

CENTCOM is developing a strong network that uses all elements of national power to defeat terrorists, Kimmitt said. This network will rely on federal and state law enforcement agencies, the State Department and federal intelligence agencies, he said.

Another important aspect of CENTCOM’s strategy is building the capacity of other nations to fight terrorism themselves, Kimmitt said. Leaders of the al Qaeda movement have been very clear in stating that their goal is to rid the region of Western influence and then go after surrounding countries, which they call apostate or secular governments, he said. These clear declarations have made countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Kuwait more willing to work with the United States and prepare to fight terrorism on their own, he said.

"These countries get it; they understand that it’s not simply a problem (Osama bin Laden) has with the West, it is simply a problem that bin Laden and these organizations have with anybody that does not believe in their extremist ideology," he said.

Most of the high-value target operations in these neighboring countries have been conducted by the countries’ own national forces, Kimmitt said, and the United States will continue to work with them to help them prevent terrorist activity inside their borders.

Also important to CENTCOM’s strategy is denying safe havens or sanctuaries to terrorists, Kimmitt said. The U.S. has to ensure that as al Qaeda and its related organizations are pushed out of Iraq and Afghanistan, they don’t just resettle somewhere else, he said.

Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, with headquarters in Djibouti, is the model for this preventive strategy, he said. American and coalition forces there focus primarily on civil affairs and humanitarian missions to establish relationships with the people and foster cooperation, should terrorists try to move into the area.

"It’s much easier to stop al Qaeda and its associated movements as it tries to establish rather than once it’s already established," he said.

To make sure a victory in the war on terror lasts, the U.S. is tailoring its post-conflict strategy for the area, Kimmitt said. It would be a mistake for the United States to garrison the Middle East like it did to Western Europe after World War II, he explained. The correct strategy for the Middle East is to maintain a sufficient capability in the region to do necessary tasks, such as deterring adversaries, maintaining lines of communication, and maintaining access to strategic resources, but not have any more U.S. military presence than is needed, he said.

"We cannot be seen as occupiers; we cannot breed a cycle of dependency in the region," he said. "The force that we see five years from now, 10 years from now in the Middle East is a fraction of the size the force is today."

The war on terror will be a long fight, perhaps lasting a generation, Kimmitt said, but it is one that must be fought, and the support of the American public is crucial.

"I, for one, remain confident that America gets it, and America, despite what our critics may say, is willing to pay in treasure and in blood to defeat this enemy in The Long War," he said.