Using Terrorists To Fight Terrorists: The New Petraeus Doctrine
The 9/11 attacks will forever be a reminder of how dangerous any agreement with the Al Qaeda, however functional, may be. (Photo: Reuters)
The 9/11 attacks will forever be a reminder of how dangerous any agreement with the Al Qaeda, however functional, may be. (Photo: Reuters)

Using Terrorists To Fight Terrorists: The New Petraeus Doctrine

Snapshotclose

  • Traditionally, US strategists have always preferred “good terrorists” who supported their policies against “bad terrorists”
  • The CIA used the Afghan Islamist extremist infrastructure for cross border raids against the Daud regime. After the Afghan war concluded, it was the Taliban’s turn to receive such favourable treatment.
  • The same thinking has facilitated the profusion of Islamic State (IS) terrorism in Iraq, Libya and Syria which is spreading even to Asia.
  • The killing of US ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi in 2012 is the best example to prove that no sensible nation should pursue such a strategy.

The problematic suggestion made recently by former CIA Director Gen. Petraeus to use al-Qaeda to fight the Islamic State is yet another example of the basic flaw in the thinking of some senior American officials. Traditionally, US strategists have always preferred “good terrorists” who supported their policies against “bad terrorists”.

This folly dates back to the summer of 1979 when President Carter was persuaded to approve “non-lethal” covert aid to the Afghan rebels which did not include weapons. This was upgraded to supplying arms after the Soviet invasion in December. The CIA, which was asked to carry out this strategy, used the Afghan Islamist extremist infrastructure, originally set up by Pakistan Prime minister ZA Bhutto in 1973 for cross border raids against the Daud regime.

ISIS extremists execute 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya. (Photo: Reuters)
ISIS extremists execute 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya. (Photo: Reuters)

Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski famously justified this to the French magazine “Le Nouvel Observateur” in January 1998:

“What is more important to the history of the world…Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet Union? Some stirred up Moslems or the liberation of the Central Europe?”

After the Afghan war concluded, it was the Taliban’s turn to receive such favourable treatment. Assistant Secretary Robin Raphael while speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 7 March, 1995 had recommended cooperation with the Taliban.

Presently none in US might justify these remarks after the Taliban killed 2,361 American soldiers and injured 20,051. This does not include 1,173 US civilian contractor deaths. It is not that others had not pointed out dangers of this strategy. Even before 9/11 a US War College paper had said on 8 May 2000:

“The United States has consistently misjudged the influence of Islamic extremism since the 1979 Iranian revolution… The paper demonstrates that the United States’ approach to Islamic extremism has been consistently shortsighted and reactive…and has ceded the initiative to the extremists”

A picture of rescue work at the Pentagon a day after the 9/11 attacks. (Photo: Reuters)
A picture of rescue work at the Pentagon a day after the 9/11 attacks. (Photo: Reuters)

This fallacious thinking led to further disasters for America and for the rest of the world. It has facilitated the profusion of Islamic State (IS) terrorism in Iraq, Libya and Syria which is spreading even to Asia. This was the by-product of the original “Neo-Con” policy of “regime change” of certain “bad terrorist states” by supporting armed dissident groups. This in turn created “No-Man’s lands”.

Petraeus was a leading actor in this sordid drama in Iraq and Afghanistan although he was hailed by some “for saving the Iraq War” with his “surge”. He was the brand ambassador for the COIN (Counter-Insurgency strategy). “Foreign Affairs” (Jan-Feb 2013) said that the COIN doctrine which was rejected by the top US army brass in 2006 was enshrined as an army doctrine in 2007 but “five years after that, a new President and new defense secretary barred the military chiefs from even considering counterinsurgency among the war-fighting scenarios used to calculate the military’s force requirements”.

Ex- CIA Director General David Patraeus (Photo: Reuters)
Ex- CIA Director General David Patraeus (Photo: Reuters)

A number of key political and social factors helped in lessening Shia-Sunni violence. Sunni militias, who were responsible for several killings, had turned away from al-Qaeda. Ethnic cleansing in Baghdad had led to an exodus of Sunnis bringing the city under total Shia control. There was mass exodus of refugees from the country, numbering almost two million. This had also led to protected ethnic enclaves. The Sadr militia had declared a cease-fire.

But the reality is that much of the decline in violence attributed to the actions of US forces was the result of decisions and actions taken by the Iraqis themselves. The US role was important, but hardly decisive.
— Michael Cohen, Columnist

Religious propaganda by the Al Qaeda in Syria. (Photo: Reuters)
Religious propaganda by the Al Qaeda in Syria. (Photo: Reuters)

The Benghazi attack and killing of US ambassador J Christopher Stevens in September 2012 would be the best example to prove that no sensible nation including India should pursue a strategy of using terrorists for political objectives. This attack was an incidental result of a series of incidents beginning with an undercover operation to bring down the Gaddafi regime by using dubious former Afghan militants like Abdul Hakeem Belhaj (Al-Qaeda ) whose loyalties were not certain and arming them with weapons.

(The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, and also member of the High Level Committee which enquired into the police performance during 26/11 Mumbai)

(The Quint is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Just go to TheQuint.com/WhatsApp and hit the Subscribe button.)

Follow our India section for more stories.

    Also Watch