Military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq . . .
The American military's role in the war on terrorism primarily centers on the identification and neutralization of existing enemies. Some of these enemies are fairly obvious. The United States is quite certain that Al Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and that Osama Bin Laden is the leader of Al Qaeda. Therefore, military operations against Al Qaeda targets are an important and inescapable part of the war on terrorism. Other enemies are less well defined. At what point does a group or a government that shares an ideology with terrorists become a terrorist supporter and an American enemy? Is it enough to subscribe to the same version of radical Islam? Must they provide material support or is simply turning a blind eye toward certain activities sufficient? Is there a real difference between providing funding and providing training?
Following the American invasion in October, 2001, the Taliban government quickly fell. Numerous Al Qaeda training camps were destroyed and most of the country was stabilized in a relatively brief period. Al Qaeda leaders were captured and killed and Bin Laden himself narrowly escaped during the battle of Tora Bora, a mountainous stronghold overtaken by American forces. Today, the people of Afghanistan have participated in several elections, schools are no longer dominated by radical Islamist ideology, and girls and women have regained their basic rights and freedoms. For the first time in decades, the country is relatively stable. However, the effort of American troops and their allies in Afghanistan is not quite complete. The mountainous regions of the north and the east are still home to the ancient tribal leaders who have never fully respected the sovereignty of the Afghan government. Many remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda remain in the harsh northern and eastern regions as well, still capable of attacks on military forces. These mountains have been the home for fiercely independent and tribal groups for many centuries and have not yet been fully infiltrated by Western armies or the new Afghan government. And, of course, Osama Bin Laden has not yet been captured. Many observers believe that he and his top lieutenants remain in the unforgiving territory that spans the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, moving relatively freely with the aid and protection of local leaders. Until he is captured, killed, or driven from the region, the American mission is unlikely to end.
One of the primary objectives of the American war on terrorism is the neutralization of governments and groups that support terrorist activities. It is not necessary to eliminate these parties completely, but simply to bring them into the international family of legitimate and cooperative states. Saddam Hussein represents a high profile example of this American effort. Saddam had ruled Iraq for many years, during which he had waged a lengthy war with Iran, brutalized his own people, and participated in assorted corruption and conspiracy schemes. In 1990, he invaded and occupied Kuwait, an innocent country, precipitating a war with the United States and numerous allies. During this war, the coalition forces discovered that he had been developing weapons of mass destruction. Some, such as chemical and biological weapons, were used against his own people, particularly the northern Kurds. Others, such as nuclear weapons, did not yet exist, though he had launched a development program that had progressed much farther than any Americans had suspected. Following this war, the United Nations imposed an assortment of sanctions upon Iraq, designed to prevent further aggression and to monitor any further weapons developments. Ten years later, Saddam Hussein had repeatedly failed to comply with these restrictions. He refused to allow international inspectors access to suspected weapons sites, violated no-fly zones established by the UN, and killed thousands of his own people in retaliation for their support of coalition forces during the Gulf War. He supported a conspiracy to kill former President George H. W. Bush and offered substantial financial rewards to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
During the 1990's, the international community allowed these flagrant violations of international law to pass without a substantial response. 9/11, however, indicated that a new era of international politics had begun. The threat of Islamist terrorism loomed over the West and the risks of further attacks, potentially with weapons of mass destruction, were unthinkable. A coalition of nations determined that Saddam's presence in the Middle East, with a known WMD program that could not be tracked, with a flagrant disregard for international laws, and with a demonstrable willingness to support violence and terrorism, was too destabilizing to accept. For more than ten years, he was offered chances to comply with UN requirements and for all that time he flaunted his defiance in the face of the international community. In 2002 and 2003, he again refused full access to suspected weapons sites and records, content instead to conceal his capabilities rather than act honestly and straightforwardly. Finally, in March, 2003, a thirty-nation coalition led by the United States, acted to eliminate the dangerous and destabilizing threat he posed to the region and to the world.
Since that invasion, Saddam Hussein and his Baathist party have been removed from power, national elections have been held, and a new constitution written. For the first time in decades, Iraq is on the path toward becoming a normalized member of the international community. However, the path to legitimacy is a difficult one that has taken previous countries, such as Germany and Japan, many years and is presenting obstacles for the Iraqi transition. Iraq today is a magnet for potential terrorists throughout the region. It is the closest place that a young radicalized man can go to "fight the infidels". Many Islamists see it as an opportunity to inflict a grievous defeat upon the United States, for if they can drive the Americans out, they will have proven their resolve and capabilities. For this reason, terrorist organizations and anti-American governments have been supplying funds, equipment, and manpower to the Iraqi insurgency, hoping to drain and ultimately defeat the American military. They appear to be fighting a losing battle, though, as the examples of democracy and cooperation spread throughout the Middle East, more countries have free elections, and even such anti-American stalwarts as Libya lay down their weapons. The objective in Iraq