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Shifting U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy


Victims of a blast lie on the ground as fire and smoke rise at a bus park in Abuja, Nigeria. April 14, 2014.

During a major foreign policy address at West Point, President Barack Obama said that terrorism, at home and abroad, remains the most direct threat to the United States.

During a major foreign policy address at West Point, President Barack Obama said that terrorism, at home and abroad, remains the most direct threat to the United States.

But the nature of the terrorist threat has changed over the past several years. In the wake of the large-scale U.S. deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, al-Qaida core has been severely degraded. Instead, the terrorist threat now emanates from al-Qaida affiliates and extremist groups that have emerged in in countries stretching from South Asia to the Sahel.

Recognizing that reality, President Obama said that U.S. counterterrorism efforts must shift to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold:

"We have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat, one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin or stir up local resentments. We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us."

As part of a plan for supporting a network of partnerships, President Obama called on Congress to establish a Counterterrorism Partnership Fund of up to $5 billion to provide funding and resources “to train, build capacity and facilitate partner countries on the front lines:”

”These resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who’ve gone on the offensive against al-Qaida, supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia, working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya and facilitating French operations in Mali.”

Another critical focus of U.S. counterterrorism efforts is the ongoing crisis in Syria. The United States, Mr. Obama said, will step up support for Syria’s neighbors – Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq “as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders.” In addition, he promised to work “to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.”

The United States remains the world’s “one indispensable nation” and cannot ignore what happens beyond its borders, said President Obama.

“I believe,” he said, “we have a real stake – abiding self-interest – in making sure our children and our grandchildren grow up in a world where schoolgirls are not kidnapped; where individuals aren’t slaughtered, because of tribe or faith or political belief. I believe that a world of great freedom and tolerance is not only a moral imperative; it also helps keep us safe.”
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