There’s a lot to report on President Obama’s very own “War on Terror.” He’s not calling it that, of course. But it’s spreading fast from Afghanistan to southern Arabia, the Horn of Africa and even to Nigeria and West Africa, if the testimony of the general who leads the US Africa Command is to be believed. Ten years after 9/11, maybe the “War on Terror” really and truly will never, ever end.
First, an important new report from the Open Society Foundations and the Liaisons Office tells us that the administration’s night raids in Afghanistan are deadlier than previously thought, creating swelling anger in that country (and, no doubt, more insurgents and “terrorists” than before). The report says, in part:
The number of night raids has skyrocketed: publicly available statistics suggest a fivefold increase between February 2009 and December 2010. International military conducted, on average, 19 night raids per night—a total of 1700 night raids—in the three-month period from roughly December 2010 to February 2011, according to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). ISAF has not released more up-to-date figures; however, interviews conducted for this report suggest a continuing trend of large numbers of night raids, possibly at even higher rates. In April 2011, a senior US military advisor told the Open Society Foundations that as many as 40 raids might take place on a given night across Afghanistan.
Despite the best intentions of the United States and ISAF, the report says, Afghan civilians are still dying from these raids. And who determines who, exactly, is a civilian, an insurgent, a terrorist, or just an armed, angry Afghan?
Second, just two days after the New York Times reported on a bitter internal struggle inside the White House and the Obama administration over limits on the use of force against suspected terrorists overseas, Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, delivered a speech that suggested that there were few limits, indeed, to that use of force.
The debate, according to officials familiar with the deliberations, centers on whether the United States may take aim at only a handful of high-level leaders of militant groups who are personally linked to plots to attack the United States or whether it may also attack the thousands of low-level foot soldiers focused on parochial concerns: controlling the essentially ungoverned lands near the Gulf of Aden, which separates the countries.
Needless to say, if the United States arrogates to itself the power to kill bad guys anywhere it wants to, there’s no end to the “War on Terror.” And, as the Times points out, hawks in Congress, led by Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, are pushing new laws that would significantly expand the legal authority of the administration to go after so-called terrorists. Says Graham: “This is a worldwide conflict without borders. Restricting the definition of the battlefield and restricting the definition of the enemy allows the enemy to regenerate and doesn’t deter people who are on the fence.”