Thu, Nov 26, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Ending blowback terrorism

The US has created a breeding ground for terrorism with its CIA operations and military adventures. These actions must stop, peace must be brokered in Syria and sustainable development must be promoted in the Middle East to prevent more attacks

By Jeffrey Sachs

Illustration: Mountain People

Terrorist attacks on civilians, whether the downing over Sinai of a Russian aircraft killing 224 civilian passengers, the horrific Paris massacre claiming 130 innocent lives or the tragic bombing in Ankara that killed 102 peace activists, are crimes against humanity. Their perpetrators — in this case, the Islamic State group — must be stopped. Success will require a clear understanding of the roots of this ruthless network of militants.

Painful as it is to admit, the West, especially the US, bears significant responsibility for creating the conditions in which the Islamic State has flourished. Only a change in US and European foreign policy vis-a-vis the Middle East can reduce the risk of further terrorism.

The recent attacks should be understood as “blowback terrorism” — a dreadful unintended result of repeated US and European covert and overt military actions throughout the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia that aimed to overthrow governments and install regimes compliant with Western interests. These operations have not only destabilized the targeted regions, causing great suffering; they have also put populations in the US, the EU, Russia and the Middle East at significant risk of terror.

The public has never really been told the true history of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, or the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Starting in 1979, the CIA mobilized, recruited, trained and armed Sunni young men to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The CIA recruited widely from Muslim populations (including in Europe) to form the mujahidin, a multinational Sunni fighting force mobilized to oust the Soviet infidel from Afghanistan.

Bin Laden, from a wealthy Saudi family, was brought in to help lead and cofinance the operation. This was typical of CIA operations: relying on improvised funding through a wealthy Saudi family, and proceeds from local smuggling and the narcotics trade.

By promoting the core vision of a jihad to defend the lands of Islam (Dar al-Islam) from outsiders, the CIA produced a hardened fighting force of thousands of young men displaced from their homes and stoked for battle. It is this initial fighting force — and the ideology that motivated it — that today still forms the basis of the Sunni jihadist insurgencies, including the Islamic State. While the militants’ original target was the Soviet Union, today the “infidel” includes the US, Europe (notably France and the UK) and Russia.

At the end of the 1980s, with the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan, some elements of the mujahidin morphed into al-Qaeda, Arabic for “the base,” which referred to the military facilities and training grounds in Afghanistan built for the mujahidin by bin Laden and the CIA. After the Soviet withdrawal, the term al-Qaeda shifted meaning from the specific military base to the organizational base of militant activities.

Blowback against the US began in 1990 with the first Gulf War, when the US created and expanded its military bases in the Dar al-Islam, most notably in Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s founding and holiest sites. This expanded US military presence was anathema to the core militant ideology that the CIA had done so much to foster.

The US’ unprovoked war on Iraq in 2003 unleashed the demons. Not only was the war itself launched on the basis of CIA lies; it also aimed to create a Shia-led regime subservient to the US and anathema to the Sunni militants and the many more Sunni Iraqis who were ready to take up arms. More recently, the US, France and the UK toppled Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, and the US worked with the Egyptian generals who ousted the elected Muslim Brotherhood government. In Syria, following Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s violent suppression of peaceful public protests in 2011, the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other regional allies helped to foment a military insurgency that has pushed the country into a downward spiral of chaos and violence.

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