Naming the enemy


The Australian

October 27, 2007


Islamist terrorists are learning from Iraq. So must we.


THE death of Special Air Service soldier Sergeant Matthew Locke on Thursday in Afghanistan is a terrible reminder that there is rarely such a thing as a war without casualties. Sergeant Locke died fighting a barbaric enemy that seeks not just to take Afghanistan back to the dark ages but to use it as a base from which to destroy us. Worryingly, the death of two Australian soldiers in three weeks is not just a tragic coincidence.


Things are not going well in the poorly named war on terror. As Frank Furedi writes in Inquirer today, we have been unable even to name our enemy. It is not terrorism as such we are fighting but Islamist terrorists. We have been unable to say so because we believe those who claim that merely by identifying our enemies as Islamists we are demonising Muslims. Yet as Sally Neighbour recently said, it is not naming our enemies that makes Muslims look bad. Terrorists who kill civilians while shouting "Allah Akhbar" make Muslims look bad.


Yet that is only the beginning of our problems. Al-Qa'ida and the Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan because, in neighbouring Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf ceded control of the lawless northwest provinces in September last year. These provinces are almost certainly sheltering not just Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri but 30 terrorist camps of the kind that trained Mohammed Atta and David Hicks.


Al-Qa'ida is already seeing dividends. The attack on Benazir Bhutto was almost certainly prepared in the tribal provinces. Since September last year, US military intelligence estimates that cross-border attacks on Afghanistan have increased by 300 per cent. The terrorists who plotted last year to blow up 10 planes en route from Britain to the US with liquid explosives trained in al-Qa'ida's Pakistan camps, as did the terrorists arrested in Denmark and Germany last month.


Al-Qa'ida is still not vanquished in Iraq although it is on the run, thanks to General David Petraeus. Those, like Kevin Rudd, who think it is legitimate to fight al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan but not in Iraq should listen to CIA officer Art Keller, stationed in Pakistan, who said: "People are going from the Afghan-Pakistan border to Iraq to learn the tactics and then come back." The statistics bear this out. Last year, improvised explosive device attacks in Afghanistan -- the kind that killed Trooper David Pearce three weeks ago -- doubled; assaults on international forces tripled; suicide bombings quintupled. This year, suicide bombings are up 69 per cent.


Yet even this is not the worst. The reason we went to war in Iraq the threat that Islamists would get their hands on a weapon of mass destruction -- remains. Not in Iraq. But in Pakistan the challenge for al-Qa'ida is to overthrow General Musharraf and get its hands on the nuclear arsenal. Iran also continues its seemingly inexorable progress towards making a nuclear weapon, which it might well give to one of the many terror organisations it sponsors.


We in the West have made many grave errors in our war with Islamists. We failed to send enough troops into Afghanistan to capture or kill bin Laden and his henchmen in 2001 or to stabilise the country afterwards. We took four bloody years to adopt a successful counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq. We continue to bankroll General Musharraf's disastrous policy of appeasing al-Qa'ida.


There are no easy answers to defeating the Islamists, but just as our enemies are learning from Iraq, so should we. The counter-insurgency tactics that have al-Qa'ida on the run in Iraq must be adopted in the tribal provinces of Pakistan. This is a race against time. Australian lives are at stake, and not just those of our brave soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.