Analysis: Is Afghanistan really important in the “war on terrorism”?

Paul P. Pillar

Paul P. Pillar

The Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from 1997 to 1999, Paul Pillar, has authored an interesting editorial in which he asks “how important are physical havens to terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda?”. The answer: not very. Writing in The Washington Post, Pillar points out that the main unstated assumption behind the US invasion of Afghanistan, namely that the country must not be allowed to again become a haven for terrorist groups, is incompatible with what we know about how such groups organize. If they are offered a haven, groups such as al-Qaeda will use it for basic training of recruits, says Pillar. But operations planning and training does not require such a base, nor is such a center crucial for successful execution of operations. The example of 9/11 is indicative, points Pillar: the perpetrators were not trained in Afghanistan, but rather “in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States”. Today, eight years after 9/11, militant groups rely on information technology to lessen, or even outright eliminate, their dependence on physical havens. The former CIA official thus urges the Obama Administration to seriously examine the unstated assumption behind the US war in Afghanistan, namely that US security will be weakened if terrorist groups are allowed to use the country as a safe haven. This assumption, says Pillar, is probably false.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

One Response to Analysis: Is Afghanistan really important in the “war on terrorism”?

  1. How can American society tolerate 39,252 deaths associated with automobile collisions in 2005, or 438,000 smoking related deaths in 2008, both instances where we “killed ourselves,” and yet devote more resources and political energy to fighting terrorists, who have killed far fewer US citizens? There is a reason which reflects much about us.

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