Evaluating the U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy

The United States needs to closely examine its record in helping to build security-force capacity before investing in a new $5 billion fund to support foreign counterterrorism efforts.

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The stunning collapse of Iraqi security forces in Mosul and the rest of northern Iraq calls into question a key pillar of President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism strategy: building the capacity of friendly governments to fight terrorist groups on their own. During the commencement ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point just a few weeks ago, the president called on Congress to create a $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund to support efforts “to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner capacity on the front lines.” While a laudable attempt to shift away from both the Bush administration’s regime-change strategy and the current White House strategy of air strikes and special operations raids, the United States’ post-9/11 record on training, equipping, and building foreign security forces casts serious doubt on the prospects for a counterterrorism strategy centered on security-force capacity building.

Afghanistan and Iraq represent the two largest and most comprehensive American efforts at security-force assistance since 9/11. In Afghanistan, the United States has appropriated $57.33 billion for the Afghan Security Forces Fund to fund the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. It remains to be seen how these domestic forces will perform as the United States and NATO draw down their forces in Afghanistan and how sustainable the Afghan security forces will be with fewer external funds available.

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