LONDON (AFP) — The US-led “war on terror” has been a “disaster” and Washington and its allies must change their policy in Iraq and Afghanistan to defeat Al-Qaeda, an independent global security think tank said Monday.
The Oxford Research Group (ORG) said in a report that Western strategy since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States had failed to extinguish the threat from Islamist extremism and even fuelled it.
“Every aspect of the war on terror has been counterproductive in Iraq and Afghanistan, from the loss of civilian life through mass detentions without trial. In short, it has been a disaster,” report author Paul Rogers said.
“Western countries simply have to face up to the dangerous mistakes of the past six years and recognise the need for new policies.”
Rogers, professor of peace studies at the University of Bradford, northern England, also warned that any military action against Iran over the Islamic republic’s disputed nuclear programme would further aggravate the situation.
“Going to war with Iran will make matters far worse, playing directly into the hands of extreme elements and adding greatly to the violence across the region,” he added.
“Whatever the problems with Iran, war should be avoided at all costs — the mistakes already made will be completely overshadowed by the consequences of a war with Iran.”
Chief among the report’s criticisms is that the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was a “grievous mistake”, which had created a combat training zone for extremist elements linked to or inspired by Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.
The report, “Towards Sustainable Security: Alternative Approaches to the War on Terror”, said the situation was comparable to the rise of the mujahedin that rose against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
On Afghanistan, the ORG said ousting the hardline Taliban from power in late 2001 had been of “direct value” to Al-Qaeda and militia sympathetic to its violent Islamist ideology were now re-invigorated, it added.
In addition, mass detentions of suspected extremists, torture, prisoner abuse and the “extraordinary rendition” of suspects for questioning in third countries outside US legal jurisdiction was a useful propaganda weapon.
Rogers said the United States and its allies needed to better understand the roots of the Al-Qaeda movement and its support base and systematically undercut it through policy changes at every level.
But he said even if that were successful, it would still take at least a decade to make up for mistakes so far.
Among the ORG’s recommendations are the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq and an increase in diplomacy, including with Syria and Iran; greater civil aid to Afghanistan, a scaling down of military action and talks with militia.
“Extraordinary rendition”, detention without trial and prisoner abuse should stop immediately; countries should commit to advancing the stalled Middle East peace process, because of its central role in anti-Western sentiment, it said.