Plan Of Attack
The Pentagon has a secret new strategy for taking on terrorists--and taking them down
On March 3, with little fanfare, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, signed a comprehensive new plan for the war on terrorism. Senior defense officials briefed U.S. News on the contents of the still-secret document, which is to be released soon in an unclassified form. Officially titled the "National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism," the document is the culmination of 18 months of work and is a significant evolution from the approach adopted after the 9/11 attacks, which was to focus on capturing or killing the top al Qaeda leaders. For the first time since then, Pentagon officials say, they have a strategy that examines the nature of the antiterror war in depth, lays out a detailed road map for prosecuting it, and establishes a score card to determine where and whether progress is being made.
The origins of the new plan lie in an October 2003 "snowflake," as Rumsfeld's numerous memoranda to his staff are called. Was the United States really winning the war on terrorism, Rumsfeld asked his commanders, and how could we know if more terrorists were being killed or captured than were being recruited into the ranks? Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's under secretary for policy, was told, along with the deputy director for the war on terrorism for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Brig. Gen. Robert Caslen, to find answers to the questions. "We sat down as a result of the secretary's snowflake," Feith recalled, "and said, 'How do we want to state some fundamental propositions about the war?' "
The initial result was a 70-page draft report, which subsequently went through over 40 revisions as it was shared with Rumsfeld's inner circle, then a larger group, called the senior-level review group ("Slurg," in Pentagon-speak), and then regional commanders and other agencies. The president was briefed on the report last January and presented with recommendations for presidential-level initiatives to be included in a government wide review of counterterrorism policy, which is still being conducted by the National Security Council. In March, the final 25-page report, plus 13 annexes, was signed and became formal Pentagon policy. Key features of the new plan:
The terrorist threat against the United States is now defined as "Islamist extremism" --not just al Qaeda. The Pentagon document identifies the "primary enemy" as "extremist Sunni and Shia movements that exploit Islam for political ends" and that form part of a "global web of enemy networks." Recognizing that al Qaeda's influence has spread, the United States is now targeting some two dozen groups--a significant change from the early focus on just al Qaeda and its leadership.
The new approach emphasizes "encouraging" and "enabling" foreign partners, especially in countries where the United States is not at war. Concluding that the conflict cannot be fought by military means alone--or by the United States acting alone--the new Pentagon plan outlines a multipronged strategy that targets eight pressure points and outlines six methods for attacking terrorist networks.