Exclusive: Trump counterterrorism
strategy urges allies to do more
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[May 06, 2017]
By Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A draft of President
Donald Trump's new counterterrorism strategy demands that U.S. allies
shoulder more of the burden in combating Islamist militants, while
acknowledging that the threat of terrorism will never be totally
The 11-page draft, seen on Friday by Reuters, said the United States
should avoid costly, "open-ended" military commitments.
"We need to intensify operations against global jihadist groups while
also reducing the costs of American 'blood and treasure' in pursuit of
our counterterrorism goals," states the document, which is expected to
be released in coming months.
"We will seek to avoid costly, large-scale U.S. military interventions
to achieve counterterrorism objectives and will increasingly look to
partners to share the responsibility for countering terrorist groups,"
However, it acknowledges that terrorism "cannot be defeated with any
sort of finality."
Michael Anton, spokesman for the White House National Security Council,
said, "As part of its overall approach, the administration is taking a
fresh look at the entire U.S. national security strategy, to include the
counterterrorism mission - which is especially important since no such
strategy has been produced publicly since 2011."
The process is aimed at ensuring "the new strategy is directed against
the pre-eminent terrorist threats to our nation, our citizens, our
interests overseas and allies," Anton said. "Moreover, this new strategy
will highlight achievable and realistic goals, and guiding principles."
Combating Islamic extremism was a major issue for Trump during the 2016
presidential campaign. The draft strategy paper, which officials said
was still being fine-tuned at the White House, describes the threat from
Islamic militant groups in stark tones.
It remains to be seen how Trump can square his goal of avoiding military
interventions with ongoing conflicts involving U.S. troops in Iraq,
Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere.
Rather than scale back U.S. commitments, he has so far largely adhered
to former Obama administration plans to intensify military operations
against militant groups and granted the Pentagon greater authority to
strike them in places like Yemen and Somalia.
Trump may soon reverse years of Obama-ordered drawdowns in Afghanistan.
His administration is now considering boosting by 3,000 to 5,000
soldiers the 8,400-strong U.S. contingent helping Afghan forces fight a
resurgent Taliban, current and former U.S. officials say.
A senior administration official noted that only a small number of
troops have been added to U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria under Trump, at
the discretion of his military commanders.
"If you do see additions elsewhere, they will be in keeping with this
(draft) strategy," said the official, who spoke on condition of
The increased pace of U.S. military operations has seen a recent spate
of American casualties. The latest came in Somalia, where a Navy SEAL
died and two others were wounded in an attack by al Shabaab militants,
U.S. officials said on Friday.
Since President Barack Obama released the last U.S. counterterrorism
strategy in 2011 before the emergence of Islamic State, the threat has
"diversified in size, scope and complexity from what we faced just a few
years ago," the draft strategy said.
In addition to Islamic State, the United States and its allies are
endangered by a reconstituted al Qaeda, groups such as the Haqqani
network and Hezbollah, as well as from homegrown extremists radicalized
online, it said.
Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University's Center for Security
Studies and who reviewed the document at Reuters' request, said the
draft strategy "paints - and I think accurately - a more dire picture"
of the threat than the Obama document, which sounded a "triumphalist"
tone following al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's death in a 2011 U.S.
raid in Pakistan.
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President Donald Trump (C) gathers with Congressional Republicans in
the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of
Representatives approved the American Healthcare Act, to repeal
major parts of Obamacare and replace it with the Republican
healthcare plan, in Washington, U.S., May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos
The senior administration official said the document describing an
overarching counterterrorism approach is separate from a detailed
strategy to defeat Islamic State that Trump also has ordered.
The draft strategy seen by Reuters appears to flow from Trump's
"America First" foreign policy calling for foreign aid cuts and more
burden-sharing by allies and alliances such as NATO.
It does not include a signature phrase from Trump's 2016 campaign,
"radical Islamic terrorism." Instead, it says that jihadist groups
"have merged under a global jihadist ideology that seeks to
establish a transnational Islamic caliphate that fosters conflict on
a global scale."
The draft's first guiding principle is that the United States "will
always act to disrupt, prevent and respond to terrorist attacks
against our nation, our citizens, our interests overseas and our
allies. This includes taking direct and unilateral action, if
The administration would boost U.S. homeland security by working
with allies and partners to eliminate terrorist leaders,
"ideologues, technical experts, financiers, external operators and
The draft also calls for denying militants physical and online
sanctuaries in which to plan and launch attacks and "degrade their
efforts to develop and deploy" chemical and biological weapons.
Yet it provides few details on how the United States, which has led
global counterterrorism efforts since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks,
can achieve those goals by passing more of the burden to other
countries, many of which lack the requisite military and
The draft makes little mention of promoting human rights,
development, good governance and other "soft power" tools that
Washington has embraced in the past to help foreign governments
reduce grievances that feed extremism.
In contrast, the Obama counterterrorism strategy made "respecting
human rights, fostering good governance, respecting privacy and
civil liberties, committing to security and transparency and
upholding the rule of law" the foremost of its guiding principles.
"Soft power has a role to play, but not to the exclusion of
kinetics," or military action, said Hoffman. He called the draft "a
very sober depiction of the threat and what is needed now and in the
immediate future to counter it."
(Editing by John Walcott and Jonathan Oatis; Editing by Leslie
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