The Counterterror Coalitions: Cooperation with Europe, NATO, and the European Union

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However, in the face of the rise of ISIS and the persistent strength of other jihadist groups, European countries have themselves undertaken military action against terrorists in Iraq, Syria, the Sahel, and elsewhere. The role of European airstrikes in preparing the way for the recently launched coalition offensive against Mosul provides only the latest example.

European military campaigns against terrorist groups have not duplicated the established US model, and form only a part of the European counter-terror effort. Nevertheless, these operations mark a departure from the previous practice of EU member states, and European governments appear to have paid little attention to the risks they entail. The new European counter-terror wars are hybrid in nature.

The Counterterror Coalitions: Cooperation with Europe, NATO, and the European Union

European countries are pursuing different approaches to the threat posed by jihadist groups across a range of countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and it is hard to disentangle the objectives that lie behind them. European actions range from efforts to strengthen the capacity of states and non-state forces, direct support for their military ground operations, including through the deployment of Special Operations forces, airstrikes designed to weaken armed groups, and more targeted strikes aimed at killing group leaders or fighters allegedly involved in planning attacks.

In essence, European efforts represent a confluence of two distinct kinds of operation: European forces are simultaneously conducting relatively conventional counter-insurgency campaigns against non-state groups, as well as direct military counter-terrorism of the sort that the United States has pioneered over the last decade and a half.

The EU has often been divided about the use of military force, but these operations enjoy broad European support. France, the UK, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Spain, and Poland have all been directly involved in conducting or assisting military action against jihadist groups in the regions surrounding Europe. Several other EU member states are involved in missions to train local security forces or assist countries in the region to strengthen their counter-terror capacity.

The evolution of European military counter-terrorism operations has involved close coordination between EU member states and the United States, and there has been a notable and largely unremarked convergence between European and US approaches to military action against terrorists, after many years when they differed widely. Most European strategists would agree that ISIS and other groups pose a threat to the EU and that there is some role for military action in countering them. In pursuing this objective, European governments are at risk of taking military action that is ineffective in achieving its stated goals and may even be counterproductive.

They are also in danger of following the United States in setting dangerously expansive legal precedents for the use of force against non-state groups overseas. In fact, almost from the start, it was conducting two largely distinct military campaigns. In Afghanistan, the US armed forces helped the Northern Alliance topple the Taliban regime in Kabul and then spent many years trying to defeat the insurgent movement that the Taliban became — an effort that led President Barack Obama to extend the mission of US forces in Afghanistan in Many European countries were closely involved in this effort: NATO committed a large security assistance force to Afghanistan between and , succeeded by a smaller follow-on mission that continues to the present.


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Alongside this, however, the US was conducting a campaign against the central core and various sub-groups of al-Qaeda that stretched across different countries and looked nothing like a conventional armed conflict. Even in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his followers made no effort to fight the United States; their only concern was to escape the reach of US forces, defend themselves when necessary, and slip away when they could.

These efforts took place in isolation from any conventional military engagement, and increasingly came to use drones as their primary weapons platform. A number of European countries turned out to have collaborated in different ways with US targeted killings, above all through providing intelligence that was used to identify targets, according to numerous reports and investigations.

Nevertheless, this assistance was not publicly admitted and was often the focus of domestic controversy or legal challenge after it came to light.

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Moreover, most European officials rejected the legal claims of a global armed conflict underlying the US strikes against al-Qaeda, and EU member states were careful not to endorse US actions. Even for European countries such as Spain and the UK that were hit by al-Qaeda-linked attacks, direct military action against al-Qaeda members overseas was seen either as unjustifiable and counterproductive, or, where practised covertly, as a distinctly secondary contribution to the defence of European territory against terrorist crimes.

Unlike the men who carried out the attacks of September 11 in the United States, the perpetrators of terrorist incidents in Europe were mainly citizens or residents of the countries where the attacks took place. The primary focus of European counter-terrorist efforts remained on domestic law enforcement, intelligence work, and counter-radicalisation programmes. The evolution of these armed groups led to the European move into military counter-terrorism; in effect, the two strands of the US response to September 11 were brought together.

These developments were rooted, among other factors, in the fundamental changes produced across the Middle East and North Africa by the after-effects of the Arab revolutions of It remains unclear how much of a threat AQIM and its various spin-offs and affiliated groups would have posed to European countries, even had they succeeded in gaining control of a large part of Malian territory.

The prospect that AQIM and other groups could gain control of Mali clearly risked the destabilisation of the region. Even without a further advance, the jihadists had established a safe haven in northern Mali where immediate threats to their control had been marginalised. Following the completion of this part of its mission, France turned over responsibility for stabilising Mali to the United Nations and to an EU mission to train the Malian army. However, while Operation Serval had scattered the jihadists from their bases in northern Mali, they showed a persistent capacity to mount attacks in Mali and neighbouring countries, particularly Niger.

According to French officials, there was a continuing need to act against a possible resurgence of terrorist activity and head off the danger that jihadists might be able to re-establish a safe haven, whether in Mali or elsewhere. France therefore adjusted its military posture to one based on a new and different strategic concept.

The military operation, renamed Operation Barkhane, was now focused on attacking a shifting set of ultra-mobile armed groups that were spread across several countries. France obtained the consent of Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania, as well as Mali, for its troops to operate on their territory.

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French forces were directed to track and kill jihadists across a vast territory extending over around five million square kilometres. At the same time as France was moving into military counter-terrorism in the Sahel, a new and seemingly even more menacing terrorist safe haven was emerging in the Levant. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham ISIS surged to international notoriety in early when, building on a territorial presence that it had established in Syria amid the civil war, it advanced swiftly through north-eastern Iraq and seized the city of Mosul in June The resources, money, and weaponry that ISIS captured during its seizure of cities and military bases in both Syria and Iraq, and the large number of recruits that it was drawing into its ranks, made it seem more akin to the military force of a state than an insurgent movement or traditional terrorist group.

Following further advances by ISIS against Iraqi Kurdish territory in the summer — leading in particular to the threatened massacre of thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority — and in response to an explicit request for assistance from the Iraqi government, the United States began airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq in August In addition to the territory over which ISIS had gained control, there was another reason why the group seemed to represent a different kind of threat to Europe than that posed by al-Qaeda and other groups.

An attack carried out by a returned fighter at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May showed the direct danger these fighters could pose in European countries.

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Against a background of massive public concern in Europe and the United States, European countries quickly joined the coalition carrying out military action against ISIS in Iraq. As justification for military action, European leaders and officials cited the danger of letting ISIS consolidate its territorial control. They pursued diplomatic efforts to promote a more inclusive political approach by the Iraqi government, restrict the movement of foreign fighters across the Turkish-Syrian border, and reduce or end the conflict in Syria.

On the domestic front, they strengthened programmes to counter radicalisation among their own populations, attempted to limit financial flows and arms transfers to the group through the use of sanctions, and put in place legal provisions, intelligence measures, and other steps to deal with returning fighters. Nevertheless, despite the extra measures that states were taking against ISIS, the threat the group posed to Europe seemed to escalate.

According to one estimate, the total of Western European fighters in Syria more than doubled to over 5, between June and December Increasingly, the defence of European countries against terrorism was at the centre of the justification for military engagement. These military strikes did not, however, lead to any noticeable reduction in the threat ISIS posed.

Instead, the following months saw the first high-casualty attacks directly organised by ISIS in Europe, with the coordinated assault on Paris in November that killed people and the Brussels bombings of March that killed 32 people. Following the Paris attacks, France invoked the mutual defence provision of the Lisbon Treaty Article 42 7 to request assistance in military action against ISIS from other EU member states; in response, the UK, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands announced they would either join in airstrikes in Syria or provide direct assistance to French military efforts.

The counter-terror wars have brought together a significant group of the most militarily active EU member states.

Differences in national political culture continue to shape the policy and rhetoric of EU member states: for example, while President Hollande has repeatedly echoed the language of US leaders in saying his country is at war with ISIS, other European officials admit that such language makes them uneasy. France has been the strongest advocate among European countries of an armed response to terrorist groups and has also emerged as a leading partner of the United States in military counter-terrorism, particularly in Africa. In the Sahel, France has deployed 3, troops in Operation Barkhane, along with 17 helicopters, four Mirage attack aircraft based in Chad, and five medium-altitude, long-endurance drones three Reaper and two French-made Harfang based at Niamey in Niger.

France does not currently possess armed drones, but it makes extensive use of surveillance drones to identify individual targets or mobile groups of fighters in the Sahelian desert. Altogether, France had conducted operations as part of Operation Barkhane by July and, according to the French Ministry of Defence, had killed or captured over terrorist fighters and captured or destroyed 16 tons of weaponry. France has also deployed a number of support aircraft, though no drones.

Following the Paris attacks of November , France deployed the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the eastern Mediterranean between November and March , providing an additional 26 fighter planes. In July , President Hollande announced that the Charles de Gaulle would return to the region following the Nice truck attack. While France says it does not have ground troops involved in operations against ISIS, it has admitted that it has Special Forces troops in both Iraq and Syria working as advisers and trainers to local forces. The presence of French operatives in Libya, already reported in the press, became impossible to conceal after three of them were killed in a helicopter crash in July Judged simply by the number of airstrikes, the United Kingdom has been the most active European partner to the United States in the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and subsequently in Syria, to which it formally extended its operations in December Operation Shader as the British campaign is named currently deploys 14 combat planes eight Tornado aircraft and six Typhoon aircraft and an unspecified number of armed Reaper drones out of the ten the British armed forces have in service, as well as several support aircraft.

The total number of drone missions flown in support of Shader through June stood at 1,, of which had entered Syrian territory; weapons had been fired from British drones in Iraq and 30 in Syria. Standing apart from Operation Shader and therefore excluded from the figures above is the drone strike that Britain carried out in Syria in August The target of the attack was the British jihadist Reyaad Khan, who was killed along with two other fighters. Special Forces have also been reported to be present in Iraq.


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  • A commander from Misrata told The Times that British forces had fired missiles against would-be suicide bombers who were targeting militia forces. Since Germany has provided weapons and training to Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq. There are currently German troops deployed, while arms shipments, which were suspended in January after some of the weapons were found on the black market, were resumed in August While the long-term success of the counterterrorism campaign will depend on concerted cooperation from European states, a key question is the extent to which that cooperation should be pursued through European multilateral institutions.

    The author argues that the United States should pursue military and intelligence cooperation on a bilateral basis, and it should increasingly pursue financial and law enforcement cooperation on a multilateral basis. Multilateral cooperation with a strengthened EU would enhance the ability of states on both sides of the Atlantic to prevent terrorism and prosecute those involved in terrorist activities. Select Parent Grandparent Teacher Kid at heart. Age of the child I gave this to:.

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