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Center of Gravity and the War on Terrorism

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Rept. for 2002-2003

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The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were the most significant outrages committed as an expression of Islamist terrorism. They followed a litany of attacks against Americans and American institutions beginning in 1979 with the takeover of the American Embassy in Teheran, Iran. In the aftermath of the September attack, the United States launched its War on Terrorism. Unlike wars of the past in which the military element played a predominant part in bringing conflict to successful resolution, the War on Terrorism is different. More so than ever before due to the nature of the threat, the War on Terrorism requires the seamless integration of all the elements of national power diplomaticpolitical, informational, military and economic DIME to successfully counter the asymmetric threat represented by al-Qaeda. In order to accomplish this, two things must happen First, we must understand the enemy and understand how our previous policies enabled these attacks. Second, in order to respond effectively, the al-Qaeda organization must be accurately analyzed to determine its center of gravity. All subsequent operations need to be focused on attacking this center of gravity. This paper contends that al-Qaedas center of gravity is its radical Islamist ideology. Furthermore, it contends that the current definition of center of gravity contained in Joint doctrine has been misinterpreted from its original intent and thus inaccurately focuses efforts to deal with this new and unique threat. This has resulted in an operational approach that has been effective in the short term but, unless refocused, will not bring about a successful resolution in the War on Terrorism in the long term.

Subject Categories:

  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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