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Is The U.S. Winning the War on Terror?

It's been seven years since 9/11 prompted the U.S. war against terrorism.

The United States and our partners are winning the war on terror. Since Sept. 11, 2001, we have strengthened our capabilities to defend our homeland and take the fight to terrorist groups. We can see progress on several fronts:
First, we have more knowledge of the enemy. Before 9/11, our intelligence and law-enforcement communities were prevented from fully cooperating with each other. Today, agencies at all levels of government are working together more effectively. We are cooperating with airlines, phone companies, and other businesses—and sharing more timely intelligence with other nations.

Second, we are taking the fight to the terrorists. U.S. forces are helping Afghanistan defeat the Taliban, and our troop surge in Iraq is helping to keep Al Qaeda in Iraq on the run. We have disrupted terrorist plots, exposed terrorist cells, and denied terrorists financial resources.

Third, we are winning the war of ideas. The people of Afghanistan and Iraq's Anbar Province saw what life was like under the terrorists, and they rejected it. Across the Middle East, independent polls confirm that Al Qaeda's totalitarian vision is increasingly unpopular and that people want a future of freedom, prosperity, and peace.

Finally, we have bolstered our security here at home. New federal agencies, better port security, and more-effective border controls have all helped keep us safe since 9/11. The war on terror is not yet won, but the U.S. and our partners are making progress, while the terrorists increasingly face rejection and defeat.

Stephen J. Hadley
National Security Adviser

The United States is almost certainly not winning the war against international terrorists and is probably losing it.

The best hard evidence on this complicated subject is the number of terrorist incidents worldwide. According to the State Department, these attacks jumped from 651 in 2004 to 14,499 in 2007.

Granted, about half of these attacks occur in Iraq and Afghanistan. True as well, attacks are down in recent years in the Western Hemisphere and Europe. But terrorist groups have increased in number and geographic distribution over the last five years or so, particularly since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Experts argue about whether most of these groups are largely independent or controlled by Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda.

But regardless, experts agree that these groups have gained in organizational skills and sophistication—and probably in public support. The Iraq war has damaged America's image and effectively served as a recruiting tool for various terrorist groups.

Meanwhile, many safe havens for terrorists remain around the world, notably in northwest Pakistan, where militants continue to destabilize neighboring Afghanistan.

Most worrisome is the serious risk of these groups getting their hands on chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

A decade ago, we didn't have to think or worry much about these terrorist groups or the destruction they could cause. Now, we do worry—and devote extensive resources to combating the threats. Just because there hasn't been another attack since 9/11 doesn't mean we're winning.

Leslie H. Gelb
President Emeritus, Council on Foreign Relations