Funding, Public Opinion Pose Challenges in War on Terrorism

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2006  - Funding and public opinion are two major challenges the United States faces in fighting the global war on terrorism, a top defense official said here yesterday.

One of the biggest challenges may be budgetary, said Thomas W. O'Connell, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. "Resources are restrained," he said at the 17th Annual National Defense Industrial Association Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium and Exhibition. "I guarantee that if we had unlimited resources we'd be able to make a heck of a lot more progress than we're making now."

Special operations account for about 3 percent of the entire defense budget of roughly $450 billion, he said.

There is also the matter of the American public's opinion about the war, O'Connell said, noting there is evidence Americans' views are shifting.

"I think slowly the government and the American media, the American people, (and) many of our allies are just now beginning to accept the fact that this, in fact, will be a long war," O'Connell said. This understanding is important because terrorists, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, know how public opinion can influence outcomes, he explained.

O'Connell said Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist operating in Iraq, is well aware of how public opinion about a conflict can affect national policy. While domestic views are shifting to accept that the United States is involved in a long war, the government is facing an openly hostile foreign media, O'Connell said.

"When you have a magazine that goes around the world or a newspaper like the International Herald Tribune, and they're constantly pounding on the United States, that doesn't do us a whole lot of good," he said, adding that domestic media are becoming increasingly hostile as well.

The U.S. military also is in the midst of a major transformation. This includes moving away from Cold War mindsets and authorities designed to deal with conventional threats and realign those authorities to better handle the threat of an ever-changing enemy, O'Connell said. This is all being done while trying to fight an unconventional enemy on two fronts and responding to humanitarian missions.

On the foreign front, the enemy has clearly stated its objectives, O'Connell said. One of those objectives is to destroy Israel. Another is to force the United States out of Iraq, he said.

Both objectives would help lead to another common goal: establishing an Islamic caliphate -- a government led by a supreme Muslim ruler -- in Iraq. This idea may begin to appeal to an increasingly frustrated Islamic population, O'Connell said, adding that moderate Islamic voices are remaining silent.

"One of the things that concerns me about what's happened ... as a result of a restless Muslim population is that you'll find more and more of our commentators are saying we're not up against a radical extremist network," he said. "If the consensus moves to the (belief) that these aren't radical ideas, they're core Muslim ideas, I think we have an absolutely new equation."

Further complicating the issue is an enemy within reach of weapons of mass destruction, O'Connell said. "It takes no talent to build a dirty bomb," he said.

Terrorist operations require funding, however, and U.S. Central Command has developed a unit to try to interrupt that funding, O'Connell said.

The Threat Finance Exploitation Unit works with DoD and non-DoD intelligence, law enforcement and regulatory agencies responsible for taking action against terrorist financial networks, he said. U.S. Special Operations Command is playing a role in this unit, he added. "Ours is not to follow the money per se, but to use (financial intelligence) to support our tactical operations and strategic goals," he said.


Thomas W. O'Connell []

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Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict []

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