Congratulations, James Kitfield, on your new book Twilight Warriors! Give us an overview of the book and your inspiration for writing it.
I was inspired to write the book by a watershed period in the “global war against terrorism” that occurred between 2011-2012. During that period the administration’s secret terrorist-targeting operations were in high gear, killing more than one half of the top 20 al-Qaeda “high value targets,” as well as the two most wanted terrorists in the world killed in 2011 – Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.
Not coincidentally, President Obama went against the advice of his top national security advisers and pulled the last U.S. troops out of Iraq at the end of 2011, and promised to keep a self-imposed withdrawal date for pulling that last U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by 2014. In 2012, President Obama successfully ran as the commander-in-chief who brought Osama bin Laden to justice and was ending the unpopular post-9/11 wars. At that point I decided the country needed to know much more about a terrorist-hunting network that was going to be responsible for keeping the nation safe from a still potent threat.
Can you give us some examples as to how American warfare has improved since the beginning of the War on Terror?
Due to vastly different cultures and functional missions, the various U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have always struggled to work collectively together in a “whole of government” approach. Just how dangerous that lack of coordination had become was made evident by the 9-11 Commission Report, which singled out dysfunctional relations between the CIA and FBI in particular as having enabled the attack.
Joint Special Operations Command’s (JSOC) joint, interagency task forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were successful in breaking down the cultural and institutional barriers between agencies, achieving a “whole of government” approach that leveraged the skills of each agency into a whole that was much greater than the sum of its parts. This synergy is the essence of the new American way of war.
How can we use these tactics and weapons to defeat ISIS and other enemies of ours around the world?
The new US template for counter-terrorism operations such as those that are unfolding against ISIS is to marry the unique capabilities at the heart of our terrorist hunting network – precision air strike, advanced Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR), globe-spanning command-and-control networks, Special Force strike raids, and “train and assist” operations – to local proxy forces on the ground, be they the Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq; Syrian Kurdish forces and moderate Arab rebel groups in Syria; or African Union forces in Somalia. Because there is so little public or political support for using US ground combat units in these operations, this hybrid approach will likely characterize US counterterrorism operations for the foreseeable future.
What are two or three points you’d like readers to take away from Twilight Warriors?
The synergy evident in JSOC’s interagency task forces is unprecedented, and what “right” looks like. The threats we as a nation face are too dangerous to allow agencies to waste valuable time and resources “stiff arming” each other. We should demand of our myriad national security forces and agencies that they work together as one against a common enemy to keep the nation safe.
The conflict against Islamist extremist groups bent on doing us and our allies harm is not over. As we have seen with the ascendance of ISIS and the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the enemy has decided to fight on, meaning that like it or not, we remain in a war with these groups. What unites them is a very intolerant and extremely anti-Western strain of Salafi jihadist ideology, and that ideology shows no signs of abating.
The technological edge the US has established with the use of unmanned drones, precision air strike and advanced intelligence-gathering techniques will not last forever, and will have to be continually honed in order to stay ahead of our adversaries. When political dysfunction in Washington is allowed to damage our military readiness and put that technological superiority at risk – as has happened in recent years – then the American public needs to demand better.
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