Trump Counterterrorism Strategy Urges Allies to Do More

By Reuters
May 5, 2017 Updated: May 5, 2017

WASHINGTON—A draft of President Donald Trump’s new counterterrorism strategy demands that U.S. allies shoulder more of the burden in combating radical Islamic terrorists, while acknowledging that the scourge will never be totally eliminated.

The 11-page draft, seen on Friday by Reuters, said the United States should avoid costly, “open-ended” military commitments.

“We need to intensify operations against global jihadist groups while also reducing the costs of American ‘blood and treasure’ in pursuit of our counterterrorism goals,” states the document, which is expected to be released in coming months.

“We will seek to avoid costly, large-scale U.S. military interventions to achieve counterterrorism objectives and will increasingly look to partners to share the responsibility for countering terrorist groups,” it says.

However, it acknowledges that terrorism “cannot be defeated with any sort of finality.”

A White House spokesman, contacted about the strategy document, did not immediately comment.

When published, it will be the first U.S. blueprint in six years outlining how to combat radical Islamic extremism, a major issue for Trump during the presidential campaign.

The strategy, which officials said was still being fine-tuned at the White House, describes the threat from radical Islamic terrorist groups in stark tones.

It remains to be seen how Trump can square his goal of avoiding military interventions with ongoing conflicts involving U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

President Donald Trump gestures to the media after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas left the White House in Washington on May 3, 2017. (REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)
President Donald Trump gestures to the media after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas left the White House in Washington on May 3, 2017. (REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Rather than scale back U.S. commitments, he has so far largely adhered to former Obama administration plans to intensify military operations against militant groups and granted the Pentagon greater authority to strike them in places like Yemen and Somalia.

Trump may soon reverse years of Obama-ordered draw-downs in Afghanistan. His administration is now considering boosting by 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers the 8,400-strong U.S. contingent helping Afghan forces fight a resurgent Taliban, current and former U.S. officials say.

The increased pace of U.S. military operations has seen a recent spate of American casualties. The latest came in Somalia, where a Navy SEAL died and two others were wounded in an attack by al-Shabaab terrorists, U.S. officials said on Friday.

Since former President Barack Obama released the last U.S. counterterrorism strategy in 2011 before the emergence of the ISIS terrorist group, the threat has “diversified in size, scope and complexity from what we faced just a few years ago,” the draft strategy said.

In addition to ISIS, the United States and its allies are endangered by a reconstituted al-Qaeda, groups such as the Haqqani network and Hezbollah, as well as from homegrown extremists radicalized online, it said.

Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies and who reviewed the document at Reuters’ request, said the draft strategy “paints – and I think accurately – a more dire picture” of the threat than the Obama document, which sounded a “triumphalist” tone following al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s death in a 2011 U.S. raid in Pakistan.

Missing Phrase

The draft strategy appears to flow from Trump’s “America First” foreign policy calling for foreign aid cuts and more burden-sharing by allies and alliances such as NATO.

The version seen by Reuters does not include a signature phrase from Trump’s 2016 campaign, “radical Islamic terrorism.” Instead, it says that jihadist groups “have merged under a global jihadist ideology that seeks to establish a transnational Islamic caliphate that fosters conflict on a global scale.”


The draft’s first guiding principle is that the United States “will always act to disrupt, prevent and respond to terrorist attacks against our nation, our citizens, our interests overseas and our allies. This includes taking direct and unilateral action, if necessary.”

The administration would boost U.S. homeland security by working with allies and partners to eliminate terrorist leaders, “ideologues, technical experts, financiers, external operators and battlefield commanders.”

The draft also calls for denying terrorists physical and online sanctuaries in which to plan and launch attacks and “degrade their efforts to develop and deploy” chemical and biological weapons.