Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless global war on terror but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America. In many cases, this will involve partnerships with other countries. Already thousands of Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives fighting extremists. In Yemen, we are supporting security forces that have reclaimed territory from AQAP. In Somalia, we helped a coalition of African nations push al-Shabab out of its strongholds. In Mali, we’re providing military aid to French-led intervention to push back al-Qaida in the Maghreb and help the people of Mali reclaim their future.
Much of our best counterterrorism cooperation results in the gathering and sharing of intelligence, the arrest and prosecution of terrorists. That’s how a Somali terrorist apprehended off the coast of Yemen is now in prison in New York. That;s how we worked with European allies to disrupt plots from Denmark to Germany to the United Kingdom. That’s how intelligence collected with Saudi Arabia helped us stop a cargo plane from being blown up over the Atlantic. These partnerships work.
While speaking about the closing of Guantanamo Bay at National Defense University, a heckler interrupted President Obama’s speech and he addressed her directly.
Speaking at National Defense University, President Obama said the civilian deaths that have resulted from drone strikes haunt him, but “the unspeakable loss” is better than not acting at all.
But despite our strong preference for the detention and prosecution of terrorists, sometimes this approach is foreclosed. Al- Qaida and its affiliates try to gain a foothold in some of the most distant and unforgiving places on Earth.
They take refuge in remote tribal regions. They hide in caves and walled compounds. They train in empty deserts and rugged mountains.
In some of these places, such as parts of Somalia and Yemen, the state has only the most tenuous reach into the territory. In other cases, the state lacks the capacity or will to take action.
And it’s also not possible for America to simply deploy a team of special forces to capture every terrorist. Even when such an approach may be possible, there are places where it would pose profound risks to our troops and local civilians, where a terrorist compound cannot be breached without triggering a firefight -- with surrounding tribal communities, for example, that pose no threat to us -- times when putting U.S. boots on the ground may trigger a major international crisis.
To put it another way, our operation in Pakistan against Osama bin Laden cannot be the norm. The risks in that case were immense. The likelihood of capture, although that was our preference, was remote, given the certainty that our folks would confront resistance. The fact that we did not find ourselves confronted with civilian casualties or embroiled in a extended firefight was a testament to the meticulous planning and professionalism of our special forces, but it also depended on some luck. And it was supported by massive infrastructure in Afghanistan.
And even then, the cost to our relationship with Pakistan and the backlash among the Pakistani public over encroachment on their territory was so severe that we are just now beginning to rebuild this important partnership.