ISIS said these jihadists attacked the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, hours after Defense Secretary James Mattis arrived in the country on Sept. 27, 2018. (ISIS photo)

‘Greater Emphasis on Protecting the Homeland’ in New National Strategy for Counterterrorism

Declaring that terrorism keeps the United States “a nation at war,” the new National Strategy for Counterterrorism emphasizes cooperation and empowerment of “our frontline defenders” from the point of extremism prevention to detecting and interrupting financing and plots.

“The proliferation of ISIS and al-Qaeda networks and their propaganda requires a new approach to address the threat to the United States from radical Islamist terrorists,” National Security Advisor John Bolton said at a Thursday White House briefing to discuss the strategy. “In addition, the United States faces terrorist threats from Iran, which remains the most prominent state sponsor of terrorism” and “Iran-sponsored terrorist groups such as Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad continue to pose a threat to the United States and our interests.”

The National Strategy for Counterterrorism, he said, “focuses efforts on pursuing terrorists to their source, isolating terrorists from their support, modernizing and integrating our counterterrorism tools, protecting U.S. infrastructure and enhancing preparedness, countering terrorist radicalization and recruitment and strengthening the counterterrorism abilities of our international partners.”

“The strategy articulates a counterterrorism approach that is sustainable, more efficient, prioritized and less reliant on only United States’ capabilities.”

In addition to stressing that ISIS is “innovative and determined in its pursuit of attacks in the West” despite territorial losses in Iraq and Syria, the strategy notes that al-Qaeda “remains resilient and poses an enduring threat to the homeland and United States interests around the world” as its affiliates “continue to plan and carry out terrorist attacks against the United States and our allies, as well as raise funds from individual supporters through the international financial system.”

The strategy addresses terror recruitment and attack techniques, stressing the need to “undertake additional efforts to prevent terrorists from acquiring or using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and other advanced attack capabilities.”

The document also delves into non-Islamic extremism at home and abroad, citing in part the neo-Nazi National Action Group across Europe and the Nordic Resistance Movement that has attacked Muslims and opposes the United States for a pro-Israel stance.

“Notably, domestic terrorism in the United States is on the rise, with an increasing number of fatalities and violent nonlethal acts committed by domestic terrorists against people and property in the United States,” reads the strategy, mentioning “racially motivated extremism, animal rights extremism, environmental extremism, sovereign citizen extremism, and militia extremism” among the forms. “The economic harm caused by domestic terrorists has also increased sharply as domestic terrorists have continued to destroy property, disrupt business, and perpetrate financial crimes that are designed to damage certain sectors of the United States economy.”

Bolton said the strategy does “not focus on a single organization, but will counter all terrorists with the ability and intent to harm the United States, our citizens, and our interests.”

“We will place greater emphasis on targeting terrorist networks that threaten the U.S. and our allies, and focus our efforts on disrupting and denying the ways and means terrorists use to radicalize, recruit, mobilize, finance, travel, communicate, and inspire new followers,” he said. “We will deny terrorists the freedom to travel and communicate across international borders, and take action to limit their ability to recruit and radicalize online. We will counter the violent, extreme, and twisted ideologies that purport to justify and excuse the murder of innocents.”

He added that the strategy “also places greater emphasis on protecting the homeland, preventing attacks, and mitigating the impact of an attack, should one occur.”

“This includes building strong borders, securing ports of entry, protecting critical U.S. infrastructure, and promoting a culture of preparedness,” Bolton said. “In this effort, we will work with a wide range of partners in, both, the public and private sectors.”

Bolton said the new strategy differs from the one produced by the Obama administration in 2011 in that there’s recognition of an “ideological struggle” with Islamist terrorism and that it’s “more comprehensive,” taking into account more recent threats like the use of off-the-shelf drones to conduct attacks.

“And I think because of the understanding of the broader ideological threat, there’s less of an effort to downplay the phenomenon of terrorist attacks taking place in the United States — the idea that somebody is one day just a normal, average citizen, and then sort of by spontaneous combustion, becomes a lone-wolf terrorist,” he added. “They are subject to recruitment, very sophisticated recruitment techniques using social media and the Internet.”

Bolton underscored that the strategy is “not a resource commitment document” but details priorities for budget allocators and “we hope adequate resources will come out of that.”

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen called the strategy “the bold framework we need to confront a new age of terror, in which the ‘away game’ and ‘home game’ are now one in the same.”

“Today our country is fighting terrorist groups, such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, on physical and virtual battlefields,” she added. “Our enemies are crowd-sourcing their violence and spreading their hate to all corners of the globe, including into our own communities. And they are pursuing sophisticated plots using emerging technologies, as well as simple do-it-yourself tactics, in order to cause fear and destruction and to undermine our open society.”

Nielsen summed up the strategy as “hardening our defenses at home and abroad, shutting down their plots and obstructing their operations, crushing their networks wherever we find them, and working to prevail over their hateful ideology,” and said DHS is “committed” to executing the strategy.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats called it “a critical roadmap” that “addresses the complex and evolving terrorism landscape in its emphasis on denying terrorists the resources and recruits to fuel their nefarious aims, and outlines the need to leverage the strong partnerships we have built at home and abroad to solve this global problem.”

“Intelligence professionals from across the Intelligence Community collaborated on this important whole-of-government effort, and I am extremely proud of their work—particularly my colleagues from ODNI’s National Counterterrorism Center,” Coats said. “Implementing this counterterrorism strategy will safeguard our homeland, protect our interests overseas, and ensure the safety of all Americans.”

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a weekly columnist for the New York Observer and a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and Washington Bureau Chief for PJ Media. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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