The army, intelligence and law enforcement must collaborate in this new era in the fight against terrorism

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French anti-terrorist troops stand guard outside Paris-Austerlitz station on July 29, 2021. Photo by Xose Bouzas / Hans Lucas via Reuters Connect.

Not only did the US withdrawal from Afghanistan end a long-term presence in a conflict-ridden country, it also made inaccessible an important place where the United States collected intelligence on terrorist threats against the United States. homeland and American interests abroad and acted on it. . The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William J. Burns, suggested it several months before leaving the United States, when he told the Senate intelligence committee in April, that withdrawal came with a “significant risk” that groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State would attempt to re-establish a solid presence there.

Today, the United States and its partners face the operational challenge of collecting, targeting, neutralizing and prosecuting terrorists across the mosaic of international laws and sovereign states. Without a US military presence in Central Asia, counterterrorism surveillance and direct strikes (piloted or unmanned) could be launched from partner countries such as Djibouti, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, or from a submarine or doorway. -planes.

Addressing emerging threats from mixed migration, transnational crime, Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) and foreigners with a special interest (people who could pose a threat depending on their travel habits) with maximum efficiency means adopting an inter-agency and international approach that goes beyond the military and other familiar defense authorities. Governments should also strengthen the integration of capabilities between intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The United States may want to expand, and foreign partners may want to consider implementing joint battlefield evidence training programs with their military and civilian law enforcement counterparts. . Since military and civilian officials typically train separately, joint training engagements could help overcome institutional and bureaucratic barriers to information sharing.

While Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq have served as the epicenter in recent years for the collection of terrorism-related intelligence, the battlefield is not limited to these areas of conflict. Over the past two decades, transnational criminal and terrorist organizations have increasingly taken advantage of ungovernable or under-governed spaces, such as the Sahara Desert, to assert control over various countries. For this reason – and despite a public declaration to end its “eternal wars” – the United States and its counterterrorism partners are working with local government and non-government forces in areas that may or may not be under sovereign control.

Consider the successful operation this summer by French special forces, along with local, European and American partners, which neutralized Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (and former member of al -Qaïda) responsible for a 2017 attack in Niger that killed American soldiers and French aid workers. As with similar operations, the contributing elements may well have included the US-led multilateral information-sharing platform. Operation Gallant Phoenix (OGP) and the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership, a region-focused security cooperation and capacity-building program developed by the United States.

The process of military targeting of kinetic counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan or North Africa are well-known applications. Information sharing and collaboration, however, can also lead to individuals being prosecuted through the criminal justice system, rather than killing them.

Biometric data such as fingerprints is an essential element in terrorism investigations and prosecutions. Information and materials collected or received by military personnel, called “battlefield evidence” or “captured enemy materiel” (CEM), are of limited value when they cannot be compared to known samples or when ‘they are mislabeled. This is why it is important for states to consider collecting and analyzing biometric data from battlefield evidence or EMFs to apply to legal proceedings.

Recognizing the need for global cooperation to address the cross-regional nature of terrorism, the United Nations Security Council urged member states in 2017 “To strengthen their efforts” to fight against threats posed by FTF “through measures on border control, criminal justice, information sharing and the fight against extremism”. Its resolution obliges states to develop and implement biometric data collection systems and notes the importance of privacy and human rights when collecting, analyzing and sharing data. biometric data.

Yet regardless of such statements, each nation must hold its own citizens accountable for acts of terrorism (or their facilitation). This includes prosecuting individuals when there is credible information about their criminality.

In an environment where the FTF travel into conflict or operate in ungoverned areas and where current U.S. intelligence collection is reduced, it is even more difficult to obtain the necessary information. At the multilateral level, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (EUROPOL), NATO and the information-sharing platform developed by the States United, OGP, are increasingly useful organizations capable of disseminating relevant military information with civilian investigators and prosecutors.

The UN stressing the importance of biometric data and the role of multilateral and regional organizations in information sharing – and the United States not being as well placed as before to collect intelligence and exert direct pressure on terrorists – a strong strategy of interagency collaboration and multilateral information sharing is our best possible approach to combat global terrorism.

Information or artifacts collected or obtained by the military during the decades of the global war on terrorism can be used to meet a wide range of counterterrorism and law enforcement objectives. In addition to investigations and criminal prosecutions, battlefield evidence or captured enemy material can also be used in watchlist, border control, visa issuance, immigration and immigration procedures. other functions. As terrorist threats persist twenty years after the 9/11 attacks, the United States must collaborate and educate its foreign security partners on how information sharing and civilian criminal prosecutions can sustainably maintain counterterrorism pressure and complement military action.


R. Clarke Cooper is a non-resident principal investigator with the Atlantic Council, a former Deputy Secretary of the US State Department, a former senior intelligence officer for the US Joint Special Operations Command, and a veteran.

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