5 Surprising Facts About the War on Terror

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Most of us are familiar with details of the United States’ wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but there are many other aspects of the War on Terror that began with the attack on Sept. 11, 2001. In addition to the military efforts, the broad scope of the war also includes law enforcement activities, intelligence operations, and diplomatic initiatives. Within these broad strokes lie details that often go unnoticed by the public against the larger canvas of the global struggle against militant Islamism.


5. U.S. Troops Using Robot Dogs

Man’s best friend is being recruited by Uncle Sam as part of his BigDog program. These new warriors are not flesh and blood though; they are part of the Legged Squad Support System (LS3) being designed and tested by Boston Dynamics for deployment with infantry units. The robots are meant to serve supporting roles with troops, such as hauling more than 300 pounds of extra ammunition, food and water to lighten solders’ loads, scout ahead of their human masters and respond to their commands. They would operate using computer vision, or travel to prearranged sites using GPS. Before the robots can report for duty, scheduled in 2012, advances in locomotion and sensors must be achieved, but when the technological issues are solved soldiers will have mechanical four-legged friends at their sides.


4. Green Berets Riding on Horseback

U.S. Special Forces soldiers took to horseback to negotiate Afghanistan's rough terrain.

Photo credit:  ussocom

When Army Special Forces units arrived in Afghanistan in October 2001, Taliban and al-Qaeda forces were not the only enemy they faced. Afghanistan’s treacherous mountain terrain is infamous for hampering conventional military operations, rendering tanks and trucks much less effective. The soldiers’ Afghan allies had adapted to the difficult conditions with the original form of horsepower: horses. The Green Berets did the best they could under the circumstances, but most of them had never been on a horse before. In 2003 the Army took steps to remedy this situation with a manual on the proper care of pack animals and a training program that gives soldiers experience in the saddle before deploying overseas.


3.  Militant Islam Growing in South America

The Triple Frontier area of South America has become a breeding ground for militant Islamists.

Photo credit: Oleg Zabielin/Shutterstock.com

The Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah is spreading its influence in a lawless area of South America known as the Tri-Border, or Triple Frontier region. Some Arabs fled to South America in 1948 and again in 1985 to escape violence in the Middle East. This trouble spot sits at the convergence of the borders of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina and has been a thorn in the side of local and international authorities for decades. Hezbollah was implicated in two bombings in Argentina in the 1990s, and is believed to be raising money through the sale of cocaine and marijuana. In the post-9/11 world, the specter of a well-financed and motivated terrorist group using this safe haven to train operatives and hatch plots has taken on a new level of urgency. Homeland security officials fear the possibility of a doomsday scenario in which terrorists manage to smuggle a nuclear bomb through South America and across the southern border of the United States.


2. Bin Laden Obsessed About His Image

Osama bin Laden obsessed about his image.

Photo credit: Asianet Pakistan/Shutterstock.com

For two decades, Osama bin Laden was the face of international terrorism until he was finally tracked to a compound in Abottabad, Pakistan, and killed by U.S. Navy SEALs on May 1, 2011. It turns out that the infamous militant Islamist, who founded al-Qaeda and cultivated the image of a ruthless mujahid, was keeping a secret — his own vanity, as he apparently worried as much about his television persona as he did about reestablishing the caliphate. Videotapes found at bin Laden’s hideout reveal a self-conscious terror mastermind who dyed his beard black and took the trouble to rehearse and film multiple takes of his messages before releasing them to the world. To add insult to injury, bin Laden regretted the name al-Qaeda (the Base) because he felt a catchier name would have inspired more would-be jihadists to join his cause.


1. One-Third of Americans Believe U.S. Government Involved in 9/11

A 2006 poll found that more than one-third of Americans believed the United States was involved in the 9/11 attacks.

Photo credit: Larry Bruce/Shutterstock.com

Conspiracy theories are not a new phenomenon; some people believe NASA faked the moon landings and the government covered up a UFO crash in New Mexico in 1947. These beliefs have achieved a sort of modern folklore status. However, not all conspiracy theories are quite so innocuous. A 2006 Scripps Howard/Ohio University survey showed that 36 percent of Americans believe the United States government was either involved in the 9/11 attack or knew about it and did not stop it. It is one thing to be dissatisfied and annoyed with elected officials and bureaucrats, but it is something else to harbor suspicions that some of them planted explosives in the World Trade Center towers and are responsible for murdering nearly 3,000 innocent people. A mountain of reports and studies disseminated by government agencies and private publications such as Popular Mechanics effectively debunk the conspiracy theories, but in the conspiracy world these are taken as further evidence of a massive plot.


Mike Phelps published a book about the War on Terror called A Short History of the Long War. He maintains a blog about military affairs at http://www.warriorcentric.blogspot.com.

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