November 30th, 2012
12:50 PM ET

Pentagon: U.S. fight on terror not ending with Afghan war

By Pam Benson

Even with the war in Afghanistan winding down, the United States will continue its fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates, wherever they may be, by using all means available in an armed conflict, the Pentagon's chief lawyer said Friday.

"We must counter al Qaeda in the places where it seeks to establish safe haven and prevent it from reconstituting in others. To do this, we must utilize every national security element of our government," said Jeh Johnson, the top lawyer for the U.S. Defense Department, at a speech Friday at Oxford University in England.

Those elements of force, he said, include unmanned aerial vehicles, widely referred to as drones, to kill suspected terrorists hiding in the ungoverned regions of Pakistan, in Yemen and elsewhere, as well as the indefinite detention of extremists caught on the battlefield.

Johnson said that some legal scholars and commentators refer to the drone attacks as extrajudicial killing and criticize the U.S. government for holding individuals without formal charges. But he argued that the tools used against al Qaeda in what he called "an unconventional conflict" are legitimate.

He said that capture and detention by the military are parts of war, adding: "We employ lethal force, but in a manner consistent with the law of war, principles of proportionality, necessity and distinction."

Johnson said that approach is consistent with the Geneva Conventions governing conflict and that all three branches of the U.S. government have endorsed the efforts used to combat al Qaeda.

His remarks echoed those of President Barack Obama's national security adviser early this week. Tom Donilon told an audience at Harvard University Wednesday night that the United States uses methods "in full compliance with domestic and international law ... in the framework of an international armed conflict against groups that present a threat to the United States."

The use of drones against al Qaeda is done in a very targeted, specific way so as to avoid civilian casualties, he said.

"It's done prudentially and it's done in a narrow way with a lot of deliberation and very conscious with respect to collateral damage, civilian casualties," Donilon said.

Counterterrorism concerns in Afghanistan after the U.S. military drawdown is completed in 2014 are very much on the minds of American officials.

At a news conference on Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States will have to be continually vigilant about preventing al Qaeda terrorists from re-establishing themselves there and once again posing a threat to Americans.

Even after combat troops leave, the United States will have an "enduring presence" for counterterrorism, he said.

"And although, you know, we clearly have had an impact on their presence in Afghanistan, the fact is that they continue to show up and intelligence continues to indicate that, you know, they are looking for some kind of capability to be able to go into Afghanistan," Panetta said.

In his Oxford speech, Johnson posed the question of how the conflict with al Qaeda will end, and answered by saying it will not happen in conventional terms.

"We cannot and should not expect al Qaeda and its associated forces to all surrender, all lay down their weapons in an open field, or to sign a peace treaty with us," the Pentagon's top lawyer said. Nor can the United States strike a deal with groups that terrorize the United States and other nations and call for Israel's destruction, he said.

Johnson said the United States must continue its fight against al Qaeda, but that does not mean it expects to be able to end the battle by capturing or killing every terrorist connected to al Qaeda.

There will be a "tipping point," he said, at which the group will be "effectively destroyed," no longer having sufficient numbers to be capable of launching a strategic attack against the United States as it did in 2001.

"At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an armed conflict against al Qaeda and its associated forces; rather, a counterterrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remnants of al Qaeda, or are parts of groups unaffiliated with al Qaeda, for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible, in cooperation with the international community - with our military assets available in reserve to address continuing and imminent terrorist threats."

Even when that point comes, Johnson said, the United States will face another critical question: What happens to the terrorists still held in U.S. military custody without criminal charges? Currently, there are more than 160 detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military complex in Cuba, some of whom are awaiting trial, but many more who are either designated to be transferred to other countries if arrangements can be made or are considered too dangerous to be released even though there is insufficient evidence to charge them with a crime.

Johnson said the United States will have to "look to conventional legal principles to supply the answer," but he did not elaborate.

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Filed under: Military • Terrorism
soundoff (43 Responses)
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    August 3, 2015 at 6:18 am | Reply
  2. gman tello

    please support our troops

    December 3, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Reply
  3. Hmmmm

    The story lacked the important detail: "How much will this perpetual war effort cost on an annual basis?"

    December 2, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Reply
  4. StanCalif

    To JS242:
    We are not at war with Iran, China nor N.Korea! At least not yet! Israel is just itching for us to invade Iran!
    China and N.Korea are no threats to us, only Israel is a big threat! Isreal continues to stab us in the back every few weeks. What kind of ally is this? Obama doesn't trust Isreal for very good reasons. Israel is NOT our "friend"! Understand this!

    December 2, 2012 at 11:34 am | Reply
    • CharlieSeattle


      December 3, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Reply
  5. Tim

    Pakistan has become a two face serpent. A source of financing and inspiration for all terrorists in the world the likes of which have attack thousand of innocents everyday across the world. A place where these extremists seek refuge after attacking neighboring countries. Pakistan is a Smithsonian specimen. Like humpty dumpty even USA, NATO and the entire free world are having a tough time holding it together. Living in the shadows of China, defined by India, haunted by Bangladesh and Balochistan and punctuated by zillion Terror Organizations, Pakistan is struggling to
    find a meaning for its existence and a place in the new world order. How can it
    stand up? Certainly not on its feet .....perhaps on its knees to seek
    redemption for double crossing USA in Afghanistan.

    December 1, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Reply
    • Martin

      Where is the "Like" button? Excellent post!

      December 1, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Reply
    • StanCalif

      I agree! Our two biggest enemys today are Pakistan and Israel! Both are back stabbers! Pakistan continues to protect our enemies, Israel continues to behave in a manner not conducive to peace and cerainly against US interests!
      Both of these stupid countries receive money from us, US taxpayers! Boehner and Cantor shout and scream about reducing government spending! Until they agree to cut off Israel and Pakistan, they have no case. Only the poor and needy Americans should be cut off! Our "good friends", Israel and Pakistan should get our money. Of course our wealthy should not be required to pay for this!

      December 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Reply
    • CharlieSeattle


      December 2, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Reply
  6. Lenny

    The world now need to focus on my country Pakistan. The American invasion of Afghanistan brought to the forefront of the irrelevance of Pakistan as a nation.
    Their soldiers continue hiding in the trenches scared from Talibans. A few teenage Talibans from within the country occupied entire SWAT and areas near Islamabad for months on end showing how useless Pakistan is and how coward its army and its peoples are. It was embarrasing for the world to observe this humiliation of a nation that was being touted as sewer of Asia.
    I continue to read with interest the thesis presented on CNN that "less is more" in a political context as applied to Pakistan.
    Empowering subjugated minorities in Pakistan by splitting it into smaller states would trigger uber economic demand for western nations who have given so much financial andtechnology aid to Pakistan with no return to show for the investment and only backstabbing and covert terrorist operations by Pakistan against them. Balochistan is an excellent idea to achieve this.
    I concur with this approach and with an economic background find the premise to be on solid footing. Central Asian States (CAS) are a case in point on this successful approach.

    December 1, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Reply
    • CharlieSeattle

      Brave post!

      December 4, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  7. Jeff Scott

    Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM)
    Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA, presently known as Harkat-ul Mujahideen)
    Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)
    Jaish-e-Mohammad Mujahideen E-Tanzeem (JeM)
    Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HuM, previously known as Harkat-ul-Ansar)
    Al Badr
    Jamait-ul-Mujahideen (JuM)
    Lashkar-e-Jabbar (LeJ)
    Muttahida Jehad Council (MJC)
    Al Barq
    Al Jehad
    Jammu & Kashir National Liberation Army
    People’s League
    Muslim Janbaz Force
    Kashmir Jehad Force
    Al Jehad Force (combines Muslim Janbaz Force and Kashmir Jehad Force)
    Al Umar Mujahideen
    Islami Jamaat-e-Tulba
    Jammu & Kashmir Students Liberation Front
    Islamic Students League
    Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqar Jafaria
    Al Mustafa Liberation Fighters
    Muslim Mujahideen
    Al Mujahid Force
    Islami Inquilabi Mahaz
    Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)
    Lashkar-e-Omar (LeO)
    Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP)
    Tehreek-e-Jaferia Pakistan (TJP)
    Lashkar-eJhangvi (LeJ)
    Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP)
    Nadeem Commando
    Popular Front for Armed Resistance
    Muslim United Army
    Al-Rashid Trust
    Al-Akhtar Trust
    Rabita Trust
    Ummah Tamir-e-Nau
    Jammat Ud Dawa (JUD)
    LEADERS: Hafiz Saeed, Hakimullah Mehsud, Sirajuddin Haqqani and so many more.

    December 1, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Reply
    • CharlieSeattle

      You forgot the ISI.

      December 2, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Reply
  8. Sam

    The center of gravity of terror has shifted to india.

    December 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Reply
    • CharlieSeattle

      Only when Pakistani trained ISI agents sneak in and attack.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:09 am | Reply
  9. StanCalif

    Okay, we will be fighting Al Qaeda forever. Is this why the Pentagon wants to build a new, advanced Abrams tank?
    How many tanks does Al Qaeda have? Zero, none! Why do need a new Abrams?

    December 1, 2012 at 7:40 am | Reply
    • StanCalif

      We have hundreds of current Abrams tanks sitting in the desert. Unused, unwanted, certainly unnessary today. Battle tanks are obsolete, yet the Pentagon has a program to build a new, advanced Abrams! Why? Answer: lobbyists!
      Israel wants a new Air Force complex building. Designed by Israel, but to be built by us, at our expense! Bids for this project are now being submitted. Why? Answer: lobbyists! Why should Israel build their own building when they can get it free from US taxpayers!

      December 1, 2012 at 8:09 am | Reply
      • JSA242

        Iran has 3,000 modern tanks, N. Korea has 6,000, and China has 10,000. Terrorist groups may not employ large numbers of tanks, but nations states do. To believe that tanks are outdated is foolish.

        December 1, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
      • StanCalif

        To JS242:
        We are not at war with Iran, China nor N.Korea! At least not yet! Israel is just itching for us to invade Iran!
        China and N.Korea are no threats to us, only Israel is a big threat! Isreal continues to stab us in the back every few weeks. What kind of ally is this?

        December 2, 2012 at 11:03 am |
      • Rick

        To say that tanks are useless merely means that you know nothing about tanks.

        December 10, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Martin

      @stancalif - Nobody needs tanks to fight Al Qaeda. Drones are doing a fine job in your Pakistan. Excellent free home delivery in minutes by a drone near you!

      December 1, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Reply
      • StanCalif

        I agree! However, terrorists will soon have drones as well. Drones are being manufactured today by many countries. These are very cheap weapons compaired to equipping an invasion force of men, material, and useless battle tanks!
        Boehner, and his buddies, shout to reduce spending! Does he support cancelling the new "advanced Abrams tank" that has no purpose today? Of course not! Does Boehner object to the US building Israel's new Air Force complex?
        Certainly not! Boehner should spend more time in the real world and less time in the tanning booth!
        Obama doesn't trust Israel, for very good reasons. Israel is just another back stabber nation like Pakistan! However, Congress is just totally in love with Israel, thanks to the biggest lobbyists in DC.

        December 2, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • CharlieSeattle

      They are air conditioned but they want to install a Jacuzzi and wet bar.

      December 2, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  10. massoud

    The CIA'S Operation Cyclone during Carters administration was Ziginew Brezinski's creation What op cyclone did was funded Islamic Fundamentalists and created a international terrorist movement by giving $500 million dollars to the fundamentalists to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The CIA chose not to fund Ahmad Shah Massoud and his guerilla faction of the Mujahadin who were moderates Massoud and his rebels opposed Sharia law and were for a democratic society in lawless Afghanistan. We can "thank " Brezizinski for the intl. terrorist movements that he created with funding the radicals in the Afghanistan Soviet war, the same radicals we are bogged down with in Afghanistan and fighting today,

    November 30, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Reply
    • CharlieSeattle

      Excellent point!

      December 3, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Reply
  11. dog4dog

    general petraeus had it right when he said we will fight this war for the rest of our lives

    November 30, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Reply
    • massoud

      Patreus the green zone warrior who never saw a day of combat in his life his COIN strategy failed miserably in Afghanistan. The welfare warfare state the US has become will be long broke before our lifetimes our over.

      November 30, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Reply
    • CharlieSeattle

      As long as the US intentionally does not attack the state sanctuary areas inside Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Lebanon...Ya it will go on forever.

      These rules of non-engagement are a God$end to the U$ Military Industrial Complex.

      WoHoo! $how me the Money!

      December 2, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Reply
  12. Quigley

    The so-called "war on terrorism" is actually a war for American expansion into both the Middle East and Central Asia in disguise along with the British and the French. Al Qaeda was never a very potent force in the first place. In fact, it was most probably enabled by the C.I.A. in order to carry out 9/11 back in 2001. Don't let the right-wing news media tell you different!

    November 30, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Reply
  13. massoud

    More Americans die each year from peanut allergies than terrorists

    November 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Reply
  14. massoud

    The never ending perpetual War on Terror is a huge drain on our Nations resources, budgets, soldiers,and liberties.

    November 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Reply
    • CharlieSeattle

      The U$ Military Industrial Complex in action baby!

      December 3, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Reply
  15. Mohamiss Shafik-Kaddir

    Muslims do not commit acts of terror . Islam is peaceful . Please do not post Islamophobic blogs and infidel lies .

    November 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Reply
    • CharlieSeattle

      What BS!

      December 2, 2012 at 11:11 am | Reply
  16. massoud

    War is peace, ignorance is strength, freedom is slavery

    November 30, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Reply
    • CharlieSeattle

      What BS!

      December 2, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  17. krm1007 ©™

    What took so long !!!!! Here are some targets....NO CHARGE !!!


    • VISHWA HINDU PARISHAD (World Hindu Council)

    LEADERS: L.K. Advani/ Ashok Singhal/ Bala Saheb Devaras/ Bal Thackeray(EXTERMINATED)/ A.B. Vajpayee/ Savarkar/ Baikunnth Lal Sharma “Prem”/ Balraj Madhok/ The Shankaracharya of Puri, Niranjan Dev Theerth/ Rama Gopalan/ Variyar – Vishwan Hindu Parishad/ Dharmalinga Nadar/ Cho Ramaswamy

    November 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Reply
    • Bryant

      Yeah....We have just began...What is the rus?. This is not an ON OFF switch for pete's sake.

      December 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  18. cherdelg

    Reblogged this on cherdelg's Blog.

    November 30, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  19. 01 of 99

    Reblogged this on vfw 9498.

    November 30, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Reply
  20. Tembisa

    Reblogged this on World Chaos.

    November 30, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Reply
  21. Hahahahahahahaha

    Of course not!!!!!!!! The MIC needs more money!!!!!!! Hahahahahahahha

    November 30, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Reply

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