Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, a former Delta Force commander who CBS’s 60 Minutes once dubbed “the Holy Warrior,” is a no-nonsense counterterrorist expert whom the television newsmagazine also said, “has probably seen as much combat as anyone in uniform.”
Indeed he has; having fought with and led soldiers and special operators in several American wars, military expeditions, and clandestine operations since the Vietnam War. He was badly wounded during the invasion of Grenada. He went on to become commander of Delta Force, and was commanding Delta during the bloody battle of Mogadishu. He served as Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. He’s the author of the just-released novel, “Danger Close.” And he’s an outspoken and unapologetic Christian, who believes America can succeed in the war on terror, but some serious mistakes – not the least of which is a public ignorance of who the enemy is – must be corrected.
This week we sat down with Boykin and discussed everything from Afghanistan to the proposed mosque near ‘ground zero’ in New York.
W. Thomas Smith Jr.: Recent reports indicate that the Taliban in Afghanistan is stronger than ever and U.S. forces in that country are starved for resources. I’d like to get your thoughts on that. Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin: I don’t know that the Taliban is stronger than ever. But I’ll give you some generalities to think about. First, in those areas controlled by the U.S. – and even those controlled by the UK – the Taliban is not stronger than it previously has been, because the U.S. has been very aggressive in pursuing the Taliban, and also helping to build the infrastructure and work on economic development in those areas under U.S. control.
The Taliban has gained some strength in areas controlled by other NATO nations or coalition partners. That’s because those countries have not been aggressive. They’ve been reluctant to aggressively pursue the Taliban.
In my view, that is one of the big problems today.
When we made the transition to NATO, we brought in countries that came with national caveats.
Those countries came in with a set of rules-of-engagement that applied only to them, and in many cases those ROE told them to stay inside their bases, don’t go out and pursue the Taliban. It’s an issue of being risk averse in terms of casualties. So the Taliban may have resurged in some of those areas, and probably has, and has been able to operate fairly freely in those areas.
Smith: Can we win the war in Afghanistan?
Boykin: The question that really needs to be asked is ‘what does that mean?’ Can we define winning? I would use the term, ‘succeed.’ Can we succeed? And I think the answer is an unequivocal, yes.
But in order to succeed in Afghanistan, we have to develop an infrastructure that would allow for economic development, which would ultimately give people hope for the future so they are not tied to handouts from the Taliban. In order to develop that infrastructure, we have to have a secure environment.
It has been discovered that there is an estimated trillion-dollars worth of minerals in Afghanistan that – if mined – could be a tremendous economic boon. The problem is, you’ve got to have an infrastructure that allows for commercial production and selling on the international market. That means we’ve got to build roads, bridges, educational institutions, and it must be done in an environment that’s secure. Then the people have more hope and a greater expectation from their government than they do from the Taliban.
Smith: So what is the difference between succeeding and winning?
Boykin: If you say, ‘Can we win?’ You are fundamentally assuming that someone is going to capitulate, that the losing side will sign a treaty and agree to stop fighting. But we’re not going to see that here. The Taliban is not going to capitulate because they are hard corps radical jihadists. Period. They’re going to go across the border, go into seclusion, and hide.But if we bring the society to a point where they are strong enough and willing to resist the Taliban, that is success in my view.
Smith: So how do we succeed or win the broader war on terror if the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Hizballah and others don’t capitulate, and instead go into seclusion only to fight another day? How do we succeed without completely wiping them out?
Boykin: Remember the war on drugs? Did we ever expect that we would eradicate drugs? No. But our efforts were to bring it to a tolerable level. It’s like crime. Can you defeat crime or win the war on crime? No.
These jihadists are committed, suicidal – in many cases – zealots that really believe their calling from Allah is to destroy Western democracy, kill infidels, and establish a caliphate that will ultimately usher in the reign of the Mahdi. You are not going to defeat an organization like that by killing them all. They just continue to reproduce because this is based on a theology, not holding a piece of ground or a particular objective. We’re talking about a war of ideas here, and that idea is not going to go away.
In my view, it’s been a mistake to call this a war on terror, because terror is a tactic. I see this as a global insurgency, which recognizes the insurgent nature of this war and recognizes that there are things we have to do to stop the spread of this insurgency. And that’s a matter of using the elements of national power.
The military defines seven elements of national power starting with diplomacy, then information, military, economics, financial, law enforcement, and intelligence. It’s not just a military solution. So we have to put great pressure on – for example – countries like Iran to stop funding Hizballah and Hamas. We have to use our economic power, to the extent that we can, through sanctions. We have to share intelligence with our allies so they can take action against terrorist-elements in their countries. So we have to go down the list. But it’s a holistic kind of approach to bring it to a level where we are sure we can defend ourselves against it, and we can go to its source – to the extent that it’s possible – and destroy it.
Smith: I know we are doing those things to a fairly high degree, but then it seems we are giving Muslims a pass on everything in this country. For example, the proposed mosque near ‘ground zero’ in New York.
Boykin: I am so disappointed. I’m also angry that there are those who are so uninformed and intimidated by these people that they are willing to allow this. We need to remember that Islam is not a religion, but a totalitarian way of life with a religious component. Yet we protect the entire thing under the first amendment. Stop and think about it. Islam is a legal system, a political system, a financial system, a dress code, a moral code, and a social structure, yet we protect it as a first amendment issue. That’s our fundamental mistake. The second thing is, people have no understanding of Islam’s history or its basic tenets.
When they defeated the nomadic tribes in Mecca, they built a mosque at the most holy site. The message was one of triumph, that Islam has now defeated you and Islam reigns supreme. They did the same thing at Córdoba [Spain]. They did it in Jerusalem. Same in Constantinople. The message was always one of conquest and victory.
Now, ‘ground zero’ is not holy, but it is sacred because of the lives lost. They want to build a mosque there to proclaim that Islam reigns supreme. Do you know what that is going to mean to Muslims all over the world?
The recruiting to the Jihadist cause will be exponentially increased as a result of the very symbol – the very message – associated with that mosque there. It is incomprehensible to me. It was supported by Christian pastors and Jewish rabbis in this thing they call an interfaith dialogue. It shows such an extraordinary lack of understanding for what Islam is doing.
Smith: What about our counterterrorism capabilities here at home? Where do we need strengthening?
Boykin: It starts with recognizing who the enemy is.
When our administration’s analysis to law enforcement across the country that the future threats to America are right-wing Christian groups, pro-life groups, second amendment groups, and returning veterans; and never says, Islamic terrorists; then we have a fundamental problem of recognizing who the enemy is.
Secondly, the administration has gone to great lengths not to use the terms Islamist, Jihadist, or terrorist. If you can’t recognize your enemy, how are you going to develop a strategy or a methodology to deal with them?
We need to be able to call them who and what they are.
After the Fort Hood shootings by Nidal Hassan, the president finally said, ‘We are at war against Al Qaeda.’ Some people – including conservatives – applauded and said, ‘He finally gets it.’
Well, no, he doesn’t get it. That’s not the enemy. They are ‘an’ enemy, a force to be reckoned with. But we are at war with Islamic Jihadists. They come in many forms and many varieties, and they are not all Al Qaeda.
That is where this administration is coming up short. We have to recognize what these people are about, what there intentions are, and how they intend to pursue those things. And there’s enough information and intelligence available that we should have no difficulty determining that.
Smith: This brings to mind the problem of many Americans not understanding the fact that despite Al Qaeda being Sunni and Hizballah Shia – and so should be at odds with one another – they are in fact collaborating with one another against the West. Hizballah is an incredibly dangerous organization. And the two are working together in Africa, South and Central America, and elsewhere throughout the world.
Boykin: Unquestionably. Again, remember, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. They believe that. There is substantial evidence that Iran today is not only supporting Shia Hizballah in south Lebanon and elsewhere, but Iran is also supporting the Taliban, which is Sunni. And because the Taliban and other Sunni elements are enemies of America, the Iranians are more than happy to provide them with weapons, technology, know-how, training, and money.