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Obama redefines war on terror

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The strikes reportedly killed at least 20 people, including foreign fighters and a high-level militant.

Obama “is already making it clear he is focusing on a war on Al Qaeda instead of a broad war on terrorism,” says Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow in terrorism and South Asia studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington and a former CIA analyst and adviser to three US administrations.

“He’s going after the organization that attacked the US on 9/11, and before and since, rather than pursuing a vague and murky war on terrorism everywhere.”

As part of that narrowing of focus, Obama is signaling that the strategy for Afghanistan – which he considers the “central front” in the war on terror – will be scaled back from the Bush administration’s aim of building a democracy to a more realistic goal of denying sanctuary to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

“If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in congressional testimony this week.

A significant semantic shift

As Obama adjusts the battle with Islamic extremists to his vision, expect to see two other modifications from the Bush approach, counterterrorism experts say. One will be a conscious semantic shift to deny Al Qaeda and other groups fodder to paint America as waging war on Islam. The second change will be a dethroning of military power as the preeminent response to terrorism, in favor of employing the full panoply of tools from law enforcement and the justice system to international intelligence networks and diplomacy.

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