V ernon Ward retired several years ago from the United States Army with a rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4 where he has served in the special forces commonly known as the Green Berets. Of the 32 years in which the highly-decorated officer served his country — he has been honored approximately 80 times in his career — 27 of those years were spent on the ground in the Middle East, southwest Asia and the horn of Africa.
From the streets of Somalia to cities in Iraq — completely different “worlds” than the one in which we commonly associate — Ward has witnessed countless atrocities in his career and has seen the worst of mankind which no one should ever see; but he also saved many lives.
As someone who is arguably the most experienced person with first-hand knowledge of terrorism and what causes it, I asked Ward for an interview via telephone to please impart his thoughts on how to fight terrorism; as well as what can be done to mitigate — or even possibly eliminate — it. The text which you are about to read includes his own unedited thoughts and opinions which he said to me; and my commentary follows in the Summary section.
The Radical Belief System: A Terrorist’s Perception of Religion
“The reason for radical Islamic terrorists today is because of the socioeconomic conditions in which they live, the radical propaganda education and mindset to which they are exposed to with their religion — their religion does not preach anything about being benevolent giving or caring”, said Ward. “Religion teaches them that should they die in a jihad or a holy war that they ascend automatically to heaven; and they have the virgins and the fruit thing which to them is a marked improvement in their way of life.”
Ward believes that the terrorists are primarily controlled by their perception of religion, which in no way resembles things that we normally associate with as being religious in nature; and that the problem which we have today is due to their fanaticism pertaining to their perception of religion and the propaganda populations that are easily exploited because it “actually gives them a purpose in life in Iran, the ISIS terrorists.”
The terrorists are not fighting for a cause, as in the past it used to be said that one man’s terrorist is another mans freedom fighter, explains Ward. “These people are fighting for not to establish new government or new countries — they’re fighting for something that they believe that this religion is going to provide them all, and if you look at the extremely, extremely restrictive and punishing religion. For example, a man is told that he should have four wives and that he should beat them regularly. They are not even supposed to associate with non-Muslims. It is okay for them to lie as long as it furthers their religion. So these are the types of people that we are dealing with; on top of the fact that the majority of them are not very sophisticated or well educated due to the locations that they were born in. There are notable exceptions; but that primarily is the case; and that is why they are very easily swayed and led by the leaders of their religion.”
Citing history, Ward said that “the Koran tells them — if you look back through history, remember that we fought — we have been at war with the Muslim religion pretty much through modern history. The Crusades were fought against the Muslims. At one point, the Muslims had expanded control over most of Western Europe. The Crusades were actually a punitive expedition against the Muslims and its been almost a historical conflict that has been ongoing pretty much for the last 1,500 years or so.”
A goal of what the terrorists want is they want to control the world and want only Muslims in the world, according to Ward. “Their religion tells them that there is no room for anyone else in the world but Muslims.” He also said that “They are seeking to modify your behavior; and to eliminate you if you are a non-Muslim.”
Weak Foreign Policy to Blame
“One of the major problems we have today is ISIS, which was actually born as a result of an extremely weak and failed foreign policy, based on the current administration’s ideas of how the world should function”, criticized Ward with regard to the Salafi jihadist militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which is also known as ISIS. “At the time they came into power, Iraq was a fairly stable country that was on its way to actually recovering and becoming possibly the first democratic country in that part of the world because all other Muslim countries are either autocratic or dictatorial. There’s no room in there for any of the things we take for granted in a democracy — such as freedom of speech, equal rights for women, religious tolerance of other religions…
“…and at the time this current regime came into power, that was a very stable thing within Iraq because you had special forces teams out on the countryside with the civil affairs and PSYOPS” — these are the psychological operators who are focused on countering the hostile’s tenets and building a base of support within the indigenous population for the coalition efforts — who “are very well versed in the religious and cultural beliefs and customs of the target audience and methodology to to further the coalition goals that were working to further the infrastructure, developing and building schools, establishing hospitals, working with the local leaders to establish a working government, helping to restore things like the well system, the infrastructure, the economy at the local level.”
Ward believes that Iraq was well on its way to becoming a viable standalone entity which would not in fact be susceptible to the radicals coming in from the outside. “Whenever this administration just abruptly withdrew all of the US support from that area, it left a power vacuum — and that vacuum was rapidly filled by a few radicals who were able then to incite and recruit and basically establish themselves in those areas where the major cities do not expand that control out into these areas. So that is where this particular terror group got its organization, and its where it originated, and it primarily is the fault of the current administration because the area was well on its way to recovering and becoming a viable functioning state.
Steps to Counter Terrorists and Stopping the Current Situation
Ward outlines the ways in a very broad overview of what should be happening right now in which we could in fact contain and eventually eliminate the threat of terrorism if we actually establish and implement some very, very simple policies and procedures “if we had people in the current administration who understood the nature of controlling the terrorist threat; but I don’t think:
That they do understand it; and
I am not sure they even want to control the terrorist threat.
Establish an international coalition. “We should involve NATO, Russia, all of the moderate Islamic states because basically, in order to eventually control radical Islam, the Muslims have to control it themselves. They have to make a decision as to whether or not they are going to become a viable functioning co-partner in the world; or whether they are going to continue on this path of extreme radical religious fervor. So it would be very import to include the moderate Islamic states.”
Establish safe havens for citizens and residents. “Of immediate relief, we could stop a lot of the problems that Europe and the United States possibly could see simply by establishing safe havens in the areas now where we have massive refugee exoduses taking place. These safe havens would have to be overseen by the coalition. They would have to be in secure locations. They would have to be protected militarily to begin with — but you have to stop the refugee problem because the refugees fleeing those areas are going to be the basis for the reestablishment of an economic system and a basic infrastructure that has to be established or reestablished in the areas that are now under the control of the terrorists because the terrorists are basically destroying the existing infrastructure politically sociologically and physically in their attempts to gain control. So whenever these refugees who are the primary providers of things — the shopkeepers, the laborers, the construction workers — these are the people who are fleeing; and without those people, you’re not going to reestablish any type of stable society that people are going to be able to exist in; so its critical that we stop the flow of refugees rightnow out of those areas.”
Have a combined campaign. “It needs to be a combined conventional, special operations, and civic action and psychological operations campaign. The conventional forces need to gain and control ground. Deny the ground — the strategic areas, the cities — to the ISIS fighters and you start to deny their support. You cut their supply lines — any of their lines of communication. You have special forces who are conducting special missions, strategic reconnaissance, establishing target locations. They’re used in area of operations against high-value targets, primarily leadership. The civil affairs and PSYOPS people though are the folks who are going to ultimately determine the success because they are going to be involved in infrastructure stabilization. The civil affairs and PSYOPS are primarily reservists in the US military who function as city managers, facilities managers. They are the folks who actually work those jobs in real life; and whenever they are called to active duty to go into a country, they are able to work hand-in-hand with city managers, with facilities coordinators, with electricians and folks who can maintain the power grid, the sewer system, the water system, the things that actually have to exist and continue to exist in order for society to thrive…”
…and the PSYOPS people are working now basically on hearts and minds. They’re working to establish better ways of life with health, education, helping to reestablish economic structure in the area.”
Consolidation and maintenance. “Once you have pretty much eliminated the primary ISIS or terrorist threat, you go into a consolidation and maintenance phase where you’ve got to maintain security, train adequate civilian police forces; establish self-government; revive, renew and establish in some cases education for all of the population; reestablish health care, and assist with economic development. That long-term — much like we did with the Marshall Plan in Europe — will eliminate a lot of the recruiting tools that ISIS uses now. It will also be a lot like the situation in Korea, where after the conflict was over in Korea, we maintained forces there since that time — just like we have in Europe. We have provided a situation in which people CAN thrive economically. They CAN provide their own self-government. They CAN in fact make a better life for them and their kids. By providing that political and religious stability and the economy opportunity, you are going to eliminate a lot of the tenets that the terrorists use as a recruiting tool.”
How to Stop the Current Situation
Ward does not understand many of the things which the current administration in the United States has done on a foreign policy level. “Neither secretary of state has been very effective; and actually just seem to be struggling in a sea of turmoil constantly. They make statements that don’t make sense.”
Referring to when John Kerry — who is the current secretary of state of the United States — went to Paris recently and said that there might in fact be a rationale for the attacks last year on Charlie Hebdo, Ward is not sure of what are their foreign policy goals and ambitions; and he does not even believe that they know or are sure. “I think from the very first whenever we had the apology tour, it seems that they are extremely anti-American exceptionalism. Without America being the exceptional country in the world and providing leadership and a beacon of hope, then the world will rapidly descend into chaos — as we see right now. No one wants to emigrate to Somalia; but they DO want to come to the United States.”
According to Ward, the reason people emigrate to the United States is “because we give them the greatest opportunity for success. It’s because we give them the greatest freedom. As long as the United States is the world leader, there continues to be some semblance of world stability because of that; but as soon as you start to diminish the American exceptionalism, you start descending into the chaotic new world order that some people seem to advocate where everyone is a third-rate country and there are no exceptional countries; and that is NOT the way that the world can function today. We have to regain that position of leadership and exceptionalism for us to be able to maintain a stable world for future generations.”
The Media Shares in the Blame
“The media jumps on everything and it’s sensationalized”, said Ward, who partially blames the media for sometimes creating unnecessary fear due to the constant and extremely sensationalized attention that it devotes to terrorists and their activities. “Yes, we need to cover it; but we need to cover it in such a way that it actually diminishes the terrorists’ actions and in no way lets them gain any credibility or has any sense of victory because they established an act of terrorism. The continued non-stop 24-hour-a-day coverage is exactly what the terrorists are looking for — because if they are not recognized, their efforts appear to be in vain.”
The media must change the way terrorist actions are covered, according to Ward. “For example, we keep diverting aircraft now over anything: a female gets drunk on an international flight and staggers to the exit door thinking its the rest room, and so we have a major incident. Well, that’s being created by the sensationalized news reporting of the terrorist act; and now the terrorists are succeeding when they can cause that type of chaos. When they disrupt everyday life, they are succeeding.”
Ward recommends that the way to combat most of the aims and goals of the terrorists is to not allow them to impact the way we conduct our lives.
What You Should Do
Should you be cautious? “Sure — but you should be cautious all the time. I mean, there are plenty of things that can happen when you travel that don’t involve terrorists. Common thieves are out there everywhere. I would be just as vigilant against a common thief as I would be against a terrorist. So would I let that stop me from traveling? No — because once again, if we alter what we do in our day-to-day lives, then the terrorists are winning. That’s one of their goals is to disrupt your way of life.”
When asked if there is anyplace he would not visit, Ward answered, “Well — unless you actually have a vested interest in going to places like Somalia — ha! — or Yemen or Syria, I probably would not just go there on a family vacation; but any of the other countries in the area — Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, any of the European countries, if you want to go to Qatar — I would have no qualms about hopping an aircraft and going there and taking my family.”
“We Need to Worry About Being Americans”
“I think that we need to quit worrying about whether we’re Democratic or Republican — we need to worry about being Americans,” said Ward; “and I think we need to have people who are actually making decisions as Americans and not as a political entity. I think until we regain that, we are in grave danger of actually losing our country.”
My Thoughts on Terrorism
I cannot think of anyone who is actually more qualified to give solid suggestions on how to fight terrorism that someone with the experience of Ward; and he confirmed much of what I wrote in this article pertaining to a major event being moved from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia for fear of being in a facility which could be a target for terrorists and this article pertaining to the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Ash Carter — who is the secretary of defense of the United States — said that the United States “military will deploy a specialized expeditionary targeting force to Iraq to launch unilateral raids and ‘put even more pressure’ on ISIS”, according to this report written by Jim Miklaszewski, Courtney Kube and Corky Siemaszko of NBC News.
Declaring that “We are systematically eliminating ISIL’s cabinet”, Ash Carter said on Friday, March 26, 2016 “that forces have killed the Islamic State’s finance chief as part of an improving campaign to identify the terror army’s chieftains ‘so we can kill them’”, according to this article written by Rowan Scarborough of The Washington Times.
I am not sure that I agree with Ash Carter. I would rather see a team of special forces comprised of men with the vast experience of Vernon Ward deployed into areas from where terrorist activity is known to emanate; get in; quickly eliminate the leaders and perpetrators; and quickly get out. Following the plan in which Ward outlined seems to be more sensible to me than bombing targets from the air, which do have a purpose but also have a greater risk of harming innocent people on the ground.
As for me, I personally have traveled to the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Egypt, Kenya and other countries which have either experienced terrorist activity or are located adjacent to countries which have experienced terrorist activity. Not only have I “lived to tell about it”; but I also enjoyed visiting each of those countries and would return without hesitation…
…and I was treated rather well in those countries, which are predominately comprised of people who are Muslim; as well as in countries such as Malaysia, Oman and Bahrain — although I did experience this minor incident which happened to me in Bahrain. Of course, I cannot speculate on what someone else could be thinking and not saying; but I never felt like anyone was attempting to eliminate me simply because I am not Muslim — but then again, I have never been engaged in combat, either.
You have a far greater chance of being involved in an automobile accident or dying of a disease that you do being the victim of terrorist activity. Do not fear the terrorists — that is exactly what they want.
Combating terrorism is a collaborative effort on the part of everyone; and you can help simply by going about your daily routine or by traveling — but remain alert and aware of your surroundings, which you should do at all times anyway.
When asked if he had the opportunity to return to action, Ward immediately responded without hesitation: “Oh, sure. Without a doubt. Without a doubt.”