Extremism threat greater now than before 9/11, US experts warn

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Deaths are up and terror has spread, with American intervention in Middle East unable to stanch chaos, task force says in new report

WASHINGTON (AP) — Extremism poses a greater global threat today than it did 17 years ago, despite costly US military action overseas, according to members of the US government commission that investigated the September 11 attacks.

Deaths from terrorist attacks each year have increased substantially since 2001 and violent extremism has spread, according to the report Tuesday from the task force on extremism in fragile states led by former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton.

Kean and Hamilton led the 9/11 Commission that was created in 2002 to make an official report of events leading up to the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington by al-Qaeda, and make policy recommendations. Members of the more recently constituted task force include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, and former US national security adviser Stephen Hadley.

Their assessment, released on the attacks’ anniversary, comes as the war in Afghanistan, which was initiated to defeat al-Qaeda and their Taliban hosts, shows no sign of ending.

American troops are also deployed in Iraq and Syria and are seeking what the Trump administration calls the “enduring” defeat of the Islamic State group, or IS, which has emerged as the most lethal, global terror threat in recent years. Further US forces are scattered at trouble spots in Africa.

“Terrorists still aspire to strike the United States, but the dangers of extremism to the United States now extend beyond the homeland,” said the report published by the US Institute for Peace which convened the task force. It warns that violent extremism “has spread across a wide arc of instability stretching through fragile states in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel.” The Horn of Africa lies in the east of the continent, and Sahel refers to North Africa.

The report says the ensuing chaos and instability has undermined US influence and allowed extremists to launch “their most daring onslaughts” and make “their greatest gains.”

US officials offered a more upbeat assessment of American counter-terrorism efforts on Tuesday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that while efforts to eradicate terrorism continue, the US has made “great strides” in that fight. He noted the “central role” of diplomacy in combating extremism and promoting global stability and freedom.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the US is “dramatically better positioned,” against another possible September 11-style attack. While major terrorist organizations continue to pose a threat to the US, Wray said the FBI is also “very focused now on homegrown violent extremists,” largely radicalized online.

The task force’s report says that extremists have tried to drive the United States to “military, financial, and political exhaustion through the relentless grind of asymmetric warfare.”

Wars against terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria have cost taxpayers $1.5 trillion, according to a Pentagon report from July 2017. A Brown University study puts the price tag at more than $4 trillion if costs like the medical care of wounded veterans are taken into account.

Still, the task force urges that the US consolidate its gains in the fight against IS extremists which it says “remain a threat to stability in recently liberated areas, as well as in our homelands

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