Anthony Zinni and Jake Harriman: Fighting terrorism requires this new weapon

The United States has the most well-equipped and capable fighting force in the world. The brave men and women who defend our nation's freedom and our way of life form a completely volunteer force that projects American power with unparalleled efficacy.

However, despite sustained efforts in a multi-front war, the United States has been unable to neutralize one of the most dangerous threats to national security. That's the rise of violent extremism.

After 18 years, the loss of 15,000 American lives and $5.9 trillion spent, annual global terrorist attacks have actually increased fivefold since the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

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The time has come to bring a new weapon to the fight. This summer, Congress will be considering just the weapon we need – the Global Fragility Act.

We have had the fortune of serving with America’s finest at both the strategic and tactical levels on the front lines in the war against violent extremism.

We have witnessed that this war has often been fought in highly fragile regions where enemy combatants were often recruited to join groups like Al Qaeda – not because they were drawn by ideology, but rather out of desperation for better lives and meaningful choices for their children.

There is a growing consensus among global security experts – from military leadership to development professionals – that the war against violent extremism cannot be won through military might alone.

In 2013, before members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, then-Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis said: "If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition."

Momentum is building among senior military, security and development leadership to implement practical applications of smart power now. A new strategy is required – an integrated approach to foreign policy to ensure that military gains are sustained and the root drivers of violent extremism are eliminated.

Congress is on the threshold of passing the bipartisan Global Fragility Act this summer. The House has passed the bill, and the Senate is working toward floor consideration in July.

There is a growing consensus among global security experts – from military leadership to development professionals – that the war against violent extremism cannot be won through military might alone.

The Global Fragility Act requires the State Department to partner with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Defense Department, and nongovernmental organizations to develop a new, whole-of-government strategy to reduce and prevent violent conflict in highly fragile states.

This bill gives the U.S. government the mandate, resources and authorities it needs for a long-term, coordinated approach to identify and mitigate the drivers of violence in order to prevent conflict and ultimately save lives.

The Global Fragility Act shines a light on the growing security crisis in highly fragile regions – emphasizing the importance of prevention and smart power – and presents an unprecedented opportunity to enable the U.S. and our allies to make permanent gains in the war against violent extremism.

As veterans who lived and worked in many of the most fragile countries in Africa and the Middle East, we saw firsthand the price we pay in blood and treasure when we address only the symptoms and not the root causes of violent extremism in fragile states.

Groups like the Islamic State employ hearts-and-minds strategies in vulnerable communities to address critical challenges facing community members – at times providing food, governance, and even loans.

Violent extremist groups are using the necessities of life to gain traction, thereby putting decades of military and development gains at risk. We cannot allow this to happen.

The Global Fragility Act could change all that. The 9/11 Commission urged Congress and the executive branch to combine counterterrorism and homeland security efforts with efforts to prevent the spread of violent extremism.

While counterterrorism and homeland security efforts have been largely successful, efforts to address root causes to prevent the spread of violent extremism have not been prioritized.

The Global Fragility Act equips the United States with a new, holistic strategy to address these root causes in an innovative and powerful way – bringing permanent defeat to an enemy that threatens not only our nation, but all freedom-loving people around the world.

There are those who suggest that we ignore these far-away places and focus solely on our own problems here at home.

That is an eerily familiar mindset – one that was common leading up to the events of 2001 as Al Qaeda built out its base of support with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

History is now repeating itself and violent extremism is on the march in Africa. Although we defeated ISIS in Mosul in Iraq and then in Raqqa in Syria, its adherents are shifting to find new places to operate. They are gaining ground in the highly fragile regions of Central and West Africa.

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The world has changed, and America must lead with new rules of engagement against a common enemy. We will not succeed without innovative new ideas that challenge old assumptions.

The time is now for a bold new plan. We urge the Senate to pass and the president to sign the Global Fragility Act to strengthen our security against an elusive enemy and build a more stable, secure and prosperous world for decades to come.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE BY ANTHONY ZINNI

Jake Harriman is the CEO of Nuru International, a group working to eradicate extreme poverty in fragile rural areas to build communities resilient to violent extremism.