In its ideological struggle against Al-Qaeda, American anti-terrorist strategy too often overlooks the basic tenets of the infamous Chinese warlord Sun Tzu, namely: know your enemy.
That is the fixed view of leading analysts, who conclude that through ignorance of the enemy it faces, ignorance of its nature, its goals, its strengths and its weaknesses, the United States is condemned to failure.
"The attention of the US military and intelligence community is directed almost uniformly towards hunting down militant leaders or protecting US forces, (and) not towards understanding the enemy we now face," said Bruce Hoffman, a professor at Georgetown University, Washington DC.
"This is a monumental failing not only because decapitation strategies have rarely worked in countering mass-mobilisation terrorist or insurgent campaigns, but also because Al-Qaeda's ability to continue this struggle is based absolutely on its capacity to attract new recruits and replenish its resources.
"Without knowing our enemy, we cannot fulfill the most basic requirements of an effective counter-terrorist strategy: pre-empting and preventing terrorist operations and deterring their attacks," Hoffman added.
Officials said Friday that Abu Laith al-Libi - believed to have been killed when a missile fired by an unmanned US aircraft hit his Pakistani hideout - was a top Al-Qaeda commander who led Osama bin Laden's terror network in Afghanistan.
He was in fifth position on a classified US Central Intelligence Agency wanted list seen by AFP, with a five-million-dollar (3.5 million euros) bounty on his head.
But in using the "Al-Qaeda" label when talking about suspects arrested or armed fighters killed - indiscriminately and sometimes wrongly, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere - American or Western forces create and feed a confusion which ultimately makes victims of themselves, experts say.
"(Using) body-counts as a criterion to measure effectiveness is a bit like Guantanamo: you produce a tally, you mix up Al-Qaeda members or just hired hands with people who have only the vaguest of connections, people who have none at all and finally even pure civilians," added French academic Jean-Pierre Filiu, author of "Les Frontieres du Jihad" ('The Limits of Jihad').
"When you reach that point, air-strikes and the elimination of 'wanted' individuals not only prove fruitless, but actually become counter-productive.
"These actions only intensify (Al-Qaeda) recruitment, instead of weakening the organisation.
"The problem is this innate tendency within all administrations or bodies to stack up figures, pull out statistics, use them to show how they are winning, how they are liquidating their enemies, etc," Filiu added.
The 'body-count' syndrome is actually a "trap" laid by Al-Qaeda into which the Americans have "fallen" blindly, added Lebanese-American researcher Fawaz Gerges, an international relations specialist at Sarah Lawrence College, New York.
"You cannot win this war on the battlefield, because there is none," said Gerges. "You're facing an unconventional war. The more you rely on military might, the more you lose the war of ideas against Al-Qaeda and the militants.
"In Iraq, we fell into their trap, we gave them more ideological ammunition.
"So many Muslims all over the world are now convinced, and this feeling is so entrenched, that the war in Iraq is not against Al-Qaeda, but against Islam."
Gerges detects a growing appreciation of this phenomenon "even at the heart of the American administration," expressing his belief that a "new understanding" exists which casts the outgoing George W. Bush's war against Al-Qaeda as "counter-productive".
The echoes of Sun Tzu's writings, produced at least 2,500 years ago, are everywhere, viz:
"If you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle".
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