How Terrorism Ends

Saturday, Dec 12, 2009

The RAND corporation is tied closely (and in part funded) by the U.S. government and, in particular, the military, and large private organizations in the defense industry. This study deals with an analysis of how terrorism ends. See also the causes of suicide terrorism (most often, occupation).

By analyzing 648 groups that existed between 1968 and 2006, this monograph examines how terrorist groups end. Its purpose is to inform U.S. counterterrorist efforts by understanding how groups have ended in the past and to assess implications for countering al Qa’ida...

The evidence since 1968 indicates that most groups have ended because (1) they joined the political process or (2) local police and intelligence agencies arrested or killed key members. Military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups, and few groups within this time frame achieved victory. This has significant implications for dealing with al Qa’ida and suggests fundamentally rethinking post–September 11 U.S. counterterrorism strategy...

Most terrorist groups that end because of politics seek narrow policy goals...

Against terrorist groups that cannot or will not make a transition to nonviolence, policing is likely to be the most effective strategy (40 percent)... Local police and intelligence agencies usually have a permanent presence in cities, towns, and villages; a better understanding of the threat environment in these areas; and better human intelligence.

...in 10 percent of the cases, terrorist groups ended because their goals were achieved, and military force led to the end of terrorist groups in 7 percent of the cases. Militaries tended to be most effective when used against terrorist groups engaged in an insurgency in which the groups were large, well armed, and well organized...

The evidence by 2008 suggested that the U.S. strategy was not successful in undermining al Qa’ida’s capabilities. Our assessment concludes that al Qa’ida remained a strong and competent organization...

Al Qa’ida has been involved in more terrorist attacks since September 11, 2001, than it was during its prior history. These attacks spanned Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

There has been some discrepancy about the effectiveness of U.S. strategy against al Qa’ida. In 2007, for example, vice president Dick Cheney stated that the United States had “struck major blows against the al-Qaeda network that hit America.” Pakistan’s president Pervez Musharraf claimed that “Pakistan has shattered the al Qa’ida network in the region, severing its lateral and vertical linkages. It is now on the run and has ceased to exist as a homogenous force, capable of undertaking coordinated operations.” The National Security Strategy of the United States boldly stated, “The al-Qaida network has been significantly degraded.” These arguments were regularly repeated after 2001. “Al Qaeda’s Top Primed to Collapse, U.S. Says,” read a Washington Post headline two weeks after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, was arrested in March 2003.

Our analysis suggests that these claims were overstated. A growing body of work supports our conclusion. For example, the 2008 Annual Threat Assessment of the Director of National Intelligence reported that, “Using the sanctuary in the border area of Pakistan, al-Qa’ida has been able to maintain a cadre of skilled lieutenants capable of directing the organization’s operations around the world.” It also noted that “Al-Qa’ida is improving the last key aspect of its ability to attack the US: the identification, training, and positioning of operatives for an attack in the Homeland.” The 2007 national intelligence estimate, The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland, similarly noted that the main threat to the U.S. homeland “comes from Islamic terrorist groups and cells, especially al-Qa’ida, driven by their undiminished intent to attack the Homeland and a continued effort by these terrorist groups to adapt and improve their capabilities.” Bruce Riedel, who spent 29 years at the CIA, acknowledged that “Al Qaeda is a more dangerous enemy today than it has ever been before.”..

Military force is too blunt an instrument to defeat most terrorist groups. Military forces may be able to penetrate and garrison an area that terrorist groups frequent and, if well sustained, may temporarily reduce terrorist activity. But once the situation in an area becomes untenable for terrorists, they will simply transfer their activity to another area, and the problem remains unresolved. Terrorist groups generally fight wars of the weak. They do not put large, organized forces into the field, except when they engage in insurgencies...

Iraq was also helpful to al Qa’ida, since it established a foothold that it did not previously have. On the occasion of the second and third anniversaries of the September 11 attacks, the group’s second-incommand, Ayman al-Zawahiri provided the clearest explanation of al Qa’ida’s strategy in Iraq: He declared in September 2003, "We thank God for appeasing us with the dilemmas in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Americans are facing a delicate situation in both countries. If they withdraw they will lose everything and if they stay, they will continue to bleed to death."

Such images as the Abu Ghraib prisoners were sent around the globe via Internet, satellite television, and cell phone. The war in Iraq also created a perception that Islam was under threat. Many Muslims accepted al Qa’ida’s argument that jihad was justified precisely because Islam was under attack by the United States. Consequently, fighting ground wars in the Muslim world appeared to inflame, not quell, Islamic terrorism...

Al Qa’ida was involved in more terrorist attacks in the first six years after September 11, 2001, than it had been during the previous six years. It averaged fewer than two attacks per year between 1995 and 2001, but it averaged more than ten attacks per year between 2002 and 2007... We excluded attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan...

As Figure 6.2 indicates, al Qa’ida continued to conduct attacks in several key locations, such as Saudi Arabia and Kenya. But it also expanded into North Africa (Tunisia and Algeria), Asia (Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan), the Middle East (Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt), and Europe (the United Kingdom). Most of these attacks were located in the area controlled by the caliphate, notably the Umayyad caliphate from 661 to 750 AD. This was part of al Qa’ida’s visionary pan-Islamic caliphate...

Public-opinion polls also showed notable support for al Qa’ida...

Despite initial success in capturing some al Qa’ida leaders, the United States failed to significantly weaken the organization. There was an increase in the number of attacks that involved al Qa’ida either directly or indirectly, an expansion of al Qa’ida’s geographic reach, and an evolution of its organizational structure.

How Terrorist Groups End, The Rand Corporation, Jones and Libicki, 2008, http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG741-1.pdf.