How Terrorist Groups Disband

Interesting research from RAND:

Abstract: How do terrorist groups end? The evidence since 1968 indicates that terrorist groups rarely cease to exist as a result of winning or losing a military campaign. Rather, most groups end because of operations carried out by local police or intelligence agencies or because they join the political process. This suggests that the United States should pursue a counterterrorism strategy against al Qa'ida that emphasizes policing and intelligence gathering rather than a "war on terrorism" approach that relies heavily on military force.

This, of course, should surprise no one. Remember the work of Max Abrahms.

Posted on November 9, 2012 at 6:41 AM • 18 Comments

Comments

Riccardo CabezaNovember 9, 2012 7:49 AM

Negative, liberal. Stay The Course because you are either With Us or Against US! What sort of 'nuanced' thinking is this? Karl, help me out here....

JeffNovember 9, 2012 8:01 AM

...or you could look at the US Counterinsurgency Field Manual (http://www.amazon.com/Marine-Corps-Counterinsurgency-Field-Manual/dp/0226841510), and see that the "less war is better"/"counterinsurgency is counter-intuitive" idea is not entirely new. But its good to see a systematic study, and I hope the new lessons make their way into current operations. (yes, I know counterinsurgency is not identical to counter-terrorism). Thanks for finding the article!

ChristianONovember 9, 2012 8:28 AM

The idea that drone attacks in Pakistan, murdering hundreds of civillians, are counterproductive to fighting terrorism has already been somehow present in my mind.

B. JohnsonNovember 9, 2012 9:56 AM

So pretty much the advantages of proactive security over reactive security.

Kind of old news around here, isn't it?

MiramonNovember 9, 2012 10:12 AM

But many defunct terrorist groups existed in countries with a rule of law, not in civil disorder. It's natural that such organizations would be defeated by law enforcement, not by the military.

On the other hand, in Iraq or Sri Lanka or Afghanistan, actual warfare was or is going on. You can't expect police methods to work against a company of soldiers armed with assault rifles and RPGs.

So obviously the kind of terrorist organization is significant, as is their location and situation, and so the study's generalization may be rather pointless.

The term "terrorist" is a bad one because it's far too broad: it includes criminal organizations that violate the law in their own countries, military groups that use guerrilla tactics (aka "freedom fighters" depending on which side you're on), and even groups that have the support of their home base governments.

AdamNovember 9, 2012 10:36 AM

Do you think the military leaders do not already know this? Furthermore, do you think this is not how the battles on the ground are fought?

Eliminating terrorists is the goal, but given a choice of "make lots of money" (e.g. big spending on fancy new weapons, and lots of them) and "don't make lots of money" (working with local police and political leaders)... which do you expect our politicians to choose?

What would be nice is if our leaders would be more transparent on what they're doing, so the public can be more educated on the matter. Democracy doesn't work very well if votes are not informed on the issues.

Michael BradyNovember 9, 2012 12:43 PM

The best wars are fought, not won:

Poverty
Drugs
Ballistic missile threat
Terror
EMP

There's serious money to be spent, careers to be made, revolving doors to maintain. Please leave this sort of thing to professionals.

zzx375November 9, 2012 12:57 PM

And the attack on Obama's compound in Pakistan ending in his death should have been left to the local constabulary to simply "pick him up"?

mooNovember 9, 2012 1:39 PM

Terrorism isn't "war", its just crime. Not surprising that age-old crimefighting techniques are also the way to fight terrorism.

LeoBaoigNovember 9, 2012 2:41 PM

Life would be boring without a few 'wars' where we can put it all on the line just for the sake of expanding oversea's influence.

AnonNovember 10, 2012 11:48 PM

After reading this sentence: "This suggests that the United States should pursue a counterterrorism strategy against al Qa'ida that emphasizes policing and intelligence gathering rather than a "war on terrorism" approach that relies heavily on military force.", it's clear the author is a total idiot because he or she assumes that intelligence gathering and military force are opposite approaches to counter-terrorism. US intelligence gathering makes the military approach to counter-terrorism possible. If intelligence analysts at CIA hadn't spent ten years trying to find Bin Laden, it never would have been possible in the war on terror for the military to send in the Seals to kill him.

AnonNovember 10, 2012 11:57 PM

Another key problem with the study is that it's case study of policing was on Aum Shirinkyo, which was a domestic terrorist group with some external branches. Al Qaeda is an international terrorist group, which is based in other countries. It makes no sense to compare internal terrorist groups with external ones.

PinjataNovember 11, 2012 9:55 AM

@anon: "assumes that intelligence gathering and military force are opposite approaches to counter-terrorism"

I'm not sure the author is making that assumption, rather, policing and military force are opposite. The intelligence gathering can still be used by a law enforcement agency, to arrest the suspects and put them to trial.

AutolykosNovember 11, 2012 10:02 AM

@moo: My thoughts exactly. That's what happens when people lie so much they don't even know the truth anymore. And to nobody's surprise, policies that aren't based on reality tend to be ineffective.

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