By Terri L. Wilkin
Program Director, Emergency & Disaster Management, Fire Science, & EOD and Associate Professor, Legal Studies, AMU
Terrorism will not be erased any time soon because terrorist acts are one way that individuals who lack resources, manpower and weaponry can advance their cause. While terrorist attacks do not always succeed, there are enough successes to ensure that terrorism will continue in the future.
To effectively fight the “War on Terror,” we need a better understanding of the goals behind the actions of terrorist organizations. In other words, what do terrorists hope to achieve?
Understanding a terrorist organization’s objectives is a critical component of counter-terrorism policies and strategies. Knowing how a government responds to terrorist acts is an important element in its enactment of policies and strategies that will effectively combat terrorism.
However, many governments targeted by terrorist organizations have responded in precisely the way that terrorist organizations wanted them to act. Often, countries that have been attacked make concessions that the terrorist organization sought to accomplish.
For example, when U.S. military barracks in Beirut were attacked by a suicide bomber in 1983, the U.S. withdrew its forces from Lebanon a year later. Two years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. withdrew its forces from Saudi Arabia because its military presence there was blamed for increasing Islamic extremism.
Half of All Terrorist Attacks Before 2003 Resulted in Government Concessions
From 1980 through 2003, 50 percent of all terrorist attacks succeeded in having governments make substantial concessions. To have an effective counter-terrorism strategy, governments must understand the motives and goals behind the attacks and what the terrorists seek to accomplish.
By understanding a terrorist organization’s motives and goals, nations will not inadvertently give the terrorists what they set out to accomplish. If concessions are made, terrorists will be successful and will be emboldened to continue their campaign of terror.
Terrorist Attacks Can Have Unintended Consequences
Besides concessions, provoking a government into action is another terrorist tactic. While numerous experts suggest that terrorists want to avoid inciting a tough military response, some terrorist organizations will actually provoke a harsh military response when innocent civilians within the terrorists’ homeland are harmed or killed.
The terrorist attack of 9/11 against the United States, for example, was a provocation strategy used by al-Qaeda soon after George W. Bush became president in 2001. The United States responded by launching a series of attacks on al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan.
Also from In Homeland Security: Terror Threat Snapshot Report
Within months, thousands of militants were killed or captured, and Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders were driven into hiding. The swift reprisal from the United States, however, actually increased terrorist organizations’ recruitment and fundraising efforts in the U.S. and abroad.
US Should Not Overreact to Attacks, but Build a Solid Intelligence-Sharing Community
The United States needs to better understand the ultimate goals of terrorist organizations to have an effective counter-terrorism strategy. President Trump has not been quiet about U.S. military power but needs to be careful not to overreact to a future terrorist attack.
Instead, the United States should continue to build a well-rounded human and technological intelligence-sharing community. That work will ensure that if the U.S. is targeted for attack again, the response will be different than in the past.
About the Author
Terri L. Wilkin graduated from the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law in May 2007. She is admitted to practice law in the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia and has been admitted in the Federal United States District Court for the District of Maryland. Prior to law school, Terri obtained a Master of Science dual degree from the Johns Hopkins University in Leadership and Finance/Accounting. Her 26-year career with the Maryland State Police includes assignments in patrol, criminal and drug investigations, white-collar crime, intelligence work, training, the Deputy Director of the Planning and Research Division, and as the Department Prosecutor. She is also a Florida Licensed Private Investigator and a managing partner in an investigative consulting firm. Terri is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Homeland Security with a concentration in Counter-Terrorism at AMU.