Terrorism is Like Cancer

Posted in Terrorism | 11-Nov-05 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Ends & Means in Non-Conventional Conflict

Terrorism is like cancer. There are a bunch of different kinds and the tumor and the metastases remain uncovered until it is often too late to cure. The label “international terrorism” might lead to the misperception that there is one kind of terrorism following central guidelines, which is no longer true. The renaissance of terrorism as a political means stems from the leadership of al Qaeda.

However, there are terrorists in the world who do not know the ideology of Osama bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al Zawahiri. An unanswered question remains how the strategic level of al Qaeda corresponds with the operational and tactical levels. The permanent hunt for the leaders, thought to be hiding out somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan, makes it more dangerous and difficult for them to communicate.

Ayman al Zawahiri's letter to Abu Mussab al Zarqawi sheds some light on these difficulties. It becomes obvious from this letter that al Zarqawi is the operational commander in Iraq without getting orders from the top. And that is certainly even truer for the tactical level. It might be true that years ago, money and training facilities were forwarded by al Qaeda to the tactical level, but this has certainly changed. In this remarkable letter, Ayman al Zawahiri tries to persuade al Zarqawi to stop the killing of innocent people. He stresses the political dimension of the conflict to win the hearts and minds of the people. Given the fact that there is no clear hierarchy of the various operational and tactical terrorist groupings that are presently active worldwide, it becomes obvious that there is no room for a centralized, internationally well orchestrated “international response.”

International should be the awareness that terrorists make war. International should be the exchange of information – i.e. about travels of “liaison officers” and about money transfers. International should be not to create or accept safe havens for the extremists.

The road to success is to: Think globally, act locally. Each and every local, regional and national act of terrorism has its own source and character. It is dangerous to take over the lessons learned from other areas. Any fight against terror has to start with an in-depth threat and risk analysis. This analysis should give answers to the questions: What are the interests of “our” terrorists? Where do they get their resources? What is their back-up in the respective societies? Who are the leaders? What is their “center of gravity?” What are their strengths and weaknesses? Do they get any support from other regions?

The answers to these questions determine the strategic, operational and tactical countermeasures – not just military, but from all relevant political players. Under the label “OpsInfo,” these countermeasures have to be orchestrated by one team. “Public diplomacy” is not the least important tool to win the hearts and minds on both sides. There is no recipe for the fight against terror. But the abovementioned procedure might decrease the numbers of own casualties.

Our newsletter written by a German freelancer, Joerg Eschenfelder who has lived some time in Asia and who is “WSN Correspondent Asia”, addresses a lesser known region where terrorism is a menace, too. He focuses on the southern part of Thailand, but points out the border crossing aspects. He analyzes several options as to how to win the struggle against the regional terrorists, before foreign terrorists infiltrate the country.

His main message for the Thai leadership: Stop confrontation, start cooperation!