Information Warfare: April 28, 2005


The U.S. is no longer going to release its annual terrorism report. Seems theres a problem with defining exactly what is a terrorist attack? How do you count them? This is not a simple question. Thats been a problem for a long time. The current war on terror is mainly concerned with international terrorism. Specifically, attacks by Islamic terrorists on the United States, or its citizens overseas. That leaves out the majority of terrorist attacks world wide. 

Most terror attacks are by local groups. India has been under attack by Islamic terrorists for over a decade, primarily in Kashmir. This province, with a majority Moslem population, has been claimed by India and Pakistan for over half a century. In 1989, Pakistan decided to support Islamic radicals who sought to wage a war of terror against Indians, and non-Moslems, in Kashmir, and eventually the rest of India. Hundreds of terror attacks occur each year because of this. You could count this as international terrorism, because thousands of Islamic radicals have come over the border from Pakistan. But what about Israel, where over four years of Palestinian terrorism has resulted in thousands of terrorist attacks, with the Palestinians getting support from many other Arab countries, plus Iran. 

In many parts of the world, you get lots of overlap between criminal terrorism and political terrorism. The State Department report never included criminal terrorism attacks, which are far more numerous than politically motivated ones. But in the Philippines, and many other places, the political terrorists also carry out terrorism in support of plain old criminal activities (just for the money). In the Philippines, as elsewhere, some of the terrorism is the result of clan or tribe feuds. Some of these are about money or land disputes, but many occur simply because two groups of people dont like each other, and havent for many generations. In many parts of the world, the criminals get themselves organized and indoctrinated, and suddenly their criminal scams are politically motivated and becomes a different kind of terrorism. The victims have a hard time telling the difference. Take Colombia, where its hard to tell if an incident is terrorism or just a criminal trying to make some money. Thats not an unusual situation.

And then theres war. When one side is not organized as a proper army (per the Geneva Conventions), does that make every one of their attacks a terrorist incident? The Iraqi army that coalition forces defeated in early 2003 was organized and led by the Sunni Arab minority. This crew lost their army, and control of the country, but kept on fighting. So one day their attacks are combat, and after Baghdad falls its terrorism?

What we call guerilla warfare is basically irregular troops employing terrorism as a weapon. Thats all they have, since their more powerful opponent is too strong to face in a conventional battle. Guerillas fight like guerillas because they have no choice, and can only hope to wear down their opponent so that there will be a decisive battle the guerillas will win. It rarely works out that way, something most people ignore because the few guerilla victories get more publicity than the guerillas more numerous defeats. Dont let media driven perceptions cloud your view of reality.

To most Americans, the score keeping is simple. Only terrorist attacks on American civilians, especially in the United States, count. Dead or imprisoned terrorists, who failed in their attempts to carry out attacks are a plus. Plowing through all the other terrorism stats is useful, but only for people deep into counter-terrorism. There are relationships between criminal and political terrorism, and between those motivated by purely local grievances, and those who are eager to bring America down. But for most Americans, the score card is a lot simpler.


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