Counter-Terrorism: Why No One Took Credit For Boston


April 25, 2013: One of the curious after-effects of the April 15th terrorist bombing in the United States (Boston) was the number of terrorist organizations that announced that they had nothing to do with it. These disclaimers were done out of fear because the American tactics of using powerful intelligence collecting and analyzing tools with the ability to then attack specific terrorists with a laser-guided missile has made the terrorist leadership very afraid. This is not just paranoia but recognition of the growing list of terrorist leaders killed in this way. The manner in which the U.S. pursued and eventually got Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein has been noticed. All this literally terrorizes those leaders who are still out there. 

For a long time the U.S. either denied these UAV missile attacks were going on or refused to comment. The impact of these attacks on terrorist operations and the morale of terrorist leadership have led to the United States now openly admitting the attacks and confirming that they would continue. It works and is a weapon unique in military history. Wars have always included attempts to gain victory, or at least an edge, by going after the enemy leaders. This has always been difficult because the enemy leaders know they are targets and take extensive precautions to protect themselves (the “royal guard” and all that). This no longer works and terrorist leaders are scrambling to find ways to avoid this lethal retribution for their terrorist attacks. 

The increased use of UAVs to find, identify, and kill terrorists (or enemies in general) has led many people in the West and in the Moslem world to assert that this is not effective, fair, or whatever. Some call it murder. But war is murder, and for centuries those involved have recognized that going to war is a messy business, especially if you are in the midst of it. In war the survivors quickly learn two things. Those who kill first are less likely to be killed later and those who can kill more of the opponent's leaders will most likely win. Current terrorist leaders may be homicidal fanatics but they know how to count. If the Americans come after them, especially because their organization carried out an attack in the United States that generated a widespread demand from Americans for revenge, the terrorist leaders are dead men walking. The belief is that the Americans will eventually get you, and most of their guys don’t want to be killed. Suicide attack duty is for the little people, not the leaders or their children. 

In the last two decades UAVs, and before that space satellites and high-flying, long endurance recon aircraft (like the U-2 and SR-71), made it possible to find and identify key enemy personnel. But until armed UAVs came along a decade ago, there was no way to quickly act on that information. Many opportunities to kill key enemy personnel were missed. Now, with Hellfire missiles (and several other similar weapons) on these UAVs, you can promptly kill what you find. Some pundits find this unsporting, morally indefensible, or otherwise wrong. For military personnel risking their lives fighting a determined enemy, it's just another way to kill the enemy leadership before the enemy succeeds.

That civilians are also killed is nothing new. During the allied invasion of France in 1944, the several months of fighting required to destroy the German armies in France also left 15,000 French civilians dead in the invasion area and more than that in the rest of France. The Germans did not normally try and hide among French civilians, while Islamic terrorists do. The Germans knew they would be attacked no matter where they were. Islamic terrorists do sometimes get away because of the successful use of human shields (because the order to fire is not given). This attitude ignores the civilians who die because terrorists escape to keep killing. Thus, in war you can avoid killing civilians but to do so at the cost of giving enemy personnel immunity that just gets more people killed down the road.

The U.S. CIA UAV campaign against Islamic terrorists in Pakistan (mainly North Waziristan) has been very effective. Al Qaeda has been rendered impotent by all the losses to leadership and technical personnel (especially bomb builders). Because of this, in the last two years most of the UAV missile attacks were against Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The targets were located through various means, one of the most important being a network of informants on the ground, as well as the UAVs and satellites.

This “decapitation” tactic was successful in Iraq and earlier in Israel (where it was developed to deal with the Palestinian terror campaign that began in 2000). The Israelis were very successful with their decapitation program, which reduced Israeli civilian terrorist deaths from over 400 a year to less than ten. American troops have used similar tactics many times in the past (in World War II, 1960s Vietnam, the Philippines over a century ago, and in 18th century colonial America) but tend to forget after a generation or so.

After the Palestinian terror offensive began in 2000, the Israelis developed decapitation tactics customized for use against Islamic terrorists. That was copied by the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some critics say this approach motivates more Moslems to support terrorism. This ignores what media, and popular opinion in Moslem nations, has been like for the last few decades. The attitude has been very anti-West and pro-Islamic terrorism. That opinion only changes when the terrorists lose. That's because when the Islamic terrorists are under a lot of pressure they kill fewer Westerners and more Moslems. This is unpopular with Moslem civilians. These people know that Western tactics kill far fewer Moslems than those of Islamic terrorists.

Decades of strident anti-West ("they make war on Islam") propaganda makes anything the West does, even defending itself from attack, evil to Moslems. There is a failure to communicate here because many Moslems actually believe that the September 11, 2001 attacks were all a CIA/Israeli plot and that Moslems are not attacking Western civilians. Yet, whenever Islamic terrorists succeed in attacking the West and killing a lot of civilians there are open celebrations in Moslem countries. This happens even when there are Westerners around to witness it. But most media in the West refuses to deal with this quandary. It is indeed a major failure to communicate.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close