Counter-Terrorism: August 1, 2005

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There are six major terrorist training areas in the world. These are places where terrorist recruits can be shown how to use various weapons, including bombs. Such practice is essential, as it is usually fatal to learn this stuff on the job. Three of these training areas are under constant attack by counter-terrorism forces. These include Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and Pakistan. The others, southern Lebanon, Syria and Iran, are free from any military pressure, although Israel hits the south Lebanon locations with an occasional air strike or artillery fire. 

Iraq has hosted terrorist training camps for decades. All those camps were shut down over two years ago. The new ones are improvised affairs, and are being hunted down and destroyed as they become known. A similar situation exists in the Palestinian Territories, especially Gaza. But because of truces, or simply the reluctance of the Israelis to risk high civilian casualties, the Palestinian terrorists have lots of room to carry out training and practice in Gaza. 

Iran, which provides money, weapons and advisors to the Hizbollah terrorists of southern Lebanon, has trained many terrorists, but has been reluctant to use them internationally. This is because, while the Iranian terrorist training facilities are not attacked, the entire nation of Iran would be held responsible if terrorist attacks were traced back to Iran. This could result in major military retaliation, the destruction of Irans oil export capability and hits on many military targets in the country. The Islamic conservatives just barely hold onto control of the country, with the majority of people openly antagonistic to the clerics. Inviting an retaliation attack from the United States, or even some of their Persian Gulf neighbors, could push the anti-clerical majority in Iran into open rebellion.

A similar situation exists in southern Lebanon. Hizbollah is a Shia Islamic terrorist organization, which got its start during the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war. The Shia in Lebanon are about 35 percent of the population, and the poorest 35 percent at that. Hizbollah was founded, with Iranian help, to assist the Shia in defending themselves during the civil war. When that conflict ended in 1990, Hizbollah did not stop fighting, but carried out attacks against Israel. Iran had been sponsoring terrorism since the early 1980s, and has loudly declared that Israel and the United States must be destroyed. But Hizbollah, like Iran, has not exported its terrorism any farther, for the same reasons as Iran. Hizbollah does not want the United States, or anyone else, to have a reason to come after them. Aside from the obvious reasons, the Lebanese civil war still goes on at a very low level. The non-Shia Lebanese (Sunni Moslems and various Christian sects) are hostile to Hizbollah and the private army the Shia have maintained in the south. Moreover, the Shia were close allies of the Syrians, who just recently withdrew from Lebanon after two decades of occupation, and much hostility from Christian and Sunni Moslem Lebanese. The Lebanese Shia got on with the Syrians because Syria and Iran were allies (mostly because of their mutual hatred of Saddam Hussein). 

Pakistan is a rather more complex case. Al Qaeda training camps were shut down, and most al Qaeda leaders killed or arrested, because al Qaeda declared war on Pakistan for siding with the United States after September 11, 2001. But there are several more respectable, at least in Pakistan, Islamic terrorist groups, that are still tolerated. These outfits, who are dedicated to attacks on India, have been persecuted and criticized by the government, but not shut down. Many of these terrorists share many goals with al Qaeda, but have not turned on their own government. Not yet. 

There are several other areas (Africa, Southeast Asia) where Islamic terrorists are tolerated, or at least not actively pursued. Here, discreet terrorists can maintain themselves. These are also areas where the United States is sending in Special Forces troops to train local counter-terrorism forces. New weapons and equipment is being offered as well, and these nations accept all this as an opportunity to upgrade their armed forces. 

While there are many places an international terrorist can go for training, none of them are without a great deal of risk. Because of local politics, some of these areas will not be clear of terrorist training camps until the local governments are convinced that this is a good thing to do. It will take years of military and diplomatic pressure to keep the terrorists from establishing a safe have anywhere.

 


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