Deaths from terrorism are down, but…

Terrorists killed less than half as many people in 2018 than they did in 2014: some trends are still worrisome however.

Terrorists killed less than half as many people in 2018 than they did in 2014: some trends are still worrisome however.

I had the honour to attend (and help organise) the first ever Canadian roll out of the annual Global Terrorism Index (2019) at Canada’s Parliament as well as at my Security, Economics and Technology program at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI – SET). You can read the entire report here.

You really should have a look at the report (it is not that long and there are some very well-done graphs) but allow me to provide a snapshot of some of the highlights as well as some comments on what they mean.

2019 Global Terrorism Index highlights
  • Deaths from terrorism fell for the fourth consecutive year, after peaking in 2014: 15,952 people were killed in acts of terrorism in 2018, a 52% drop in five years;
  • Despite the fall in total deaths, the number of countries affected by terrorism remains high. 71 countries recorded at least one death from terrorism in 2018, the second highest number of countries since 2002;
  • Afghanistan had the largest deterioration, recording 7,379 deaths from terrorism, an increase of 59 per cent from the prior year. For the first time since 2003, Iraq was not the country most impacted by terrorism;
  • 87% of all terrorism deaths happened in just ten countries: Afghanistan alone accounts for almost half of all deaths.
So what does all this mean?

First of all, any decrease in terrorist deaths is indeed a good thing and the fact that the toll has been halved in five years is remarkable. It is important, though, to emphasise that much of this success is due to the degraded capabilities of just two groups: Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria/Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria and neighbouring nations.

In other words, a disproportionate number of deaths were caused by these two entities, both which have perhaps seen their heyday.

The deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan is alarming.

As a Washington Post exclusive the other day noted, the 18-year post 9/11 US military commitment in Afghanistan has achieved little to nothing. Furthermore, with a US Administration keen to quit Afghanistan, and even enter into ‘peace negotiations’ with the Taliban which, as the Index points out is the world’s most lethal terrorist enterprise, it is clear – at least to me – that in this instance terrorism has been shown to have won the day.

One of the conditions of the US negotiations with the Taliban is that the latter will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a base for foreign terrorist groups. Setting aside the reality that the Taliban are themselves terrorists and not ‘foreign’ and will have free reign to kill and maim, does anyone really believe they will honour their ‘word’? If you trust these violent extremists I have some swampland – er I mean prime real estate – to see you!

I think it is important to recognise progress when it occurs. Fewer deaths at the hands of terrorist actors is indeed great news. At the same time, however, we must acknowledge that much work remains to be done. Terrorism is still with us.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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