PARIS, FRANCE – Time and time again, we hear terrorist groups use military deployments as justification for acts of violence.
Do you remember 9/11? I am sure you do, even if that event was almost two decades (two decades!!) ago. We all recall the images, the videos, the carnage. We will never forget the sheer loss of human life on that one sunny September day in 2001.
We also remember the immediate pledge to find out who was behind the attack and to ‘bring them to justice’. Since everyone and his dog knew that something of this scale had to be a terrorist group named Al Qaeda (AQ), that part was easy. The next part, i.e. the punishment aspect, um that was a little harder.
Our preferred response was to send military forces to Afghanistan as that nation was the one which gave AQ leader Usama bin Laden refuge. After an initial quick entry by special forces the mission turned into a two-decade long occupation (there really is no other way to describe it). The results have been mixed at best.
As I have penned on far too many occasions – sorry about that! – the stationing of armed forces on another nation’s territory, irrespective of the mandate and intent, never goes according to plan. Things go awry and innocent people end up injured or dead. This feeds the very ideology we sent troops in to deal with in the first place. It would be repetitive of me to go through all these arguments again as I do so at much greater length in my fourth book An End to the War on Terrorism.
Consequently, terrorist groups use these mistakes to plan and carry out attacks in the countries behind the deployments, all in the pursuit of a change of mind in those countries. The gold standard of this strategy was the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon: US President Reagan elected to remove US forces in the aftermath (in all honesty it was more complicated than that but the terrorists behind the attack, i.e. Hizballah, sure saw a one-to-one relationship).
Today’s attack, albeit a failed one, is in this same vein. A group calling itself the Afghan Revolutionary Front (ARF) – one that no one had ever heard of before – planted five sticks of dynamite in a third floor washroom in a Paris department store called Printemps. Alas, there was no detonator attached to the dynamite. No detonator, no boom.
The ARF made a statement demanding the withdrawal of all French military forces from Afghanistan by February 2009 or more action would be taken.
Make sure the message is relayed to your president of the republic that he withdraw his troops from our country (Afghanistan) before the end of February 2009 or we will strike again your capitalist department stores but without warning.Letter sent to AFP
No further action ensued.
It therefore looks like the ARF was one of the least successful terrorist groups in recent history. This failure should not, however, be seen to undermine the message that foreign troops are seldom welcome. We seem to be unable to learn this lesson.