Once again, we see that foreign military deployments cause more, not less terrorism

When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. It is time to expand the toolbox.

When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. It is time to expand the toolbox.

In the neverending and ill-named ‘War on Terrorism’ we have seen time and time again the deployment of military forces to combat violent extremism. Do you need examples?

  • The US sent forces to Afghanistan after 9/11 and those forces are still there;
  • The US sent forces to Iraq in 2003 and those forces are still there;
  • Ethiopia sent forces to Somalia in 2005 and were there until recently;

In each instance the result was, for the most part, more (not less) terrorism. Don’t get me wrong: these forces did take out some nasty terrorists along the way and that is indeed a good thing. After all, as I have written on many occasions, “a dead terrorist is a good terrorist”.

Ethiopian forces in Somalia (Photo: AMISOM Public Information on flickr, Public Domain)
A dead terrorist is a good terrorist

But is this the optimal strategy? Is there not a better way to do this? I humbly submit to you that the answer is yes.

To my mind there are circumstances in which it makes sense to deploy the military to do ‘kinetic’ counter terrorism work. The US special forces take out of Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden at his compound in Abbotabad (Pakistan) is a case in point as was the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi last year. FYI I discuss all this at much greater length in my 4th book An End to the War on Terrorism.

In this regard, Kenya is now learning that sending soldiers abroad rarely solves anything. Kenyan Defence Forces have been stationed in neighbouring Somalia since 2011 and have been hit by attacks spearheaded by the terrorist group Al Shabaab at its bases. The organisation has also carried out mass casualty attacks in Kenya against hotels, universities and other civilian targets. The siege at Garissa University College in northeast Kenya in April 2015 was particularly lethal.

Now Al Shabaab is vowing to carry out more attacks:

Withdraw all your forces from our Muslim lands while you still have the chance…otherwise brace for the worst and prepare yourselves for the perilous times ahead.

Al Shabaab also posted

Tourists and travelers visiting the country are hereby warned that there will no longer be any safe sightseeing or safari trips in Kenya.

What then is Kenya, or by extension other nations, to do?

Many have decided that doing nothing is not an option: I often hear the argument that we send our soldiers to kill terrorists ‘over there’ so they will not come and kill us ‘over here’.

This is not a great line of reasoning for the simple fact that deploying troops in indefinite away missions leads to more, not less, terrorism. I see two viable (better) options:

  1. More operations like the one that got bin Laden and Al Baghdadi: in, out, don’t overstay your welcome; and
  2. Train locals in CT operations and have them carry them out.
A failure for the most part

I am sure some readers will disagree with me and many of you have much more military experience that I do (I have none). But while I will be keen to hear your arguments I still think I am on to something here. One thing is blatantly clear: our go-to strategy so far has been a failure for the most part.

Isn’t there a saying that if you find yourself in a hole the best plan of action is to stop digging? Even if it is a foxhole.

An End to the War on Terrorism (2018)

This book will discuss what we have collectively done well, what we have done poorly, what we have yet to try and how we get to the point where terrorism does not dominate public discourse and cause disproportionate fear around the world.

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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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