The world is becoming a safer place for all—except terrorists -

The world is becoming a safer place for all—except terrorists

New tactics and technologies make war safer for bystanders


Christopher Griffin / Reuters

Legendary North Vietnamese military leader Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap—mastermind behind the defeat of the French colonial army at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and a fierce adversary of the Americans during the Vietnam War—recently died at age 102.

U.S. Sen. John McCain spent five years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp and, this week, the former presidential candidate recalled his old foe’s accomplishments with admiration. “The U.S. never lost a battle against North Vietnam, but it lost the war,” McCain wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Giap persisted and prevailed.”

The mighty modern American army has often found itself at a frustrating disadvantage against smaller, poorly armed but more mobile and committed adversaries. Time and again, guerrilla tactics, terrorism and other forms of asymmetric warfare have proven effective, despite the overwhelming firepower of Western nations.

Last weekend, however, provides evidence that American strategy in the global war on terrorism under U.S. President Barack Obama has incorporated some important lessons from previous campaigns. And the world is becoming a safer place for everyone, except terrorists.

In Libya, American special forces grabbed Abu Anas al-Libi, an al-Qaeda leader suspected of planning two American embassy bombings in Africa in 1998. He is expected to be returned to the U.S. for trial, where he’s already been indicted by a New York court.

On the Somali coast, another group of American commandos attempted the same feat with Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a member of al-Shabaab, the group behind the deadly Nairobi mall attack last month. Unfortunately, members of SEAL Team Six, the same force that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, found themselves in a fierce firefight on the beach and abandoned their mission. It was a rare failure in a recent string of successful special forces missions.

Since the beginning of his first term, Obama has been reluctant to commit conventional troops en masse, engineering disengagements in both Iraq and Afghanistan. His recent climbdown over chemical weapons in Syria can be seen in a similar light. In place of invasion and direct country-to-country action, Obama has looked for more modest and focused ways to project American power.

Part of this is motivated by the fiscal crisis in the U.S.—Obama simply can’t afford another full-blown war. But beyond financial necessity, a strategic evolution is ongoing. To use baseball lingo, the president is now playing small ball. Rather than relying on brute force to crush his enemies, he’s content to build a lead with small singles, bunts and stolen bases.

The hallmark of Obama’s presidency is the drone attack. Technological advances now allow American drone pilots to launch missiles against individual terrorists from thousands of kilometres away. Waging drone warfare over foreign airspace is controversial; while the U.S. Congress has authorized military force against the perpetrators of 9/11, critics claim drone attacks violate national sovereignty, as well as international law. Such complaints, however, fail to recognize the severity or insidiousness of the terrorist threat—particularly since it deliberately targets civilians.

It is noteworthy that Obama has faced far less public outrage over his drone killings than previous American unconventional war tactics, including former president Ronald Reagan’s support for Nicaraguan death squads in the 1980s. Not only is there a universal lack of sympathy for the enemy these days, but you can’t argue with the sheer effectiveness of drones.

“Dozens of highly skilled al-Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers and operatives have been taken off the battlefield. Plots have been disrupted,” Obama said earlier this year in a speech on the role of drones in the fight against terrorism. But, he added, “Don’t take my word for it. In the intelligence gathered at bin Laden’s compound, we found that he wrote . . . ‘We cannot fight air strikes with explosives.’ ”

These new tactics and technologies are also making war much safer for bystanders. Civilian casualties have always been a tragic consequence of war. In the Second World War, for example, millions more civilians died than actual combatants. Drones have vastly reduced this collateral damage.

According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, so far in 2013, the CIA has carried out 22 drone strikes in Pakistan and killed an estimated 99 to 160 targets. Civilian deaths in these instances are estimated at between zero and four. While every civilian death is a tragedy, such a tiny ratio of collateral to intended deaths must be unprecedented in modern warfare.

Last weekend’s two snatch-and-grab missions may signal yet another change in American strategy. Capturing suspects alive and hauling them back to the U.S. not only resolves many of the legal and moral ambiguities surrounding assassination from above, it also promises to reduce the civilian death toll even further.

The war on terror may never end. But it is becoming more intelligent and focused.

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The world is becoming a safer place for all—except terrorists

  1. “Walk softly and carry a big-stick” – catchy phrase but in actuality, the big-stick is never used and terrorists have learned to ignore the threat of a nuclear knock-out. Instead, they are content to pick-us-off in endless murderous attacks on “non-believers”. To make matters far worse, Western idealists are still simply incapable of discerning between “reasonable freedom of religion” and the “violent political totalitarian cult ideology” that motivates most terrorism on earth. The end result? Our well-intentioned multicultural ideals continue to blindly ignore the threat of stealth jihad from-within posed by droves of incompatible immigrants with no interest in adopting our way of life. I do believe in freedom of religion, but I don’t believe in blind unlimited acceptance of dubious immigration that ultimately threatens our hard-won Canadian freedom. Can you hear that? – the sound of our veterans rolling in their graves as slippery politicians pander for any vote they can find.

    • Sorry, but you lost me at the start of your anti-muslim immigrant rant.( and you started so well!) The overwhelming electronic eavesdropping into our personal lives and the abuse of civil rights due to “security” laws are a far bigger danger than someone wearing an Hijab.

      • A peaceful way to prevent terrorism would be to severely limit or stop Muslim immigration to Canada.

        I don’t want my daughter’s and granddaughter’s to lose all of their human rights and freedoms because of fools like you.

    • This comment was deleted.

      • It’s better than being a useful idiot or apologist for those who wish to destroy us.

  2. Funny that, I just finished reading an article in The Guardian titled:

    “African Rule of Law Declines Despite Economic Gains, Ibrahim index shows”
    Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s annual governance appraisal calls for greater focus on justice and safety to avoid social unrest”

    Evidently the article doesn’t apply to basically a whole continent.

    I’ll use an analogy. As climate change analysts are wont to say, weather does not a climate make, individual instances of successful “terrorist” apprehension, lethal or otherwise, do not security of person make.

    Frankly, I am more concerned about being mugged, or my house burglarized, or if I were American, some nut with a gun shooting me than I am of a terrorist attack. To me, on a “micro” level, that is safety.

    The article is describing protecting the vested interests of state, a far different kettle of fish. While I realize that it could be validly argued that both are sides of the same coin, the opposite is a also valid. The rubric of “terrorism interdiction” as well as “Law & Order” are often used to deny state and individual freedoms. Some might say they are used as tools to effect the antithesis of safety to satisfy crass personal, corporate and ideological motives.
    The whole article might have been titled “In Praise of The Orwellian State”

    • This is a narrow view from the safe confines of a western nation. From Waziristan to Harakat al-Shabaab, and even in pockets inside Western nations, the indoctrination of warfare against non-believers, sponsored and encouraged by God/Allah, is underway. We can ignore it, and probably safely go about our lives, but like a virus this kind of thing grows and grows. You might be safe, but how about your children, or theirs?

      Just because it isn’t reported does not mean it is not happening.

      I was in a similar position as you until I stumbled across this site – take a look. Look at how many attacks have been undertaken since 2001, and you start to realize the scale of the problem. The numbers are staggering, and the targets are civilians like you and I.

  3. Very misleading article. When I visited the Bureau of Investigative Journalism site, they make it clear that the toll on civilians are very high.
    What plots have been disrupted. They’re all sting operations where the subject has no means to carry out an attack. Even the NSA has had trouble identifying one terrorist attack that’s been stopped as a result of their wide surveillance.

    • Ignores one fact. Many so called innocents support the terrorists, feed, breed and wash their clothes.

      So if the terrorists wife and kids die, I don’t consider them innocents, I consider them accomplices.

      But yes, innocents do also get killed. Just not as many as claimed.

      • I agree except the kids should be spared.

    • while we’re visiting websites and looking at stats, let’s look at the other side of the coin:

  4. Cowards hiding behind computer screens killing people with joysticks… the long term consequences of these short term “victories” are as yet unknown. They may well be making the world safer… for now. When ‘blowback’ evolves into something more than just cute CIA jargon, it’s usually way too late to do anything about it. That can take decades.

    • Cowards send in suicide bombers.

    • Agree with Scott – there are 2 sides to this situation, and NOBODY is reporting the opposite side, except these guys:

  5. At first, I thought the headline was intentionally sarcastic. This piece paints a deceitful
    picture of what is really going on. The following excerpt: “…the CIA has carried out 22 drone strikes in Pakistan and killed an estimated 99 to 160 targets. Civilian deaths in these instances are estimated at between zero and four.” According to the source you are drawing from, the reality is quite different. For example, at: the following Casualty estimates of Reported deaths and injuries are published:

    Pakistan 2004–2013
    CIA Drone Strikes

    Total strikes: 376
    Obama strikes: 325
    Total killed: 2,525-3,613
    Civilians killed: 407-926
    Children killed: 168-200
    Injured: 1,117-1,505

    The civilian death toll could be even higher as US authorities admit they cannot accurately estimate who is who, in regards to drone strike casualties.

    “These new tactics and technologies are also making war much safer for
    bystanders.” This is an extremely absurd statement. Comparing the volume
    of WW2 casualties to drone strike casualties is not an argument.

    The last sentence in the story is a very misleading sentiment: “The war on terror may never end. But it is becoming more intelligent and focused.” It would be more accurate to state that there is a War of Terror. Civilians are being killed or terrorized by drone strikes. There isn’t anything intelligent or focused in this.

    • War on terror would get a crippling blow if the people who funded it were executed.

      But note the absence of going after the people who fund and provide weapons to terrorism.

    • very good point and thank you for the stats.
      Let me share some other shocking statistics (the site is a bit right-wing, but I’ve verified enough of the numbers to believe it).

      28,000 ATTACKS on civilians (not deaths – the death count is much higher) since 2001.

      While every civilian death is one too many, the US still has a way to go to catch up with the true aggressors in this war!

  6. Terrorists and criminals are alive and well.

    Ask yourselves who funded Osama Bin Ladden and why it hasn’t been made public?

    Same with Syria terrorists, who is buying, smuggling and financially supporting them?

    So easy to cripple terrorism, but too much money in the corruption and military bloat to be effective.

  7. Amazing how the people who fund terrorism and buy them weapons never get exposed.

  8. This is a very narrow analysis and conclusion: Drone strikes alone do not make a counter-terrorism strategy, and their effectiveness is arguable.

    The recent effectiveness of the war on terror could be attributed to many different things, for example:
    – a focus on financial restrictions on terrorist organizations, cutting off funding. One could also lump in tightening of sanctions on Iran, which has cut off significant sources of funds for some organizations.
    – increases in international cooperation and information sharing amongst national intelligence and security agencies
    – increase in technology and monitoring abilities to enhance intelligence and security capability
    – I would love to add some “hearts and minds” comments, but this is not occurring, and has been a massive oversight in the overall strategy, and in fact there is a strong argument that drone strikes alone actually make the long-term situation worse in this area (you “drone striked” my father/brother/cousin/neighbor/friend, and I will fight against you in 20 years’ time).

    The above aside, in my opinion the most likely explanation for the recent “effectiveness” in the war on terror is the giant black hole that has opened up in Syria, which is sucking in every extremist from Chechnya to Morocco.

    Now is not the time to rest on laurels, for the only recent change has been the enemy’s priorities.

  9. “Such complaints, however, fail to recognize the severity or
    insidiousness of the terrorist threat—particularly since it deliberately
    targets civilians.”. Who writes this stuff? So its ok to accidentally target civilians? Wondering if you forgot about Yemen as well, but this looks more like an advertisement for continued bombings by air with a little collateral damage(like somebody’s kids).