Paper examines lessons from history dealing with terrorist threats

Sunday, February 01, 2015

AUSA’s Institute of Land Warfare (ILW) has recently released a new publication.

"Terrorists, Insurgents and the Lessons of History" (National Security Watch, December 22, 2014) examines how history can provide lessons for responding to terrorist and insurgent groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

After 13 years of war, the United States finds itself once again fighting a brutal terrorist group halfway around the world.

The rise of nonstate actors, communal conflict and weak governance fuels the rise of the latest terrorist groups.

The increasing accessibility of technologies, social media and cyberspace has enhanced the lethality of the terrorist threat.

ISIS represents an unprecedented threat to the nation and global security due to its demonstrated capacity to defeat its enemies, commit atrocities, acquire territory and build state institutions. ISIS’ continued success could result in the collapse of multiple states in the Middle East, which would provide vast swaths of territory to train recruits to attack the United States and its allies.

How the United States addresses ISIS has critical implications for the future of the Middle East and will signal to the world its resolve to face the threats of the future.

ISIS however is only the latest in a long line of hundreds of terrorist groups in the past century. The national debate has at times failed to take into account the lessons that history has to offer on defeating terrorist groups.

The history of terrorist groups such as Indonesia’s Darul Islam (DI) and Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the United States’ own counterterrorism and counterinsurgency experiences provide critical and relevant lessons in confronting ISIS. Specifically, these lessons suggest that U.S. policymakers carefully consider the duration of the conflict, the limits of external intervention and the comprehensiveness of the response.

History shows that the average duration of a government effort to defeat a terrorist or insurgency group is about a dozen years. Thus, it is critical that policymakers focus on a long-term plan to sustain the national will. In addition, history shows that neither airpower nor landpower can be effective alone. Instead, a comprehensive strategy utilizing a whole of government approach that includes land-, air- and seapower is necessary to provide multiple dilemmas to the terrorist or insurgent group and ultimately defeat them.

This and other ILW publications are available online at http://www.ausa.org/ilw and can also be obtained by calling (800) 336-4570, ext. 4630, or by e-mailing a request to [email protected].