Turning the Corner in the Fight against Terrorism

Turning the Corner in the Fight against Terrorism

It has become an article of faith that American counterterrorism policy -- especially as practiced in Afghanistan -- is a failure, and that as a consequence a new approach is required. This perception served as a major justification for the escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan by the Obama administration, while the associated elevated sense of risk explains much of the resistance to closing the detention center in Guantanamo and holding terrorist trials in federal courts. Fortunately for the United States, the real story is quite different, as the American Security Project's latest annual report (.pdf) on terrorism trends documents.

In Afghanistan, far from being a failure, our counterterrorism efforts have been a tremendous success. While there is a significant insurgency in that country, there is little evidence that any transnational terrorist organizations capable of striking the West operate there. There have been many terrorist plots over the past eight years hatched in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, but all of them came out of the Pakistan side of the border, rather than from Afghanistan. Our goal following the attacks of 9/11 in 2001 was to eliminate the terrorist threat in Afghanistan, and we've largely achieved that goal.

True, we cannot be certain that no threat will ever emerge from Afghanistan, but nor can we control the future anywhere else in the world. Defeating actual threats is possible; preventing future threats from emerging is not. We've succeeded at the possible, and should not be surprised if we've failed to achieve the impossible.

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