Tag: terrorist groups

Essay Campaign #19: Choose Wisely – Terrorist versus Insurgent

Summer Essay Campaign #19: “Choose Wisely – Terrorist versus Insurgent”

To Answer Question #1: “What is the difference between a terrorist and an insurgent?”

By Christina Bartzokis, Yale University NROTC

In 1964, in the midst of the Supreme Court case Jacobellis v. Ohio, Justice Potter Stewart offered this description of pornography: “I know it when I see it.” Eleven years later, Gerald Seymour wrote in his novel Harry’s Game, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” In the years following, both phrases have been offered as platitudes to reassure analysts, policy makers, and the public alike that a clear definition of the word “terrorism” need not be extracted from the shifting historical and contemporary web of ambiguous violence: such a definition has been deemed either unnecessary or impossible by many. Consequently, terrorism has been conflated with a wide range of violent behavior, especially insurgencies. The word has become a propaganda tool, describing any kind of violence the user deems objectionable. Additionally, the accurate classification of conflicts as terrorism or insurgency is a precursor to developing an effective and corresponding response: counterterrorism (CT) or counterinsurgency (COIN).

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Essay Campaign #11: Know Your Enemy

Summer Essay Campaign #11: “Know Your Enemy”

To Answer Question #1: “What is the difference between a terrorist and an insurgent?”

By Cody Zoschak

In modern warfare, a commander must know much more than the strength and armament of his enemy. Units often must suppress an insurgency, dismantle terrorist cells, or defeat a hybrid group with state-like capabilities within the same battlespace. The basic skills of fire and maneuver are still the core competencies of the soldiers fighting the battle, but the commanders of these units must also develop an understanding of the enemy to best utilize the skills of the warfighter.

            Ideally every commander would deploy with full knowledge of all enemy groups operating in or near his battlespace, but even under the best conditions this is essentially impossible. In the absence of this information, broad approximations of the enemy must be made too allow for strategic planning. In the past decade-plus of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military units have become highly proficient at killing HVTs, but they are often ineffective in actually destroying the enemy organization.

Understanding the Enemy:

            What needs to be developed is knowledge of the different types of enemies on the battlefield. If the commander understands the enemy, they can develop a strategic approach to defeating the enemy. Kill/capture missions are not strategy, nor are vehicle checkpoints. These are tactical operations, and must be part of a larger approach to defeating the enemy. To inform this approach, the commander must understand the enemy’s center of gravity and the resources (whether physical, abstract, human or terrain-based) on which he relies. While innumerable variations of each type can emerge, there are three broad categories of enemy type: irregular, insurgent, and state-like. These categories are established using composition-based definitions rather than tactical definitions, and while minor adjustments must be made for the specific groups, each category dictates a basic strategy for the commander to prosecute. These terms were chosen carefully in order to generically describe the enemy type, without categorically excluding any relevant groups. For example, cellular groups are often described as terrorist groups, yet this is a tactically determined moniker. The characteristics and composition of a group are the keys to defeating it, not the methods by which they carry out their attacks. Furthermore, the term hybrid is often thrown around, often simply as a buzzword. In this model, the phrase “state-like” is used. The purpose of this is twofold: it more accurately describes the organization, and serves to encompass actual state actors in the enemy type.

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Essay Campaign #10: Insurgent or Terrorist?

Summer Essay Campaign #10: “Insurgent or Terrorist?”

To Answer Question #1: “What is the difference between a terrorist and an insurgent?”

By First Lieutenant Neel Vahil

It is imperative that military and civilian leaders understand the fault lines that exist between terrorists and insurgents. Insurgencies have become a type of sub-state warfare that has acquired substantial nuance over the last two centuries. They have alternatively been romanticized and vilified. Terrorism has seared far reaching psychological effects in minds of all those affected and has contributed to significant policy modification and even war mobilization.  Just as important as the difference between terrorist and insurgent, however, is the historical context from which this modern demarcation derives. In “Invisible Armies,” Max Boot examines the evolution of insurgencies as well as what he deems “the closely related growth of terrorism.”[i] What quickly becomes obvious is that, while the dissimilarities between the two may occasionally be muddied, doctrinal definitions that highlight the differences in organizational structure, motives, tactics, and targets are useful for any great power in devising an appropriate strategic and operational response. For the United States, it is vital to understand this distinction not only doctrinally and philosophically, but also historically because the new age of American military operations will showcase an amalgam of insurgencies and terrorism, frequently on the same battlefield. We as military leaders must be able to navigate and exploit the chaos and cultural patchwork at all levels of war.

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War: The Other Global Game

Image courtesy of The Soufan Group. By Major Matt Cavanaugh While the World Cup gets underway in Brazil, consider taking a few minutes to read through the findings of a recent Soufan Group report, “Foreign Fighters in...

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