Is There Victory Against Terrorism?


“The concept of victory as understood in a conventional war against another State does not apply to the unconventional war against terrorists. There is no definitive point of time at which one could say that one had won the war against terrorism. Terrorists are not defeated in the sense of a State adversary being defeated in a conventional war. They are just made to wither away. The objective of the State must be to keep denying victory to the terrorists through better intelligence, better co-ordination, better analysis, better physical security and better follow-up action. Every time one manages to deny victory to terrorists through prevention or pre-emption, one makes progress in the fight against terrorism.

“As the number of terrorist strikes prevented or pre-empted increases and as the number of successful terrorist strikes decreases, one starts seeing the impact on the terrorist organisation. Success is the oxygen of the terrorists. You keep denying them sucess, they start withering away. Often, the State becomes aware that a terrorist organisation has withered away long after it has. In India, we fought against externally-sponsored terrorism in the Punjab for 14 years from 1981. The last major terrorist strike was in 1995. Thereafter, the number of incidents steadily declined and there were long periods when there were no terrorist incidents. We realised much later that the security forces had acquired the upper hand over the terrorists, who had started withering away and that the turning point in the fight had come in 1992, without our being aware of it at that time.

“That is the way it happens in counter-terrorism. How does one judge that a terrorist organisation has started withering away? When the determinatiion and the motivation of the terrorists start weakening and when they start facing difficulties in getting new recruits or volunteers for their operations, that is the moment they start withering away. Such a moment is nowhere in sight in the case of the so-called war against international jihadi terrorism.”

—– My remarks during the discussions at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) of Herzliya, Israel, where I had attended their fifth International Conference on the Global Impact of Terrorism from September 11 to 14,2005 available at

West cannot defeat al-Qaeda, says UK forces chief

The West can only contain not defeat militant groups such as al-Qaeda, the head of the UK’s armed forces has said.

General Sir David Richards, a former Nato commander in Afghanistan, said Islamist militancy would pose a threat to the UK for at least 30 years.
But he told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper a clear-cut victory over militants was not achievable.

The BBC’s Frank Gardner said the comments reflect a “new realism” in UK and US counter-terrorism circles.

Our security correspondent said such an admission five years ago might have been considered outrageous and defeatist.

Gen Richards, 58, took over as chief of the defence staff last month, after a spell as head of the British army.

He is due to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in London later as part of the UK’s Remembrance Sunday commemorations.

In his Sunday Telegraph interview, Gen Richards expressed confidence that al-Qaeda could be contained to such an extent that Britons could lead secure lives.

Gen Richards said: “In conventional war, defeat and victory is very clear cut and is symbolised by troops marching into another nation’s capital.

“First of all you have to ask: do we need to defeat [Islamist militancy] in the sense of a clear-cut victory?

“I would argue that it is unnecessary and would never be achieved.”

Gen Richards added: “But can we contain it to the point that our lives and our children’s lives are led securely? I think we can.”

He said the best weapon in the battle against al-Qaeda was the use of “upstream prevention” and the promotion of “education and democracy”.

He drew similarities between militant Islam’s “pernicious ideology” and that of Nazi Germany.

—– From a report dated November 14,2010, of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

My Comment: When I made my observations in September,2005, at Herzliya, I was probably considered a defeatist. I am glad to note the British Armed Forces chief is saying exactly the same thing today. I was, however, proved wrong by the Sri Lankan security forces. They did defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the way a State defeats another State. That was because the LTTE conducted itself like a State valuing territorial occupation and control. When a terrorist organisation gets attached to territorial control, it makes itself liable to be defeated. Insurgents value territorial control and hence can be defeated. Terrorists don’t value territorial control and hence cannot be defeated. The Afghan Taliban can be defeated, but not Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and their affiliates. The Pakistani Taliban sought territorial control in the Swat Valley and was defeated by the Pakistani Army. It is now avoiding territorial control in other areas.

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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