Dr. Robert Pape
Professor of Political Science
University of Chicago
Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition 2006
Sept. 26, 2006
"Dying to Win: Strategy and Suicide Terrorism"
Dr. Pape: Thank you very much.
Over the last year Iíve been honored to able to speak to many government audiences. Iíve been on Capital Hill four times, the Office of Secretary of Defense several times, NSA, CIA, our National Counter-Terrorism Center, but I have to say this is a special occasion for me. You see, Chet didnít mention it, but before I did terrorism, for 15 years I studied air power. I spent three years teaching at the School of Advanced Ė whatís now Air and Space but it used to be the School of Advanced Air Power Studies at Maxwell Air Force Base, used to be part of ACSC. And itís really quite a pleasure to speak to so many people connected with ACSC, and I never would have thought of coming to Washington to do that.
I also want to say as a true civilian, a real civilian who didnít have much experience before I went to Maxwell for three years in the 1990s, it was really quite a pleasure. Those were some of the most intellectually stimulating years of my life because I spent those years arguing as well as teaching with mid-level officers and came away quite impressed with the caliber of people who are serving.
Suicide terrorism has been rising around the world but thereís great confusion about why. Since many of the attacks, including 9/11, were perpetrated by Muslim suicide terrorists, many have presumed that Islamic Fundamentalism must be the obvious central cause. This presumption has fueled the belief that future 9/11ís can be avoided only by wholesale transformation of Muslim societies which was a core reason for broad support for our invasion of Iraq. However, this presumed connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic Fundamentalism is misleading and may be encouraging domestic and foreign policies likely to worsen our situation.
Over the last few years Iíve compiled the first complete database of every suicide terrorist attack around the world from 1980 to early 2004, and then Iíve recently updated that database for the crucial case of Iraq through the end of 2005. I defined suicide terrorism in the classic sense that you would expect of an attacker killing himself or herself in the course of a mission to kill others.
The core database includes 315 completed suicide terrorist attacks by 462 suicide terrorists who actually killed themselves. Thereís more terrorists than attacks because many of the attacks were team attacks.
When I published the first version of this database as an academic article a few years ago I knew that no academic or think tank had collected such a database. What I didnít know is that no government had either.
I was quickly contacted by our Department of Defense, DTRA, many of you probably know it, who told me, and this is something I didnít realize, which is that although the American government, like the British government and other governments around the world, have been collecting ordinary terrorism statistics around the world for decades Ė we started doing this in the mid Ď70s, We do it out of Monterey, California Ė we didnít begin to track suicide terrorism until the fall of 2000. As a result, the Defense Department was quite interested in getting the data, which I gave them. In return, they were one of the generous funders of the update and expansion of the database which became the basis for the project ďDying to WinĒ and what Iím speaking about today.
I also want to acknowledge the Carnegie Corporation in New York, the University of Chicago itself, and Argonne National Laboratories who were all generous supporters of this research. They made it possible for me to become the Director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism which collects information about suicide terrorist attacks around the world, not just in English but in the key native languages associated with the phenomenon Ė Arabic, Hebrew, Tamil, and Russian. Although today Iím going to show you summary statistics, I want to stress that this is simply the tip of an iceberg and that the project is not really about a list of lists, but actually has quite a bit of new information about suicide terrorists.
I think many of you can probably see this, even from where youíre sitting. It may come as a surprise, but the suicide terrorist groups are quite proud of their activities through their local community. This glossy, yearbook-like album is published in Jaffna, in Sri Lanka. It is essentially a celebration of the Tamil Tigers suicide attackers called the Black Tigers. As you can probably see, even from where youíre sitting, this isnít [inaudible] of body parts. These are the actual Black Tigers. Their names, their birth places, their ages and other socioeconomic information about them.
Well, when we broke through the language barrier we also were able to send people to Cairo and Beirut to get similar things for Islamic groups and other groups which really made for quite a lot of new information about suicide terrorism.
The data shows that Islamic Fundamentalism is not as closely associated with suicide terrorism as many people think. Overall during this period there were 315 completed suicide terrorist attacks worldwide. The world leader is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Theyíre not an Islamic group at all. Theyíre a Marxist group, a secular group, a Hindu group. The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka have done more suicide terrorists attacks than Hammas or Islamic Jihad. Further, at least 30 percent of Muslim suicide attacks are by secular groups such as the PKK in Turkey. Overall at least 50 percent of suicide attacks are not associated with Islamic Fundamentalism.
Instead of religion what nearly all suicide terrorists attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal, to compel a democratic state to withdraw combat forces Ė I donít mean advisors with side arms, I mean tanks, fighter aircraft and armored vehicles Ė from territory the terrorists consider to be their homeland or prize greatly. From Lebanon to the West Bank to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir, every suicide terrorist campaign since 1980 has been waged by terrorist groups whose main goal has been to establish self determination for territory they prize.
Religion is rarely the root cause, although religion is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective.
Three general patterns in the data support my conclusions. The first concerns the timing of suicide terrorist attacks. Suicide terrorism rarely occurs as an isolated, scattered or random event as it would if it were merely the product of religious fanaticism or any ideology independent of a circumstance. Instead, the attacks tend to occur in clusters that look very much like campaigns. And specifically, 301 of the 315 attacks occur in coherent, organized strategic campaigns the terrorist groups design for specific, mainly political goals. Only five percent of the attacks are random or isolated.
To be clear, Iím not suggesting I can explain every suicide attack, but I am suggesting that the patterns Iím about to show you do account for 95 percent of all suicide attacks.
This table shows you all the campaigns that have occurred since 1980. Eighteen. Five are ongoing.
This table reorganizes the campaigns by the disputes that produced them. As you can see, suicide terrorist campaigns are directed at gaining control of territory that the terrorists prize. That has been the central objective of every suicide terrorist campaign.
Let me just pick Lebanon, the first one, as an example. In June 1982 Hezbollah, the famous suicide terrorist group did not exist. In June 1892, Israel invaded southern Lebanon with 78,000 combat soldiers and 3,000 tanks and armored vehicles. One month later, Hezbollah was born. Hezbollah then began to experiment with suicide terrorist attacks, and Iím glad to tell you in detail what happened. But as the foreign combat forces left, as the Americans left, the French left, and the Israelis left, suicide attacks by Hezbollah went to zero. Zero. That is not a pattern, the timing that can be accounted for by Islamic Fundamentalism.
Now Iím not saying that foreign occupation or the threat of foreign occupation is a sufficient condition, but military presence or control of territory the terrorists prize does appear to be virtually a necessary condition.
The third pattern concerns target selection. If suicide terrorism is a calculated, coercive strategy one might expect that this is a strategy that would be applied to target states generally considered to be the most vulnerable to coercive punishment. And rightly or wrongly, democracies are widely viewed as soft, especially vulnerable to coercive punishment. And the target state of every suicide terrorist campaign has been a democracy.
The PKK in Turkey is a good example in this regard. Iím sure many of you know that in the Ď80s and Ď90s the Turks were at least moderately brutal toward their Kurds and the PKK did use suicide attacks against the Turkish government in the middle of the 1990s. However, just a few miles away in Iraq, Saddam Hussein was far more brutal to Iraqís Kurds and neither the PKK nor any other group ever thought to use suicide terrorist against Saddam. And now that we know more about the logic of suicide terrorism, it helps to see why.
Who would ever think that killing hundreds or even thousands of Iraqi civilians would have caused Saddam to change his mind about anything?
So the bottom line is that the timing, goals and societies targeted by suicide terrorism suggest that it is a coherent strategy designed to cause democratic states to abandon occupation or military control of territory that the terrorists prize.
Al-Qaida fits the pattern. Since al-Qaidaís suicide attacks began in 1995, al-Qaidaís strategic logic has been to compel American and Western combat forces to leave the Arabian Peninsula Ė a logic that al-Qaida has been pursuing with increasing vigor since 9/11.
Since 2002, this chart shows you all the attacks. You see Iím running out of space, but if you just add London to the bottom, since 2002 al-Qaida has been involved in over 17 suicide and other terrorist attacks, killing over 700 people. Thatís more attacks and more victims than all the years before 9/11 combined.
Although many of us would have hoped that our counter-terrorism efforts would have weakened the group, and we have killed and captured leaders and cadre, by the measure that counts, the ability of the group to carry out attacks that can kill us, al-Qaida is stronger today than before 9/11. Although there are many factors driving the threat, the main force behind the threat is the presence of American and Western combat forces on the Arabian Peninsula and not merely an ideology independent of circumstance.
Probably the best way to show you what drives the threat is to show you who becomes an al-Qaida suicide terrorist. This research is the first to collect the complete set of the 71 individuals who actually killed themselves to carry out attacks for Osama from 1995 to early 2004. Of those 71, we know the names, nationality and other socioeconomic data of 67. As the table shows, the largest number, 34, come from Saudi Arabia; the majority from the Persian Gulf where the United States first began to station combat forces in 1990.
Itís important to underscore even in an expert audience that 1990 was a watershed year in our deployment to the Persian Gulf. Before 1990 yes, the United States had advisors with sidearms on the Arabian Peninsula, but no tanks, fighter aircraft or armored vehicles going all the way back to World War II.
Notice where they are not coming from. Iran. Surely an Islamic Fundamentalist population with over 70 million people Ė three times the population of Saudi Arabia. No al-Qaida suicide attackers.
Sudan is an Islamic Fundamentalist country with a population about the same size as Saudi Arabia and with a brand of Islamic Fundamentalism so congenial to Osama he chose to live there for three years in the 1990s, no al-Qaida suicide terrorists.
Pakistan is the largest Islamic Fundamentalist population on the planet, with 149 million people. Two.
If Islamic Fundamentalism is what was driving the threat we should be seeing suicide attackers hopping out of Iran, hopping out of Sudan, and hopping out of Pakistan and thatís not the pattern that we see.
Now Iím not saying that al-Qaida has no transnational support, but itís crucial to see that the presence of Western combat troops on the Arabian Peninsula is Osamaís best mobilization appeal.
Since we have the complete set of al-Qaida suicide attackers, we can go further to assess the effect of military policies. With only one exception. The al-Qaida suicide terrorists from 1995 to 2004 were all nationals of various Sunni majority countries. Hence we can compare the rate at which al-Qaida suicide terrorists emerge from a Sunni country with American combat presence and without American combat presence. As you can see, al-Qaida suicide attackers are over ten times more likely to come from a Sunni country with American combat forces than a Sunni country without American combat forces.
Now this does not mean that we should blame ourselves for the murder of our civilians on 9/11. Suicide terrorism is murder and there is nothing that our combat forces did when they were stationed on the Arabian Peninsula that would justify the murder of our civilians. Iím sure many in this audience know people who were deployed and Iím sure many of you know the effort we went to to minimize the footprint. But that should not cause us to overlook that what recruits suicide attackers better than anything else, his best mobilization appeal, is the presence of American combat and Western combat forces on the Arabian Peninsula.
Moreover, Iím not trying to tell you that all al-Qaida suicide attackers come from Sunni countries where the United States has stationed combat forces. Two-thirds do; one-third do not. One-third are transnational in nature. But even if we look at the one-third that are transnational, we can see that the presence of American and Western combat forces on the Arabian Peninsula is a powerful motivating factor.
Let me talk about the London bombers, the 7/7 bombers in this regard and make four points about the London bombers.
First, the al-Qaida group that claimed responsibility just two hours after the London attacks and with specific operational details not yet in the press, said the London attacks were to punish Britain for British military operations in Iraq.
Second, Hussein Osman. Osman is one of the would-be July 21st bombers, the guy we captured in Rome. Osman said in his interrogation, and I quote, ďThis was not about religion. This was about Iraq. We watched films of Western military atrocities in Iraq.Ē
Third, Mohammed Kahn. Mohammed Kahn is the ring-leader of the 7/7 attacks. Heís the guy from Leeds. Al-Qaida released Mohammed Kahnís martyr video just some months ago and on that video Mohammed Kahn says, and this is in English and with a British accent so itís a bit strange to listen to. But he says that the London attacks were going to be to punish Britain for British military operations in Iraq and in other Muslim lands.
Finally, the British government itself. In 2004 the British Home Office conducted a four-volume survey of the attitudes of the 1.6 million Muslims in Britain. They found that between eight and 13 percent of British Muslims believed more suicide attacks against the West were called for. They further found the number one reason for that was Iraq.
The implication. If al-Qaidaís transnational support were to dry up tomorrow, the group would remain a robust threat to the United States. However, if al-Qaida no longer drew recruits based on the anger generated by American and Western military presence in Sunni Muslim countries, the remaining transnational network would pose a far smaller risk and may well simply collapse.
I want to go on to talk about what al-Qaidaís been doing since 9/11. I usually donít say this, but since I taught for the Air Force I think itís useful to tell you that this is not that easy for me to say for two reasons. First, I supported both Bushís. Not just one Bush, both Bushís. Second, in the 1990s I was a supporter of the deployment on the Arabian Peninsula. So this is not that itís coming from a previous view, itís just coming from where the data is.
Whatís al-Qaida been doing since 9/11? Many commentators, even people I respect, say that al-Qaidaís been scattered and itís been thrown off-balance. However, if we look at the actual al-Qaida attacks we can see more clearly how their strategic logic has been evolving.
Although the attacks do occur across a broad range and in many Muslim countries, since 9/11 the victim, if you look at the victimsí identity, thereís been a striking consistency in the identity of the victims killed in these attacks. They are Western civilians, and not just any Western civilians, but Western civilians from countries specifically with combat forces stationed side by side with the United States and especially Iraq. That is, since 9/11 al-Qaida has not been thrown off-guard. Theyíve been focused. Theyíve been focusing on stripping the United States of its military allies. We know this not only because of the pattern of the attacks, but because we have an important al-Qaida strategy document.
In September 2003 al-Qaida published a 42 page strategy document on radical web sites about how to deal with the United States given Iraq. The document says directly that with Iraq, al-Qaida should not seek to attack the American homeland in the short term, but instead should focus on stripping the United States of its military allies, especially in Iraq.
Then the document goes on, this is in the fall of í03, the length of 42 pages, to assess whether they should hit Spain, Britain, or Poland. They conclude they should hit Spain in Madrid just before the March 2004 elections because that would be the attack most likely to knock Spanish forces out of Iraq and put pressure on the British in Iraq.
At the time I talked to both the folks in our Office of Terrorism at OSD and who did terrorism in the White House, we put this document aside. Weíve had it. We were given this document by the Norwegians. See, the document was published in September í03. In December í03 it was found by Norwegian intelligence. We put it aside because it was just published on these web sites and we didnít give it much credence. Itís actually still sitting on the Norwegiansí intelligence security web site for anybody who wants to go and read the document.
Weíre not really ignoring this any more. Let me just read a few sentences from the document. ďTherefore we say that in order to force the Spanish government to withdraw from Iraq, the resistance should be dealt painful blows. It is necessary to make utmost use of the upcoming election in Spain in March of next year. We think that the Spanish government could not tolerate more than two, maximum three blows, after which it will have to withdraw as a result of popular pressure. If its troops still remain in Iraq after these blows then the victory of the Socialist party is almost secured and the withdrawal of Spanish forces will be on its electoral program. Lastly, we are emphasizing the withdrawal of Spanish forces from Iraq would put huge pressure on the British in Iraq.Ē
Those events happened, just as they called for. The London attacks that we witnessed last summer were simply the next step of al-Qaida executing the strategic logic.
In some audiences, I just gave this talk to the head of all the field agencies with the FBI at a conference they were having at West Point about a month ago. Somebody could say wasnít that, to think theyíre going after our allies, theyíre not coming after us.
Two things to say about that. Number one, this strategy, this varying of the strategy is something al-Qaida have now moved fairly far down in the last several years. Theyíve been very successful and probably they may well think theyíve hit the flat of the curve. Secondly, this helps put in more context Osamaís most recent statements.
You might remember that in January and April of this year after a year of silence, Osama made two statements. If you go back and read the statements, you will find language that actually dovetails very closely with the Norwegian document. Osama says directly that for the last several year al-Qaida has been focusing on hitting the capitals of countries in Europe and Australia that have had combat forces deployed with the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq and that is now going to change. American targets are coming back on the horizon. He didnít take the allies off, but he did put us back on.
Itís important to recognize that in the last few months al-Qaidaís efforts to mobilize for such an attack have been growing. In fact when I spoke to the FBI it was on August 9th, the day before we learned about the plot in Britain to blow up airliners heading to the United States. How was al-Qaida going to mobilize recruits for that support? Well, better than having me tell you, why donít I just show you al-Qaidaís latest recruiting video.
In July al-Qaida released its latest recruiting video. The person youíre about to see is Adam Gadan. Adam Gadan Iím afraid youíre about to see a lot more of. Adam Gadan is going to become the poster child for recruiting American Muslims and other Western Muslims to do a task similar to the 7/7 bombings. Adam Gadan is an American citizen. He was born in Riverside, California. His name is Adam. His father was Jewish, converted to Christianity. Adam grew up as a Christian and then in his late teens converted to Islam. Adam is now 28. But since 1998 heís been living with Osama in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Heís been on some of their recruitment videos before with his face covered. This is the first coming out, if you would. This is their best person to recruit suicide attackers. I think we should just show you the video.
ďItís crucial for Muslims to keep in mind that the Americans, the British and the other members of the Coalition of Terror have intentionally targeted Muslim civilians and civilian targets both before as well as after September 11th, in both the first and second Iraq wars as well as in their forays into Somalia and the Sudan and Afghanistan, just to give you a few examples. And theyíve done this with the support and backing of their populations and electorates. Even if there have been some feeble protests scattered here and there in the West, chiefly against the latest war in Iraq, all the same the governments which started these wars have been reelected by a majority of the popular vote.
ďIn their aggression against Afghanistan, which for Westerners and their mercenary sympathizers is the least controversial of Bush and Blairís terrorist wars, they have targeted civilians for assassination and kidnapping. The kidnapped any non-Afghans they found and shipped them off to Guantanamo or worse. Many were headed over to the American and British-backed despotic regimes of the Islamic world to be brutally interrogated, and with the blessing and support of that notorious Afghan killer Hamid Kharzai they have murdered thousands of Afghan civilians as they slept in their beds, traveled on the roads, attended weddings, and prayed in the mosques.
ďI know theyíve killed and maimed civilians in their strikes because Iíve seen it with my own eyes. My brothers have seen it. Iíve carried the victims in my arms Ė women, children, toddlers, babies in their mothersí wombs. You name it, theyíve probably bombed it.
ďI could go on and on, and thatís just Afghanistan. We havenít talked about American and British atrocities in the two Iraq wars. Letís take a look at the latest to be revealed.
ďIn Mahmoudia, five American soldiers gang rape an Iraqi woman, and then to hide the evidence murder her and three members of her family and burn her body. Then when our Mujahadin take revenge on the unit which committed this outrage and capture and execute two of its members, theyíre called terrorists, and Muslims are supposed to disown them or face the consequences.
ďIím not saying we should go and slaughter their women and children one by one like they did ours at Haditha and Dihaki and Mahmoudia and God knows where else. Even if some of our legal experts have permitted that. And even if itís hard to imagine that any compassionate person could see pictures, just pictures, of what the [crusaders] did to those children and not want to go on a shooting spree at the Marineís housing facility at Camp Pendleton.
ďWhat I am saying is that when we bomb their cities and civilians like they bomb ours, or destroy their infrastructure and means of transportation like they destroy ours, or kidnap their non-combatants like they kidnap ours, no sane Muslim should shed tears for them. And they should blame no one but themselves. Theyíre the ones who started this dirty war and theyíre the ones who will end it by ending their aggression against Islam and Muslims, by pulling out of our region, and by keeping their hands out of our affairs. Until and unless they do that, neither force, gates, [style], police raids, nor [belmarche] or Guantanamo prison cells, nor the mosques and Imamsí Advisory Council will be able to prevent the Muslims from exacting revenge on behalf of their persecuted brothers and sisters.Ē
No 72 virgins. No discussion or hardly any discussion of even Islam. From beginning to end this appeal is directly about the presence of foreign combat forces on territory the terrorists prize. Even if they have other motives, the key thing to notice is that they would not be doing this if they didnít believe this wasnít their best mobilization appeal. We need to look directly at the enemy to see who the enemy is, because if we donít directly confront the enemy on its best mobilization appeal, Iím afraid itís going to be very difficult to win this war.
One other thing I should say is obviously this isnít directed toward you. This is not directed toward anybody in the American military, hardly even many American citizens who would not be Muslims notice that he does talk about atrocities, gives us no credit whatsoever, doesnít even feel the need to give even discussion of the efforts that weíve gone to to police ourselves, to prevent repetitions of those atrocities. But notice that those atrocities, although heís spinning them, they actually occurred. Those are facts. Heís spinning them to his advantage but heís not actually making up the base fact in whole cloth.
I want to leave time for questions, and Iím sure there are quite a few, but I want to say a few words about Iraq. You see, Iraq is a prime example of the strategic logic of suicide terrorism. Before our invasion in March 2003 Iraq never experienced a suicide terrorist attack in its history. Since the invasion, suicide terrorism has been escalating rapidly, essentially doubling every year that weíve had 130,000 to 140,000 combat forces stationed there.
Although many say there is no logic to Iraqi suicide attacks and itís chaotic, including people quoted in the Washington Post and New York Times, I think it may be because they havenít actually looked at the actual data of the actual suicide attacks. This is data that goes to great lengths to separate them from remote controlled or ordinary terrorist attacks.
If you look at the actual geography and targets of the attacks it shows a fairly clear pattern which has stayed remarkably consistent over time. In fact the Iraqi insurgents are following a fairly standard model of insurgency.
As you can see, 50 to 60 percent of the attacks are routinely in Baghdad with the rest almost evenly distributed around the country, which is normal in an insurgency. Itís not the only pattern but itís a normal pattern in insurgencies since insurgents are often trying to persuade the population that the government canít protect them. If the government canít protect its capital city, where else could it?
Further, over 75 percent of the attacks are routinely against military and government target such as government buildings, police convoys, police stations, recruiting stations and Western combat troops and Western agencies, and only 15 to 25 percent of the attacks have been against local Iraqi civilians not working for the Iraqi government. I want to underscore that, because many times youíll read a report in the newspaper, thereís been another attack in Baghdad against civilians in Baghdad and sometimes those are attacks against mosques and sometimes they are attacks in an open market, but very often those are attacks directly against civilians standing in line waiting for jobs to work in the Iraqi government or the Iraqi military. So those are much better understood as attacks directly against the Iraqi government.
This pattern of attacks suggests a clear goal Ė to prevent the establishment of a government under the control of the United States. To do this, the terrorists are attacking targets they hope would undermine the confidence of the Iraqi population and the Iraqi governmentís ability to maintain order and to discourage not simply Shia, but Kurds and Sunnis from cooperating with this government.
Although there are multiple causes for the insurgency, the main cause for suicide terrorism in Iraq is the presence of American ground forces. We are widely viewed as the power behind the throne. Right now there are 13 different terrorist organizations in the Sunni Triangle; there are four different suicide terrorist organizations in the Sunni Triangle Ė Zarqawiís original group and three others that are purely Iraqi. These groups disagree about a lot of things. Some are more religious, some are more patriotic, some allow foreigners, some only take Iraqis.
The main thing they agree on is that itís the American military thatís the power behind the throne. Whatís their argument? How do the leaders make that case? They make the case by pointing again and again to one fact, which is that itís the American military that directs all use of force inside of Iraq. They spin it much the way you saw Adam spinning that fact, but the key point is that that fact is basically true. It is the American military that controls all use of military force inside of Iraq.
Moreover, we can see the connection between the American military and the targets selected for suicide attack in Zarqawiís own strategy. Zarqawi laid out his strategy for suicide attack in January 2004 in his famous letter to Osama bin Laden. If you go and read the letter, this is what Zarqawi says. He says he plans to focus on the security organs and Western agents in Iraq because, and these are his words, they are a quote, ďthe eyes, ears and hands of the American occupier.Ē
Iím often asked the identity of the Iraqi suicide attackers. At the moment their identity is murky. We can only confidently code about 15 percent of the Iraqi suicide attackers, which is normal in the opening years of a suicide terrorist campaign. Thatís the same, the information we have about the Hezbollah attackers often came later. Of those 15 percent, which again is murky, they come mainly from two groups Ė Iraqi Sunnis and Saudis. The next largest group, Syria. The next largest group, Kuwait. That is, theyíre coming mainly from Iraqi itself or the immediately adjacent border areas, some of which are on our list to go after next.
Notice I didnít say Iran. We donít have a single Iranian suicide attacker in Iraq. Pakistan. This is, again, itís murky, we canít be sure, but the pattern looks perfectly consistent with the strategic logic of suicide terrorism.
This has not been a happy talk. Iím sure it hasnít been a happy talk to listen to. Itís not a happy talk to give because Iím telling you that after five years the war on terrorism is heading south, and Iím telling you that yes, there are multiple reasons but a key reason is that weíve been waging the war on terrorism according to a faulty premise. The premise, that suicide terrorism is mainly a product of Islamic Fundamentalism. I know there are multiple causes, I agree. However, the main cause is not Islamic Fundamentalism or any ideology independent of circumstance, but the sustained presence of American and Western combat forces on the Arabian Peninsula.
On 9/11 there were 12,000 combat forces on the Arabian Peninsula Ė 5,000 in Saudi Arabia, 7,000 in other countries on the rim. Today there are over 170,000 Western combat forces on the Arabian Peninsula, and as Western combat forces have gone up, suicide terrorism, both by al-Qaida and out of Iraq have gone up side by side.
For me this does not mean that we should simply cut and run. We have a vital interest in oil and stability in the Persian Gulf and we must act to secure that interest. However, nor does it mean we should simply stay and die because the longer American and Western combat forces stay in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula, the greater the risk of the next 9/11, 7/7, or worse.
Instead, Iíve been suggesting an alternative military strategy to the Bush administration. I call it off-shore balancing. The core of the idea is to have military forces not stationed on the Arabian Peninsula but off-shore, poised and at the ready to intervene in military crises. Off-shore balancing is in fact close to the same strategy we had for decades before 1990.
In the 1970ís and Ď80s the United States successfully secured its interests in the Persian Gulf, even during major wars on the Persian Gulf, without stationing a single combat soldier there. Instead, we formed an alliance with Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and even detractors of the war in Iraq should see thatís a good thing thatís come out of this, that we can do this again. We also stationed numerous aircraft carriers off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and air power today is more lethal Ė I donít have to tell you Ė than it was 30 years ago. And we also maintained bases without troops but numerous bases so that we could rapidly deploy ground troops in a crisis.
That strategy of off-shore balancing worked splendidly to reverse Saddam Husseinís aggression against Kuwait in 1990 and off-shore balancing is again our best strategy for maintaining our interests in the Persian Gulf, preventing the rise of a new generation of suicide terrorists to come at us, and itís a strategy that we can maintain not just for a year or two as we are now, holding on by our fingernails, but for decades which is what weíre going to need, even by the most optimistic assessments of energy independence.
Iíve been specifically recommending that over the next three years we adopt a multi-year draw-down of combat forces on the Arabian Peninsula, and that as we draw down our ground forces we also redeploy them out of Anbar Province and put them in Baghdad and Kirkuk. Why? Itís because itís best to think of Iraq not like Vietnam but like Bosnia where the main threat is not so much the insurgency. Thatís a problem, but the main problem is an escalation of the civil war. If that war escalates, this is not simply a humanitarian problem for the United States. You must remember, there will be tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees flooding out of that country if a real bloodbath were to occur. We would have to take many of them under those circumstances.
I was just in Australia and I told the same thing to some of the senior levels of the Australian government. They would have to take many of those Iraqi refugees. If those Iraqi refugees come flooding out, you have to remember, thatís a golden opportunity Ė weíve already seen four Iraqis leave Iraq to do suicide attacks against American-related targets in Oman, Jordan. This would be a golden opportunity for al-Qaida to take advantage of that situation.
Therefore I think we should be, as long as our forces are there, redeploying them along the lines of contact of the three communities. It may not be a perfect solution, but the fact is this has worked reasonably well in Bosnia and itís probably our best alternative at the moment.
For the last ten years our enemies have been ďdying to win,Ē but with the right strategy itís America thatís poised for victory.
Question: How does your suggestion of what you put on the board there differ from what appears to be the Presidentís program for doing something similar?
Dr. Pape: I focus on General Casey. Iíve been making this case for about 12 months.
Heís asked me from how this differs from what the Bush administration intends to do in Iraq. I said Iíd be more comfortable, since Iíve never spoken directly to the most senior levels of the Bush administration, speaking more about military plans many of which have come out in the press, and General Casey.
Iíve been making this argument for a multi-year drawdown of forces over three years, starting in this year, and then also for the redeployment of combat forces for about 12 months. Ever since the first time I was on Capital Hill in June 2005. Finally this June, late June, early July, General Casey came out with a plan which I think is quite excellent. Iím not saying it came from anything I did, but I like the plan quite a bit. His plan is for a multi-year drawdown of ground forces from Iraq, and secondarily a redeployment of combat brigades from Anbar Province to Baghdad. That is what I think we should be doing.
Iím not suggesting there should be a deadline for withdrawal, I think thatís probably counter-productive in the domestic situation we have at the moment, but I do think that in fact moving this policy is going to take many years and his plan I think is a reasonable plan.
Question: By your own admission you said we [inaudible] reduce our footprint as the situation over there destabilizes. One, donít you think the [inaudible] making it a volatile region [inaudible] Americans go home? Two, if what youíre suggesting is we pull back, arenít we [inaudible]? So we pull back now, whereís the next fight? And as long as we are tied closely with Israel, arenít we always going to be seen as a [inaudible] and therefore [inaudible]?
Dr. Pape: Let me try to take them in reverse order, at least as many as I can get to.
First, Israel. I know many people argue Israel is the center of this. There is a way in which Israel comes into Osamaís mobilization rhetoric at like the second or third level so I donít mean to say thereís no place for Israel. However, go back, if youíll just remember in your mind the chart I showed you of al-Qaidaís attacks since 1995. Nearly 30 attacks since 1995. Not a single one against Israel proper. Not even a single effort to hijack an airplane coming over Cairo and ram it over into Tel Aviv.
The fact is if Israel were the center of this one would just expect a different trajectory in those attacks.
I myself, this is a non-state actor, this is a group that doesnít have the discipline of a state behind it. I myself am surprised that there hasnít even been at least one attack against Israel. But if Israel really were at the center of this, this trajectory of the attacks should look much different over the last 12 years. It doesnít.
The second point on pulling out, I have no doubt that al-Qaidaís leaders are anti-American. Iím not saying these are good guys in any stretch of the imagination. I have no problem with going after Osama. In fact I really think there's a lot of reasons underneath this, but I think in fact itís really been tragic that itís been five years and weíve really been diverted from that core issue.
You have to remember, the London attackers went to Pakistan probably to meet either Osama or al-Zahari. So the idea they donít matter at all is just simply far from the reality.
That said, the key issue here is what will happen to suicide terrorism when the foreign combat forces leave? We can answer that question with whatís happened in other cases over the last 25 years. Letís look at Hezbollah. Hezbollah was about as anti-Israel and anti-American as one could possibly imagine. After the very fourth suicide attack against American forces in October 1983, the famous bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut, Ronald Reagan, who was no wimp, no pacifist, he withdrew all American combat forces, basically abandoned the region militarily, diplomatically. Thatís what it means to cut and run.
Well, the French then left, and then the Israelis progressively left over time. Hezbollahís suicide attackers did not follow the Americans to New York or the French to Paris or the Israelis to Tel Aviv. Weíre seeing a similar pattern with withdrawals on the West Bank and Gaza with Hammas. Why is that? I donít think itís so much because in their heart of hearts the leaders may not wish to consider such attacks, the key point is that suicide terrorists are overwhelmingly walk-in volunteers who are not long-time members of the organization. Most of them join just a few weeks or a few months before their attack, specifically to do their suicide attacks. And the fact is when the foreign combat forces leave, the recruits dry up.
So even if there are other goals that the leaders might wish to pursue, such as building an Islamic Fundamentalist state, and even if they become, you could say somehow emboldened to brag about the efforts, the concessions we would have made, the key point to notice is that the recruits dry up and the groups donít seem to be able to use suicide attacks to achieve those goals.
Of the 18 campaigns I laid out, not a single one is offensive to take territory. Not a single one. This is just coming from the data. I canít promise that suicide attacks would go to zero, that would be silly. But based on this data, which is really quite broad over 25 years around the world, youíd have to expect the threat would decline.
One final point. Iím not saying that we just give al-Qaida any old concession. Iím saying we should focus on our interest in the Persian Gulf. Our interest is in continued access to oil and that is what we should build our strategy around. Iím not saying we should surrender that. Iím not saying we should never fight another war there. Iím just saying we should be fighting a war for our actual interest in the region and not just to stick it in the enemyís eye.
Question: How much naval presence do you think weíd need? Two carrier battle groups, something like this? [Inaudible].
Dr. Pape: Exactly right. One of the talks I gave, Iím not surprised to answer that question, but Iím not trying to tell you I can answer that question. Iím coming at the level of strategy, not at the level of operations, and Iíve got to tell you, this was also the debates I got into with the Air Force. When I was working with the Air Force in publishing on air power, Iíve got to tell you, I never tried to tell any of my students who are some of the best pilots in the world how to put a bomb on a target or now many bombs they thought theyíd need for a target.
Now journalists often would ask me, because you folks donít get to talk to journalists during wars, but the fact is I know where the real expertise on that is and I just go to the real experts on that.
Question: I taught at Air University. I recently saw a History Channel program on suicide bombers [inaudible]. They made [inaudible] male recruits for these suicide bombers are usually very religious, like you said walk-ins, young people, but the women by and large were politically active and had no relation at all with religious motivation. They came in politically motivated, revenge motivated, and [inaudible] suicide bombers. [Inaudible]?
Dr. Pape: A little bit. We havenít talked much about the demographic profile here. We have this information. If we were to focus on women, one of the key things thatís interesting about women, thereís actually two things. One is simply their age. This slide compares women suicide attackers to male attackers in groups that had both so that we could control for other local conditions and so forth. The key point to notice is that the women are older. Theyíre older.
What most people think, because there have been some young girls, thatís true, but most people think that women are probably these young adolescent girls that have been easily swayed into doing this for some set of reasons or so forth, either because a boy has talked them into it or because a teacher has talked them into it. The fact of the matter is the key point to notice about the women is how mature they are. About half are over the age of 24. These are very mature people.
The second point, actually someone agrees with you. There are many male secular suicide attackers. However, it is true that in the groups that have both, letís say the Palestinians for instance, you would find in Hammas that there would be more religious suicide attackers and that the women would be secular.
An interesting story about that is that some of this shows how much these groups can stretch or not stretch the religion based on their demand. The very first female suicide attacker for the Palestinians was Watha Idris who did her attack in January 2002. She went to Shique Yasin, the head of Hammas and asked if he would take her to do the attack. He said no, absolutely not. Hammas is an Islamic Fundamentalist organization and Islam does not allow women as warriors. So she went to Al Axa which was Yassir Arafatís suicide terrorist group. Theyíre socialists. Theyíre not so much worried about whatís in the Koran. He took her immediately, and in fact he took several other women. However, just a few months later the very fourth female Palestinian attacker was for Hammas. Shique Yasin issued a fatwa finding an exception to the rule to allow for female attackers.
However the key point, sir, is what you see with Islamic Fundamentalism is that itís probably dampening the number of suicide attackers that would otherwise occur because you see the suicide terrorist groups that are Islamic Fundamentalist, they donít really like taking women. The secular groups do. So if thereís an effect it may well be the opposite of what most people think with Islamic Fundamentalism.
Dr. Pape: Thatís an excellent question. Iím really focusing on suicide terrorism.
I think of terrorism like cancer, the word cancer. Yes, itís bad, but there are many forms of cancer. Thereís blood cancers, skin cancers, hard tumor cancers. Terrorism is like that. There are many forms of terrorism. Thereís the demonstrative terrorism, thereís symbolic terrorism, thereís very many different forms of terrorism. Iím focusing on suicide terrorism the way someone might focus on lung cancer as a discreet, identifiable part of the problem. And when you do, much like when you focus on lung cancer, you can actually see that yes, there are multiple causes, but one cause stands head and shoulders above the others, which is smoking. Notice how in the Ď50s and Ď60s we hadnít done the comparative studies to see who gets lung cancer and who doesnít, so there was a debate about what were the causes of lung cancer. That debate is largely over because weíve done the comparative studies of who gets it and who doesnít.
So what Iím doing in a sense is treating suicide terrorism like lung cancer. Itís a discreet part of the problem. Iím not suggesting for a moment that the causes of suicide terrorism are the same as the causes of terrorism, much of the way smoking may not be at all related to who gets pancreatic cancer or lymphomas.
Thank you very much.
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