Assessing the War on Terror

By Erik Goepner

Reports from The Heritage Foundation suggest there have been 64 Islamist-inspired terror attempts on U.S. soil since 9/11. Of those, only four were carried out, with nearly all of the remaining 60 foiled by law enforcement and a handful thwarted by less intelligent means. From a defending the homeland perspective, things look good.

Their report goes on to say, however, that the number of terror plots have increased over time. Why the terrorists have increased their efforts is subject to much debate. Some contend the U.S. efforts in Iraq from 2003-2011 were inadequate, possibly not muscular enough. Others point to metastasizing local grievances in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, and so on, whether those be religious, tribal, etc. Still others think the U.S. has unwittingly fueled the terrorists recruiting efforts. As an example, bin Laden expressed outrage when Saudi Arabia looked to the U.S. for help after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, and his call for the “infidels” to leave the land of Muhammad was a consistent refrain until he himself departed the land. Since 9/11, however, America’s presence within Muslim lands increased, with more than two and a half million American service members having fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Globally, the numbers suggest that a large U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, while killing a large number of terrorists, may have helped the terrorists recruit more than they lost. Department of State reports and information from Stanford University’s Mapping Militant Organizations project indicate the number of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) has increased by 52% since 2000, while the number of Islamic-inspired FTOs jumped by 185%.

2000 2013
Number of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) 29 54
Number of Islamic-inspired FTOs 13 37
Estimated number of fighters in Islamic-inspired FTOs 32,200 110,500

Similarly, the number of fighters in those Islamic-inspired groups, impossible to know with precision, is estimated to have risen 243%.

The terrorists’ production rate has likewise increased. In the 12 years before 9/11, there were an average of 3,207 terrorist attacks across the globe each year. Since then, there have been an average of 4,283 attacks per year.[1] And those attacks have become more lethal. In their 2001 Patterns of Global Terrorism report, the Department of State observed that the 3,547 killed by terror attacks was the highest ever recorded in a year. In 2013, the number killed reached 17,891.

One potential question for the public and our elected leaders: do we want visible, muscular U.S. leadership in the war on terror or do we want to win? Both may not be possible.

Image Credit: U.S. Department of State


[1] See the Global Terrorism Database at http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/.

One thought on “Assessing the War on Terror

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s