Ineptitude or desensitization?

Recent failed terrorist attacks (the latest apparently in Rome) seem to indicate a terrorist enemy in shambles, pressed hard on every side and scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to operatives capable of carrying out meaningful attacks, which is what a lot of political and military pundits claim in public. If that view is correct, then it would seem that the world’s fight against extremist-inspired terrorism may be close to being won.

Yet, I cannot help but wonder if the facts are something entirely different. Certainly, our current military, political, and diplomatic efforts have had an effect on various terrorist organizations’ ability to recruit, equip, train, and operate, yet we can see from the clear evidence in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia that those abilities have not been eliminated. While those organizations seem to be struggling with pulling off attacks in the rest of the world, their success rate in their direct theaters of operation is impressive.

I think this state of affairs represents a significant change in strategy on the part of these terrorist organizations, and I have to wonder if the now regular though bumbling independent attack attempts around the world represent part of that change. To me, these attacks look a lot more like a carefully orchestrated denial-of-service attacks designed to distract valuable and limited intelligence and operational assets away from their work against these organizations in order to focus them on a never-ending stream of small and unsuccessful individual attacks.

In embracing this kind of strategy, the terrorist organizations relieve some of the pressure on themselves and also create the conditions for desensitizing governments, intelligence agencies, militaries, and the public to the threat posed by terrorist attacks. By doing these things, the organizations gain the time and the freedom to plan and execute far more sophisticated and potentially damaging attacks both within their theaters of operation and elsewhere.

The worst thing any of us can do is assume our enemy cannot strike back until we know it to be well and truly defeated. Until that time, we must remain vigilant and diligent in our own efforts to combat it.


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