Terror, Terror Everywhere

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Ingraham introduces the Institute for Economics and Peace’s latest Global Terrorism Index, which counted 10,000 terrorist incidents worldwide in 2013, most of them in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. As his chart illustrates, that compares to just 1,500 incidents in 2000. Why the dramatic increase? Well, you know:

The report suggests that U.S. foreign policy has played a big role in making the problem worse: “The rise in terrorist activity coincided with the US invasion of Iraq,” it concludes. “This created large power vacuums in the country allowing different factions to surface and become violent.” Indeed, among the five countries accounting for the bulk of attacks, the U.S. has prosecuted lengthy ground wars in two (Iraq and Afghanistan), a drone campaign in one (Pakistan), and airstrikes in a fourth (Syria).

The same five countries account for a full 80 percent of deaths from terrorism last year. Adam Taylor expects the report to generate some controversy because of how it distinguishes “deaths from terrorism” from other deaths in conflict zones:

The report explains that it is not including deaths in Syria caused by conventional warfare, for example. However, in a complicated civil war such as Syria’s, the line between conventional and nonconventional warfare often gets blurred.

As the report itself notes, “Terrorism has been deployed as a tactic by some of the rebel forces to bring about a political, economic, religious, or social goal rather than purely military objectives.” Perhaps even more controversially, the IEP finds that only four terrorist organizations — the Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban and al-Qaeda — had asserted responsibility for more than 66 percent of the deaths. The United States has been involved in the military battle against all of these groups.

Juan Cole criticizes the study for how it decides which incidents are “terrorism” and which are not:

Let’s just take Mexico. Between 2006 and 2013, roughly 10,000 people a year were killed in drug gang violence (substantially more than have died annually in terrorism in Iraq in recent years). The IEP report counts those as homicides, not terrorism. But many of these killings are committed for political reasons– to control a city like Ciudad Juarez, e.g. Moving drugs on a large scale cannot be an enterprise divorced from politics. … Let’s face it, if Mexico were a Middle Eastern country its drug war would be depicted as terrorism and it would join the five countries listed above at the head of the class, with a third more deaths than Iraq every year.

Keating wonders if the index is blurring the line between “terrorism” and civil war:

While these five countries dominate global terrorism, the report also notes that there were nine additional countries last year that had more than 50 terrorism deaths, bringing the total number to 24—the highest in 14 years. These were: Algeria, Central African Republic, China, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Sudan, and South Sudan. Algeria is on that list largely because of one horrific incident. Lebanon’s terrorism is closely tied to Syria’s. CAR, Libya, Mali, Sudan, and South Sudan are all experiencing various states of intrastate warfare. So the issue here may be less a global increase in terrorism than a set of worsening civil wars (one war in particular) in which the traditional tactics of terrorism—kidnappings, suicide bombings, etc.—are employed by the combatants.

And Kathy Gilsinan highlights another important finding from the report, about how to stop terrorism:

[A]s the U.S. winds up its war in Afghanistan—a country that saw a 13-percent increase in terrorism-related fatalities last year—and considers the extent to which it wants to intervene militarily to halt the spread of ISIS, it’s worth asking: How does terrorism actually end? The question is one that the Rand Corporation addressed in a 2008 study that the Global Terrorism Index authors cite. That report examined 268 terrorist groups that halted their attacks between 1968 and 2006. In only 7 percent of those cases, the report found, military intervention brought about the end of a terrorist group.