Scorecard for the War on Terror

From StrategyPage:

According to a count by the United States State Department, terrorism attacks in 2003 hit a 34 year low. There were 190 acts of international terrorism last year, the lowest number since 1969. The 2003 attacks killed 307 people, with most of the activity in Asia (70 attacks, 159 dead). In 2002, there were 198 attacks and 725 deaths. Last year, 35 American were killed in fifteen terrorist attacks. Overall, 2003 saw 82 attacks directed mainly at Americans, down from 219 in 2001.

The fighting in Iraq doesn̢۪t count as international terrorism, because the fighting there involves American military personnel. Thus it counts as a military, not a terrorist, operation. But the Iraq occupations have attracted many terrorists, who are forced to use their terrorist skills against military professionals, not innocent civilians. Moreover, in Iraq, the terrorists are easier to find, and far more of them are being caught or killed than if the terrorist acts were committed outside a combat zone.

Terrorist operations have declined since 2001 because the terrorists support services (money, bases, forged documents, ease of travel) have all been interrupted or destroyed. Libya and Sudan, which used to provide bases and other support for terrorists, have stopped doing so. Cuba, Iran, Syria and North Korea still provide varying degrees of support to terrorists, but not as much as in the past.

Saudi Arabia, which was never an official base for terrorists, has long been an unofficial one. Saudis secretly gave millions of dollars a year to terrorist organizations, and terrorists found many eager recruits in Saudi Arabia. The government knew what was going on, but found it convenient to look the other way and ignore this illegal (according to Saudi law) activity. But when al Qaeda began attacking Saudi targets last year, Saudi Arabia joined the war on terrorism big time. This has hurt al Qaeda quite a lot.

The statistical data is somewhat dubious, for reasons Rob Tagorda and I have discussed. I largely agree with the remainder of this. Clearly, it’s better to fight terrorists that mass in Iraq rather than trying to pick them off as they commit attacks domestically. And the combination of the war on terrorism (and thus the fear of U.S. retalliation) and the counterproductive attacks by al Qaeda and its clones within the Muslim world itself have helped dry up some of the state sponsorship. That doesn’t mean the problem will go away, as terrorists will find other routes to funding and will find somewhere to train. But everything that makes their operations more difficult is a good thing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Hal says:

    Uh, actually terrorism has declined because Latin America’s issues have significantly declined since 2002. Here’s the spectrum of terrorist incidents from 1997-2002. Sometimes I wonder about analysts. . .