Dr. Robert Pape to AFA: How The Next President Can Win the War on Terror

Al-Qaeda is much stronger today than they were in 2001,” said Dr. Robert Pape, author, and expert on homeland security during his talk at the 2008 Air Force Association’s Conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 15, 2008.

During one of the breakout sessions at the conference, called “How the Next President can win the War on Terrorism”, Pape proposed removing ground troops from various locations throughout the Middle East, and the use of air and sea forces in a doctrine known as “offshore balancing” in an effort to deter future suicide attacks.
During his presentation, “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” Pape proposed to the audience of about 150 Airmen and civilians that the reason many Islamic societies began, and continue to launch suicide attacks against westerners has less to do with religion, and more to do with the United States and its allies occupying territories in the Middle East deemed valuable by Muslims.
Based on research Pape gathered from several sources between 1980 and 2001, which he complied in two studies, “Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism,” and “The American Political Science Review, 2003”, he said many suicide groups are quite proud of their activities. He cited one example from the Tamil Tigers, based in Southeast Asia. The group has a “yearbook” filled with photos and biographies about their members who have dedicated themselves to suicide attacks.
Dr. Pape’s study further concluded that ordinary terrorism and suicide terrorism incidents are moving in opposite directions. While there were only three incidents of suicide terrorism in 1980, that number rose to a total of 50 between 2002 and 2003. Conversely, ordinary terrorist attacks (non-suicide), dropped from 666 in 1987, to 383 in 2003.
“Suicide terrorism is conducted by non-state actors who lack the support to influence the larger population into siding with their goals,” he said.
There has been a large shift in motivation for the terrorists since the U.S.-led invasion into Iraq, Pape said.
Pape illustrated three patterns. The first is timing. He said suicide attacks rarely occur as random or isolated phenomenon, instead, he added, they happen in clusters. The second is their goal, which has more to do with driving the U.S. and its allies out of lands the terrorists prize. The final pattern is target selection. Democracies are widely viewed by terrorist groups as “soft”, and easily influenced by terror attacks.
After months of analyzing the terrorists backgrounds, including those who participated in the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Pape and his researchers found majority of the suicide attackers were from Saudi Arabia.
“The United States first began to station combat forces there in 1990,” Pape said. He added that though the U.S. had a military presence in Saudi Arabia prior to 1990, there was a marked increase in the number of ground troops stationed there after 1990.
“It’s crucial to see the presence of U.S. combat forces on the Arabian Peninsula is the best motivation for recruitment of new terrorists,” he said. “Al-Qaeda members are ten-times as likely to come from a Sunni controlled state that has U.S. combat forces stationed [there], than a Sunni controlled state which does not have any U.S. combat forces,” Pape said.
Pape added that Al-Qaeda has moved “pretty far forward in their plan, hitting military allies of the U.S. in order to remove them from the Iraq picture.” He used the Madrid bombings and subsequent removal of troops by Spain’s government, as an example of the success of their plan.
Iraq continues to be the largest campaign for terrorist attacks, with Afghanistan a distant second and growing. In the first 24 years of suicide terror attacks, Pape said, barely 5% were directed at U.S. citizens. In 2008, almost 90% of terror attacks are directed at U.S. military members, their allies or their operations.
Iraq is a prime example of strategic suicide campaigns, Pape said. Since the U.S. invaded Iraq, attacks on allied and U.S. troops have grown steadily, with all attacks being Sunni based. Furthermore, the reasons for suicide attacks are rooted in anti-American sentiment—a feeling the Shia community does not share. This, he said, is clear evidence the attacks are not based on religion.
But Iraqi Sunnis are not solely to blame for the attacks, Pape said. According to his data, there are two main groups involved in the terror attacks and suicide bombings, with the other group primarily comprised of Saudis. While others come from countries bordering Iraq, including Kuwait, Syria, Jordan and a few from Yemen, Pape’s data clearly shows the attacks are not based on a global jihad.
“This is a pattern of opposition to American presence in the region,” he said.
Pape said the current battle raging in Afghanistan mirrors this trend. During the first few years of the U.S.’s involvement in Afghanistan after 2005, suicide attacks in that country skyrocketed. The rise in attacks correlates closely with the rise in NATO ground troops, but more importantly, the changing geographic deployment of the ground forces.
Prior to 2005, Pape said majority of the U.S.’s ground troops were located near Kabul. Shortly thereafter, these troops were relocated to the southern and eastern provinces—areas populated primarily by Pashtos (who are kindred with the Taliban). This change, he said, correlates closely with a sharp rise in terrorist attacks by Taliban-based forces.
“I think in Afghanistan, we need to make a serious decision,” Pape said. “Are we going to deny Bin Laden his sanctuary in this region? Because he is operating out of this area, and planning attacks on the U.S. and its allies.”
Pape did not have a rosy outlook for the War on Terrorism. He said since 2001, the War on Terrorism has taken a turn for the worst. He cited the current administration’s argument that terrorism is based on religious affiliation and fanatical Islamic teachings. On the contrary, he said
“The data shows these attacks are not tied to religion, rather the stationing of U.S. and allied ground troops in the region,” Pape said.
“We need to think of an alternative strategy to our current plan in the Middle East,” he added.
Pape concluded that the next president of the United States needs to develop a new military strategy to deal with the region. Suggesting removal of ground troops, with the institution of a light security force, in addition to stationing Air and Naval forces in the region in what is known as “offshore balancing,” ensuring security over “our vital interests in the region,” he said.

We would love to hear your comments and opinions on Dr. Pape’s presentation.

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy, Air Force Public Affairs