Terrorists belong to organizations with a recognizable structure. These organizations have goals beyond reeking havoc on their enemies. They require safe havens in which to train and plan operations. States or elements within them provide these havens by allowing clandestine organizations to blend with the general population, tacitly if not actively supporting them. Since they often mount operations from within the target state, terrorist cells require support networks within those countries as well. These characteristics describe not a new phenomenon but a very old one: The US and its allies face an insurgency, albeit on an international rather than a local scale. The nature of the conflict points the way to its resolution: a counterinsurgency campaign on a global scale.
Insurgency and counterinsurgency have been the subject of extensive study in the half-century following the Second World War. While some analysts consider this type of conflict a Cold War phenomenon, others have argued its persistence into the contemporary world. 1 The principles of counterinsurgency are as valid for today's war on terrorism as they were when practitioners worked them out against Communist insurgents 50 years ago. 2
Unfortunately, then as now the formula for defeating insurgents is far easier to state than to apply. Intelligence remains the key to victory. The wisdom of General Sir Frank Kitson, who has had more experience in counterinsurgency than any living soldier, has lost none of its edge. Defeating insurgents or terrorists 'consists very largely in finding them'. 3 Garnering accurate and timely information requires winning the trust of the general population who support the insurgents, tacitly or actively. Trust and cooperation depend in turn on recognizing and as far as possible addressing the real needs and the legitimate grievances on which the insurgency feeds. Good intelligence allows the security forces (military, paramilitary, and police) to use force against the terrorists in a limited and focused manner so as not to further alienate the general population. 4
This strategy has generally been described as 'winning hearts and minds'. A hearts-and-minds strategy is as essential to defeating Al Qaeda today as it was to rooting out Communist guerrillas in Malaya 50 years ago.