University of Oxford

Counter Terrorism VS. Counterinsurgency

Terrorism is the set of acts of violence against civilians by an organized group or individual. This act of terrorism is intended to cause harm to the civilians in order to inflict a wave of fear amongst a particular locality or a society. The individuals who get involved in these activities are called terrorists. It is a form of self help that is undertaken by these terrorists as a form of showing their grievances (Deflem). Basically, terrorism is an act of violence that is condemned by most of the nations. Counter terrorism are tactics and strategies developed by the ruling government to counter the actions of terrorists. Counter terrorism requires hunting down and killing or making arrests of the terrorist individuals or groups to avoid any future harm from acts of terrorism. In simple words, counter terrorism is the adoption of the same aggressive behavior that the terrorists have embraced in order to oppose the acts of terrorism.

Insurgency is the strategic movement by a group of people to overthrow the government and through gaining control of the political authority and government infrastructure. This movement is an organized set of actions that also includes armed conflicts with the government to weaken it and to occupy the power. Hence, counterinsurgency is the set of strategic actions and tactics undertaken by the government to defeat the insurgents without much violence. This set of strategic actions by the government includes psychological, economic, political and military measures to counter the actions of the insurgents (Kilcullen).

The war on terrorism in Afghanistan was waged by the United States and NATO after the 2001 attacks of terrorists on the World Trade Center in United States (Pike). Al Qaeda and Taliban were the major targets of the military action of NATO and United States army. However, after almost nine years of military action, the Obama administration thought of changing its strategy in the war in Afghanistan. The Obama administration had to decide whether to wage a counterinsurgency campaign or defeat the terrorist groups with counter terrorism strategies.

The use of military action and special counter terrorist forces allows the insurgents to be reduced in number and pushes the terrorist forces backwards. This allows the United States and NATO military forces to gain control of the land in little time. Unites States has a technology of unmanned aircrafts which help the military to kill the terrorists (Young and Pincus). There is no fear of loss of military lives in unmanned aircraft missions. The troops only have to identify the insurgent targets and their job is done. The unmanned aircraft fires missiles on the target, killing all of them. United States military has special trained forces to counter the terrorists and it has also been able to develop breakthroughs in technologies that can help find the terrorists in the Afghan landscape. The special technology and missiles developed for counter terrorism has given an edge to the United States and hence it would be better if it continues the war on Afghanistan.

However, the drone attacks in Afghanistan by the United States have caused many civilian casualties. Not only have the homes and schools of the locals been destroyed because of drone attacks and manned aircraft bombings, but also many innocent people have been killed. This has caused the civilians to stand up against the United Stated military and much new recruitment also took place in Taliban and al Qaeda after this. These counter terrorism measures of drone attacks and aircraft bombing consumer many resources of the United States. Although the numbers of terrorists reduce in the short run, but in the long run, their number increase. Counter terrorism also causes the loss of many American lives in the war which affects their families back in the United States. The total casualties of the United States troops in Afghanistan have reached around 1,200 since the beginning of the war ( This is not the only concern; the main concern is that the number of fatalities is increasing each year. 2010 proved to be the most deadly year for the United Stated forces in Afghanistan as 270 died in action (

According to the Atlantic Council, an insurgency campaign would include the security of Afghan population and provision of basic services to the residents like food, water, education and health facilities. This will help in earning the support of the local Afghanis civilians. Their trust could be earned by establishing industries, providing health facilities, building roads and sharing power with the tribal leaders. The advocates of counterinsurgency argue that counterinsurgency is the only way through which this war can be won (Joyner). Hunting down and killing Taliban and al Qaeda representatives only creates more representatives. This is because these terrorist groups are able to recruit more people from the local population as the civilians think that the forces of United States and NATO have come to capture them and because of them, this war is going on. In the long run, the tactics of counter terrorism do not benefit United States or NATO because the civilians also get involved in the war.

Counterinsurgency may not work in all the conditions as there are a predefined set of conditions that are necessary in the country for counterinsurgency to be successful. The terrorist groups Taliban and al Qaeda have regained a lot of power in the recent months and have acquired weapons to fight the coalition troops (Gusterson). The problem for the United States government is that these terrorist groups have control over many territories and cities in Afghanistan. This does not allow the coalition forces to reach the civilians to provide then with supplies and basic services. Hence, the counterinsurgency plans may not work out as these insurgents might not allow the supplies to reach the civilians. Secondly, the Taliban is still in so much power that it can destroy the infrastructure built by the coalition to provide facilities to the locals.

One of the objectives of counterinsurgency is also to gain the support of the local tribal leaders so that the United States can earn the trust of the civilians. However, in Afghanistan, United States and the coalition forces have been fighting the war since almost ten years now and they have killed many civilians and have destroyed hundreds of homes of the innocent people. It would not be easy to earn the faith of these civilians, whose families have been killed because of the war in Afghanistan. It is estimated that in the first year of the war alone, there were 1,500 civilian casualties in Afghanistan. It would also be difficult to get the support of the tribal leaders when the civilians do not want the coalition to help them. It can take a long time, several years to regain the trust and support of the local population.

Hence it would be better if the United States and NATO continue counter terrorism in Afghanistan but start some development and provision of basic services to gain the support of the locals. This is because counter insurgency does not have many chances of success as the locals do not support the coalition. The only way to counter the attacks and insurgencies of the Taliban would be to engage in counter terrorism strategies. United States has state of the art weapons for war and cutting edge technology like drone planes that do not require any human and carpet bombing technology which can destroy a large area (BBC News). These technologies do claim the lives of the civilians, but there is no other way to push back the terrorist groups who are operating in the city and consuming the resources that should be consumed by the civilians. Use of full force to repent the terrorists and deploying the latest technology in military action is the only way in which this was can be won. The perspectives of Afghan insurgents cannot be changed because they have sworn to kill the soldiers of the coalition troops. Therefore, the only way is to fight back and employ counter terrorism strategy in Afghanistan.

Works Cited

BBC News. US heavy bombers pound Taleban. 1 November 2001. 7 August 2010 <>.

Deflem, M. Terrorism and counter-terrorism: criminological perspectives. Oxford: Elsevier Ltd., 2004.

Gusterson, H. Against counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. 1 July 2010. 7 August 2010 <>. Coalition Military Fatalities By Year. 2010. 7 August 2010 <>.

Joyner, J. Afghanistan: Counterinsurgency or Counterterrorism? 25 March 2009. 7 August 2010 <>.

Kilcullen, C. Counterinsurgency . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Pike, J. Public Eye. 2010. 7 August 2010 <>.

Young, K. and W. Pincus. “U.S. counterterrorism efforts set to expand in Afghanistan.” The Washington Post 10 December 2009.