Re-Evaluating Special Operations Forces-Led Counterterrorism Efforts

Authored by:
Barnett Koven
Published on 3/15/2020
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Dr. Koven, in this occasional paper, posits that kinetic counterterrorism (CT) actions undertaken by the state to kill, capture, or otherwise disrupt terrorist groups are ineffective in isolation. While kinetic actions may succeed in disrupting a specific plot or other activities in the immediate term, they have little long-term effect on the ability of terrorist groups to operate. This study, backed by data from Colombian CT efforts over several years, demonstrates that government CT activities leading to the capture, killing, or demobilization of terrorists are correlated with an increase in terrorist attacks following a government’s actions. Moreover, this study reasons that government actions also serve to diffuse terrorist attacks into surrounding municipalities. Although kinetic CT actions may appear effective insofar as terrorist violence in the immediate vicinity of the CT actions decreases, if terrorism is displaced to other areas, this is not truly indicative of success. Dr. Koven's research suggests that successful CT approaches will require carefully sequenced kinetic and non-kinetic approaches.