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Do counterterrorism and counterinsurgency go together?

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One of the underlying assumptions of the contemporary debate over Afghanistan is that counterterrorism objectives can be achieved through counterinsurgency methods. The recent decision by President Barack Obama to deploy 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan is premised on the idea that to disrupt Al Qaeda and prevent it from forming training camps in Afghanistan it will be necessary to first reverse the momentum of the Taleban insurgency. This approach—which places the US and UK on the offensive to disrupt terrorist plots before they arrive on their shores—assumes that the threats from Al Qaeda and the Taleban are intertwined and thus the strategy of response must seamlessly comprise elements of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. In fact, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency are very different—often contradictory—models of warfare, each with its own associated assumptions regarding the role of force, the importance of winning support among the local population, and the necessity of building strong and representative government. Rather than being mutually reinforcing, they may impose tradeoffs on each other, as counterterrorism activities may blunt the effectiveness of counterinsurgency approaches and vice versa. The last four years in Afghanistan provide evidence that when employed in the same theatre counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies can offset one another. To be in a position to begin the withdrawal of US troops before July 2011, the Obama administration will need to find a way to manage the tradeoffs between its counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies in Afghanistan.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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