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The evolution of counterterrorism: will tactics trump strategy?

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Counterterrorism efforts over the past five years have yielded important progress against Al-Qaeda abroad, even with heightened anxiety about the threat of attacks at home. There was certainly no ‘clash of civilizations’; violent Salafism engendered a muscular backlash in Muslim-majority countries, which threatened Al-Qaeda's ability to recruit and even survive. At the same time, the policies of major states became more effective and better aligned. A nascent counterterrorism coalition emerged with unprecedented sharing of intelligence, operations and deradicalization techniques (especially bilaterally). In the face of these developments, a defensive Al-Qaeda scrambled to exploit vulnerabilities so as to regain a mental edge. The result was two tactical setbacks for the allies: first, Al-Qaeda and its associates redoubled their efforts to kill civilians on western soil, focusing particularly on radicalized home grown amateurs; and second, they leaned more heavily on reinvigorated affiliates, some of whom tried to project force beyond their local operating areas for the first time. As a result, terrorist operations in the US and UK were more frequent, unpredictable and unsophisticated, but nonetheless potentially lethal. As the period drew to a close, the crucial question was whether the two western allies could maintain their nerve, luck, skill and sufficient equilibrium to both fend off a domestic attack and plan for an effective strategic response in the event that one occurred.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2010

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