U.S. needs to change terror tactics, scholar says

By By Clayton Norlen

By Clayton Norlen

Professor Bruce Hoffman, a scholar at the U’s Institute of Public and International Affairs, said the current tactics being used in the United States-led war on terror aren’t effective.

Hoffman gave his assessment of the war on terror to a crowd at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Wednesday.

Since the war on terror began after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, America has had victories and shortcomings in combatting terror. Today, al-Qaida is on the march and adjusting its tactics as a means to combat U.S. forces, Hoffman said.

“Our adversaries have changed and adjusted their tactics and are constantly devising new ways to combat our countermeasures,” Hoffman said. “Because terrorists are like a shark that must keep moving to survive, they are constantly evolving and devising new ways to fight.”

Since 2001, the United States has undergone numerous changes — some obvious and now a part of everyday life, and others institutional in nature. The Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review have been created in recent years, and there have been considerable security improvements in airports and national centers.

Hoffman said the U.S. army is fighting a conventional war against an unconventional enemy, and the United States is enemy-centric in its efforts. Instead, U.S. forces should become more population-centric, still using military force to deter militant radicals but also providing security and support to the civilian population in areas where terrorists are housed, Hoffman said.

“Our ability to deter al-Qaida and stop them has been dramatically, I think, called into question,” Hoffman said. “Recent plots abroad have demonstrated that we are facing an adversary that could only be called a learning organization or a learning entity. They are constantly developing, constantly researching and experimenting with new means designed to foil even our most consequential countermeasures.”

In his analysis, Hoffman proposed using a strategy called “human terrain mapping.” The method would involve training units about the culture and language of an area so they can build cooperation among the locals and make allies. The United States is leaving a “big footprint” in the Middle East, and terrorist organizations are exploiting this, he said. Hoffman suggested that the U.S. presence in countries with terrorist organizations be “postage stamp size” by using well-trained troops who could stay behind the scenes.

The United States has used the “decapitation” strategy in the war on terror, searching out leaders of rebel groups and capturing or killing them, assuming then that followers would lay down their arms, Hoffman said. He criticized this approach, saying that these terrorist organizations are built from the bottom up, so that if a leader dies, a new leader can step in, and the movement can live on.

Instead of killing the head of a terrorist organization in the hopes that the body of the organization will die, Hoffman said that success will be more likely to come from a psychological war where the United States tries to influence young people not to join these terrorist groups.

“We have to also focus equal attention not just on killing and capturing terrorists, as important, as critical and as essential as that certainly is,” Hoffman said. “But equally so on breaking the cycle of recruitment and regeneration that has continued to sustain our adversaries, especially over the last six years. To do this, first and foremost, we need to know our enemy.'”

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Tyler Cobb

Bruce Hoffman, a scholar in the U’s institute of public and international affairs, demonstrates how terrorists attempted to smuggle explosives onto a plane using a water bottle.