Monday, March 3, 2003

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How to demoralize Al Qaeda

Today's picture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed after his capture by U.S. and Pakistani agents is precisely how to puncture the allure of Al Qaeda in the Arab community. This guy looks like a pathetic slob. That's the lasting image you want of Al Qaeda.

In general, embarrassment is a much more effective method than decapitation to destroying terrorist networks. The key to destroying such groups is to eliminate recruitment by spreading the perception that the group is ineffective. Capturing terrorist leaders and publishing photos that make them look like death warmed over is the most effective way to do this.

Empirical example: the most successful anti-terror campaign against a network of suicide terrorists was Turkey's successful battle against the Kurdish People's Party, or PKK. A turning point in this battle was Turkey's capture and trial of Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader. Öcalan's behavior after his capture helped knock the wind out of the PKK's sails, as this analyst notes:

"During his 1999 trial, PKK leader Öcalan apologized to the Turkish people for the PKK's 'historic mistake' of waging a war against the state, debriefed Turkish intelligence on the organization's activities, sold out every demand the PKK had ever made, and urged his followers to lay down their arms. To most observers, it was obvious that Öcalan was simply trying to save his own life."

I'd spring for the pay-per-view fee if the U.S. can get Mohammed to behave the same way.

UPDATE: Click here for one of my esteemed colleagues' takes on the strategic logic of suicide terrorism and how to fight it.

posted by Dan on 03.03.03 at 10:11 AM