Attrition: Why Terrorists Are Leaving Pakistan


February 27, 2012:  In the last year many, if not most, of the foreign Islamic terrorists in Pakistan have left. There were several reasons for this and the death of Osama bin Laden was not a major one. The Arab Spring has encouraged many foreign terrorists to return home, where rebellion has taken the heat off Islamic radicals or even made religious radicals part of new governments. But many of the foreign terrorists were encouraged to depart because of several years of increasingly effective American UAV missile attacks. In addition to killing over a thousand Islamic terrorists, including over a hundred key people, the constant presence of the UAVs, and the increasing effectiveness of the American intelligence effort in the Afghan border area, forced the terrorists to sharply curtail their activities and mobility.

There was also a long-term problem. Despite some success in the 1990s (and an embarrassing defeat in Egypt), the Islamic terrorists and al Qaeda have been going downhill since September 11, 2001. That attack was supposed to be the start of Islam's march to world conquest. Instead, it brought al Qaeda one defeat after another. Getting tossed out of Afghanistan at the end of 2001 was just the beginning. The American invasion of Iraq was supposed to be another opportunity for al Qaeda to make a comeback. But the large number of Moslem civilians killed by al Qaeda attacks led to a loss of popularity in the Moslem world. Worse, the Americans eventually convinced the Iraqi Sunni Arab minority to turn against al Qaeda and the Islamic terrorists were crushed (but not eliminated, although terror attacks are down over 90 percent from their 2007 peak).

Al Qaeda was largely chased out of Afghanistan because of hostility from the population at large. This goes back to the late 1990s, when the Taliban used a brigade of non-Afghan al Qaeda gunmen to terrorize Afghan tribes that were wavering in their loyalty. That was not forgotten, nor was the disdain many of the al Qaeda foreigners expressed for the Afghans. This was also a problem across the border in Pakistan, where the government there pretty much left Islamic terrorists alone in North Waziristan. But the foreign al Qaeda men, as well as other Islamic terrorist groups from Central Asia, still had attitude problems with the Pushtun tribesmen. The Pushtun lived on both sides of the border and the Arab al Qaeda, in particular, saw these tribesmen as a bunch of country bumpkins. The Pushtun saw the Arabs as a bunch of arrogant and inept wannabes. This eventually led to some gun battles, with most of the dead being foreigners.

A decade of defeats, internal conflict, and declining popularity in the Moslem world has made Islamic terrorism less attractive to young Moslem men seeking adventure and freedom from corrupt and stultifying cultures. The Arab Spring offers the prospect of a less destructive way to achieve progress. Finally, these outbreaks of radicalism have been quite common in Moslem history. And they always follow the same trajectory, eventually failing and falling out of favor. Al Qaeda is but the latest victim of this historical cycle.




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