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The Dynamic Terrorist Threat: An Assessment of Group Motivations and Capabilities in a Changing World

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Shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Air Force Chief of Staff General John Jumper asked the RAND Corporation to conduct a study entitled Thinking Strategically about Combating Terrorism. The year-long project was divided into four research tasks, each undertaking different yet complementary aspects of the counterterrorism problem 1. Threat assessment -- identifying the character and boundaries of the threat 2. The international dimension -- assessing the impact of coalition and other international actors on U.S. options 3. Strategy -- designing an overarching counterterrorism approach 4. Implications for the Air Force -- identifying promising applications of air and space power. The research for this report was conducted as part of the first task on threat assessment. It assesses the threat that terrorist groups pose to the United States and to its interests overseas by proposing a framework for evaluating their relative motivations and capabilities. The report describes the tools that various terrorist groups use to maintain group cohesion and to conduct successful terrorist attacks. Also, after identifying the potential vulnerabilities of terrorist groups, it discusses how these groups adapt and change and concludes with implications for the ongoing struggle against terrorism. This report therefore should be of interest to policymakers confronted with the task of reducing the threat that terrorism poses to the United States today. But terrorist threats change over time, so the authors have attempted to present a framework of use to decisionmakers and academics involved in terrorism analyses and counterterrorism responsibilities in the future as well.

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  • Unconventional Warfare

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