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Policy Considerations in Combating Terrorism: Decision-Making Under Conditions of Risk and Uncertainty

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Occasional paper

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The more risky moments in combating terrorism arguably involve the use of force abroad, where there is violence of action and lives are placed directly in harms way. Often considered an option of last resort, the use of force abroad rests primarily with two instruments of national power. The first instrument is the military. Although many traditional military activities, such as overt or blunt uses of force, are less effective against terrorist networks, Special Operations are tailored to counter nonstate and networked actors, and counterterrorism has been one of the core activities for SOF for more than two decades. The use of force also is inherent in the instrument of intelligence and, more specifically, kinetic operations that are conducted as part of covert action. Both Special Operations and kinetic forms of covert action play important roles in disrupting the lifecycle of terrorism and degrading terrorist organizations. They can be used to destroy, sabotage, or neutralize the weapons, infrastructure, and organizational assets that terrorists rely upon for their operations deny physical sanctuaries and help surrogate and other indigenous forces conduct operations against mutual enemies. They also can be used to capture or kill terrorists who threaten the safety and security of the United States and to rescue U.S citizens held hostage abroad. When faced with a decision to approve a Special Operation or a kinetic form of covert action in combating terrorism, presidents and their national security teams take into account a range of political and operational considerations. Drawing on examples from the Bin Ladin raid and the Iranian hostage rescue mission, this paper examines six such considerations 1 Confidence in the intelligence, 2 Challenges of sovereignty, 3 Sensitivity to casualties, 4 Assessments of effectiveness, 5 Comfort with the operational units, and 6 Pressures to take action.

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  • Administration and Management
  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Unconventional Warfare

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