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Military Actions Against Terrorist Organisations Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 5382 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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” An anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyntric, criminal or political reasons, whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets.”

– United Nations’ definition of Terrorism’ [1] 

Terrorism has been existing in different forms from the time civilisations organised themselves to govern the society. A few in the society opposed those who governed in the name of oppression, exploitation and lack of fulfilment of aspirations. Later, these people organised themselves on ethnic, religious or regional basis and resorted to armed uprisings, guerrilla tactics etc. From the middle of the last century, many organisations and groups have resorted to this easier wrong path to challenge established governments and to channelise public opinion by media attention.

Military Action Against Terrorist Organisations. Across the world, the root cause of terrorism could be identified as oppression, socio-economic backwardness of ethnic groups and religious fundamentalism. Every nation aims to counter the terrorism and win the war on ideals. However, nations undertake military actions against terrorist organisations with following aims:-

To locate, identify and destroy terrorists along with their organisations.

To deny financial sponsorship, popular support and sanctuary to terrorists.

The efficacy of military actions adopted by various nations has yielded mixed results. Therefore, military option as anti terrorist strategy merits thorough analysis.


This paper aims to carry out an in depth analysis of military actions against terrorist organisations by Sri Lanka, Israel, Pakistan and the United States of America. The paper seeks to identify the limitations of military power in tackling terrorist organisations. This paper also analyses the impact of socio-political considerations at macro level on military operations and draws correct lessons for India.


Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE was established in 1976 by Velupillai Prabhakaran and since then, has been considered as one of the most ruthless terrorist organisations in the world. The ethnic conflict between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority paved way for the formation and the rise of LTTE. LTTE consisted of a well armed ground and naval forces with a small but efficient air wing. Their tactics included suicide-belt bomb attacks, violence against the state and moderate Tamil politicians. The organisation received extensive support from Tamils in India and Tamil Diaspora in Europe and North America. LTTE is ill-credited with the assassination of high ranking politicians like former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Killing of Rajiv Gandhi resulted in the LTTE losing Indian support. Rejection of peace initiatives, violation of ceasefire agreements and the LTTE fighting the IPKF have all lead to the organisation’s isolation. The split in LTTE, after which Colonel Karuna and his followers left the organisation, weakened the LTTE. [2] 

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Hard-hitting Military Actions against LTTE. The continued violent activities of the LTTE since 1976 could be divided into four distinct phases commonly referred to as ‘Eelam wars I, II, III, IV’. A series of events like attack on a naval convoy killing 118 sailors and assassination attempt on Army Commander changed the government’s approach. The hard hitting military actions against the LTTE commenced after Mahinda Rajapakse became the President in 2005. [3] 

The Fall of LTTE. The military actions for the fall of LTTE included offensive action in Muttur to re-establish control, retaliatory battle in Jaffna killing over 250 LTTE cadres and Chencolai air strike targeting LTTE training centre of child soldiers. Military offensives led to the capture strategic A5 highway in the East and Mannar District in the North. LTTE top leadership was also targeted. The final assault by the military led to the capture of Mannar-Poonarvn (A-32) road, Killinochchi and Jaffna. The war against the LTTE came to an end on 18 May 09, when their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed. [4] 

Analysis. The success of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces against the LTTE is regarded highly in defence circles. It is believed that the unique strategies adopted by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces were the main reason for victory. A detailed analysis of the military offensive is appended below:-

(a) Political Will and Leadership. Mahinda Rajapaksa presented himself as a focused and decisive leader. He used people’s mandate effectively for eliminating LTTE. He could rally the people of his country in support of his actions and could motivate his armed forces. His strategy of taking the battle to the LTTE held areas proved decisive. He was successful in projecting the atrocities unleashed by the LTTE against women and children. He exposed the misplaced argument for separate ‘Eelam’ within the island nation. He also clearly proved that an overwhelming national will can turn around international opinions and prejudices. [5] 

(b) Military Leadership. Sri Lankan Commander of the Army, General Sarath Fonseka proved to be a seasoned military leader. His Generalship proved decisive in bringing out clear strategy and military plans . His decision of aiming for the LTTE leadership proved vital. [6] 

(c) Equipping the Armed Forces. The political leadership supplied the Armed Forces the wherewithal to defeat the LTTE. This was in terms of funding, equipment and welfare scheme for the soldiers and families. This included raising of the Mech Inf Div in 2006 and commissioning of 100 Rapid Action Boats for the Navy. [7] 

(d) Use of Air Force. Air strikes were used to destroy of LTTE infrastructure. The risk of collateral damage was optimally weighed by the political leadership. This enabled easy capture of LTTE held areas by the ground troops. Air strikes targeting the LTTE leadership also yielded unparalleled successes. [8] 

(f) Socio-Ethnic Considerations. The biggest challenge which Sri Lanka faces post military victory is rehabilitating the minority Tamil groups. The country needs to restructure the socio, economic and administrative setup in Tamil dominated areas. The reports of widespread human rights violation during military offensive are cause for concern. Failure to correctly channelise the huge rehabilitation aid received could cause re-emergence of insurgency. [9] 



“Countries do not have permanent friends, they only have permanent interests.”

– Lord Palmerston.

US and ‘War on Terror’. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed the myopic views of the government and citizens of the US on terrorism. US response to this attack was military actions against terrorist organisations away from her shores. To facilitate this, the US formed coalitions and resorted to diplomatic coercion. [10] 

Iraq. The present case of US military actions against terrorist organisations in Iraq is an aftermath of the Gulf War II. Though a democratically elected government is established, the lack of governance and control, ethnic divide among the populace and rise of alternate power centres are visible. The aspirations of the people of Iraq, post war, have not been met. This has resulted in the waning of support for the US soldiers on ground in Iraq and lack of/erroneous humint support. Consequently, terrorist activities aimed both against US forces and the Iraq government are on the increase. [11] 

Afghanistan. The US war on terror in Af- Pak region is aimed mainly at the Taliban and Al- Qaeda. The infamous Taliban regime has been ousted from power by US in 2002. The ‘centralised decision and decentralised execution’ operating philosophy of Al- Qaeda, is making any US operation against them complex. A majority of members of these groups have merged with the local population in Afghanistan and tribal areas in Pakistan. Policy of reinforcement of troops and increased covert operation by the Central Investigation Agency (CIA) has also not yielded desired results. The mounting causality rates are testimony to the flawed strategy. [12] 


“The White House’s new National Strategy for combating terrorism is imperfect.”

– Bruce Hoffman, Counterterrorism Expert.

(a) Political End State. The US supported governments in Iraq and Afghanistan are unable to establish peace and order. This is the indication of misplaced policies to achieve desired political end state post successful military action.

(b) Erroneous Strategic Motives. Another factor contributing to ineffectiveness of military action in Af- Pak is the wrong strategic motive of the US. The motive of the US is only limited to eradicating terrorist groups, those posing danger to their interests.

(c) Social Issues. A major social issue common both to Iraq and Afghanistan is the failure in raising units of local armed forces. Equipping them adequately and training them to be combat worthy is remaining a distant dream. Efforts to motivate the locals to join armed forces and to fight their own fellow countrymen are not yielding desired results presently. [13] 

(d) Dual Anti-Terrorist Policies. The dual policies of hot pursuit are proving to be counterproductive for the US. A better military strategy would be to have a uniform policy against terrorist organisations all over the world. The US knows that Al-Qaeda has an efficient and widespread network. However, it is ignoring the fact that, this net work is strongly led from the tribal areas of Pakistan. Supporting nations like India, in launching pre-emptive surgical strikes against terrorist training camps, would yield better results in the war on terror.

(e) Overstretching of Military Resources. The US forces in Iraq are over burdened with activities of nation building and reconstruction like building schools, provisioning medical evaluation teams etc. This has a cascading effect on combat efficiency and morale of the troops.

(f) Countering Islamic Fundamentalism. The US actions are inadequate in countering Islamic fundamentalism. US sponsored funds are diverted into unsolicited hands promoting fundamentalism. Lack of efforts by the US, to control the misuse of economic aid, is a reason for rise in Islamic fundamentalism in Af-Pak region.

(g) Trust Deficit with Pakistan. Recently, Hillary Clinton said that Osama-bin-Laden and Mullah Omar are hiding in Pakistan. This is an acceptance of failure to capture them. This also hints at the trust deficit between the US and Pakistan.

(h) Lack of Efficient Surveillance Network. Lack of an efficient surveillance network in Af-Pak border is proving to be a major constraint on containing insurgent movement. Allegation of ISI sharing intelligence with the Taliban is also relevant. These results in failure of military action including Drone attacks in the Af-Pak border.

(j) Untimely Withdrawal. The United States plans complete withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq by 2011. This would mean an increase in operations to neutralise the Taliban. This really would be an acid test for the nascent democratic set up. The US should slow down and amend the military action process and extend it over a few more years. This, indeed, would give enough opportunity for the democratic institutions to stabilise. [14] 


The Jews began ‘Exodus’ to their ‘promised land’ under Prophet Moses from Biblical times. Their struggle continued for centuries. The Jews, finally, could form a state of their own only in 1948. Israel is a state which suffered from terrorism since its formation. The wars fought with various Arab states were for existence and survival. Military operations akin to war, undertaken against various state and non-state actors by Israel are in line with the maxim “offense is the best form of defence”. Conscription results in increased security awareness and improves patriotism. Unequivocal support from the US makes her bold actions look arrogant. While the threats from Iraqi Armed Forces have reduced, Israel continues to be wary of a nuclear Iran, resurgent Lebanon and chaotic Palestine. The situation is complicated by the fact that the Arabs view Israeli forceful occupation and settlement at various disputed sites as acts of terrorism.

Military Action against Hamas. Hamas meaning ‘Islamic Resistance Movement’ was founded in 1987. This Palestinian organisation has a political wing and paramilitary force. Hamas is, presently, governing the Gaza portion after winning the Parliament elections in 2006. The organisation carries out unprovoked rocket and suicide attacks on Israeli territories. In Dec 2008, Israel mounted operation Cast Lead against Hamas targeting pre-designed weapon houses, weapon manufacturing facilities and training camps. The Israeli forces also targeted the top leadership of the Hamas and Interior Minister Said Sevam was among those killed. Subsequently, unilateral ceasefire was declared by Israel in Jan 09. There are many incidents of hot pursuit, pre-emptive strikes and planned offensive retaliations by Israel since then. [15] 

Military Action against Hezbollah. Hezbollah (Party of God) was founded in 1982 and is based in Lebanon. It is a Shia Muslim organisation with a political and paramilitary wing. It has 14 seats in Lebanon’s parliament and is involved actively in social services. Early activities of the organisation were directed at forcing Israel to withdraw from occupied areas in South Lebanon. It’s primary mode of fighting is asymmetric. These included attacks on Israeli Embassy in 1992 and bombing of Jewish Cultural Centre in 1994 in Argentina and series of guerrilla attacks against Israeli forces in Lebanon. On all these occasions, Israel retaliated with well planned military actions involving overwhelming use of force. Operation Accountability in 1993, Operation Grapes of Wrath aimed at destroying Hezbollah’s bases in South Lebanon and the 34-day Lebanon war in 2006, are a few of such operations. Hezbollah’s claim of Tamar Gas Field in the Israeli Economic Zone is broiling into a new point of disagreement. [16] 


(a) Political and Military Will. The military actions by Israel are thoughtful and mutually agreed concepts of both the government and the military. However, the knee jerk reactions are weakening its morally superior ground. This limits the gains of the military operation and does not contribute to the Israeli-Palestine peace process.

(b) Overwhelming Use of Force. Israel’s view of classifying all acts of Palestine violence as terrorist acts is highly flawed. Hence, its overwhelming use of force even to a low level incident like stone pelting during a funeral procession is proving to be counterproductive. Over the years, this attitude has been causing more violence and no military gain.

(c) Democratisation of the Middle East. Democratisation of the Middle East is progressing slowly but steadily. A ‘win’ for democracy in Arab states would reduce the overt and covert support to terrorist organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah. Unprovoked military actions by Israel results in anti-Israel rhetoric and are slowing down the progress of democracy in the Arab states. Israeli leadership should consider this long term implication rather than be satisfied with short term gratification.

(d) Diplomatic Failure. Under Hamas, the Gaza Strip would become a hub for terrorist activities. Israel is unable to diplomatically leverage this conviction that a Hamas controlled Gaza Strip is equally bad for Egypt. The Israeli military actions against Hamas, are hindering Egyptian cooperation on this aspect. Israel permitting Egyptian Police to guard part of Sinai is only cosmetic.

(e) Israeli- Palestinian Issues. The indiscriminate military actions by Israel against Hamas and Hezbollah have become a serious obstacle for a permanent solution to the Israeli- Palestinian issues. Many a brokered peace processes which were achieving partial successes were thwarted by these actions.

(f) Social Concerns. The Israeli state was formed on high moral ground and remained so. The international community had a soft corner for their right and fight to exist. Actions like raiding Flotilla carrying Gaza bound humanitarian aid by the Israeli naval commandos are facing widespread condemnation. As a result, legal rulings against Israel are on the increase. Such inhumane military actions are even being questioned within Israel itself. Military should exercise restraint while dealing with unarmed opponents.


‘Still Born’ Nation. Jinnah’s vision of a secular Pakistan never materialised. Under General Zia ul Haque, the ‘Blasphemy Law’ was brought into force. Numerous Saudi funded Madrassas mushroomed during this time and they churned out jihadis to fight in Kashmir and in Afghanistan against the Russians. The Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) called the shots and paired up with the CIA to provide training, intelligence and logistics support to the mujahedeen fighting in Afghanistan. Fundamentalism and socio-economic backwardness have always been the root causes of terrorism in Pakistan. [17] 

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‘Terrorism’- A State Policy. Pakistan stands accused of following terrorism as a state policy to intimidate neighbouring countries. The Army and the ISI govern Pakistan instead of serving their country. Whilst overtly supporting the elected government, the ISI is accused of aiding the jihadi groups involved in violent activities in Afghanistan. The irresponsible media in Pakistan glorifies the atrocities carried out by these groups and their leaders are projected as heroes. The turnaround of these Frankenstein groups directing their nefarious activities against those fathered them is nothing but poetic justice.

Military Action against Terrorist Groups. Post 9/11, President Musharraff had no option but to be an active ally of the US in their ‘war on terror’. However, after the Taliban regime was ousted from power, the cadres ingressed into the tribal areas of Pakistan. Here, the terrorists established command and control for counter attack. The US impatience of Pakistan’s inaction manifested in the form of CIA controlled ‘Drone attacks’. The tacit support of the Pakistan government to Drone attacks forced the militants to turn against the government. Soon, suicide attacks at major cities like Karachi and Islamabad, targeting military establishments and foreigners became the order of the day. Pakistan, under the US pressure, had to undertake specific military actions targeting each of these groups. A brief on these operations are appended below:-

(a) Lal Masjid Operations. Lal Masjid was founded in 1965 by Maulana Qari Abdulla and is located close to ISI Headquarters in Islamabad. After his assassination in 1998, his sons Maulana Aziz and Abdul Ghazi were leading the militant operations. It also housed Jamia Hafsa, a Madrassa for women. The group advocated invoking of Sharia Law and strongly opposed Pakistan Army’s support for war on terror. They engaged in hate speeches, violence and arson. A series of misdeeds like kidnapping of ten Chinese workers, attack on Army Rangers and Environment Ministry building forced military action against them. The mosque was under siege from 03 to 11 Jul 2007 (Operation Sun Rise). The elite Special Service group (SSG), Pakistani Rangers Paramilitary Force, anti- terrorism squad of the Punjab Police along with Army’s 111 Brigade was involved in this military offensive. The operation resulted in killing of Abdul Ghazi, capturing of Maulana Aziz and surrender by large number of students. [18] 

(b) Operations in Swat Valley and South Waziristan. The unrestricted cross border influx of militants into tribal areas of Pakistan transformed these areas into a safe haven for terrorists. Groups led by Sufi Mohammed and Baitullah Mehsud were responsible for series of suicide attacks (including that on Benazir Bhutto) in Pakistan. The military action in Swat, 120 km North West of Islamabad, came after Taliban gained considerable might in the region. This threatened the future of the US ‘war on terror’ and the existence of Pakistan itself. The federal government considered a phased operation commencing Jul 2007. Since then, they have undertaken series of operations like Op Rah-e-Rast, Op Toar Tander-I (Black Thunderstorm) etc. to regain control in Swat Valley, Buner, Shangla district and South Waziristan. An additional 15,000 troops were deployed, along with Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), to patrol these cities. Air strikes were used regularly to target militant bases, especially to attack Mehsud’s strong holds. A total of 1,592 militants were killed and more than 100 soldiers died in the operation as per reports. Though temporarily successful, the operations are far from over considering reports of militant regrouping and repeating incidents of violence. [19] 


” Those who can win a war will rarely make good peace and

those who could make good peace would never have won the war.”

Winston Churchill

(a) Social Issues. ‘War on terror’ had few takers from the Pakistani public. Hence, the security forces, with no public support, are faced with daunting tasks during military operation against terrorists. The Pakistan Army has been accused of assigning only Shia Muslims soldiers in Wasristan. Tribals here are anti-Shia and this itself has created more violence and deaths. Whilst the Lal Masjid operations yielded success, the military operation in Swat and South Wazristan have not achieved the desired end state due to non-addressing of ethnic and socio-economic issues.

(b) Funding of the Lal Masjid. The Pakistani government has not enquired and identified the sources of funding for Lal Masjid. This short sighted approach may annul the advantage gained by the military operation.

(c) Dual Anti-Terrorist Policy. The dual policy of Pakistan, of supporting war on terror with the US overtly and supporting fundamentalists group covertly, is the reason for the failure of military actions. The army fighting a militant group today was befriending this group yesterday, training them and sharing intelligence. This knowledge of shared tactics and operating procedures makes the army vulnerable during counter terrorism operations.

(d) Attitude towards Suicide Bombers. The Pak government has an ambiguous attitude towards suicide bombers. The double standards that the government follows wherein they justify suicide attack in Kashmir, is making Pak Army vulnerable to these attacks..

(g) Collateral Damage. The army has been accused of collateral damage both in Swat valley and in South Wazristan. The media has been harsh on the Army. Hence, the government could not capitalise on its military operation as several checks and balances had to be put in place.

(h) Morale of Army. The military actions undertaken by Pakistan are more under pressure from the US. The soldiers are fighting a cause, which they are not convinced of. This has a cascading effect on the morale of soldiers.



“The idea of India is stronger than the Indian,

But the idea of Pakistan is weaker than the Pakistani”

– MJ Akbar

A few of the valuable lessons for India from these studies are appended below:-

(a) National and Political Will. India needs to have an assertive national will and political stewardship to reap benefit from military actions. In this regard, India should benefit from the Sri Lankan experience. India has demonstrated her political will successfully in past when militancy in Punjab was eliminated under Rajiv Gandhi government. The democratic process and correct socio-economic efforts capitulated on the military success. The present political leaders should focus their efforts to formulate a national policy of using military against militants.

(b) Punitive Military Actions. The need for proactive approach and execution of well planned offensive military operations against terrorists is amply evident from the above analyses. Sri Lankan model of engaging the LTTE could be a guideline for India to pursue offensive strikes against terrorists. Humanitarian issues and avoiding collateral damage needs to be adequately considered during such operations.

(c) Support for Military Action. As seen in all the above cases, support and unity among the people and the political parties is a must for the success of any military action against terrorists. Partisan activities by politicians would be counterproductive for achievement of desired gains from a military action.

(d) Specialised Weapons. The offensive surgical strikes should be carried out with precision guided weapons. Modernisation of existing inventory of weapons and munitions to suit counter insurgency operations is the need of the hour.

(e) Threat from the Sea. Mumbai terror attacks (26/11) exposed how vulnerable the nation is to asymmetric attack from the sea. Towards this end, long porous coastline and lack of single point authority for coastal security are assessed to be the weakest links. Special purpose boats like the one Sri Lankan Navy acquired are viable options for patrolling shallow coastal waters and preventing terrorist attacks from the sea. Efforts on the lines of US Homeland security model would be the ideal way ahead.

(f) Air attacks and use of UAVs. UAVs should be extensively used for locating and identifying terrorist training camps and mobilising areas. This should be complemented by humint. Air attacks targeting these identified camps should be undertaken to neutralise them. Israeli operations against Hezbollah could be used as a viable template.

(g) Targeting Terrorist Leadership. Terrorist organisations do not have efficient second level leadership. Hence, the strategy of winning over or annihilating the local commanders could lead the military to the terrorist group’s top level leadership. Once the top leadership is eliminated, it will lead to the end of the terrorist organisation like LTTE ended with Prabhakaran’s death.

(h) Socio- Economic Development. Professional national agencies should be formed to conceptualise, implement and monitor local development works in terrorist affected areas in a time bound manner. Presently the armed forces are carrying out many such tasks. Therefore, armed forces are over burdened with activities of nation building and reconstruction like building schools, provisioning medical evaluation teams etc. This has a cascading effect on combat efficiency.

(j) International Support. The time is ripe for the Indian government to garner international support to launch pre-emptive surgical strikes against terrorist training camps across the border. It must also diplomatically leverage international opinion in support of efforts to stop arms smuggling and weapons proliferation to non-state actors.

(k) Exercise Restraint with Non-combatants. Military should exercise restraint while dealing with peaceful demonstrations and protests. The state agencies should handle such events tactfully.

Counterterrorism Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). The detailed analysis of military actions against terrorist organisations by nations above gives India enough lessons and guidelines to articulate a winning course of action against the terrorists. India, should therefore, prepare and execute viable SOPs to counterterrorism. The cardinal aim of these procedures should be:-

To prevent occurrences of terrorist attacks.

To protect citizens and national infrastructure from terrorist attacks.

To pursue activities of counter terrorism to incapacitate terrorist organisations.

(d) To respond vigorously to terrorist attacks if and when they occur. [20] 


Terrorism causes danger to the freedom and liberty of citizens. Compared to soldiers, more civilians are killed during terrorist attacks. The destruction of infrastructure and supply lines brings in more poverty and hence, more deaths. Determined political will could lead to fall of LTTE in Sri Lanka. The US is unable to achieve the desired strategic end state both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Israeli experiences of military action reveal the inadequacy of statesmanship to reap the benefits of military action. Pakistan’s flawed dual policy in dealing with terrorists is analysed to be the cause for the ineffectiveness of its military action. The socio-economic factor of the people is inadequately addressed by these nations. The case studies above bring out significant lessons for India. If India can generate national and political will, the same would go a long way in combating the menace of terrorism in the country.


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