A year ago, many around the world were watching the new film “Munich.” The drama begins with the sad story of the Olympic Games massacre by Palestinians, becoming all the more sad with the German failure to respond professionally and competently. This year, we might well mark a very different event. This October will see the 30th anniversary of the German success in re-taking a Lufthansa aircraft hijacked by Palestinian terrorists. Commandos of the special border police unit GSG-9, created after the Munich disaster, followed the hijackers to Mogadishu, Somalia, stormed the airliner, destroyed the four-man terrorist cell, and saved every hostage. It was a brilliant victory. And no one knew that more personally than the jailed leaders of the Baader-Meinhof gang, or Red Army Faction (RAF). In Stammheim Prison they waited, expecting their freedom from a bargain over the hijacked German airliner. When news came of GSG-9’s tactical success, the strategic effect was profound. Three of the RAF leaders committed suicide. A famed radical of that era, Daniel Cohen-Bendit, identified the GSG-9 raid as “the moral and political end” of the Red Army Faction. Global terrorism suffered a serious strategic defeat in practical and psychological terms.
Terrorists have many vulnerabilities. That bears remembering during the present difficult slogging match in which key top leaders of Taliban and Al Qaeda remain at large after a five-year hunt. But it is true, and world events are showing it to be true. After a halfcentury, the Basques of ETA have hit a profound low. After a quarter-century of limited successes, and no arrests, the Greeks of the Revolutionary November 17th Organization are suddenly all in jail. Indeed, books of contemporary history have many names of groups now forgotten. Study of past successes, and the weaknesses of the enemy of today, gives many reasons for optimism, and many indicators of how our government, security forces, and allies, can do better in the Global War on Terrorism.
Six particular vulnerabilities of terrorist groups are highlighted here. They apply to terror groups of many sizes, and diverse ideological bents, including religious-minded terrorists, and perhaps also broad-based insurgencies. Indeed, Western experience in defeating insurgents—militants who normally use terror as well as political mobilization—is extensive, and offers many indicators of how we can do better now.
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