Dealing with Terrorism Disproportionality Factor

Perspective By Vinod Saighal

The retaliatory US exchange would normally include the following: thousands of rounds of automatic fire, dozens of rounds of rocket and mortar fire, several rounds of tank fire, hundreds of rounds of artillery fire, plus munitions and missiles unleashed from the attack helicopters, and bombs and munitions dropped by aircraft.

In taped interviews to an Afghan interrogator, two Afghans and three Pakistanis who were among 21 people arrested earlier in 2006 described their roles in the attacks, which killed at least 70 people, most of them Afghan civilians but also international peacekeepers, a Canadian diplomat and a dozen Afghan police officers and soldiers. In the tape, the men described a fairly low-budget network that begins with the recruitment of young bombers in the sprawling Pakistani port city of Karachi. The bombers are moved to safe houses in the border towns of Quetta and Chaman, and then transferred into Afghanistan, where they are provided with cars and explosives and sent out to find a target*.

Disproportionality works against the forces tackling terrorism, especially terrorism of the type taken up by radical Islamists in several countries. By now, most people are fairly well acquainted with the terror breeding facilities that were set up in Pakistan and Afghanistan right up to the allied invasion of Afghanistan, following the 11/9/2001 attacks on the USA. While the Jihad factories might have collapsed in Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul in October 2001, there was hardly any let up in selected areas of Pakistan, which continue to churn out fanatical, zombie-like students in large numbers in their madrassas. The number of potential jihadis can now be reckoned in hundreds of thousands, if not in the millions, because these institutions have since spread to many other parts of the subcontinent and beyond.

*{HT World, Thursday, February 16, 2006, Page 12. (The New York Times), Pak Blind Eye to Afghan bombings}

The streamlined production facilities for churning out young, radicalised, possibly misanthropic students in large numbers is not a costly exercise seeing the ready availability of young recruits from families, which although impoverished, produce children in large numbers. The average size of such families being 6-7, they are ever ready to send one, two or more children to the madrassas where they are clothed, fed and taught elementary counting besides writing in Urdu and Arabic in order to learn the Quran by rote. Not all of the products coming out of these madrassas would make high calibre terrorists. After very strict weeding out even if 2 or 3 were to be found fit for undertaking the type of terrorist strikes, including suicide missions that the world has come to dread, the final count would still be impressive. With variations for time, place, or the country where jihad factories are located, the cost of training one potential terrorist is not likely to exceed twenty thousand rupees, especially in the poorer districts of Pakistan. This works out to less than $500 per recruit at the production site. Thereafter, translocation to other countries and proper kitting out for the task could add to the cost by several hundred or even a few thousand dollars. Except for very exceptional cases, the total cost would not exceed $5000.

Taking the case now of the countries that are involved in the battle against global terrorism, it will be seen that as compared to the training of an average jihadi for carrying out terrorism acts, the cost of training the average soldier involved in combating this menace would be far higher. In the case of the armies of most of the countries in Asia, for example India, The Philippines or Indonesia, it could be a factor of 10 or 20. That is to say that if the cost of training an average jihadi for undertaking terror missions works out to $5000, the cost of training an average combatant in the countries mentioned could work out between $50,000 to $100,000. In the case of the USA and some of the western democracies, however, the cost increase could be a factor between 50 and 100, especially when training of Special Forces is taken into account. These cost differentials continue even for persons rendered hors de combat. To elaborate, an injured jihadi would be taken clandestinely to some sympathetic medical practitioner and operated upon in the most rudimentary fashion. In case of death, the burial costs would be minimal. Terminal benefits to the family of the deceased would be a few hundred thousand rupees, equivalent to $4000 approximately. For impoverished families in Pakistan that offer up their children for such activities, even half that amount would be considered a windfall.

Match this amount of approximately $4,000 in case of injury or death for the jihadi with the cost that would be incurred for a US soldier who becomes a casualty. For serious injuries, the cost of evacuation (normally by helicopter) to an advanced field hospital and subsequently to a facility in Europe or USA, plus the cost of treatment would work out to a differential factor between 1,000 and 10,000. For serious injuries or death, the pensionary and terminal benefits would be in order of magnitude higher than those in the case of an injured or dying jihadi.

The next item to be considered in this category is the cost of maintaining a jihadi in the field as compared to a US or western soldier. Taking the Afghanistan or Iraq theatres, the cost of maintaining a jihadi in the field for one year would seldom go beyond $1000, whereas the cost of maintaining a western soldier for the same period would go up by a factor of about 100 or so depending upon the location of the soldier or his unit. Here again, Special Forces come into a separate category.

So far, the comparisons worked out related only to the training and deployment of the adversaries. We now have to consider the cost differential relating to combat scenarios.

Combat Scenarios

We move next to the cost evaluation disparities in 'live' engagements between terrorist teams and the US or NATO forces combating them. The disparity resulting from suicide missions will be taken separately at the end. Sporadic engagements between jihadi type elements and the US forces and allies are taking place practically every day in Afghanistan and Iraq. While there may be similarities in the type of attacks carried out by the jihadi elements in Afghanistan and Iraq, the terrain conditions being very dissimilar, the response patterns also vary considerably. In Afghanistan, a typical incident could take any of the following forms: an IED being set off along a route where the US or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) teams have to pass; a mortar attack at an installation or small-sized post; ambush; or hit and run operations launched from terrain that would be difficult to negotiate by foreign forces. The difficulty in terrain negotiation in mountainous country stems both from lack of the type of familiarity that local inhabitants have as also from the type of equipment used by foreign forces. In a typical ambush or hit and run operation, a handful of jihadis fire a few rockets and mortar rounds on a US convoy or position. The latter could be a temporary halting place or post occupied by a platoon-sized force. The initiative almost invariably being with the attacker (the regrouped Taliban); the opening shots in the form of various types of Small Arms (SA) would be fired from well-selected positions on the mountainside overlooking the convoy or the post. By now, the retaliation procedure having also been perfected to a fine art by the US forces, the retaliation is swift. There is immediate fire in very heavy volumes by the post or the convoy attacked with integral weapons. Simultaneously, the call goes out for armed helicopters and aircraft strikes. Without going into further details, tabulation can be made of the cost of the exchange to the two sides. In the case of the attackers, surprise being with the attackers, few, if any casualties would be suffered by them, because after letting off their initial volleys, the Taliban escape to a more sheltered position or simply melt away. The cost of the attack on US forces to the Taliban would not normally exceed $100. It must be noted here that there is no dearth of arms and ammunition of all types in Afghanistan. Weapons and munitions had been dumped or sent in by the Russians, Americans, Iranians and the Pakistanis in huge quantities over the years. Even now, the pipeline in manpower and war-material from Pakistan is intact, Pakistan's frontline status in the war on terrorism notwithstanding. The cost of response to even the most elementary form of attack by a handful of Taliban fighters on a US convoy or post could exceed a million dollars.

The retaliatory US exchange would normally include the following: thousands of rounds of automatic fire, dozens of rounds of rocket and mortar fire, several rounds of tank fire, hundreds of rounds of artillery fire, plus munitions and missiles unleashed from the attack helicopters, and bombs and munitions dropped by aircraft. To this not inconsiderable fire power of all types that would have been expended has to be added the fuel cost for the helicopters and aircraft called in for close support. Even without taking into consideration personnel or vehicle casualties that may have resulted in the US force - generally caught off guard, the initiative being with the enemy - the cost disparity might work out to about one is to one million. It could become several millions should some persons become casualties or if a tank or helicopter were to be destroyed.

Coming to Iraq, the situation is different. Firstly, the terrain and engagement patterns vary considerably. Much of the country is desert-like and flat, especially where the main fighting is concentrated in the Sunni triangle. While ambushes to road convoys and IED explosions can take place almost anywhere, insurgent type attacks on US forces or their allies are mostly in built up areas. As opposed to Afghanistan, the casualties inflicted on US soldiers in personnel and equipment have generally been much higher. Again, varying greatly from Afghanistan, the retaliatory fire from the US forces is often of far greater intensity and longer duration. The weapons mix is also different because in Iraq, the insurgents often get into buildings from where they are prepared to engage their opponents in prolonged skirmishes. The savage bombing that follows results in massive infrastructure damage. If the infrastructure damage costs were to be included, the cost differential for each skirmish between the insurgents and the US forces could work out to well over 10 million to one in US dollar terms. Excluding infrastructure damage, the cost would still go up by an additional factor of 3 to 5 compared to Afghanistan.

Suicide missions belong to a separate category for several reasons. To begin with, retaliatory fire is neither possible in most cases nor would it be required because the target self-destructs along with whatever other carnage that might have taken place by way of the number of people killed or wounded and the other damage resulting from the detonations caused by the suicide bomber.

The analysis given above clearly brings out that over a period of time, the elements indulging in terror attacks against US or western forces are able to extract phenomenal costs from their adversaries, which purely in US dollar terms result in adverse ratios varying from one is to one million or one is to several million. Lately, the numbers of incidents, which were already high in Iraq, have increased in Afghanistan as well. Besides manpower losses which the western democracies can ill afford, and their opponents afford ad infinitum, the financial bleeding that takes place is something that the US and its allies can ignore only at their peril. It does not mean that technological superiority is given the go by. It indicates, however, a change in military as well as geopolitical strategy. At the operational level, it requires a radical re-think in local level initiatives and the tactics adopted by the US forces and their allies in the field.

In examining disproportionality ratios between the dispensers of global terror and the forces deployed to counter it worldwide, added security costs that have gone up considerably in several domains have to be factored. These relate to heightened surveillance at airports, railways and bus terminuses, ports and dockyards, nuclear plants, vital bridges and installations, water supplies and so many other areas of enhanced vulnerability for civilian population. Around the world, increased security has been provided to persons considered vulnerable to targeting by terrorists or their agents. Many businesses have seen their expenses go up considerably due to increased insurance costs. The case of airlines and shipping lines has been well documented. If all the costs that have gone up due to terror strikes, especially after 9/11, are taken together, the total cost worldwide could conceivably run into tens of billions of dollars, possibly exceeding fifty billion dollars annually. It has also to be noted that these are recurring costs that are likely to continue well into the future. Putting it all together, the adverse ratios already very high for governments and security forces dealing with terrorists go up by several orders of magnitude, if the entire spectrum of enhanced global security is taken into account. Terrorists win on two counts: massive damage to civilians and property by the acts of terror plus the disproportionality alluded to in the earlier paragraphs.

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.