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Updated on October 23, 2011


Terrorism unleashes violence; but its intensity and magnitude differs from that of a battle. In a battle the enemy is identifiable and quantifiable. In other words you can pin point their location, gauge its size and predict its destructive power. Apart from field intelligence, modern technology aids its assessment. The military is a war machine meant for such combat scenarios. But terrorism is totally different. The terrorist is unidentifiable, impossible to neither gauge how many are involved nor surmise its destructive capacity. The military is not suited for such operations. It would be a waste of manpower and resources to do shadow boxing with such an unknown and elusive enemy. Tackling terrorism calls for a totally different strategy and mindset. The military is just not trained for that.

To say that a terrorist is motivated in an understatement; soldiers too are highly motivated. But there is a great difference; the soldier is a professional but a terrorist is a fanatic. The soldier uses a bomb—but a terrorist is the bomb. To deal with such an enemy you need different skill sets, which the soldier is not trained for. So what are the pros and cons of using military force?

  • It helps in alleviating the fears of the public traumatized by terrorist violence.
  • Display firm affirmative action
  • Be prepared for contingencies

But on the flipside is

  • Disproportionate force response. Terrorist violence is usually of maximum impact with minimum manpower. More than its destructive power it is the psychological shock which has devastating effect. So when the state uses military force to crush terrorism it is more like using the hammer to kill a fly.
  • Demoralizes soldiers. This happens usually when military operations meet with limited success. This is because of the tendency of terrorists to use human shields to protect themselves. One of the most daunting tasks of the Indian army in Kashmir was to isolate militants using local people as shields. As the probability of success dwindles, soldiers get demoralized.

So what do we do? The state must develop special task forces to combat terrorism. Forces that are unobtrusive and blend with the crowd. Who use stealth and are fiercely dedicated. Naturally this calls for a different kind of selection and training. What is needed is not the average soldier who volunteers for conscription, but persons with a samurai mindset. Depending solely on such special task forces is a defensive strategy. But the problem with terrorist attack is the unpredictability of its occurrence which is also the terrorist’s main advantage. The only way to counter the terrorist’s element of ‘surprise strategy’ is to refine and augment the intelligence gathering activity. Here technology can come to our aid. Profiling and tracking of suspects is not a new idea, but can socially and politically turn out to be a highly emotive issue. For a democratic government it can be a minefield if not handled sensitively. Obviously people participation in nailing suspects is the only possibility to diplomatically handle such sensitive issues. Combating terrorism purely on the basis of military force can be a counterproductive exercise.


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  • ram_m profile image

    ram_m 6 years ago from India

    Thank you Kathleen and let us bow our heads to those brave-hearts who continue to sacrifice their lives unflinchingly to keep terror at bay.

  • Kathleen Cochran profile image

    Kathleen Cochran 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Couldn't agree more. Well said. America has learned the hard way we cannot spend a decade fighting the war on terror like we did Desert Storm. We have asked our military and their families to make incredible sacrifices and they have - honorably. But this is not the way to do this if for no other reason: we can't afford it and we can't ask these families to do this forever. Thanks for your views.