A terrorism analyst says the U.S. military's efforts to form partnerships in the global war on terror are an effective way to combat insurgencies in Southeast Asia. The analyst, Rohan Gunaratna, made his remarks Wednesday near the end of a four-day conference in Honolulu on counter-terrorism for Pacific Rim nations.
The meeting brought together military officials and civilian experts to discuss how best to counteract terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region. Speaking at the close of the conference, Rohan Gunaratna, an expert on terrorism who is based in Singapore, says the U.S.-government-sponsored conference was a success because officials allowed all participants to speak their minds frankly, including on the importance of cooperation in fighting terror.
"The Americans have a traditional weakness, they believe everything in this world they can do by themselves, because they are big, they are powerful," said Rohan Gunaratna. "But now there is greater realization that America must strike a partnership with other countries."
Gunaratna said American forces are the vanguard in the war on terror and should continue to take the lead. But he said they will succeed only by working closely with other nations to win the hearts and minds of groups vulnerable to terrorist appeals.
That is exactly what General Bryan "Doug" Brown wants to hear. He heads the Special Operations Command in Florida, which has over 7,000 troops deployed worldwide. He told the conference, which was hosted by the U.S. military, that U.S. officials should come to these meetings ready to listen:
"It's very important that those of us who host these conferences come into the conference prepared to listen as much as we present, because our international partners really do have a good understanding of the problems that we're all about, and we all are all in this together," said General Brown.
Peter Chalk, a policy analyst with the RAND Corporation in Los Angeles, told the conference that terrorist groups like Jamaah Islamiah in Indonesia rely heavily on suicide bombings because they achieve two important goals: Suicide attacks instill fear in their enemies and serve to recruit more members.
"This form of terrorism has a proven capacity to evoke large fear in the target audience, because the perpetrators are viewed as undeterrable and ruthless," said Peter Chalk. "It has a proven capacity to mobilize additional recruits and sway so-called fence sitters. Having attacks that work are very important in that sense."
Chalk adds suicide bombing is cheap, requires no escape plan, and can be carried out in a way that maximizes civilian targets.
Colonel James Linder, a U.S. official in charge of Special Operations forces in the Southern Philippines, described a recent example of what terrorists consider a successful attack.
"Last week alone Abu Sayyaf terrorists went into the small town of Jolo town and blew up a bomb in a grocery store, killing women and children - a grocery store," said Colonel Linder. "Think about that for a moment: What could have been the purpose of doing [that] other than just to cause terror? And for the life of me I cannot understand why anyone would cater to [follow] that type of teaching."
A key purpose of the counter-terrorism conference is to understand why terrorists do what they do. Another purpose is to find ways to stop them. Colonel Linder says what seems to work is showing civilians there is a better way of life than terrorism.