Friday, June 6, 2014

Return to the Battlefield: A Misconception of the Term

Leading up to and since the open negotiations and prisoner exchange with the terrorist Haqqani Network, some of the debate has swirled around whether or not the five Taliban prisoners will return to the battlefield.  The very question of whether or not they will return to the battlefield is largely irrelevant in this type of warfare. 

Terrorism is the use of indiscriminate and shocking violence in an attempt to gain a political voice or to gain political control.  The goal is not to kill or destroy the enemy.  Rather the goal is to gain credence for a set of ideas that are often radical.  Violence is a tool used to push those ideas to the forefront and to give them legitimacy.  Radical political groups may resort to terrorism when their ideas can gain no traction under the accepted set of rules.

Terrorists seek open negotiations and intercourse with the legitimate power structures because it provides them with a significant degree of legitimacy.  It's an important step in ascending to some degree of power and influence.  This is why wise governments and leaders are careful in how they interact with terrorist groups and states that sponsor terrorism.  Open interaction can give legitimacy to their radical ideas and their radical methods for promoting their ideas. 

The Bergdahl prisoner exchange provided the terrorist groups in the region with a significant victory.  How?  First, it gave them a greater sense of legitimacy.  If the US government will negotiate openly with them, then obviously they are important.  Second, it demoralizes the enemies and opposition of these terrorist groups.  If the Haqqani Network and the Taliban were able to force the US Government to negotiate and take an obviously bad deal, that indicates that these terrorist groups are powerful and influential and that they are ascending in power.  Third, it serves as motivation to members of the terrorist groups and their sympathizers.

By releasing these five terrorists, especially considering their backgrounds and stature, in any manner to any place in the world has reintroduced them to the battlefield.  How?  The battlefield is not a physical location.  It's not simply a place where they can plan and execute terrorist attacks.  The battlefield is in the minds of the people--in the minds of the people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, the United States, and elsewhere.  Their release was a significant battlefield victory for terrorist groups all over the world--and President Barack Obama handed it to them on a silver platter in exchange for one prisoner against the advice of his military and against the advice of the US Congress.

Either the President of the United States does not understand the nature of the conflict against these terrorist groups or he was willing to accept a significant defeat.

No comments: