Understanding Terrorism: Soft Targets

(TFC) – Attacks on soft targets resulting in civilian deaths are a special type of terrorism. They are unpredictable. They create media frenzies. They create opportunities for politicians to say off the cuff remarks which reveal strategic intent to the opposition. Most importantly, they are unstoppable. Literally, there is nothing that can be done to stop them.

It’s important for the reader to remember terrorism isn’t the act of killing people randomly to scare others. Acts of terrorism always have a strategy behind them and defined and calculated goals. All terrorism seeks to cause a reaction in the opposition. Hitting soft civilian targets typically seeks to cause one of two reactions, it will be designed to cause the civilian populace to pressure their government into changing a policy (“attrition strategy”) or seek to cause the government to institute a crackdown and increase security (“provocation strategy”). It’s extremely important that you understand this because your elected leaders are idiots and most don’t understand it. Worse, some do understand it but use rhetoric for political gain in the hopes of advancing an agenda or creating an image as tough on terrorism.

In this case, as proven by the Islamic State’s own documents, the goal is to use attacks like these to force Western governments to crack down and increase security. When, in the aftermath of an attack like this, the President of the United States tweets that it’s time to “get down to the business of security for our people” he is effectively telling the Islamic State’s strategists to conduct more of these attacks to accomplish its goals. This is the largest problem posed by politicians who don’t understand terrorism, their actions almost always create the opposite reaction of what they hope to accomplish. Terrorism is much like any other trap that strengthens the more you struggle. If you’re smiling because you’re a Democrat, please note: Obama’s counter-terrorism policy was just as bad, just in different ways.

What you must understand about attacks on soft targets:

The next time you’re headed out on the town, carry a backpack or stuff a couple of soda cans into your coat pockets. Walk through the mall, into the gas station, or sit at a bus terminal. Note that you probably aren’t questioned or even noticed. That’s how easy it is to pull off a suicide bombing. Take a one-liter bottle of water and place it inside a large McDonald’s bag and drop it into a trash can in a busy part of town. It’s that easy to plant a bomb. Nobody around you knows you’re carrying an item that you’re pretending is dangerous. They are simply going about their day. Law enforcement didn’t look at you twice. Now think about the heightened security measures the government enacts after these attacks. Would they stop you? Of course not. It’s a show for the people walking past you. Surely, you don’t believe the security officers should check every bag and pocket or monitor everything tossed in a trash can. When you realize what it would take to even deter attacks against soft civilian targets, you should realize two things the media and the government do not want you to know:

  1. These kinds of attacks cannot be stopped. Period. If someone is remotely willing to conduct an attack like this, they will be successful.
  2. If you did the homework above, you should have realized there isn’t anything stopping anyone from engaging in this kind of violence. A complete amateur with no training can pull off an attack that will dominate the headlines for days.

What do these two things mean? They should make you feel safer. Understanding the ease with which an attack like this can be conducted and realizing how infrequent they really occur means there aren’t a lot of people out there willing to conduct attacks like this. Yet again, your belief in humanity should be reaffirmed. That mosque down the road isn’t filled with people who want to kill you. If it was, you’d be dead. If even one percent of those in your community were radicalized, there would be bombs and attacks occurring every day. Truly understanding this is important. Understanding that terrorism is a strategy in which a small group of people can dominate headlines is important. It helps to stay grounded in reality. There aren’t millions of terrorists out there lurking behind every corner.

After the wave of recent attacks, the government will try to convince you the only way to keep safe is to increase security and target these potential threats within our communities. The rhetoric started before the bodies of the most recent were cold.

Source: Twitter

As touched on earlier, the reactions of security services often strengthen the strategic position of the terrorists. A community that has already been scapegoated by the government for the actions of a tiny minority already feels disenfranchised. Increased surveillance and harassment by the government provides the grievances terrorist recruiters can exploit to begin the process of radicalization. As has been proven again and again, the targeting of non-terrorists does not stop terrorism: it gives birth to terrorists.

The “security” Trump’s tweet speaks of will create more terrorism. The approach he has repeatedly suggested always does. Don’t cheer for these policies. You will be surrendering to the terrorists. You will be giving them exactly what they want.

The goal of terrorism is not to kill you because they hate you for your freedom. They are not out to kill just to make you scared. It is not random. It is not senseless. It is a very “calculated use of unlawful violence” (Paragraph 37). They are trying to influence your behavior and the behavior of the government. The recent attacks in the West are clearly part of a “provocation strategy”. That strategy is “an attempt to induce the enemy to respond to terrorism with indiscriminate violence, which radicalizes the population and moves them to support the terrorists.”  It should be pointed out that radicalization can occur through responses other than indiscriminate violence. Internment, mass deportations, failure to provide humanitarian aid, constant harassment by security services or the general population can radicalize people within the demographic. So when you cry to “Bomb them all!” or support the politicians that do, you have effectively surrendered to terrorism. You’ve given up. You’ve waived the white flag. You are now a victim of terrorism and without knowing or understanding it, you’ve begun supporting them in their goals.

Bombing terrorists into submission only creates more terrorists. Waiting for them to strike and attempting to interrupt their plot only leads to civilian casualties because the terrorists can hit and miss while the counterterrorist must always be successful. The successful counterterrorist knows the most effective method of disrupting terrorist organizations is to interrupt command and control through the selective use of in-person assassinations to create a power vacuum. As in any organization, not all terrorists are good at their jobs. Selectively assassinating charismatic, influential, and competent confirmed terrorist commanders while leaving the dull, politically inept, and incompetent commanders in the field, places the terrorist organization in the hands of bad leadership. This negatively impacts their ability to operate, recruit, and obtain funding. Eventually, these organizations become bygone relics. When’s the last time you heard of an attack by the Red Brigades? Baader-Meinhoff? The Irish National Liberation Army? Islamic Jihad Organization?  Three of these groups still exist in a combat-ineffective capacity because of faulty leadership.


If any politician suggests combating terrorism using methods that target members of the general population for additional security or surveillance, they’re helping the terrorists whether they know it or not. If a politician suggests attacks which will kill civilians, they’re effectively acting as recruiters for terrorist organizations.

That brings us to the final point. Terrorism is a tactic. It’s a tactic that works. The proof of that is in your fear and desire to bomb Syria, knowing it will kill innocents. The proof can be seen in the US invasion of Iraq. An entire nation was paralyzed by terror, and two years later it invaded a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the attack of 9/11, thereby radicalizing the people the US is fighting today. The proof is in you being willing to surrender your rights and be under constant surveillance. Terrorism works. The thing no politician will ever tell you about the war on terror is that it can never be won. Much like a Chinese finger trap, the harder you fight the stronger it is. Terrorism can be slowed. Terrorism can be deterred. It can never be stopped.

As long as people are willing to use violence against a technologically advanced military, terrorism will exist.

The war on terror is unwinnable. The full strategy to alleviate terrorist attacks should include the neutralization of terrorist leadership and the identification of the grievances causing the birth of new organizations. Most of the time, with the Middle East in particular, the initial grievance begins with the United States military or intelligence community attempting to maintain US hegemony through invasions, coups, or the funding of violent opposition groups in their home countries. It’s a lot easier to stop selling arms to the Saudis than it is to stop the Saudis from aiding the Islamic State.


If you want to stop attacks against soft targets, your first priority is educating yourself and stopping your own politicians. They are your greatest threat.