An annual US Department of State report on terrorism indicates that Iraq and Afghanistan saw huge jumps in terrorist attacks in 2006, and an even larger increase in the number of civilians injured or killed in those attacks.
The report, released Monday on the State Department website, is titled "Country Reports on Terrorism 2006," and includes statistics gathered from the National Counterterrorism Center. Although the report shows that overall incidents of terrorism worldwide increased by 25 percent over 2005, the jump was much higher in Iraq and Afghanistan, which together accounted for more than half of the 14,338 reported terrorist incidents worldwide in 2006.
According to the report, Afghanistan saw nearly 750 terror incidents last year, a 53 percent increase, while there were more than 6,600 such attacks in Iraq, an increase of 91 percent. In both countries, the number of people "killed, injured, or kidnapped" rose significantly: by 91 percent (to 2,943) in Afghanistan, and by 88 percent (to 38,813) in Iraq. [Editor's Note: The original version had the incorrect percentages for Iraq's increase in attacks and casualties, the incorrect number of attacks in Iraq, and the incorrect number of casualties in Afghanistan.]
The report defines "terrorism" as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents," and says the numbers are gathered from reports of terrorism obtained through "open sources information." Casualties of attacks that were deemed to be specifically targeting US or coalition troops were not included in the results. The report also suggests not placing "too much emphasis" on the data, and that the "quality, accuracy, and volume of incident open source reporting" makes determinations of what constitutes a terrorist incident "highly subjective."
In a summary analysis provided with the statistics, the report says that there have been some "significant achievements" in the fight against terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, but "it is clear that progress has been mixed."
Significant achievements in border security, information sharing, transportation security, financial controls, and the killing or capture of numerous terrorist leaders have reduced the threat. But the threat still remains, and state sponsorship, the terrorist response to intervention in Iraq, improved terrorist propaganda capabilities, the pursuit of nuclear weapons by state sponsors of terrorism, and terrorist exploitation of grievances represent ongoing challenges. Recent trends include the emergence of "guerrilla" terrorism in parallel with traditional "expeditionary" approaches, improved [Al Qaeda] propaganda warfare capacity, and emerging evidence of terrorist "conveyor belt" that seeks to deliberately manipulate and exploit grievances in at-risk populations.
The New York Times points out that at a news conference accompanying the release of the report, the State Department's acting coordinator for counterterrorism, Frank C. Urbancic Jr., said that terrorists continue to adapt to US and coalition methods to fight them, and that attacks in Afghanistan have increasingly mimicked those in Iraq.
"The terrorists, there's no question, are intelligent people, and they learn from each other," Mr. Urbancic said. "The people in Afghanistan are watching the people in Iraq, the people in Iraq are watching the people elsewhere, and there's a snowball effect. And they work through the Internet, they communicate."
The Associated Press writes that the report indicates one of the ways terrorists have changed tactics in Iraq is through the use of chemical weapons, which was first seen in a November 2006 attack in Sadr City.
The New York Times also notes that the report says that the Iraq war "has been used by terrorists as a rallying cry," and quotes one observer who sees the increase in attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan as highlighting the ineffectiveness of the current tactics used to fight terrorism.
"It is most curious that the areas where we have military operations have the most attacks," [John Arquilla, who studies terrorism at the Naval Postgraduate School] said. "These statistics suggest that our war on global terrorism is not going very well. It suggests we need to try a new approach."
Agence France-Presse says that the report's findings could have political consequences for the Bush administration as it battles with Congress over Iraq war funding.
McClatchy reports that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her aides "considered postponing or downplaying the release" before deciding to publish the report on Monday, which was the congressionally mandated deadline for its release.
Reuters writes that the report indicates Al Qaeda has shifted toward more local "guerilla" tactics, rather than "expeditionary" ones like the Sept. 11 attacks, and also points out the group's increasing use of propaganda to win recruits and influence public opinion.
"What they can't get by force, they want to take by lies," said Frank Urbancic, the State Department's acting coordinator for counterterrorism, describing what he called a heightened al Qaeda focus on propaganda and "misinformation."
"It applies classic insurgent strategies at the global level," he said, calling al Qaeda "the most immediate national security threat to the United States."
For the second year in a row, Iran tops the State Department list for sponsoring terrorism," as AP reports.
...Iran is the "most active state sponsor" of terrorism with elements of its government - notably the Revolutionary Guards and intelligence ministry - supporting many extremist groups in Iraq and elsewhere.
The two "were directly involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts and continued to exhort a variety of groups, especially Palestinian groups with leadership cadres in Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah, to use terrorism in pursuit of their goals," the report said.
AP notes that both Ms. Rice and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will be at a conference this coming weekend where neighboring countries will discuss how to stabilize Iraq. This would be "the highest-level contact between Iran and the United States since 2004."
Voice of America notes that the report also lists Syria, Cuba, Sudan, and North Korea as "state sponsors of terrorism," although it noted that Pyongyang "is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts in 20 years," and as part of February's agreement on the country's nuclear program, the White House is in the process of removing North Korea from the list. South Korean news agency Yonhap News points out that the report's entry on North Korea was "visibly shortened" from the 2005 report, the most notable omission being "Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese citizens and its handling of the issue."