Terrorism and WMD: The Link with the War in Afghanistan

  • Nov 9, 2009

    In the aftermath of the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, terrorist groups and networks are now exploring new means to cause greater destruction and disruption for the purpose of capturing world attention and news coverage. Al-Qaida and affiliated terrorist groups will seek to acquire and use WMDs in order to carry out spectacular attacks that cause catastrophic destruction and disruption.

    Terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have recognized that by using or threatening to use these weapons they can somehow influence political, economic and military policies and capitalizing on the effects tragic events. The threat of terrorist groups like al-Qaida using WMD against the U.S. and other nations that they consider potential targets is very real.

    One important outcome of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 – also known as Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) – was the destruction of the terrorist training camps and the central command structure of al-Qaida and other affiliated terrorist groups. Counter-terrorism agencies worldwide have developed various means to fight terrorism using not only intelligence and deterrence but also preemption.

    Eight years later, with the return of Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, the number of attacks against coalition forces has been steadily increasing and a large geographic area of Afghan territory has come under the influence and control of the Taliban. The Taliban insurgency is also engaged in fierce fighting with the Pakistani military in areas close to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    This study addresses the critical linkage between the increase in the attacks initiated by the Taliban insurgency against the coalition forces and the size of the coalition forces, whether increasing or decreasing, with the probability that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups will re-establish training camps and a central command structure in Afghanistan, and start launching terrorist attacks against the U.S. and Europe using WMD.

    Weapons of Mass Destruction and Disruption at the disposal of terrorist such as al-Qaida include: Chemical, Biological, Nuclear and Radiological Weapons (often called radiological dispersal devices - RDD) as well as High Yield Explosives and Cyber attacks. The effects of using Biological, Nuclear and Chemical WMD to attack highly populated cities like New York City are also reported in this study.

    The problems of Terrorism and nuclear proliferation are vast and require international cooperation, between both governments and institutions, in identifying the various “country specific” worst case threat scenarios, potential targets including infrastructure systems and networks, and types of possible attack modes and their consequences, especially on human and economic losses.

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Anthony H. Cordesman