George Packer’s article, Knowing the Enemy, published in the December 18th, 2006 issue of the New Yorker is a fascinating account of recent work by an Australian lieutenant colonel named David Kilcullen for the US State Department. Kilcullen’s career has focused on counterinsurgency and in 2004 his work came to the attention of officials in the Pentagon. Since then he has been seconded to the US Department of Defense and later State.
Kilcullen recommends reframing the "war on terror" as a "global counterinsurgency." The idea is to address the problem not just in military, but also in political and social terms, and to focus as narrowly as possible on the local causes of each conflict. In other words, know the enemy in as much detail as possible, and deal with the local situations based on that knowledge.
There’s a great deal more to the article, and I’m not doing it justice here at all. It is well worth reading.
First, Kilcullen provides a framework for dealing with terrorism, primarily jihadist in nature, that is grounded in real world data and can be used to develop plans of action. The "war on terror" framing is vague, jingoistic, and unbounded and too easily devolves into "war without end."
Second, the fact that this work is only being done now, five years after 9/11, and by an Australian rather than an American, is sad evidence of how badly botched the US response has been.