THE US State Department yesterday urged that "non-military" strategies be used to fight terrorism as it admitted that more than 20,000 people died in terrorist attacks last year, up 40 per cent on 2005.
The big rise in deaths, injuries and terrorist incidents was almost entirely due to deteriorating security in Iraq and Afghanistan where the US is engaged in a conventional military response to the threat of Islamic extremism.
Incidents of terrorism in Iraq almost doubled to 6630 in 2006, resulting in more than 38,000 deaths, injuries or kidnappings. In Afghanistan the number rose from 491 to 749, accounting for almost 3000 deaths, injuries or abductions.
The dismal figures, which related only o terrorist acts targeting civilians - those on US or allied forces were not included - masked a modest decline of 3 per cent in terrorist attacks outside the two war zones but highlighted that the war on terrorism, 5½ years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US was proceeding poorly.
The State Department said progress since 2001 was "mixed".
"The terrorists, there's no question, are intelligent people, and they learn from each other," said Frank Urbancic, the US acting co-ordinator for counterterrorism.
"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," Mr Urbancic said.
The State Department's National Counterterrorism Centre said in releasing the annual report that al-Qaeda and its allies were transforming themselves and terrorism.
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Al-Qaeda rarely attempted "expeditionary" plots like September 11, instead training outsiders who entered a country to execute their plan, the report said.
Using guerilla tactics and a highly sophisticated internet-based propaganda arm, al-Qaeda was exploiting local sympathisers and grievances among Muslims to mount a unified "global insurgency" against the West and its interests. It required different responses from authorities, specifically "counterinsurgency methods" , the report said.
This involved deploying "all elements of national power" to protect and secure vulnerable populations; politically marginalising insurgents; and winning the support of communities "at risk" of producing terrorist recruits. Political initiatives, aid and development were crucial, as well as redressing a woeful record in the West of countering extremist propaganda.
"The military component of national power plays only a supporting role in this effort; the primary focus is on non-military influence," the report said.
It acknowledged the Iraq war had been a "rallying cry for radicalisation and extremist activity" and had destablised the region, and identified Iran and Syria as the main state sponsors of terrorism, with North Korea, Cuba and Sudan also mentioned. Libya has been removed from the list nd North Korea is likely to follow. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians "remains a source of terrorist motivation".
The report praised Australia for its counterterrorism efforts, both domestically and in the region.
It pointed to positive developments in Indonesia and the Philippines but noted that Jakarta's counter-terrorism efforts were being hampered by "systemic corruption" and "weak" laws.
Copyright © 2007. The Sydney Morning Herald.