Are terrorist havens sufficient threat to warrant war?

Great essay in the Washington Post exploring this point:

Rationales for maintaining the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan are varied and complex, but they all center on one key tenet: that Afghanistan must not be allowed to again become a haven for terrorist groups, especially al-Qaeda. Debate about Afghanistan has raised reasons to question that tenet, one of which is that the top al-Qaeda leadership is not even in Afghanistan, having decamped to Pakistan years ago. Another is that terrorists intent on establishing a haven can choose among several unstable countries besides Afghanistan, and U.S. forces cannot secure them all.

The debate has largely overlooked a more basic question: How important to terrorist groups is any physical haven? More to the point: How much does a haven affect the danger of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, especially the U.S. homeland? The answer to the second question is: not nearly as much as unstated assumptions underlying the current debate seem to suppose. When a group has a haven, it will use it for such purposes as basic training of recruits. But the operations most important to future terrorist attacks do not need such a home, and few recruits are required for even very deadly terrorism. Consider: The preparations most important to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place not in training camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States.

In the past couple of decades, international terrorist groups have thrived by exploiting globalization and information technology, which has lessened their dependence on physical havens.

The issue today does not concern what was worth disrupting eight years ago. And it is not whether a haven in Afghanistan would be of any use to a terrorist group — it would.

Instead, the issue is whether preventing such a haven would reduce the terrorist threat to the United States enough from what it otherwise would be to offset the required expenditure of blood and treasure and the barriers to success in Afghanistan, including an ineffective regime and sagging support from the population. Thwarting the creation of a physical haven also would have to offset any boost to anti-U.S. terrorism stemming from perceptions that the United States had become an occupier rather than a defender of Afghanistan.

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