The sharp image of the 9/11 twin towers of WTC in flames, with dense smoke billowing skyward. It is seared in the brains of most adults of the world. Two decades later, almost to the day, the Taliban flag flutters in Kabul. As if mocking the sacrifice of thousands of martyrs of myriad nations, who fought gallantly to exercise the scrouge of terrorism. The ISIS-K suicide bomber at Kabul Airport on 26 August 2021 was fixated with the same hatred and jihadist mindset.
So, on the anniversary of 9/11, the question that is uppermost in the minds of most security professionals would be: “Has anything fundamentally changed? Are we as vulnerable and risk-prone as we were 20 years ago?” Sadly there are no straightforward answers to this complex puzzle. The fact is that today USA alone has four times the number of Salafi-Jihadist terrorist organizations. Osama-bin Laden, AL Baghdadi is dead, but, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the number one designated terrorist. Sits in an ornate office in Kabul, smiling malevolently as the Interior Minister of Afghanistan, as do other dreaded terrorists the world over.
The fact is, terrorism and terrorists mutate into a newer and often deadlier form every time a limb or appendage is torn off. Just like the Covid virus genome, they too become more difficult to detect, but retain and often enhance their potency. Thus, while the ilk of Al Qaeda, LeT, Boko Haram, and ISIS may appear weaker or less dangerous due to temporary setbacks. They retain the ability to grow back and continue their death dance.
Unless, the fountainhead of terrorism, which is the Jihadist and radical ideology is nullified or crushed. The risk from terrorism will remain very high on the threat matrix of security planners. Access to technology is a good tool in the armory of frontline counter-terrorism specialists, but the same, to a lesser degree, permeates to the modern terrorist also, which emboldens him further. It is imperative to harness front-end technology and stay a step or two ahead by being lithe and agile at all times. We all know the double-edged weapons – the all-pervasive social media and the proliferation of IoT which increases the attack surface and vulnerabilities exponentially. Today, the entire thought process of generations is manipulated and twisted by the reach of this new tool.
These facts put together point towards the continued prevalence of risks even 20 years after 9/11. The all-out attack on terror havens and infrastructure did dent the global reach of many wannabe terror outfits. Yet the backbone, though bruised and a bit bent. Is still resilient enough to pose threats which we need to guard against.
On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we must rise to pay tribute to the millions of security professionals. To those who have worked tirelessly to make this planet a safer place. It is also the right time to introspect and realize that much more needs to be done. The enemy is around, still strong and wily; but we must prevail; we have no choice. Let us rededicate ourselves to stay focused, stay resolute, stretch our sinews and take on the demons of terrorism squarely.
Remember, “there are no runners-up in war.”