May 11th, 2013


One of the silliest criticisms of the US government in the wake of the assault on the Benghazi diplomatic mission was that it was reluctant to describe it as “terrorism”. Initially it did not, because it didn’t know; a little later Obama did use the word. It’s now CW that it was a “terrorist” attack (a) because it was carried out by Islamist extremists, Ansar al-Sharia, (b) because two of the dead (Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith) were US diplomats.

The Benghazi mission was basically a CIA operation, initially to support the revolution against Gaddafi and later to influence it and to pursue Islamist groups. It was a secret paramilitary operation.

How can you describe the attack on it as terrorism rather than irregular warfare? This would only fit if the attack were essentially designed as an assassination of the US Ambassador, a protected civilian, which does not seem to be the case. The militants didn’t know where he was when they set fire to the mission building, the cause of his and Smith’s deaths.

Would you call the Taliban’s 2009 attack on the CIA compound at Khost terrorism?

It was the USA that decided to define its conflict with al-Qaeda as war not law enforcement. Military operations by al-Qaeda and its associates against US soldiers and spies are therefore just that, unless they target civilians, the definition for terrorism. Collateral damage to civilians isn’t enough, as with US drone strikes. The ex-SEAL security men Doherty and Woods died bravely in battle, not as terrorist victims. (For the record, I’d better repeat that however you define it, it’s a conflict the US has to win.)

Of course you can always twist the word to mean “killing while Muslim”.

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