The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 rocked the nation in ways that will reverberate for years. The authors discuss how these attacks signal shifts in the modus operandi of international terrorism--shifts in purpose, organization, weapons, and capability. The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole are examples of asymmetric or asynchronous acts carried out by an adaptive and thinking opponent who continually studies the strengths and weaknesses of his perceived enemy and adapts his operations accordingly. These attacks were not without a larger purpose. They are part of an ongoing campaign that is likely to continue and expand. Terrorists stress adaptation and flexibility to preserve their organization and ensure their continued power. They conduct strategic operations to degrade U.S. national will, fracture alliances and coalitions, and limit the scope of U.S. involvement abroad. Their ability to adapt faster than defensive measures can complicate U.S. efforts to remain in the strategic defensive. Operations conducted without discernible frequency or patterns require the United States to maintain a socially, politically, and economically expensive posture of constant readiness, which itself does not guarantee success. Intelligence operations assist in reducing the need for constant readiness but are not infallible and must be flexible, adaptive, and broad in scope. Taking the strategic offensive can eliminate an opponent, but it requires exceptional intelligence and an adaptive force capable of fighting on a battlefield of unprecedented complexity, fluidity, and lethality. These challenges can only be met by creating an adaptable military force capable of dominating this environment.
Military Review (November-December 2001) p. 2-9