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On Terror Targets: Hard & Soft

Regarding the terror attacks In Pakistan and Iraq in the past 48 hours, a thought on the terrorists' chosen and parallel targets.

I began to succinctly spell this out via Twitter earlier today. You can follow my regularly updated Twitter stream here: Steve Schippert on Twitter.) The stream of thought warrants a bit more elaboration.

In both Iraq and Pakistan, there were two sets of targets: Hard and soft.

The hard targets in Iraq were the embassies of Germany, Egypt and Iran. In Pakistan, it was the US consulate offices in Peshawar. Striking at these targets usually nets smaller terrorist returns in the attacks themselves, though success can be great carnage. It's like a high risk, high reward poker hand. You're probably going to have lost more than gained, but if you gain, you can gain big. The idea behind such attacks on hard targets is to grab international headlines, make a statement of force and, ultimately, effect the policies of the governments targeted. In essence, the targets are hard, the returns on terrorist investment are soft.

The soft targets struck in Pakistan was a large gathering of the secular Awami National Party (ANP) active in the Pakistani government and relatively popular, oddly enough it may seem to some, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas dominated by the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Reports of anywhere from 30 to 41 killed are published. In Iraq, the soft targets were the homes and families of members of the Iraq Awakening - the anti-al-Qaeda Sunni group rooted in Anbar province that was instrumental to the defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the success of the US surge circa 2007. Assassination teams of terrorists armed with silenced weapons and laser sites made their way through neighborhoods, complete with American uniforms and an English-Arabic speaker posing as a translator telling locals that the "American troops were on a mission." In that mission, the terrorists killed 25, including at least two women and two young girls in the families of the Iraq Awakening members targeted.

When terrorists attack soft targets such as these, they are seeking to intimidate and bring to heel populations where terrorist support simply does not exist. This is how they forge territories within which to operate. This is how al-Qaeda in Iraq dominated central and western Iraq and how the Taliban and al-Qaeda dominate their established lairs in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

And attacks on these soft targets is cheaper and far easier to carry out - with chilling effects - than those on hard targets. A single suicide bomber and a vest can rip apart dozens of bodies and strike palpable and understandable fear among a population, bringing them to heel. In essence, the targets are soft, the returns on terrorist investment are quite hard.

So when you see rampant headlines of big things that go boom, know that al-Qaeda and other terrorists are looking for that attention - yours.

Likewise, when you see headlines about assassination squads in neighborhoods or suicide bombers attacking a gathering, know that the principal target audience is not you, but the communities of the brutally slain.

And that's just the way it is.

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