WASHINGTON — The United States should shift strategy against Al-Qaeda from the current heavy reliance on military force to more effective use of police and intelligence work, a study released Tuesday concluded.
The study by the RAND Corporation, a think tank that often does work for the US military, also urged the United States to drop the "war on terror" label.
"Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors, and our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism," said Seth Jones, lead author of the study.
The US military has pressed in recent weeks for more troops to combat an intensifying Islamic insurgency in Afghanistan, but the RAND study recommends only "a light military footprint or none at all."
The study examined how terrorist groups since 1968 have ended, and found that only seven percent were defeated militarily.
Most were neutralized either through political settlements (43 percent), or through the use of police and intelligence forces (40 percent) to disrupt and capture or kill leaders.
"Military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups, and few groups within this time frame achieved victory," the report said.
"This has significant implications for dealing with Al-Qaeda and suggests fundamentally rethinking post-September 11 counterterrorism strategy," it said.
It argued that a US strategy centered primarily on the use of military force has not worked, pointing to al-Qaeda's resurgence along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border nearly seven years after the September 11 attacks.
Policing and intelligence "should be the backbone of US efforts," it said. Police and intelligence agencies were better suited for penetrating terrorist groups and tracking down terrorist leaders, it said.
"Second, military force, though not necessarily US soldiers, may be a necessary instrument when al-Qaeda is involved in an insurgency," it said.
"Local military forces frequently have more legitimacy to operate than the United States has, and they have a better understanding of the operating environment, even if they need to develop the capacity to deal with insurgent groups over the long run," it said.
While the US military can play a critical role in building up the capacity of local forces, it should "generally resist being drawn into combat operations in Muslim societies, since its presence is likely to increase terrorist recruitment," the study said.