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Disaggregating and Defeating Terrorist Safe Havens


Terrorist organizations’ physical safe havens continue to shape the terrorist threat to the United States by extending the groups’ longevity and increasing the threat they pose. As a result, eliminating terrorist safe havens has been a key component of U.S. counterterrorism policy since at least 2001. However, some scholars challenged the post-9/11 policy consensus that terrorists find sanctuary in weak states and so-called ungoverned spaces. This article seeks to bridge this gap between scholarship and policy by offering a typology for disaggregating different kinds of terrorist safe havens. Our typology operates on two axes based on host government will (i.e., the host government's posture toward each group with haven inside its borders), as well as government capability, (specifically whether the host government possesses the specific capabilities needed to oust each group). This intersection of will and capability produces three types of havens. We briefly illustrate each type of haven using the exemplar case study of Pakistan—a location often described as an overarching safe haven, but which is actually home to several sanctuaries—and offer policy recommendations for addressing them. A need exists to disaggregate and identify how the United States can approach haven elimination. This typology and the analysis that stems from it offer a starting point for devising such strategies.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Grimm Arsenault, Elizabeth and Tricia Bacon. 2014. "Disaggregating and Defeating Terrorist Safe Havens." Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 38 (December): 85-112. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1057610X.2014.977605