Geographic concentration in Middle East and South Asia
In January 2014, Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak noted that “the phenomenon of terrorism is global in nature. So, wherever you are, you might become a target.”
While this statement is not false – the threat of terrorism remains global, even if most of the activity in 2013 was locally focused – the data for 2013 strongly suggests the more practical conclusion that terrorism and insurgency activity in 2013 was overwhelmingly concentrated in a relatively small handful of roughly geographically proximate states. Indeed, 85% of all 2013 fatalities occurred in five states: Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
The epicenter of 2013 activity was in the Middle East, with significant pockets of violence radiating out to neighboring regions in Africa and South Asia. The top six most active Middle Eastern states – Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon – accounted for 52% of all global attacks in 2013 and 71% of all fatalities. In addition, the number of attacks in Syria (75%), Iraq (52%), Yemen (152%) and Egypt (584%) increased significantly from 2012 to 2013, signalling, at least in Syria and Iraq, a deepening, linked, expanding and complex regional crisis unlikely to be fully resolved during 2014.
If this sample of six Middle East states is expanded to include South Asia’s Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh – numbers three, four, five and seven on the IHS list of most active states in 2013 – that group of ten states constitutes 73% of all attacks and 86% of all fatalities incurred in 2013. In total, the top 22 countries by number of non-militant fatalities account for 87% of all attacks and 98% of all deaths.
Only four of these top 22 – Colombia, Russia, Thailand and the Philippines—are outside of the stark arc of domestic insecurity that runs from Nigeria and Libya in the west through Central and Eastern Africa to the Eastern Mediterranean and parts of the Arabian Peninsula and across much of South Asia.
While activity in the Middle East was on the rise in 2013, attacks in three of four South Asian states decreased during the year: Pakistan was down 30%, Afghanistan was down 14% and India was down 16%.
2014 will be a critical year in determining whether this trend continues for Afghanistan and Pakistan or whether late 2014 will bring an amplification of the terrorism and insurgency challenge for these states.
The deteriorating relationship between the United States and Karzai government in Afghanistan, and the increasing concern over whether a Status of Forces agreement will be successfully reached, are likely to drive growing uncertainty that could be exploited by the Taliban and other regional militant groups. This may not lead to an immediate uptick in attacks in 2014 – a plausible Taliban strategy could be to show some operational restraint in early 2014 in order to achieve the strategic goal of diluting any US-Afghanistan agreement – but could well create compelling conditions for increased violence in late 2014, 2015 and beyond.