Tactical Evolution: Asymmetrical Warfare and Lone Wolves


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr. 20140912

After examining Fifty Terror Plots Foiled Since 9/11: The Homegrown Threat and the Long War on Terrorism, I selected the 45th plot by Emerson Winfield Begolly to demonstrate how terrorist tactics have evolved over time. Plainly, Begolly used an American Jihadist website to urge others to kill US soldiers. Although his campaign mirrored more of an “amateur wannabe” the evolution of terrorist tactics was evidenced by the widespread reach of modern communication technologies (namely, the internet) and the targeting of the U.S. military. The influential-reach capacity and instantaneous of the internet is phenomenal when compared to the recruiting tactics used historically by those who were dependent on the pony express. Further, terrorism had been associated or defined by non-combatant targets (people not trained to defend themselves) and could thereby be sharply contrasted with warfare. Essentially, terrorist groups, lone wolves included, have apparently accepted the challenge of substantiating their acts as warfare or declarations of war by targeting the military. It is as if the terrorists have said to them-selves, “The U.S. government does not realize we are declaring war against them, because we are not targeting the military, hmmmm.” To raise their credibility they have decided to do just that. I submit the following evidence:

13th plot (August 2005) was in Los Angeles and aimed at National Guard facilities.

22nd plot (May 2007) was in New Jersey and aimed at Fort Dix.

27th plot (May 2009) was in New York City and aimed at an Air National Guard base.

32nd plot (October 2009) was aimed at U.S. Politicians and U.S. troops in Iraq.

40th plot (December 2010) was in Maryland and aimed at a military recruiting center.

43rd plot (June 2011) was in Seattle was aimed at a military recruiting station.

44th plot (June 2011) was in the D.C. area and aimed at various military buildings and Arlington National Cemetery.

45th plot (October 2011) was in Pennsylvania and aimed at U.S. military.


Additionally, I note how the lone wolf terrorist became more prevalent over time. 32 out of 50 foiled plots (more than half) was attributed to two or less individuals and 64% of those were predominately linked to only one (Carafeno, Bucci, & Zuckerman, 2012). The lone wolf syndrome most likely stems from individuals who are leery of joining groups and consider involvement of others as a means of increasing the prospect for detection and prevention. All that is needed is a target, one established through resentment, and a pointed perception of injustice. That is not to say that a lone wolf cannot share resentment with organized groups and thereby establish a common target. Similar to how when a perceived bully is attacked and effectively debilitated then an absolutely unrelated third party runs up and sneaks a punch in because of a shared detestation. The intent would be to finish them off.

Lone wolves, in the future, may calculate ways to finish off existing attacks or increase the destruction that has already been set in motion. Their calculations may include utilizing communication technologies that did not exist historically to collect intelligence on terrorist groups to determine their ideologies and adversarial predispositions in order to align themselves with a unified prospect of target. To that accord, the most successful terrorist tactic in the next decade will be the culmination of asymmetrical attacks, aided by lone wolves, against the U.S. military.

The lone wolf element will complicate detection and prevention, offer false evidence to the origin of attack, and when largely successful, offer groups that were actually uninvolved an incentive to claim ownership to enhance their credibility. Again, the success of such attacks could be measured by media publicity and observed using the instantaneous and wide reaching attributes of modern communication technologies.


 Carafeno, J., Bucci, S, & Zuckerman, J. Fifty Terror Plots Foiled Since 9/11: The Homegrown Threat and the Long War on Terrorism. The Heritage Foundation, 2012.


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