Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Research project

Transitioning from Military Interventions to Long-Term Counter-Terrorism Policy

In December 2014, Leiden University’s Institute of Security and Global Affairs with the Australian National University’s Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, commenced a research project to assess how (temporary) military interventions can best prepare the ground for an effective long term counter-terrorism policy. This research is sponsored by the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme.

2014 - 2016
Sergei Boeke
NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme

EXPERTS: Professor Dr. William Maley

Project Partners:

International Center for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague           

Australian National University

The project attempted to identify key successes and best practices to  transform a broad military intervention, whether conducted by just air and maritime assets, or by troops on the ground using a counterinsurgency or comprehensive approach, into a more limited, both in size and scope, counter-terrorism policy.

The research project had three main objectives:

  • alleviate the threat from terrorist groups
  • reinforcing host nation capacity
  • addressing the causes of radicalisation and violent extremism.

The project focused on assessing how military interventions can best prepare the ground for an effective long term counter-terrorism policy, looking at three case studies: Libya, Afghanistan and Mali. Each case was analysed and discussed during three high level expert meetings, the findings of which were presented in research papers. The combined insights of these case-studies were distilled into a set of strategic policy recommendations which are organised around three key themes:

Pre-intervention phase:

  • The support of local actors and civilian networks can help increase knowledge of an area where an intervention is planned.
  • On the ‘home front’, there is the need of establishing a fine-grained strategic narrative which can counter the opposition to the intervention and also addresses the concerns of the electorate.
  • Alongside this, there is the need of having a clear legal mandate which can minimise the risk of subsequent disputes of what is or is not permitted during the operation.

Entry-phase of the military intervention:

  • Every military operation has to have clear political objectives; the lack of it may signify confusion both on the military level and in the public arena. These objectives have to be achieved with speed in the decision making process and having in mind how military tactics have to serve the overarching political objectives.
  • Alongside this, there is the need of understanding the area at large in which the conflict is carried out and therefore, how the intervention can have an impact on the balance of power in that region.
  • Finally, limiting collateral damage has to be the priority of every military intervention not only for the protection of the right to life but also to retain public support.

Transition-phase towards local ownership:

  • Despite a quick military success, policy-makers have to keep their ‘eyes on the ball’ and focus their attention on the area where the intervention was carried out, in order to avoid a worsening of the situation as soon as the focus of policymakers is taken by some other crisis. An example of this can be the need of sustaining the transition government in order to secure a return to normalcy.
  • This can be helped by sending a multi-disciplinary team to the country; the integration of diplomacy, development and defence (3D) combines the necessary skills-sets and ensures policy is aligned between the involved government departments


This paper focus on Afghanistan, a country in the midst of an ongoing insurgency rather than being in a ‘nation building’ phase, something which is demonstrated by the casualty rate of security personnel and civilians alike. In the context of the project, Afghanistan was selected as a case study because, compared to the other two case studies, it has had a long fight against insurgency and terrorism which has not yet led to the creation of a coherent counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strategy. The paper looks at the country in three phases: prior to the US-led invasion in 2001, post -2001 and the transition/exit phase during which the country has gone from fighting an insurgency war to a counter-terrorism one. The paper ends by analysing whether (i) the objectives of the mission were met, (ii) if there was a clear strategy of transition and finally (iii) how the transition in the country was managed and to what extent it can be defined successful.

Read the full Report on Afghanistan.


The paper on Libya aims to analyse the military intervention in Libya, five years since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. In the context of this research project, Libya forms an interesting case study as it offers the possibility to evaluate a so-called ‘light footprint’ military intervention which is different from the approaches adopted both in Afghanistan and Mali. As we know now, the development of the country post-Gaddafi has defied expectations and has plunged the country into chaos and instability, allowing the so called ‘Islamic State’ to establish and strengthen its local foothold. The paper looks at the history and tribal composition of the country after which it delves into the decision-making process in some of the countries involved in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector under UNSCR 1973 (2011) and continues by assessing the transition phase and the complexities which have arisen following the fall of dictator Gaddafi. Finally, the paper assesses the outcome of the operation both inside and outside Libya and draws lessons and policy recommendations for future military interventions.

Read the full Report on Libya.


The Mali paper analyses the French military intervention in Mali between 2013 and 2014 (Operation Serval) by looking at the situation of the country prior to the intervention as well as the dynamics and effects of the military operation on the stability of the country. It continues with an assessment of the cooperation with local actors and concludes with an analysis of the success of the operation. Operation Serval in Mali provides for a unique case study, as the Operation was carried out upon invitation of the host-nation and as it had a clear counter-terrorism objective. Additionally, the mission had to deviate from its initial planning of aerial bombardment and special forces and later included a more traditional ‘boots on the ground’ approach from the French army. The paper concludes by assessing the military outcome of the operation as well as its ‘civilian’ aspects.

Read the full Report on Mali.

This website uses cookies.  More information.