Can an attack on troops in the field be "terrorism"?

There have been many stories about the possibility of terrorists striking at American or British troops in Iraq or Kuwait.

But would those who attacked uniformed troops, especially in the course of an invasion and declared hostilities, be “terrorists” by the conventions of warfare or international law? I am not talking about attacks on permanent instalations or outside the theater of operations, but attacks on actual combat troops.

No, it’s just an example of co-opting the word. The attacks may use simlair methods to terrorist attacks, but they lack the two most vital aspects of terrorism.

  1. Directed at civilians

  2. In order to inspire terror to effect a policy change.

International law (summary of convention):

This is the only treaty I could find relating to terrorism which could be relevant in this case. But you’ll notice it doesn’t include military targets and would be inappliable for the situation you describe.

A nitpick before I otherwise agree (gah!) with MC: sure terrorists can attack military targets, but those attacks are not terrorism. They are still terrorists if they have committed other acts against civilian targets (with the aim to produce a change in policy by the creation of fear in the general population and so on) even if that act is not terrorism.

Guerilla warfare is a more precise term for those kinds of attacks, methinks.

No, but I am sure Bush will call anyone who does so a terrorist and he will deprive him/them of their rights as POW (if they are taken prisioners)

I agree with DSeid and have my own nitpick.

The second aspect cited above is not necessarily applicable. The attacks mentioned would be made to incite terror among the troops and among civilians at home. The intent would be to bring about a policy change of either stopping the war or preventing regime change.

Also indirectly civilians are bing targeted, especially the loved ones of the troops.

“Indirectly targeted”? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

But kniz, that would be true of any attack on Allied troops, wouldn’t it? Attacking troops duringa state of open war (or, arguably, just before a war) isn’t terrorism, even if it isn’t conventional, uniformed warfare.

Attacking military forces isn’t what I would call terrorism, unless they also intend to hurt civilians in the attack - the aircraft that was flown into the Pentagon, for example. Guerilla warfare does sound like the correct word.


On what do you base your assertion that the US (or “Bush” to use your term) would deprive Iraqi troops of their “rights” as POWs? Perhaps you are confusing the detained “enemy combatants” with POWs. One can argue if the “enemy combatants” should be treated as civilians, but are you saying that they are somehow being treated worse than POWs?

Oh, BTW, I agree that attacks against soldiers would not generally be considered terrorism. I equate terrorism with civilians, as I think most people do.

I thought of this question when the USS Cole was attacked. It was military personel on a military mission but it was often called “terrorism”. I guess since it was a suicide job they’re not around to dispute the characterization.

It’s a funny thing. Soldiers can shoot at each other, and it is not a crime.

Imagine Iraq’s air force was a little more competent. Once the war is underway, an Iraqi pilot could take off from Baghdad, fly to New York and start dropping bombs. The US military could legally shoot at him and try to kill him. But say his plane gets hit, and he bails out, and parachutes to ground. American soldiers pick him up. He’s a POW. He faces no charges for what he did. In fact, we would be violating the Geneva Convention if we prosecuted him for dropping bombs on New York. But we can hold him prisoner, even if he never dropped any bombs or hurt anyone, until the war is over. But then we have to let him go.

But now imagine the same Iraqi. He takes off his uniform, poses as a refugee, and travels to New York via JFK airport. Once there, he starts setting off bombs. We catch him and take him prisoner. Is he a POW? No, he is not. He can be charged with murder, arson, whatever. He will be tried in American courts, and if convicted sentenced. But suppose we catch him before he does anything. We believe he traveled to the US to set off bombs. But he hasn’t done anything. Legally, we can’t charge him with anything, we can’t hold him, all we can do is deport him, or perhaps intern him as an enemy alien. But the mere fact that his country is at war with our country does not give him POW status.

Here’s the relevant part of the Geneva convention, which can be found here:

Seems to me that according to this definition an illegal attack on the military is terrorism (such as the attack on the USS Cole.)

Also seems to me that according to this definition, if the US invades Iraq illegally (i.e., without UN Security Council aproval), then it will be an act of terrorism.

Is intentionally killing civilians during a time of war “illegal”?

Partly because they are not a recognized military and were conducting no open operations against the US of A.