Togo Maj. Napo Kpandja (left) and classmate check out the course description online Feb. 24 before the Program on Terrorism and Security Studies begins at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany. (DOD photo by Karlheinz Wedhorn/RELEASED)

By Christine June
GCMC Public Affairs

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany (Feb. 24, 2014) – The 71 participants starting studies today for the Defense Department’s premiere counterterrorism course are making history pushing the number of alumni for the joint U.S.-German George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies to more than 10,000.

“The Marshall Center was the first and I think, still the best in terms of our alumni network and outreach,” said U.S. Army Col. Joseph King, director of the Program on Terrorism and Security Studies here, on why having more than 10,000 alumni in 20 years is a significant milestone. “When you graduate, that’s not the end. We keep in touch. We nurture the network to keep it alive.”

Although having the 10,000th alumnus attend his course is“luck of the draw,” King said it is quite symbolic as networking is a crucial part of this counterterrorism course.

“It takes a network to defeat a network,” King said. He admitted that phrase might be a little cliché but rings true as more terrorist organizations are linked to each other by affiliate groups and franchises. “Of course, there are more formal ways to develop international relations, but if you know a guy who has had a certain terrorism problem in his country for years that is now becoming an emerging one in your area, you can just call him and say, ‘How did you guys deal with this?’

“That’s just as important as any of the academic content that we present,” said King, who has more than 25 years experience in special forces and as a foreign area officer. King added that more than 1,100 PTSS graduates are a part of the center’s alumni network.

During the upcoming four weeks, military officers, government officials, intelligence specialists, and police administrators working in counterterrorism organizations in 44 countries will explore the manifestations of and solutions to terrorism. They will look at combating terrorism approaches both before and after a terrorist incident occurs, or as King calls it, “left of boom” and “right of boom.”

“Left of boom” means tackling the manifestations of terrorism such as preconditions, tactics, capabilities and motivations. It also includes counter-narrative efforts, and disrupting the financing and recruitment of violent extremists. King said the preventive tools include a variety of whole of government, whole of society instruments.  Effective solutions will involve coordinated military, diplomatic, law enforcement, intelligence, and financial elements. Everything that’s “right of boom” is what occurs after a terrorist act takes place.  King said crisis management, recovery, and resilience are key aspects on this side of the spectrum.

After looking into the problems and potential solutions, participants will create combating terrorism strategies for their countries.

“What I want the participants to do is to take a fresh look at their countries’ existing strategies by considering all the tools they learned in this course to determine if priorities and focused efforts are still valid,” King said.

The hope is that they will share their ideas with policy makers in their countries, King said.

“We will never eliminate the threat of terrorism, but we can reduce the number of incidents, and we have been successful, not just with the kinetic, combat-type missions, but also with investigating and prosecuting terrorists,” the PTSS leader said. “There’s greater international cooperation for this transnational threat so we have a whole range of tools now – not just the military – we can successfully use to go after terrorists.”

The PTSS Director noted that terrorism is a very real and dangerous threat with tragic consequences, although he hopes his graduates will leave the Marshall Center with a sense of confidence.  “The idea is to give these guys a hopeful sendoff – this is a problem we can tackle, and tackle more effectively if we work together,” King said.

In other words, no boom.