Since the 11 September terrorist outrages, policymakers have waxed lyrical about a ‘war’ on terrorism as the greatest challenge to international security. The word ‘war’ implies easily identifiable (normally state) adversaries, and dramatic military action producing decisive, highly visible results at the end. However, this ‘war’ is in fact more rhetorical than about interstate warfare. Like other rhetorical wars on drugs or crime, it has no visible end, and outcomes will be neither easily apparent nor decisive. This article addresses the conceptual difficulties of a rhetorical ‘war’ on terrorism from a perspective of risk management. Drawing on military issues in Afghanistan so far, it seeks to provide a more appropriate analytic prism for understanding such a ‘war’ where enemies are elusive networks, the aim is simply avoiding harm with no prospect of closure, and success is defined more by non-events than by what can be seen.