Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water [read more]
In RAND Study on Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan we disapproved of the small footprint model for counterinsurgency advocated by Seth G. Jones. Another RAND study has been issued entitled How Terrorists Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida, by Seth G. Jones and Martin C. Libicki. The report is available for download, so the reader can study it later (or perhaps has already studied it). But the summary statement reads thusly:
All terrorist groups eventually end. But how do they end? The evidence since 1968 indicates that most groups have ended because (1) they joined the political process (43 percent) or (2) local police and intelligence agencies arrested or killed key members (40 percent). Military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups, and few groups within this time frame have achieved victory. This has significant implications for dealing with al Qa’ida and suggests fundamentally rethinking post-9/11 U.S. counterterrorism strategy: Policymakers need to understand where to prioritize their efforts with limited resources and attention. The authors report that religious terrorist groups take longer to eliminate than other groups and rarely achieve their objectives. The largest groups achieve their goals more often and last longer than the smallest ones do. Finally, groups from upper-income countries are more likely to be left-wing or nationalist and less likely to have religion as their motivation. The authors conclude that policing and intelligence, rather than military force, should form the backbone of U.S. efforts against al Qa’ida. And U.S. policymakers should end the use of the phrase “war on terrorism” since there is no battlefield solution to defeating al Qa’ida.
This amounts to 83% – according to Jones and Libicki – of terrorists who either joined the political process or were arrested by the police. So then the solution must be non-military, or so Jones and Libicki conclude.
But they fundamentally fail to understand the nature of the enemy, and so it’s not surprising that the study reaches the wrong conclusions. In Why is there Jihad, we linked a recent report by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point that studied the internet interview of Ayman al-Zawahiri. They noted many interesting things, but one crucial point to understanding their global movement.
Over the past year, Zawahiri and other senior al-Qa’ida figures have been waging a vigorous propaganda campaign against the Palestinian organization HAMAS. Although Jihadists unanimously denounce Israel they continue to disagree over whether HAMAS should be considered a legitimate Islamic movement. For Zawahiri, HAMAS’ embrace of nationalism, democracy, and its legacy in the Muslim Brotherhood—arguably the three things al-Qa’ida hates most—delegitimizes the group.
To which we observed:
Nationalism is evil and out of accord with the global aspirations of al Qaeda. Nation-states are not just not helpful, or even a necessary evil. They are quite literally an obstacle to jihad, not because they share the loyalties of jihadists, but rather, because they fundamentally don’t acquiesce to the vision of world conquest in the name of Islam and the forcible implementation of Sharia law. What we see as a transnational insurgency is to the jihadists simply a world wide struggle. They don’t recognize nation-states as legitimate.
This is the Sunni perspective, but the radical Shi’a perspective is the same. From Michael Ledeen’s The Iranian Time Bomb, Khomeini succinctly states their view:
“We do not worship Iran. We worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.”
Ledeen summarizes their views: “Without exception, their core beliefs are totally contrary to the notion that they are a traditional nation-state” [page 17]. Baitullah Mehsud has also shown that his perspective is global, contrary to the views of earlier generations of Taliban. Neither al Qaeda nor the Taliban are about to engage in local or even national politics. It violates the stipulations of their faith.
As for the high value target initiative, the U.S. has been engaged in this for six or more years in both Afghanistan and Iraq (and now Pakistan). It has consumed an incredible amount of money, time, resources, intelligence assets, and firepower, but has only moderate results to show for the expenditure.
The security situation in Afghanistan is headed in the wrong direction, while Iraq has been secured. Counterinsurgency requires force projection, a doctrine we have argued for two years. It has worked in Iraq, and will be required in Afghanistan. A few more policing assets in Afghanistan and Pakistan would mean simply a few more policing assets to die at the hands of Taliban and al Qaeda.
The answer is not black or special operations, police, surreptitious behind-the-scenes deals, prison cells, interrogations, incorporation of the enemy into politics, or negotiations. The immediate answer to the problem of an enemy who would kill you is to kill the enemy with fire and maneuver.