Archive for the 'Religion and Insurgency' Category

Resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 6 months ago

Admiral Michael Mullen recently made serious and ominous predictions in recent congressional testimony.  “Defense Department officials told members of Congress on Wednesday that Al Qaeda was operating from havens in “undergoverned regions” of Pakistan, which they said pose direct threats to Europe, the United States and the Pakistani government itself. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, predicted in written testimony that the next attack on the United States probably would be made by terrorists based in that region.”

In order for this testimony to be seen in its proper context, some background is necessary.  Relentless kinetic and nonkinetic operations in Anbar by U.S. forces has accomplished two things throughout late 2006 and 2007.  First, al Qaeda has taken a heavy toll among its numbers.  The recent capture of an al Qaeda Emir’s diary catalogs the decline in fighers in one area of operation from slightly less than a Battalion to less than two squads.  Prime Minister Maliki recently announced that al Qaeda had been routed from Baghdad due to the security plan the U.S. launched a year ago.  The second affect of intensive U.S. operations is the co-opting of erstwhile indigenous insurgents into the concerned local citizens program.  There are still ongoing operations in Mosul, but the al Qaeda campaign in Iraq is an abysmal failure.

There has also been an increased difficulty in deploying to the Iraq theater.  According to General David Petraeus, the influx of foreign fighters into Iraq is down, but not just due to any actions by Syria.  “Much of the fall in numbers was due to countries barring young men from flying to the Syrian cities of Damascus and Aleppo on one-way tickets.”  Conversely, Admiral J. Michael McConnel recently testified before Congress that “we have seen an influx of new Western recruits into the tribal areas [in Pakistan] since mid-2006.”   But Western recruits are not the only ones who have traveled to the tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan to join with Taliban and al Qaeda fighters (the so-called Federally Administered Tribal Areas).

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has recently released Issue 3 of the CTC Sentinel, which includes an important article by Brian Glyn Williams entitled “Return of the Arabs: Al-Qa’ida’s Current Military Role in the Afghan Insurgency.”  Within the context of the Iraq campaign, Williams sets up the coming Taliban / al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan as beginning in Iraq.

By 2007, jihadist websites from Chechnya to Turkey to the Arab world began to feature recruitment ads calling on the “Lions of Islam” to come fight in Afghanistan. It appears that many heeded the call. This was especially true after the Anbar Awakening of anti-al-Qa`ida tribal leaders and General David Petraeus’ “surge strategy” made Iraq less hospitable for foreign volunteers.

Since 2002, one of al-Qa`ida’s main roles has been diverting wealth from the Arab Gulf States to funding the struggling Taliban. One recently killed Saudi shaykh named Asadullah, for example, was described as “the moneybags in the entire tribal belt.” Men like Asadullah have paid bounties for Taliban attacks on coalition troops, provided money to Taliban commanders such as Baitullah Mehsud to encourage them to attack Pakistani troops and launch a suicide bombing campaign in that country, and used their funds to re-arm the Taliban. Local Pashtuns in Waziristan and in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province have claimed that the Arab fighters pay well for lodging and food and provide money for the families of those who are “martyred” in suicide operations. According to online videos and local reports, al-Qa`ida is also running as many as 29 training camps in the region, albeit less elaborate than those found in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

The Arabs have also played a key role in “al-Qa`idifying” the Taliban insurgency and importing the horror tactics of the Iraqi conflict to Afghanistan. Key Taliban leaders, such as the recently slain Mullah Dadullah, have claimed that they learned suicide bombing techniques from their Arab “brothers.” Al-Qa`ida has also distributed tutorial jihadist videos throughout the Pashtun regions that give instructions on how to build car bombs, IEDs and inspirational “snuff film” images of U.S. troops being killed in Iraq. The first wave of suicide bombings in Afghanistan seems to have been carried out by Arabs, and it appears clear that it was al-Qa`ida—which has long had an emphasis on istishhad (martyrdom) operations—that taught the local Taliban this alien tactic. Arabs such as Abu Yahya al-Libi have also been influential in encouraging the technophobic Taliban fundamentalists to create “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” online videos of Zarqawi style beheadings, IED attacks and suicide bombings.

Furthermore, it appears that Arab fighters have actively partaken in insurgent activities within Afghanistan itself in increasing numbers. Insurgents in the Kunar Valley in Nuristan, for example, have chosen Abu Ikhlas al-Masri, an Egyptian who speaks Pashtu and is married to a local woman, to lead a group of as many as 170 fighters. Arab operations in this area are facilitated by its cross-border proximity to Bajaur Agency and support from a local Taliban leader named Ahmad Shah and insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the latter of which has a long history of working with Arabs. Arabs have also filmed themselves attacking coalition targets in Nangarhar, Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Uruzgan, Logar and Zabul provinces.

Most recently, Arabs have also been sighted farther afield fighting in the unstable southern province of Helmand under a first generation Arab Afghan leader named Abu Haris. Local Helmandi villagers also reported seeing Arab fighters in the village of Musa Qala, a town that was occupied by the Taliban for most of 2007. They reported that the Arab fighters set up suicide bombing facilities and were extremely brutal. As in previous eras where they earned a reputation for butchery (in 1991, for example, Arab fighters hacked captured Communist Afghan Army soldiers to pieces following the capture of Jalalabad), the Taliban’s Arab allies were reported to have executed locals they suspected of being “spies.”

Such actions hardly endeared the locals to the Taliban, and there are bound to be future tensions between the Arabs and the Taliban that echo those that often caused “red on red” conflict between Afghan mujahidin and Arab Wahhabis in the 1980s. The distrust between the Arabs—who come to the “backward” lands of Afghanistan from the comparatively developed Gulf States—are said to stem from the Arab puritans’ disdain for local Afghan Sufi “superstitions,” their most un-Afghan desire to achieve “martyrdom” and their wish to lead their own fighting units.

A local Taliban commander captured the ambiguous nature of the Taliban-al-Qa`ida alliance when he claimed of the Arabs: “They come for the sacred purpose of jihad. They fight according to Shari`a law.” He then, however, added an important caveat: “No foreign fighter can serve as a Taliban commander.” Even key al-Qa`ida field commanders, such as the recently slain Libyan leader Abu Laith al-Libi (the commander who led al-Qa`ida’s retreat from Afghanistan in 2001), operated under the command of Mullah Omar.

Despite the potential for tensions, al-Qa`ida’s head of operations in Afghanistan, an Egyptian named Mustafa Abu’l-Yazid, who is said to have good relations with the Taliban, has proclaimed that al-Qa`ida in Afghanistan recognizes the authority of Mullah Omar. For its part, the Taliban has charged one Mehmood Haq Yar, a Taliban commander who has allegedly been to Iraq to learn the Iraqi insurgents’ tactics, with making sure Arabs play a role in the Afghan jihad. It appears that both sides are united in their desire to topple the Hamid Karzai government and carve out an Islamic state in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

While it is difficult to estimate the number of Arab fighters in the region, it seems obvious that al-Qa`ida central is determined to play a key role as a fundraiser, recruiter and direct contributor to the military efforts in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, unlike the earlier generation of “gucci jihadists” who made little if any real contribution to the jihad against the Soviets, the current generation seems determined to remind the West that the “Lions of Islam” have not forgotten the “Forgotten War” in Afghanistan.

The Afghanis are learning (ideologically) from the foreigners coming in to help the campaign, and also (tactically) from the Iraq campaign.

In Afghanistan, the Taleban now claim to have influence across most of the country and have extended their area of control from their traditional heartland in the south.

They are able to operate freely even in Wardak Province, neighbouring the capital Kabul, as a BBC camera crew who filmed them recently found.

One of their commanders in Wardak, Mullah Hakmatullah, said they do not control the roads nor the towns, but they hold the countryside and have increasing support because of the corruption of the administration.

“The administration do not solve people’s problems. People who go there with problems have to give a lot of money in bribes and then they get stuck there,” Mullah Hakmatullah said.

Support from villagers is essential to their ability to continue operations through the winter months.

The overall military commander of the Taleban in Wardak, Mullah Rashid Akhond, claimed to have 2,000 active fighters.

The fighters say locals support their brand of justice.

He said that he was operating an administrative system with orders coming from Kandahar in the south, just like during the days of the Taleban government that fell in 2001.

He said that the Taleban were running their own courts. “People are taking their cases away from the government courts and coming to us. Now there is no robbery in our area.”

Many of the suicide bombers who go to Kabul come from this area, just an hour’s drive away. Mullah Akhond justified them, saying that most of the attacks are now carried out by Afghans themselves, not foreign fighters.

Afghanistan and Pakistan face the next generation Taliban, who unlike their predecessors, are more savvy concerning technology, but just as radical in ideology and without the baggage of the theological reluctance of suicide (or martyrdom) missions.  Most recently, a suicide bomb was used to conduct offensive operations against Taliban enemies in Afghanistan, killing at least 80 men and boys.

A suicide bomber blew himself up at a tribal festival near the southern city of Kandahar yesterday, killing at least 80 men and boys and wounding about 90 more in the bloodiest bombing in Afghanistan since 2001.

Officials said the target was a key anti-Taleban commander who played a vital role in keeping the guerrillas out of a district they have been fighting to take over for more than two years. Abdul Hakim, who died in the attack, was a staunchly independent commander with the Alokozai tribe whose private army of 500 men had fought the Taleban and sometimes clashed with Afghan security forces as well.

Mr Hakim, a former guerrilla in his late forties who had fought the Russians before serving for a while as the police chief of Kandahar, was one of the Taleban’s oldest and toughest foes in the Arghandab district west of the city. He first fought Mullah Omar, the Taleban leader, in 1994.

Although too independent to be a formal ally of the Kabul Government, he had been credited with helping to hold back Taleban fighters in one of the most strategically important regions of southern Afghanistan. The Taleban have pledged to conquer Kandahar, their old capital, and have fought bloody battles with Canadian and Afghan forces in the Arghandab, an area of orchards and farms which is one of the main approach routes to the city.

Mr Hakim’s death could be a heavy blow to attempts to hold them back. Dozens of his Alokozai tribesmen were also killed when the suicide bomber blew himself up at the tribal festival about 15 minutes’ drive from the city.

The same tactics are in use in Pakistan, and Taliban operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan should be seen as fronts in the same war.  The campaign in Afghanistan is utterly dependent upon supply routes through Pakistan.  This video below shows the torturous mountain passes through which some supplies must travel and the enemy operations against these supply lines.

More recently, Baitullah Mehsud’s forces have begun effectively to target main arteries through Pakistan to interdict these same supplies.  Danger is on the rise in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and yet the Afghan government is stolid and obstinate in its denial of the need for more forces, while this same government’s corruption is hindering counterinsurgency efforts.

The campaign in Afghanistan drew down from conventional operations too soon, and yet this mistake is being repeated by drawing down from kinetic operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda in favor of military transition teams and road construction.  The forces to effect both are apparently not in place, and there is an ever shrinking window of opportunity to win the campaign in the region, while also acknowledging the difficulty of drawing down in Iraq.

In a winter that is worse than any in recent memory in Afghanistan, Taliban operations have been kept to a minimum.  We should expect to see a resurgence in operations commensurate with the number of forces and motivation of the enemy.


Taliban Campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan

U.S. Intelligence Failures: Dual Taliban Campaigns

Baitullah Mehsud: The Most Powerful Man in Waziristan

Taliban Continue Fronts in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Planning for the Spring Offensive in Afghanistan

Concerning Killing Bad Guys and Sacking Worthless Officers

Taliban Now Govern Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 7 months ago

Following closely on the heels of British negotiations with mid-level Taliban, the governorship of Musa Qala has been handed over to a Taliban commander.

A Taliban commander who defected hours before British and Afghan forces retook the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala has been rewarded with the governorship of the town.

Mullah Abdul Salaam switched sides after months of delicate secret negotiations with the Afghan government, as part of a programme of reconciliation backed by British commanders in Helmand.

In a move clearly intended to send a message to other potential Taliban defectors, the Afghan government has announced that he had become the new district governor with the backing of local tribes.

An Afghan government spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said that the move was consistent with the policy of President Hamid Karzai’s government.

“The president has said before that all those former Taliban who come and accept the constitution and who want to participate in the political process through non-violent means … they are welcome.”

He added that Mullah Salaam had provided crucial intelligence to the Afghan government.

Mullah Salaam is a leader of one of the three sub-tribes of the Alizai, the dominant tribal group in Musa Qala.

As The Daily Telegraph reported in November, Mullah Salaam opened channels of communication with the government after a violent rift emerged in the Taliban around Musa Qala, during which he survived an assassination attempt.

Mullah Salaam told The Daily Telegraph: “There are two groups of Taliban fighters in Musa Qala and I have the backing of the major one. The Taliban who are against peace and prosperity in Afghanistan – I will fight them.”

Local people confirmed that he enjoyed the backing of a large swathe of the inhabitants of the town.

The issue of Taliban defections remains a highly sensitive one, following the expulsion of a British and an Irish diplomat from Kabul last month on charges of having “inappropriate contacts” with militants.

Afghan government officials accused the two men of holding meetings with Taliban leaders in Helmand without authorisation.

The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has ruled out direct talks with the Taliban leadership, but it is well known in Kabul that both the British and Afghan intelligence agencies are devoting considerable resources to trying to “turn” Taliban-aligned tribal leaders.

As we have discussed before, this is the British version of the Anbar awakening combined with payment for concerned citizens who protect the people and fight al Qaeda.  But the problem with this analogy is that it is no analogy at all.  It has nothing at all in common with a true awakening such as occurred in Anbar.  It is true that the last decade of rule by Saddam saw the birth of a small element of youth who were motivated by religious radicalism.

By the late 1980s it had become clear that secular pan-Arabism fused with socialist ideas was no longer a source of inspiration for some Ba’th Party activists. Many young Sunni Arabs adopted an alternative ideology, namely, fundamentalist Islam based essentially on the thought of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. A minority even moved toward the more extreme Salafi, and even Wahhabi, interpretation of Islam. The regime was reluctant to repress such trends violently, even when it came to Wahhabis, for the simple reason that these Iraqi Wahhabis were anti-Saudi: much like the ultraradical Islamist opposition in Saudi Arabia, they, too, saw the Saudi regime as deviating from its original Wahhabi convictions by succumbing to Western cultural influences and aligning itself with the Christian imperialist United States. This anti-Saudi trend served the Iraqi regime’s political purposes.

But this proves the bifurcation that was inherent in the Anbaris which led to the awakening.  These radical youth were an insignificant fraction of the population and were not ever fair game in the strategy to win hearts and minds.  They were the enemy, and there was never a time when they weren’t the enemy.  They quickly aligned with al Qaeda, and the less radical citizens were really the ones in play in the overall strategy.  Al Qaeda and those with whom they were aligned have been essentially defeated in Anbar and are losing in Diyala.  Peace was sought with those from the indigenous insurgency who saw themselves as something other than jihadis.  In Afghanistan, the Taliban are by very definition religiously defined.  Even the casual reader might consider Afghanistan seven years ago (Taliban in charge) and compare it to the Afghanistan of today (with the Taliban in charge if the British strategy plays out) and recall that the only real change is that Hamid Karzai is at the helm, a tenuous charge and precarious perch to be sure.

While the MI6 agents who were negotiating with the Taliban have been ejected from the country, the strategy of acquiescence to the Taliban continues to be implemented by British military command.  After their failed military campaign in and pullout from Basra, the British are actively negotiating the turnover of the Afghanistan government to the very enemy defeated upon the initial invasion of Afghanistan in order to end the campaign.  This strategy has at least the tacit approval of Hamid Karzai, as U.S. troop presence and strategy is not sufficient to allow him to object.  U.S. and NATO lack of force projection gives him no other choice.


Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection

Clarifying Expectations in Afghanistan

Review and Analysis of Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Campaign

Gates Sets Pretext for Review of Afghanistan Campaign

British in Negotiations with Taliban

Fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan Inextricably Tied

The British-American War Continues: MI-6 Agents Expelled from Afghanistan

Commitment to Iraq and Recommitment to Afghanistan

Stephen Coughlin Sacked: What Can The Sinjar Records Tell Us?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 7 months ago

Bill Gertz with the Washington Times is reporting that a specialist on Islamic law has been fired from his position at the Pentagon.

Stephen Coughlin, the Pentagon specialist on Islamic law and Islamist extremism, has been fired from his position on the military’s Joint Staff. The action followed a report in this space last week revealing opposition to his work for the military by pro-Muslim officials within the office of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England.

Mr. Coughlin was notified this week that his contract with the Joint Staff will end in March, effectively halting the career of one of the U.S. government’s most important figures in analyzing the nature of extremism and ultimately preparing to wage ideological war against it.

He had run afoul of a key aide to Mr. England, Hasham Islam, who confronted Mr. Coughlin during a meeting several weeks ago when Mr. Islam sought to have Mr. Coughlin soften his views on Islamist extremism.

Mr. Coughlin was accused directly by Mr. Islam of being a Christian zealot or extremist “with a pen,” according to defense officials. Mr. Coughlin appears to have become one of the first casualties in the war of ideas with Islamism.

The officials said Mr. Coughlin was let go because he had become “too hot” or controversial within the Pentagon.

Misguided Pentagon officials, including Mr. Islam and Mr. England, have initiated an aggressive “outreach” program to U.S. Muslim groups that critics say is lending credibility to what has been identified as a budding support network for Islamist extremists, including front groups for the radical Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr. Coughlin wrote a memorandum several months ago based on documents made public in a federal trial in Dallas that revealed a covert plan by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian-origin Islamist extremist group, to subvert the United States using front groups. Members of one of the identified front groups, the Islamic Society of North America, has been hosted by Mr. England at the Pentagon.

After word of the confrontation between Mr. Coughlin and Mr. Islam was made public, support for Mr. Coughlin skyrocketed among those in and out of government who feared the worst, namely that pro-Muslim officials in the Pentagon were after Mr. Coughlin’s scalp, and that his departure would be a major setback for the Pentagon’s struggling efforts to develop a war of ideas against extremism. Blogs lit up with hundreds of postings, some suggesting that Mr. England’s office is “penetrated” by the enemy in the war on terrorism.

Kevin Wensing, a spokesman for Mr. England, said “no one in the deputy’s office had any input into this decision” by the Joint Staff to end Mr. Coughlin’s contract. A Joint Staff spokesman had no immediate comment.

I have always reported the truth, whether popular or not.  Using some open source references and an intelligence source, in Anbar, in Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, I reported on the high concentration of indigenous fighters within the insurgency in Anbar, contrary to the popular notion of a fight exclusively against al Qaeda.  I was discussing co-opting the insurgents before discussion of “concerned citizens” became current and popular.  However, contrary to Dave Kilcullen who argued against the idea of a single fighter engaging for religious reasons, I argued that there was a strong international element within Iraq functioning as terrorists due to religious motivation.  See:

Religion and Insurgency: A Response to Dave Kilcullen
Smith Responds
More on Dave Kilcullen vs. Smith

I also have made it clear from my coverage of Operation Alljah in Fallujah that the primary enemy were foreign fighters: Chechens, Africans, men of Arab descent, and men of Far Eastern descent.  These men, some of whom came from thousands of miles away to conduct jihad against America, fought for religious reasons.  The primary aim in this accuracy and truthfulness, while rising above political talking points for either party, is to understand the makeup of the insurgency and thereby be able to craft a strategy against them.

There are the typical vacuous accolades for the Pentagon over the ejection of Coughlin – statements such as “As far as I’m concerned, this is a good sign, particularly in combination with the Pentagon’s consideration of an Iraq “Marshall Plan”. (sic) It means that they’re abandoning the “Islam is evil” mindset that has pervaded the White House and the Pentagon for most of the war in favor of a more moderate position which includes reaching out to the vast moderate Muslim community; something that must happen if we are to win the Long War.”  This sentiment betrays its lack of observation of the press coverage of the global jihad over the last five years.  The current administration refuses to use terms like this, and present leadership has even jettisoned the monicker “long war” set in place by General Abizaid, who should know about this given his background and knowledge of the Middle East.

A clear and honest understanding of the current global situation requires the admission that while there is a large percentage of the Muslim community which doesn’t wish to conduct jihad against anyone, much less the West, there is still another fraction which nurtures a hermeneutic that requires them to do just that, this hermeneutic being a cornerstone of their Muslim faith.  This hermeneutic is as old as Islam.

So what can the Sinjar records tell us about the sacking of Stephen Coughlin?  Not much specifically, but generally, they can tell us a lot about the motivations of the foreign fighters who have travelled to Iraq over the last several years.  The increased participation in jihad by Libyans is well known, and upon incorporation of the LIFG (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) into al Qaeda, senior leadership in the LIFG stated their reason for sending so many fighters to Iraq.

…our  brothers  are  in  need  of  the  backing  and  aid  of  the  Muslim  peoples,  with  their  bodies  and  wealth,  with  shelter  and  prayer,  and  with  incitement….  There  is  no  way  to  establish  and  preserve  states  other  than  Jihad  in  the  Path  of  Allah  and  Jihad  alone….This  is  the  path,  and  anything  else  is  from  the  whispers  of  Satan.

It  is  with  the  grace  of  God  that  we  were  hoisting  the  banner  of  jihad  against  this  apostate  regime  under  the  leadership  of  the  Libyan  Islamic  Fighting  Group,  which  sacrificed  the  elite  of  its  sons  and  commanders  in  combating  this  regime  whose  blood  was  spilled  on  the  mountains  of  Darah,  the  streets  of  Benghazi,  the  outskirts  of  Tripoli,  the  desert  of  Sabha,  and  the  sands  of  the  beach.

Finally, formal changes in doctrine are recommended by the authors at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as a result of the Sinjar records, when they state that:

The  Syrian  and  Libyan  governments  share  the  United  States’  concerns  about  violent  salafi-jihadi  ideology  and  the  violence  perpetrated  by  its  adherents.   These  governments,  like  others  in  the  Middle  East,  fear  violence  inside  their  borders  and  would  much  rather  radical  elements  go  to  Iraq  rather  than  cause  unrest  at  home.   U.S.  and  Coalition  efforts  to  stem  the  flow  of  fighters  into  Iraq  will  be  enhanced  if  they  address  the  entire  logistical  chain  that supports  the  movement  of  these  individuals—beginning  in  their  home  countries  –  rather  than  just  their  Syrian  entry  points.

Coughlin was doing his job, and for that he was sacked.  Yet government sponsored institutions such as West Point are operating under the assumption that they need to tell the truth about the jihad that is currently being waged.  As observed by LTC Joseph C. Myers:

“Islam is a religion of peace” is fine for public policy statements, but is not and cannot be the point of departure for competent military or intelligence analysis … it is in fact a logical flaw under any professional research methodology … you have stated the conclusion before you have done the analysis.

The bureaucracy at the Pentagon has allowed political talking points to cloud their judgment.  Coughlin, a needed and highly qualified expert, is the target of this clouded judgment – and the militant jihadists have claimed yet another victim, this time by using stooges at the Pentagon to do their bidding.

The Nexus of Religion and Prisons in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 8 months ago

In June of 2007 we discussed Constabulary Operations and Prison Overcrowding, in which I said that “I do not believe in the healing, therapeutic or rehabilitative powers of imprisonment,” but that we were facing a prison overcrowding problem of major proportions going forward if we continue to engage in constabulary operations in Iraq.

In the following articles:

Religion and Insurgency: A Response to Dave Kilcullen
Smith Responds
A Modest Proposal

I discussed my views concerning religion and insurgency, and that contrary to Kilcullen’s view that there isn’t a single fighter who actually fights for the insurgency in Iraq for religious reasons, religion can provide a robust understanding of the motivations of all peoples in all of their actions, not just insurgents.

It appears that the commanders who are concerned with pragmatic affairs and who are faced with actual, real life day-to-day problems are following counsel that is similar to my own as it regards prisons (they need to be emptied or more need to be constructed) and religion (we need to know and act on what the enemy believes).

Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, commanding general of detainee operations in Iraq, is fighting what he has called “the battlefield of the mind.” He has instituted extensive screening of incoming prisoners and has made available about 30 training and education courses, including religion and civics, to the 25,188 prisoners under his control.

At a news conference last week, he said that once a person is in custody at his facilities, Camp Cropper near Baghdad and Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, “we spend a lot of time learning about them now, studying their motivations . . . why they’re fighting, who they fight for — more so than we’ve ever known before.”

At Cropper and Bucca, he said, there is “an assessment phase, and we take 72 hours and then we work really hard on categorizations.” Based on those assessments, which include having imams evaluate prisoners on their religious beliefs, a decision is made about where to house them in the detention facility.

As Stone was describing his program, the Multi-National Force-Iraq Joint Contracting Command was advertising for 12 contract intelligence analysts to work for Stone at Cropper and Bucca for six to 18 months, beginning in March.

Their jobs will be mainly to “conduct in-processing assessment of new detainees coming into the theater internment facilities,” according to the statement of work. They will screen the circumstances of each detainee’s capture and any sworn statements or intelligence about the person contained in an accompanying packet.

After that, the work statement says, the contracted analysts will “determine what category a detainee is assigned to based on age, religion, threat level and insurgent group affiliation.” They will also decide “where to place the detainee in the segregation plan.”

Stone said the compounds are not organized by geographical areas, so most prisoners “don’t really know each other.” Because extremists are “generally the guys that know each other . . . and they come in to set up kind of a gang court,” people from the same areas are spread out across the prison.

The courses they take, almost all of which are voluntary, include basic education, vocational training and religion. The religion course, run by one of 43 imams working on the program, lasts four days.

The civics course, which each detainee must take before he is released, covers “why you should try to get an education — why you should try to have a job,” Stone said. Other courses touch “on how you control anger, the oath of peace, the sacredness of life and property and references back to the Koran,” he added. The demand for classes has “stripped” the 150 teachers he has available.

“I don’t change people,” Stone said. “Those people or God changes them, not me, but we do set in motion the ability to have that change take place.”

Stone sees the overall program as working with detainees so that “they cannot conduct an insurgency inside the wire.” He added that he hopes that detainees “someday maybe even work with us and, of course, by telling us who the bad guys are.”

One result already seen, he said, is that moderates in the prisons are identifying extremists, thus facilitating their segregation from the rest of the population. At Camp Bucca, about 1,000 extremists were identified and pulled from among the 21,000 prisoners, and “that made a big difference,” he said.

In addition to being theologically and anthropologically sound, this approach is pragmatic – and it is the approach we have advocated from the beginning.

Al Qaeda’s Miscalculation

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 10 months ago

Michael Ledeen’s new book The Iranian Time Bomb contains some brief but stark words that, in a nutshell, wrap up the worldview of radical Shi’a Islam concerning nation-states and how this concept is not a part of their world view.  In the words of Khomeini:

“We do not worship Iran.  We worship Allah.  For patriotism is 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.

Al Qaeda’s Miscalculation

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 10 months ago

Michael Ledeen’s new book The Iranian Time Bomb contains some brief but stark words that, in a nutshell, wrap up the worldview of radical Shi’a Islam concerning nation-states and how this concept is not a part of their world view.  In the words of Khomeini:

“We do not worship Iran.  We worship Allah.  For patriotism is 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.

Repeating the Success of Anbar

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 1 month ago

Hopes are high that the success of the Anbar Province can be repeated in Diyala and other provinces.

Sunni merchants watched warily from behind neat stacks of fruit and vegetables as Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno walked with a platoon of bodyguards through the Qatana bazaar here one recent afternoon. At last, one leathery-faced trader glanced furtively up and down the narrow, refuse-strewn street to check who might be listening, then broke the silence.

“America good! Al Qaeda bad!” he said in halting English, flashing a thumb’s-up in the direction of the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq.

Until only a few months ago, the Central Street bazaar was enemy territory, watched over by U.S. machine-gunners in sandbagged bunkers on the roof of the governor’s building across the road. Ramadi was the most dangerous city in Iraq, and the area around the building the deadliest place in Ramadi.

Now, a pact between local tribal sheiks and U.S. commanders has sent thousands of young Iraqis from Anbar Province into the fight against extremists linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The deal has all but ended the fighting in Ramadi and recast the city as a symbol of hope that the tide of the war may yet be reversed to favor the Americans and their Iraqi allies …

… the question is whether the Anbar experience can be “exported” to other combat zones, as Bush suggested, by arming tribally based local security forces and recruiting thousands of young Sunnis, including former members of Baathist insurgent groups, into Iraq’s army and police force.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who leads the Shiite-dominated national government, has backed the tribal outreach in Anbar as a way to strengthen Sunni moderates against Sunni extremists there. But he has warned that replicating the pattern elsewhere could arm Sunni militias for a civil war with Shiites.

Anbar has been a war zone now for four years, and the Americans are as much a part of life as the blasting summer heat.

Ramadi, which lies on the edge of a desert that reaches west from the city to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, had a population of 400,000 in Saddam Hussein’s time. That was before the insurgents – a patchwork of Qaeda-linked militants, die-hard loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party and other resistance groups fighting to oust U.S. forces from Iraq – coalesced in a terrorist campaign that turned much of the city into a ghost town, and much of Anbar into a cauldron for U.S. troops.

Last year, a leaked U.S. Marine intelligence report conceded that the war in Anbar was effectively lost and that the province was on course to becoming the seat of the Islamic militants’ plans to establish a new caliphate in Iraq.

The key to turning that around was the shift in allegiance by tribal sheiks. But the sheiks turned only after a prolonged offensive by U.S. and Iraqi forces, starting in November, that put Qaeda groups on the run, in Ramadi and elsewhere across western Anbar.

Not for the first time, the Americans learned a basic lesson of warfare here: that Iraqis, bludgeoned for 24 years by Saddam’s terror, are wary of rising against any force, however brutal, until it is in retreat. In Anbar, Sunni extremists were the dominant force, with near-total popular support or acquiescence, until the offensive broke their power …

“We couldn’t go more than 200 meters from this base when I arrived,” said Captain Ian Brooks, a Marine officer at one new neighborhood base. “Now, I can walk the streets without any problem.”

The change that made all the others possible, U.S. officers say, was the alliance with the sheiks. In Ramadi, 23 tribal leaders approached the Americans and offered to fight the extremists by forming “provincial security battalions,” neighborhood police auxiliaries, and by sending volunteers to the Iraqi Army and the police.

Across Anbar, the 3,500 police officers in October jumped to 21,500 by June. In Ramadi, where there were fewer than 100 police officers last year, there are now 3,500.

Many recruits, U.S. officers acknowledge, were previously insurgents. “There’s a lot of guys wearing blue shirts out there who were shooting at us last year,” Charlton said.

In Settling with the Enemy I discussed the necessity to put erstwhile Sunni insurgents to work ensuring security.  But it was more than enlisting the insurgents to work for us that has at least partially pacified the Anbar province.  There have been four years of hard work by the Marines to effect security.  The past regime ensured that the population, accustomed to acquiescing in the face of brutality, and who had seen much of it over the past several years, would come ever so slowly to the U.S. and Iraqi side.

The insurgents with whom no settlement could be reached were foreigners who came to Iraq to fight jihad, along with a radical religious element which had begun within Iraq in the last decade or two of the prior regime.

By the late 1980s it had become clear that secular pan-Arabism fused with socialist ideas was no longer a source of inspiration for some Ba’th Party activists. Many young Sunni Arabs adopted an alternative ideology, namely, fundamentalist Islam based essentially on the thought of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. A minority even moved toward the more extreme Salafi, and even Wahhabi, interpretation of Islam. The regime was reluctant to repress such trends violently, even when it came to Wahhabis, for the simple reason that these Iraqi Wahhabis were anti-Saudi: much like the ultraradical Islamist opposition in Saudi Arabia, they, too, saw the Saudi regime as deviating from its original Wahhabi convictions by succumbing to Western cultural influences and aligning itself with the Christian imperialist United States. This anti-Saudi trend served the Iraqi regime’s political purposes.

This element, along with the foreign jihadists, would never settle with the U.S. forces and had to be rooted out and killed or captured.  The insurgents who would settle with the U.S. were upstarts who were disenfranchised and out of work men who felt power drain away as Shi’ite supremecy took its toll on Anbar.  These things (i.e., killing the hard line insurgents and settling with those who would do so) was necessary in order to effect security, and the so-called Anbar awakening where tribes began cooperation with the U.S. should not be seen without context.  Its proper context is the blood of U.S. warriors who fought to provide security for a people whom they didn’t know.  The hope is that the seeds of this effort do not lie fallow, but rather, produce fruit ten-fold and expand to the balance of Iraq.

Globalization, Religious Commitment and Non-State Actors

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 1 month ago

The recent British airport bombing suspect, a highly-educated doctor, was also an eager religious radical, calling into question again the paradigm of disenfranchisement as the motivation behind such terrorists.

Armed with off-the-charts intelligence, Bilal Abdullah entered this world with the kind of family pedigree and privilege few Iraqis enjoy.

But he may have intended to leave this world a martyr in the name of radical Islam.

On Saturday, Abdullah was charged with planting two car bombs in London and riding shotgun in the botched suicide car-bomb attack on Glasgow International Airport late last month.

Investigators in Britain and Australia are questioning seven other suspects in custody.

The case may further dispel a still widely held Western perception that Islamic radicalism is the province of the disenfranchised and uneducated.

Shouts of ‘Allah, Allah’ could be heard as the suspects were apprehended.  The view that poverty, disenfranchisement and dislocation is beind global “jihad” is popular and in vogue.  The issue of religious motivation is behind the dispute discussed in (1) Religion and Insurgency: A Response to Dave Kilcullen, (2) Smith Responds, and (3) More on Dave Kilcullen vs. Smith.  Kilcullen claims that the insurgency in Iraq is “entirely political.”  I have argued to the contrary, i.e., that there are at least some of the insurgents who fight due to religious motivation.  The seminal thesis that guides Kilcullen’s thinking was outlined several years ago in a monograph entitled Complex Warfighting.

Globalisation, during the last decades of the twentieth century, has created winners and losers.  A global economy and an embryonic global cultural are developing, but this has not been universally beneficial.  Poverty, disease and inequality remain major problems for much of the world, and the global economy has been seen as favouring the West while failing developing nations.  The developing global culture is perceived as a form of Anglo-Saxon cultural imperialism: corroding religious beliefs, eroding the fabric of traditional societies, and leading to social, spiritual and cultural dislocation.  This has created a class of actors – often non-state actors – who oppose globalisation, its beneficiaries (the developed nations of the ‘West’) and, particularly, the U.S.

But the problem with this view is the same as the one with the claim by Congressman Ron Paul who believes that American hegemony, imperialism and interventionism led to the events of 9/11.  It simply doesn’t comport with the facts.  Prior to 9/11 U.S. forces had armed the Muslims in Afghanistan to enable them to drive the Soviet Union from their midst, saved the Muslims in Bosnia from extermination, assisted the Shi’a in the south of Iraq (due to the Southern no-fly zone), and saved the Kurdish Muslims in Northern Iraq from extermination (due to the Northern no-fly zone).

In an interesting discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal, the subject of religion comes up again, except in (first) pejorative terms, and then in clearer terms.  First, commenter Mark O’Neill on justification of Operation Iraqi Freedom as being Jesus telling us to “help the poor and downtrodden.”

I wonder what the large number of non-christian Americans would think about this as a justification for national policy or strategic planning? You wouldn’t last 10 seconds in Australia trying it.

Thankfully, I have never seen anyone successfully argue a conops in our Army or security policy establishment on the basis that “Jesus would want me to do it”. Our mob tend to be a bit secular and stick to the more mundane, rather than the divine… you know, good old fashion simple things like sound military strategic planning principles.

Each man has a right to his own value-system, and O’Neill should study Good Wars by Professor Darrel Cole and expand his horizons a bit.  But the comment is tantamount to saying that either (a) there has never been a national conversation in Australia about just war theory or the justification for sending troops into Afghanistan and Iraq, or (b) there have been such discussions, but O’Neill (and Australia) would allow any value-system into the fray but Christianity, a rather bigoted position.  In either case, this is a barren world view.  Finally, military strategy is not related to just war theory.  It is possible to engage in a discussion of both, O’Neill’s position notwithstanding.

But Steve Metz gets it.  Mr. Metz might now claim that he is misunderstood, or had a bad day, or had a little too much wine at the time, but the comment cannot be undone, and his prose is raw, thoughtful and informative.

… that illustrates what I think is THE key dilemma of the “war of ideas” against Islamic extremism: our enemies are offering their followers eternal bliss and we’re offering satellite television. But if we cannot compete in a LTG Boykinesque religious-ideological war because we are multi-faith/multi-cultural nations.

It’s really depressing, but the only long term solution I can see is radical action to wean overselves off of petroleum, disengagement from the Islamic world, and treating people from that region like we treated Soviets during the Cold War, i.e. with no expectation of unfettered rights. We haven’t reached the point of taking such admittedly adverse steps yet, but I think we’re one WMD terrorism incident away from doing so.

Ron Paul believes that we can trade with Iran, Syria and the rest of the Islamic world.  But it isn’t about Christianity, per se.  Whether the export is pure Christianity, the unadulterated smut and filth of Hollywood, democracy, satellite television or female suffrage, there isn’t any Western export that is acceptable to radical Islam.  Not a single one.

It doesn’t have to be about religion to Western eyes for at least part of the conflict to be about religion (or a radicalized form of it).  In this case, it doesn’t take two to Tango.  It only takes one.  Metz is right.  For the Ron Paul vision of the world to work, total disengagement (viz. Patrick Buchanan) would have to occur in order to prevent all Western exports, not just religion.  While Kilcullen has gotten it wrong about jihad being exclusively about poverty, he has gotten it right about globalization.

More on Dave Kilcullen vs. Smith

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 2 months ago

My very astute reader, Dominique, has left a smart and sweeping comment on my article Religion and Insurgency: A Response to Dave Kilcullen (which is followed up by article Smith Responds).  The response is important enought to warrant its own article.  The comment is published here entirely.

Just for the sake of clarity, let’s continue this a bit further.  I do not advocate – and have never advocated in anything I have published – that we expend attention, resources, effort, largesse, or the time of our armed forces to attempt to (a) change the minds of adherents of Islam, (b) tell Muslims what the Quran says, (c) evangelize Muslims, or (d) war against Muslims because they are adherents to Islam.  I am not charging you with this misunderstanding, but some of the commenters have made this error, failing to read my prose with a clear head and open mind.

My basic presupposition has been that there are some insurgents who are religiously motivated, mainly because they have told us so (and this, not in communications to us, but communications to themselves such as the letter from al Qaeda high command to Zarqawi that we intercepted).  This fraction is less than unity, but greater than zero.  For the sake of argument, I am willing, even, to grant my detractors the point that this fraction (FR, or fraction that is religiously motivated) is less than unity by a non-trivial amount, even though I am not sure that this is the case.  For this fraction FR, whether right or wrong, their hermeneutic forces them to do what they do under the rubric of religion.  For FR, religious commitment is more important than security or largesse.  Therefore, FR will not be amenable to our efforts at WHAM (winning hearts and minds).

The other insurgents (fraction not religiously motivated), FNR = 1 – FR, will be amenable to WHAM under this formulation.  It pays to understand enough about the culture and religion to know how to ascertain which schools of thought the fraction FR represents and how we might identify these subsets up front.  For example, given the religious motivation of Ansar al Sunna, it is a good bet that they are in the category of FR.

This is a simple formulation, and one that I think makes good common sense.  The readers and commenters who think I am calling for a holy war are reactionary, stolid and mentally dense.  Again, Dominique, you are not in this category, but some of my readers have been.  For those readers who are in this category, I can only say, please, try to keep up with me as the conversation advances and moves forward.  You’re slowing the train down.

Kilcullen, on the other hand, has proposed that there are no insurgents who are religiously motivated, and thus arrives at the conclusion that all insurgents will be amenable to efforts at WHAM.

The differences are fairly clear, and the reader can make up his or her own mind.  In the future, I will publish another article that discusses the published U.S. military doctrine concerning religion and insurgency and how this changed in favor of the more secular view after the events of 9/11.

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