Showing posts with label Counter Insurgency. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Counter Insurgency. Show all posts

6 January 2019

The Eroding Balance of Terror The Decline of Deterrence

By Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.

Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars,” the American nuclear strategist Bernard Brodie wrote in 1946. “From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them.” Brodie’s injunction summed up the grim lesson of the first five decades of the twentieth century: after two horrific world wars and the development of nuclear weapons, it was clear that the next major conflict would produce no winners—only survivors. As U.S. President John F. Kennedy put it a decade and a half later, in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis, “Even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth.” For decades, U.S. policymakers followed Brodie’s and Kennedy’s lead, putting deterrence—preventing rivals from attacking in the first place—at the center of U.S. defense strategy.

Applied effectively, deterrence discourages an adversary from pursuing an undesirable action. It works by changing the adversary’s calculation of costs, benefits, and risks. A country can, for instance, convince its opponents that an attack is so unlikely to succeed that it is not even worth the attempt: deterrence through denial. Or a country may convince its opponents that defeating it would be so costly as to be a victory in name only: deterrence through punishment. In either case, a rational adversary will decide to stay put.

5 January 2019

2018: The Year in Jihadism

By Lorenzo Vidino

2018 represented a sharp departure from previous years in terms of the sheer number of jihadist attacks in the West. Though attacks in Western Europe and North America were on a steady rise prior to this year, in 2018 they plunged, and jihadist attacks in the West in 2018 were fairly unsophisticated and significantly less lethal. Meanwhile, declines in other indicators traditionally used to assess the strength of the jihadist movement—numbers of arrests and individuals departing for conflict zones to fight alongside jihadist groups—point to an overall stagnation in jihadist activities in Western Europe and North America.

That is not to say that the threat is gone. Officials in most Western countries continue to monitor large pockets of support for the Islamic State and, more broadly, jihadist ideology. From the perspective of European and American law enforcement, many of these pockets, which range from isolated fanboys to structured networks, could be potentially ready to activate themselves and carry out attacks. And, despite efforts by major social media providers, jihadism still thrives online and as a subculture among some disenfranchised Western Muslims.

The New Face of Terrorism in 2019


The way Westerners think about Islamist terrorism has grown dangerously outdated. For decades, officials have focused on attacks launched by Middle Easterners. Today, however, the real threat increasingly comes from further east. In the former Soviet states and beyond, militants who once harbored mostly local grievances are turning their attention to the West. They will be the menace to watch in 2019.

The threat posed by Middle Eastern terrorists has been shrinking for some time. Even during the war against the Islamic State, Russian speakers from former Soviet countries were already committing many of the major attacks in the West. Those included relatively simple lone-wolf events, such as the 2017 truck strikes on pedestrians in New York and Stockholm—both conducted by Uzbeks—but also more complicated operations, such as the 2016 suicide bombing of Istanbul’s airport—which was allegedly organized by a Russian national—and the 2017 attack on a nightclub in the same city, led by an Uzbek.

Forget the Middle East—it’s time to prepare for attacks from the former Soviet Union.

29 December 2018

December 2018 Issue


After its pivot to insurgency, is the Islamic State losing power or preserving strength in Iraq? This is the research question posed by Michael Knights in this month’s cover article. Attack metrics, he writes, “paint a picture of an insurgent movement that has been ripped down to its roots,” but also one that is vigorously working to reboot by focusing “on a smaller set of geographies and a ‘quality over quantity’ approach to operations.” Knights warns that “the Iraqi government is arguably not adapting fast enough to the demands of counterinsurgency, suggesting the need for intensified and accelerated support from the U.S.-led coalition in order to prevent the Islamic State from mounting another successful recovery.”

27 December 2018

Resurgent Al-Qaeda Planning New Series Of Spectacular Attacks Against Airliners And Airports, Including Drone Strikes And Suicide Passengers, Warns U.S. Security Minister; After Gatwick Airport Incident — Will Drones Become The New Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)?

Just in time for Christmas. Leave it to the darker angels of our nature and the pathetic — the militant Islamists — to keep coming back like a bad hangover. I have written for the past several years that it is ‘easy’ to kill a person; but an idea/philosophy….not so much. I have repeatedly argued that the world needs a 21st century version of the Nuremberg War Crimes trials and put militant Islam on trial — much as we did Nazism in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Just as the Nuremberg War Crimes trials exposed the world to the true evil that Nazism comprised, and held accountable those that executed its tenants — we need to do the same today with militant Islam. That is the only way in my view to ‘kill’ this odious, evil philosophy and the pathetic malcontents who carry out its ‘ideals.’ I have an article that I wrote and posted on this blog back in 2015, “We Need A Judgment At Raqqa,” a take on the Hollywood film classic, Judgment At Nuremberg,” which is available on this blog, if you would like to read more. With that…….

24 December 2018

A Damning Measure of the War on Terror's Failure

By Ivan Eland

The New York Times recently ran a piece with astounding implications that didn’t get very much attention. The headline read: “Two Decades After 9/11, Militants Have Only Multiplied.”

The story reported on a recent study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a pillar of the American foreign policy establishment. CSIS concluded that the number of Islamist militants operating around the globe is nearly four times what it was when the U.S. government began fighting them in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Despite a cost of nearly $6 trillion dollars and the loss of nearly 7,000 U.S. military service members, the war on terror has clearly failed.

The study estimated that Islamist militants now number 230,000 and are spread across 70 countries, with fighters recovering from conventional battle defeats in Iraq and Syria likely to launch guerrilla attacks there and in other nations. Yet CSIS warns that withdrawing American forces from Africa and the Middle East, which the military has already started to do as it prioritizes countering conventional powers, will only help terrorists. The report states that the West has failed to address the root causes of terrorism and concludes that “[p]erhaps the most important component of Western policy should be helping regimes that are facing terrorism improve governance and deal more effectively with economic, sectarian, and other grievances.”

21 December 2018

The View From Olympus: Our Failing Strategy

Author: William S. Lind 

“How many more years and trillions of dollars will we waste doing more of what does not work?” 

An article in the November 21 New York Times revealed two aspects of our ongoing strategic failure in Fourth Generation war. First, it quoted a new study by CSIS that found the number of Sunni 4GW fighters has grown, not shrunk, since we began the “war on terror” on 9/11:

Nearly four times as many Sunni Islamic militants are operating around the world today as on Sept. 11, 2001, despite nearly two decades of American-led campaigns to combat Al Qaeda and the Islamic state, a new independent study concludes.

What Stanley McChrystal Learned From Al Qaeda’s Leader In Iraq Before Leading The Operation To Kill Him

by Christopher Woody, Richard Feloni 

As head of Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq, now-retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal led the effort to take out Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Al-Zarqawi, as the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, sought to ignite a sectarian conflict in the country after the US invasion. 

In tracking down and killing al-Zarqawi, however, McChrystal came to respect his ability to lead the militants he commanded. 

Before Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was blotted out by a US airstrike on June 7, 2006, he made an impression, especially on Stanley McChrystal, who, as a lieutenant general in charge of US Joint Special Operations Command, led the effort to take out the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

16 December 2018

Strasbourg Attack Fits Previous Model of Criminal-Terror Nexus in Europe

by Seth Frantzman

On Tuesday night a man shot at a crowd in central Strasboug. Three were killed and 12 injured in the attack that took place next to a Christmas market. By Wednesday morning security forces were still hunting the suspect, who is known to counter-terrorism services. He initially fled in a taxi from the city of 270,000 which is located near the German border.

According to reports the perpetrator appears to have acted alone. This conjures up memories of the murder of 12 people in the 2016 Christmas market attack in Berlin. The perpetrator in the Germany attack, who was born in Tunisia in 1992 had been in prison in Italy where he was allegedly “radicalized.” German security services had warned of his terrorist connections in the spring of 2016 and he was supposed to be deported.

8 December 2018

The Introspection and Rebuilding of Al Qaeda

Drew McClean

September 11, 2001 is the date that changed how the world perceives Islamist terrorism. The terrorist group responsible for these attacks was Al Qaeda, which was spearheaded by a Saudi national named Osama Bin Laden. On that day, Bin Laden demonstrated that the world’s only superpower is susceptible to attack on home soil, using civilian aircraft to wreak carnage and murder 2,977 innocent people. From that day, it took the United States and her allies almost 10 years to locate and neutralise Bin Laden. During that time however, Al Qaeda was able to establish a global brand that other jihadist militant groups throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia swore allegiance to. Affiliates were established in Iraq, the Maghreb, Arabian Peninsula and recently the Indian Subcontinent, with the latter three still active today. The terrorist group’s planning and activities have subsequently not been confined to one theatre of operations. Al Qaeda has not been significantly weakened since the death of Osama Bin Laden and has been able to continue their jihad due to their belief system. The following will be detailed as to how this has transpired, covering Al Qaeda’s recalibration before and after Bin Laden’s death, the rise of the Islamic State, their current activities, and Bin Laden’s enduring influence within Al Qaeda and amongst aspiring jihadists.

7 December 2018

Europe hasn’t won the war on terror


OSLO — A recent lull in the number and severity of jihadist attacks in Europe might lead one to conclude the worst is over. But it’s far too early to declare victory in the fight against terror.

The shock of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris jolted Europe into a new reality. Paris was hit again later that year, in attacks that killed more than 130. High-profile assaults in Brussels, Berlin and Barcelona soon followed, while a series of smaller-scale incidents in London and France killed dozens and created an atmosphere of fear that kept threat levels high.

But more recently — with no major attack causing more than 10 deaths since the summer of 2017 — terror has slipped from the headlines and the minds of most ordinary European citizens. Indeed, jihadist attacks in Europe are down just over 60 percent since their peak last year, suggesting Europe has fought back against the onslaught of attacks inspired by Islamic State.

1 December 2018

Countering Terrorism Online: Can New Public-Private Approaches Turn the Tide?

By: Alicia Chavy

A YouTube search for “Anwar al-Awlaki” returns 40,000 hits.[i] The poster child for the use of the internet to radicalize others online, Awlaki was a master of creating propaganda materials targeted at Western Muslims. By making jihadist materials available in English, Anwar al-Awlaki and Al-Qaeda-affiliated Samir Khan revolutionized how terrorist organizations connected with a new generation attuned to digital communications technologies. Al-Awlaki’s online efforts exemplify how digital technologies have ignited terrorist groups’ causes, recruitment, and radicalization processes in the past decade. The Internet and other digital platforms have also enhanced terrorists’ access to logistical support and propaganda and improved their ability to embed themselves within local and diaspora communities. In response, governments have cooperated with the private sector to develop some promising new approaches to counter extremist messaging, take down radical online content, and generate innovative technological tools to undermine terrorist groups’ use of digital technologies.


Max Brooks

Editor’s note: MWI Non-Resident Fellow has gathered a broad collection of books that, together, help to conceptualize the many challenges posed by insurgencies. The books he has identified are below.

Insurgencies, guerrilla warfare—whatever we chose to call this type of violence, it is, by far the deadliest threat to those who serve in uniform. Since the middle of the last century, over a quarter of a million Americans were killed or wounded in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And those are just the big ones. As tragic as these figures might be, an even deeper tragedy might be the forgotten lessons that could prevent future casualties.

Every time America wades into a counterinsurgency, those on the ground pay, in blood, for priceless knowledge in the art of how to fight. And yet, every time, that priceless knowledge seems worthless when it comes to future study. The post–Vietnam retreat to the Fulda Gap left the post–9/11 military completely unprepared for Afghanistan or Iraq. As a senior Iraq strategist told me, “I deployed with two duffle bags; one for my gear and the other with books I had to read.” On the subject of Afghanistan, an MWI colleague confessed, “We barely knew anything about the Soviet experience.” That experience is now almost old enough to vote, and yet, despite the nearly two-decade experience with counterinsurgency, the center of strategic gravity is even now, shifting right back to conventional, set-piece combat.

25 November 2018

Two Decades After 9/11, Militants Have Only Multiplied

by Eric Schmitt 

The below is why I have written for several years that we need a “Judgement At Raqqa.” We need to conduct a modern-day version of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials and put militant Islam, and its key enablers like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on trial for crimes against humanity. Killing a person is ‘easy,’ killing an idea, not so much, Much as the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials placed a pall on the Nazi philosophy, we need a 21st century version of those trials to truly stamp out militant Islam. Unless and until we do, we will continue to suffer this plague. RCP,

Destruction along the front lines in the fight to retake Mosul, Iraq, from the Islamic State last year. A study found that despite its territorial losses, the group has more members than when it seized the northern third of Iraq.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times

23 November 2018

The Evolution of the Salafi-Jihadist Threat

Despite the Islamic State’s loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, an increasingly diffuse Salafi-jihadist movement is far from defeated. This report constructs a data set of groups and fighters from 1980 to 2018, including from the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. It finds that the number of Salafi-jihadists in 2018 declined somewhat from a high in 2016, but is still at near-peak levels since 1980. The regions with the largest number of fighters are Syria (between 43,650 and 70,550 fighters), Afghanistan (between 27,000 and 64,060), Paki­stan (between 17,900 and 39,540), Iraq (between 10,000 and 15,000), Nigeria (between 3,450 and 6,900), and Somalia (between 3,095 and 7,240). Attack data indicates that there are still high lev­els of violence in Syria and Iraq from Salafi-jihad­ist groups, along with significant violence in such countries and regions as Yemen, the Sahel, Nigeria, Afghan­istan, and So­malia.

31 October 2018

When to Call a Terrorist a Terrorist

Source Link

On Saturday, a shooter gunned down at least 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the single deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history. U.S. President Donald Trump declared it a “wicked act of mass murder.” As the country grieved, police arrested 46-year-old Robert Bowers, the apparent gunman, who had barricaded himself in the synagogue after a shootout with the police. Before the attack, Bowers had repeatedly posted vicious anti-Semitic slurs on Gab, a social media site popular with white nationalists. He was heard shouting, “All Jews must die,” as he entered the synagogue.

21 October 2018

When Terrorism and Organized Crime Meet

By Mark Shaw and Prem Mahadevan 

In this article, Mark Shaw and Prem Mahadevan highlight how terrorism and organized crime are increasingly indistinguishable. In response, they also argue that policymakers should direct their focus toward stabilizing insecure spaces in the West and developing world. Only by devoting more attention to the so-called violent entrepreneurs operating in these areas, beyond the reach of law enforcement, the authors contend, can we begin to leverage the diplomatic, developmental, economic and policing tools that will be necessary to confront this threat.

17 October 2018

Five lessons ignored in the Trump administration’s new counterterrorism strategy

Eric Rosand

Some aspects are noteworthy, such as the inclusion of domestic terrorism, the focus on strengthening counterterrorism partnerships with countries around the globe, the emphasis on intervention and rehabilitation and reintegration programs, and the pledge to work with civil society and other local actors. However, the strategy is light on details on the “how”—it offering no insight on, for example, the division of labor among the dozens of relevant U.S. government departments and agencies, and says little about the comparative advantages of possible foreign government and multilateral partners. As such, it falls short in a number of important ways. Although the strategy reflects one of the important lessons of the past 17 years of counterterrorism practice—that military and intelligence operations, in isolation, do not end terrorist movements and that complementary (and enhanced) civilian-led efforts are required—it gives short shrift to a number of equally important ones.

16 October 2018

Lessons From An Islamist Neighbourhood Of London In The 1990s: Why ‘Urban Naxals’ Are The Wrong Kind Of ‘Safety Valves

by Pritam Banerjee

Anyone who lived in north London in the late 1990s, and wasn’t biased to Islamism, would tell you that the propaganda that went unchecked there should have been nipped in the bud. Justice Chandrachud’s reference to dissent as a form of safety valve in democracies is undoubtedly well meant and pertinent. But as any engineer would tell you, safety valves need to be well designed. Otherwise they can lead to all kinds of lethal accidents. To allow dissent without discernment is dangerous to the very fabric of civilian engagement and compromise that modern democracies embody. I am speaking from personal lived experience from late 1990s United Kingdom. Living as a student in London in 1999-2000, I found cheap lodgings with a Bangladeshi immigrant family in Bounds Green area of north London. This stretch of the city from around Finsbury Park northwards had a large immigrant population, South Asian, Turkish, and West African, which was predominantly Muslim. These were pre 9/11 days, and mosques, ‘social clubs’, and shops brazenly displayed poster exhorting the faithful to jihad, and the destruction of the infidel in Kashmir and Chechnya.

15 October 2018


by Colin P. Clarke

Although the Islamic State has lost nearly 98 percent of the territory it once controlled, the group is ripe for a comeback in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq and Syria. The main reason is its existing war chest, coupled with its skill at developing new streams of revenue. The Islamic State used to mostly rely on the territory it controlled, including cities and urban strongholds, to amass billions of dollars through extortion, taxation, robbery, and the sale of pilfered oil. But the group has proven that it is capable of making money even without controlling large population centers.

During the apogee of its territorial control in 2015, the Islamic State accrued nearly $6 billion, making it by far the wealthiest terrorist group in history. How could a militant group compile the equivalent of a nation-state’s gross domestic product? When it did hold territory, the Islamic State primarily generated its wealth from three main sources: oil and gas, which totaled about $500 million in 2015, mostly through internal sales; taxation and extortion, which garnered approximately $360 million in 2015; and the 2014 looting of Mosul, during which the Islamic State stole about $500 million from bank vaults…