Joining the dots

I’m sitting in on the two day Contemporary Wafare module at Command and Staff College  that is being conducted by Dr Michael Evans from the Australian Defence College. Although it is only a two day module (compressed down from 4-5 days to fit the study programme) it is a great learning experience both through Michael’s experience and the interaction with members on the staff course; I have almost a whole notebook full of notes (= a few nights typing them all up before I forget which scribble means what!) and some great insights to expand and write on…There was some very good material yesterday afternoon that has helped join some of the dots in our own work here and we’ve just finished working through some of the ethical dilemmas of the contemporary environment…

Generation Kill

generation killGeneration Kill started to screen down here tonight…at the end of Episode One, I had two first impressions…

First up, it blows The Pacific away – totally. Like many viewers, I lost interest in The Pacific before it was halfway through…the characters were wooden and difficult to identify with and all the pretentious hype months prior lead to expectations it just could attain. Conversely, after 58 minutes of Generation Kill, the characters are people, easy to identify with…if there is to be a classic to follow in the vein of Band of Brothers, it may be Generation Kill.

Second, even though the events covered in Generation Kill were ‘only’ seven years ago, the first episode reminds me of a younger, more innocent time…before the blood and the brutality we take for granted in our contemporary environment…

Seven Days in May

I’ve been on a recreational reading blitz over the last month or so…mainly to daily purge the professional reading I have been reviewing…sort of getting a literary life, I guess…

I started with old favourites from Steven Coonts (The Intruders, America), Clive Cussler (Raise the Titanic, Night Probe) and Dale Brown (Wings of Fire and Fatal Terrain). I overnighted at Carmen’s flat in Otorohanga a couple of weekends ago and, having forgotten to bring a book with me, grabbed Michael Connelly’s Echo Park for my pre-lights out read. This was followed by my two wins from Get Frank, Jonathan Kellerman’s Deception and Stephen Leather’s Nightfall.

Two nights ago, I felt the need to reread another favourite and grabbed Larry Bond’s Cauldron but while walking down the hallway, found I had picked out his Days of Wrath instead which was not really what I was in the mood for. As I was replacing it on the shelf in the study, I noticed Fletcher Knebel’s Seven Days in May beside it. I’d only ever read this as a teenager in the Reader’s Digest Condensed version and so opted to read it next.

What a great read!! Published in 1962, before Cuba, Dallas and Vietnam, it is set in the early 70s after a Cold War conflict that leaves Iran divided into Communist North and democratic South – logical for the time considering the Koreas, Vietnam and Germanys. A nuclear disarmament treat has been signed with the Soviet Union but elements of the US military have littler faith in either the Treaty or the President that signed it…to find out what happens you need to read the book (recommended) or see the movie (on my to-do list but it has Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster so I have high expectations).

In addition to being a damn fine read, delivering a gripping  storyline without needing the prop of a high body count as perhaps a contemporary equivalent would, Seven Days in May has a couple of lines that I felt are relevant to our contemporary environment…

Cleaning up the “sad debris of surrender”, as Todd called it, took time

The sad debris of surrender – a good phrase…someone said to me earlier this week that the US is not good at nation-building and I had to bite back quite sharply…this is one of those myths that has appeared since the end of the OIF warfighting phase in 2003, a result of moral high-horsing from the UN and sniping from the UK when post-war Iraq didn’t snap nicely into a nice shining example of Middle Eastern democracy (now there’s an oxymoron for you)…my response included three names…Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, and George C. Marshall…three generals who, between them, rebuilt Europe and Japan from the ashes of WW2. If there was any failure of nation-building in post-war Iraq, it was down to three factors:

The failure of the UN to get over itself and not step to the plate to take the lead in rebuilding Iraq. Regardless of the nature of the disaster that struck Iraq in 2003, the sad human debris of its surrender was left to suffer and endure after the UN’s half-hearted attempt at a presence in Iraq. The few casualties suffered by the UN in Iraq are but a drop in the bucket compared to the casualties suffered by the people of Iraq and those nations that did step forward…

The decision by the US to allow the bulk of development and reconstruction work to be let to US-based mega-corps that only had an eye out for the quick big bucks instead of perhaps applying a fraction of those billions to developing those construction capabilities in Iraq itself, thus contributing to the development and stability of the Iraqi economy. This was a point made by COL Dransfield in his presentation at Massey yesterday on his recent experience in  Afghanistan: he admitted some confusion as to how these contracts could cost so much when the daily rate for labour is about US$5 and all the raw materials like sand and gravel are there for the taking. He was surprised to learn that his PRT was one of the few forces in-theatre that purchased a lot of its support e.g. fresh food, minor mechanical repairs, etc from local resources.

The UK perception that it was on top of both conventional state versus state conflict AND low-level conflict and that it had nothing to learn from the US. The corollarative effect of this was that it also contributed little back into the Iraqi nation-building process at either the national level (after all, the UK was the other primary collaborator in the WMD ‘justification for the war in Iraq) or within it’s own AO which ultimately had to be ‘pacified’ by a US force as the UK was packing its bags to go home, it’s job not done…

At the Australian Army COIN Seminar in 2008, the comment was made that no one ordered Dwight Eisenhower to conduct reconstruction and nation-building tasks as he advanced across France and into Germany – they didn’t have to because it was such a logical and common sense method of pacificying the region. Similarly, Douglas MacArthur was expected to inflict draconian Versaille-like measures against the Japanese after Japan surrendered in August 1945 and many would have believed that he had a major axe to grind with Japan over the way it had treated his beloved Philippines. No doubt he did but, again, this senior US general determined that this would be counter-productive in the bigger picture. As a result, Germany and Japan sixty years on are still two economic powerhouses and one has to wonder what the Army of that day got right in training its senior officers.

Or possibly, as I’m not sure that the US has too much wrong with how it develops its generals today, what was so different sixty years ago that the governments and civil staff trusted those officers to just get on and do the job…?

“…the trouble is that democracy works only when a good majority of citizens are willing to give thoughts and time and effort to their government…”

And that remains the single biggest issue with the current campaign in Afghanistan: at the tribal and provincial levels the majority of citizens may be willing to contribute to government and leadership, there is simply no interest in a strong central government regardless of its composition or ethical philosophies. No matter how much you flog a dead horse it still isn’t going to get up and haul the cart any further…The McCrystal ‘Cursed Earth’ plan essentially abandons the centre of Afghanistan to whoever wants and only maintain a Maginot-like ring around the outer edges of the country – which might be useful if Afghanistan faced any credible conventional external threat. But it doesn’t, and ISAF’s failure to adopt a provincial/tribal based campaign along the lines of that proposed by Jim Gant that might, over time, allow the  ink blots of success to spread and merge only means that more lives and money will be wasted in ineffective and pointless kinetic operations.

MacArthur in particular achieved his success in reconstructing Japan not, by through kinetics or arbitrarily inflicting Western culture on the Japanese but by working within their own culture, evolving an his approach for that situation and no relying on templates from previous successes…what it it so hard to learn…?

The Little Orange Book

I visited the Centre for Defence and Security Studies (CDSS)at Massey University a week or so ago. The nice people there loaned me a copy of Roberto J. Gonzalez’ American Counterinsurgency: Human Science and The Human Terrain so that I might gain a better understanding of those who oppose Human Terrain Systems (HTS). Gonzalez (RJG) is one of the main opponents of HTS and the application of social science techniques in counterinsurgency campaigns.

I started to read this book, The Little Orange Book, at Massey while I was waiting for a meeting to wrap up (not one that I was in!). It’s only 130 pages and I managed to chew through 80-odd then. I use the term ‘chew through’ deliberately as some of the first three chapters was pretty difficult to digest. It’s published by Prickly Paradigm Press which claims to give “…serious authors free rein to say what’s right and what’s wrong about their disciplines and about the world, including what’s never been said before…” The result, certainly in this case, is not as the Prickly Paradigm website claims “…intellectuals unbound, writing unconstrained and creative texts about meaningful matters...” This Little Orange Book, is more a soapbox for a rambling rant than a considered exposition of  RJG’s professional or intellectual opinion.

There are many logical disconnects and inconsistencies in the first three chapters and I think that some rigorous external editing could have helped make this flow and read much better. Part of the problem is that RJG does really define his objections to HTS until the last few pages of the book, forcing the increasingly frustrated reader to wonder ‘where’s this guy coming from?’.

It was a week later that I took a deep breath and dove into the second half of the book. Chapter 4 is certainly a step up from the previous chapters, possibly because I found myself in broad agreement that the US DoD is in cloud-cuckoo-wonderland in its desire for a technologically brilliant system that will take in all the relevant information and punch out all the answers for the complex environment. Maybe it will – someday – but only once a person gets off their butt, gets their boots dirty and figures out what the questions are.

Such a system might have been possible in the heyday of the Cold War when the moving parts were mainly based on platforms with easily quantifiable measurables – had the necessary computing power been available. In fact, had this system been available to Cold Warriors, it probably would have foreseen the Soviet invasion of Iceland that so surprised Pentagon planners when Tom Clancy and Larry Bond released Red Storm Rising in 1986. But the Cold War is over and, as Michael Scheiern identified in 2005, we have now shifted from platform-based tracking to tracking individuals. Not only has the number of trackable entities increased by a factor of hundreds but the individual ‘measurability’ of each entity has increased by a similar amount, and the entities lack the centralised direction inherent in platform-based conflict.

This is not to say, though, the social sciences, anthropology and HTS’ don’t have a role to play in the complex contemporary environment – anything but. What it does mean is that we will have to accept and take risk, develop and rely upon judgement to employ and apply this information. It also means that we need to evolve away from thinking of complex intelligence as being predictive in nature as it may have been around the Fulda Gap. In their place we must develop more responsive intelligence systems support responses to the largely unpredictable activities that erupt across the operating environment.

Organisations like the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit are founded upon a blend of the principles and practices of social sciences and this responsive philosophy. Rarely if ever will the BAU predict the first in a series of attacks, although once on the trail of a specific adversary will often very rapidly develop accurate profiles of that adversary, be it an individual or group. Yes, I watch Bones too and am well aware of the timeless struggle between the forces of anthropology and psychology to prove which isn’t merely pseudo-science. This is a false distinction and both disciplines must work together, focusing on individuals AND groups in order to provide a commander with employable insights.

Herein lies the problem with This Little Orange Book. RJG is so intent on ring-fencing social sciences that he can not see that no science or discipline can usually function in isolation. He is so fixated on HTS in Iraq and Afghanistan that he forgets that social sciences are subject to (potential) abuse across society every day: as I remarked at Massey after reading the first half of this book, it would be interesting to compare the outputs of the schools of marketing, politics and anthropology at Massey and see whether they are more alike than different.

RJG states again and again that the deployment of HTS to support military operations breaches various understood ‘contracts’ in that social science should do no harm. He totally misses the point that, regardless of how or why these wars started, HTS might actually be doing more good than harm in adding elements of precision, if not perfection, to campaigns where blunt force may be one of the few viable options.

It is not until the Chapter Five that the readers finds the real reasons for this. RJG is making a standing on moral principle – he’s up on a political soapbox to attack the American Empire which he sees as an evil bent on taking over the world. If the evilly bad American Empire was not involved in its evil wars in the Middle East , RJG would be quite happy for social sciences to feed the same predictive machine he denounced in Chapter Four – which would of course only be used for good.

It’s ironic that an ardent proponent of social science is intent upon suborning these tools that focus upon ‘the people’ to the same technological philosophy that drove the platform focussed Cold War. Conceptually this evolved into the Powell doctrine that built upon the false lessons of the 1991 Gulf War and culminated in the ‘shock and awe’ campaigns that failed to produce the goods in Kosovo, Serbia or Iraq. RJG’s campaigns against HTS has driven the Government to seek more technical solutions towards understanding the contemporary environment and to steer away from the blindingly obvious truth.

That truth is that it’s all about people and that includes people doing (at least some of) the collection and people applying judgement to that information, raw and processed, to develop useful (timely, relevant) information. An example is the enhanced Video Text & Audio Processing (eViTAP) tool that was successfully trialed on CWID in 2007. Evitap is a very sharp tool that processes video, audio and digital files for predetermined cues that have been identified (by a person) as potential indicators of an impending incident. When those cues are identified, a person is notified in order to make a decision on actions that may or may not be taken.

Where is all goes wrong is that we have become so fixated on the technology providing the answers that we have stopped teaching people to think critically, to apply professional judgement, make a decision and run with it. By using This Little Orange Book as a soapbox for a raving rant (or ranting rave) instead of coherent consideration of the issues, RJG has actually scored more points for the technocrats and undermined his beloved social science…

Be First With The Truth

Who hasn’t seen these 38 minute long gun camera clip that this still was taken from? Released by Wikileaks this week, the clip graphically displays the killing of two journalist by a US Army Apache gunship crew in Iraq in 2007. The first thing to note is that these people were killed by the helicopter’s crew, the gunship is just the tool and without EDI-like artificial intelligence, the crew is the decision-making engine that decides to pull the trigger or not…in this case they opted to fire, based on what appears to be the flimsiest of ‘evidence’…

Wikileaks has established a specific site for this topic, named appropriately Collateral Murder, that has links to the full and abbreviated clips and the transcript of communications between the two crew members and US troops on the ground in the vicinity. It is certainly worth a look to draw your own conclusions.

While I don’t think that the smugness of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, (see wiki on Wikileaks) did anything to enhance his own credibility nor add anything to the story, I have to agree that, in this case, he is in the right to be blowing the whistle on this incident. It appears that the DoD was well aware of the incident at the time and cleared the gunship crew in an internal review process at the time. If that is the case, then there is clearly more to this story than meets the eye as they is nothing in the footage nor the transcript to support the this use of force.

No one denies that operations in any environment are challenging and often tough decisions have to made in a  split-second but this doesn’t seem to be one of those times. This is the warzone that Iraq was in 2004 and 2005 – this incident occurred post-surge in 2007 when, theoretically, the US had a good handle on both TTPs for the contemporary environment AND in training its people for that environment.

That the DoD chose to sit on this incident after conducting an internal whitewash is a clear indication that many of its staff still don’t ‘get it’ so far as this new and complex environment that we operate in. At the very least, this incident should have been reported as one of those things that happen in war, with apologies, condolences and reparations where applicable. However it is not unreasonable, noting the cavalier attitude of the gunship crew, that there is a case for willful negligence in these deaths – one definitely gets the feeling that both men were just looking for any excuse (not reason) to squeeze the trigger and nowhere is this made clearer than in the comment passed when ground troops reported that children had been injured “…Roger. Ah damn. Oh well…Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle…” With friendly troops on the ground, there appears no reason that other courses of action could not have been adopted to at the very least confirm the targets before engaging them…

While the use of force is a legitimate tool in Countering Irregular Activity, and ISAF’s squeamishness about directly engaging targets in the vicinity of hostile forces is another example of not ‘getting it’, this incident violates everything we try to teach about getting ahead in the contemporary environment….

Afterthought: how come the Marines never seem to have these kind of problems…?

A ‘poor western to arab death ratio!’

Curzon @ Coming Anarchy recounts his adventures flying on local airlines around the Gulf…sounds like feigning sleep is the best option…and while on the topic of Curzon, I have yet to finish reading his biography. The reason that it is taking so long is not that it is hard work and difficult to read – if anything, exactly the opposite: although some of the content is quite dry, it is so well written that I find myself savouring it like a fine dessert…comparing it to more contemporary writing, I think that we have lost a lot in the fifty years since this book was published…

Also on Coming Anarchy, Younghusband reviews David Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla. He summarises:

For close readers of COIN and CT theory, I do not think this book will offer any new insight. Kilcullen’s contribution though is an excellent overview of the “social work with guns” theory of COIN, as well as a succinct presentation of the realist arguments for non-intervention and conservation of military power…The last few pages, where he presents his policy ideas, is really where practitioners can sink their teeth in. Lots of debating points there. For example:

    • develop a new lexicon to better describe the threat (rather than UW, COIN, irregular warfare etc)
    • discuss a new grand strategy (have an ARCADIA conference on terrorism)
    • balance capability (Why is DOD 210 times bigger than USAID and State?)
    • identify new “strategic services” (ie. a new OSS)
    • develop a capacity for strategic information warfare.

As readers will now from the work published here, these insights are nothing new although it is refreshing to see them in a mainstream publication. It’s unfortunate that the conceptual COIN effort in the US especially (most others are simply followers) is still largely fragmented and lies predominately in the domain of the information militia. The focus on the Iraqi insurgency in 2005-6 has caused the term COIN to be used interchangeably across the contemporary environment and that has caused many to apply inappropriate concepts, policies and doctrine to the issues they face. Our findings in 2007 were initially that the Marines had a better grip on the issue in developing the Countering the Irregular Threat (CIT) concept; and then that the UK encapsulated it even better with Countering Irregular Activity (CIA) which covers the broad spectrum of irregular (potentially destabilising) activities from all sources and causes, natural and man-made. The flip side of both CIT and CIA is the need for a comprehensive approach harnessing the appropriate and relevant instruments of national power including those on NGOs and commercial/corporate interests which usually fall outside the accepted definitions of NGO. These are all themes that we have been exploring in the series The New War.

Bears in the Air

QRA Scramble to Intercept Russian Blackjack_Aircraft MOD_45151233

Well…Blackjacks actually…in a timely reminder that there are more bad things out there than just some nutjob hiding in a cave inciting the masses with poor quality video…the Russian Bear is alive and well and still has aspirations of Empire, certainly under its current keeper…perhaps we ought not be so quick in cancelling programmes like F-22 and planning total reliance on a committee-designed one-size fits all hybrid like the F-35…wasn’t the last time we tried – and failed – at a ‘joint’ aircraft the infamous F-111 project that skewered the TSR.2, set back the Aussie strike programme by over a decade and saw a less-than-stellar combat debut in Vietnam…thank the maker for the F-4 Phantom that carried the resulting load for the better part of a decade.

And on the topic of potential threats, STRATFOR carries an item on Chinese speed wobbles as the US ramps up a comprehensive (or unified, if you went to that school) approach to a potential threat…like Japan, China has built an economy on a foundation of sand and hope and its starting to get wobbly…all the more reason to keep the F-22 fires stoked and warm up that A-10 production line (and do a naval variant this time round!)…on yes, and you might need some decent SPGs to replace the M109s that grandpappy used in Vietnam…and don’t be counting on your data links staying up all the time so have a think about leaving the seats in any new airfames you invest in for combat… Neptunus Lex also carries some comment on this article…

The top ten manly movies

John Birmingham has been busy…The Geek discusses what are the top ten manly movies…JB votes for these with my comments in red:

1. True Grit. (Yes, you must fill your hands with this sonofabitch). Absolutely!

2. Saving Pvt. Ryan. (Because war is hell good lookin’ on blu-ray wide screen). Nah!! Too much gratuitous violence in the beginning that adds nothing to the story and the meandering journey across France is just boring. Blackhawk Down delivers all the same messages better and is based on a true story.

3. Master and Commander. (Tips out Gladiator because nobody wears skirts). Agree re Master and Commander not Gladiator which I slot in below.

4. Casino Royale (the remake, and the manliest Bond flick EVAARRR!). Yep!

5. Treasure of the Sierra Madre. (Or any Bogart flick, except the ones with a love interest). Ummm…no…Bogey never quite did it for me…from this era I’d opt for The 39 Steps.

6. The Magnificent Seven. (Well duh. It is magnificent, you know). Yep!

7. The Dirty Dozen. (Or Kelly’s Heroes, if you prefer your war movies with a psychedelic twist). Or both…

8. Cool Hand Luke. (Because I say no man can eat fifty eggs). Hmmmm…whatever…ditch in favour of 633 Squadron, the best flying movie every made.

9. Raging Bull. (Or any movie about boxers or wrestlers. They’re all good.) Replace with Kelly’s Heroes.

10. 300. (Because this is Sparta). How come these guys get to wear skirts, JB? Replace with Gladiator.

Cheeseburger Gothic also hosts a nice piece of fan fiction from The Wave section of the Birmoverse.

Get it off!

Dean @ Travels with Shiloh has developed a new counter to female suicide bombers…I wonder if the cure might not be worse than the problem…?

In more serious news, he summarises a recent workshop at Princeton on Afghanistan – in terms of being out of AFG in 2011, I hope that someone is working on the chopper pad on top of the Embassy…I think we all must have slept through the lesson on COIN re the long haul – or maybe that lesson took place during the five year summer holidays in Iraq?

Where it all began

Peter has released a prologue to The Doomsday Machine…great to see a local lad doing so well at this authoring thingie…

I also like his comments re President Obama’s snub at Israel…but disagree on the credibility of commenting on a book one has not read…I used to be prone to making similar judgements especially on movies so missed Gladiator on the big screen and gave the first series of Dr Who a miss as well…that learned me!!

Who am I?

Portable Learner discusses ways and means of promoting oneself on LinkedIn, something that I have been wresting with recently as well. The options available are quite prescriptive and I don’t think that will change regardless of what’s on the list. Lists, I think, are an industrial age tools that we have yet to evolve away from and, like so much industrial age legacy material, they hold us back. I agree with Shanta that ‘internet’ is probably more descriptive of how one might think than its clinical definition might imply.

I also agree totally with her points re e-learning which is sliding back into industrial age slime instead of being the shining beckon of knowledge it once appeared to be. In order to “…design effective learn ing environments in a networked world…” we must sever the ties with industrial tools and focus on the information and it s nurturing and growth…This is one reason that I think that the US Navy may have ever so slightly lost it in merging its 2 (intel) and 6 (comms) branches into the Information Dominance Corps (IDC) – yes, for real!! I see a very real risk that the information under this structure will be overshadowed by the fears and rules of the technicians and we will lose that timely dissemination that we so desperately need…it maybe that the victims of this merger will see their op critical information become a commodity that is delivered IDC…In…Due…Course – a phrase straight from the repertoire of petty bureaucrats and mindless chair polishers…



This STRATFOR article Jihadism and the Importance of Place arrived in the mail last night. It is so good that I believe it is worth repeating in its entirety. My only comment is that, while this report reflects success in the campaign against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, that is still but one campaign in the wider war against those who preach and practice takfiri phliosophies.

As an admin note, I have edited yesterday’s post because I realised this morning that I had skipped out the first paragraph….

STRATFOR Security Weekly March 25, 2010

By Scott Stewart

One of the basic tenets of STRATFOR’s analytical model is that place matters. A country’s physical and cultural geography will force the government of that country to confront certain strategic imperatives no matter what form the government takes. For example, Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia all have faced the same set of strategic imperatives. Similarly, place can also have a dramatic impact on the formation and operation of a militant group, though obviously not in quite the same way that it affects a government, since militant groups, especially transnational ones, tend to be itinerant and can move from place to place.

From the perspective of a militant group, geography is important but there are other critical factors involved in establishing the suitability of a place. While it is useful to have access to wide swaths of rugged terrain that can provide sanctuary such as mountains, jungles or swamps, for a militant group to conduct large-scale operations, the country in which it is based must have a weak central government — or a government that is cooperative or at least willing to turn a blind eye to the group. A sympathetic population is also a critical factor in whether an area can serve as a sanctuary for a militant group. In places without a favorable mixture of these elements, militants tend to operate more like terrorists, in small urban-based cells.

For example, although Egypt was one of the ideological cradles of jihadism, jihadist militants have never been able to gain a solid foothold in Egypt (as they have been able to do in Algeria, Yemen and Pakistan). This is because the combination of geography and government are not favorable to them even in areas of the country where there is a sympathetic population. When jihadist organizations have become active in Egypt, the Egyptian government has been able to quickly hunt them down. Having no place to hide, those militants who are not immediately arrested or killed frequently leave the country and end up in places like Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan (and sometimes Jersey City). Over the past three decades, many of these itinerant Egyptian militants, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, have gone on to play significant roles in the formation and evolution of al Qaeda — a stateless, transnational jihadist organization.

Even though al Qaeda and the broader jihadist movement it has sought to foster are transnational, they are still affected by the unique dynamics of place, and it is worth examining how these dynamics will likely affect the movement’s future.

The Past

The modern iteration of the jihadist phenomenon that resulted in the formation of al Qaeda was spawned in the rugged mountainous area along the Afghan-Pakistani border. This was a remote region not only filled with refugees — and militants from all over the globe — but also awash in weapons, spies, fundamentalist Islamism and intrigue. The area proved ideal for the formation of modern jihadism following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, but it was soon plunged into Muslim-on-Muslim violence. After the fall of the communist regime in Kabul in 1992, Afghanistan was wracked by near-constant civil war between competing Muslim warlords until the Taliban seized power in 1996. Even then, the Taliban-led government remained at war with the Northern Alliance. In 1992, in the midst of this chaos, al Qaeda began to move many of its people to Sudan, which had taken a heavy Islamist bent following a 1989 coup led by Gen. Omar al-Bashir and heavily influenced by Hasan al-Turabi and his National Islamic Front party. Even during this time, al Qaeda continued operating established training camps in Afghanistan like Khaldan, al Farook and Darunta. The group also maintained its network of Pakistani safe-houses in places like Karachi and Peshawar that it used to direct prospective jihadists from overseas to its training camps in Afghanistan.

In many ways, Sudan was a better place for al Qaeda to operate from, since it offered far more access to the outside world than the remote camps in Afghanistan. But the access worked both ways, and the group received far more scrutiny during its time in Sudan than it had during its stay in Afghanistan. In fact, it was during the Sudan years (1992-1996) when many in the counterterrorism world first became conscious of the existence of al Qaeda. Most people outside of the counterterrorism community were not familiar with the group until after the August 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, and it was not really until 9/11 that al Qaeda became a household name. But this notoriety came with a price. Following the June 1995 attempt to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (an attack linked to Egyptian militants and al Qaeda), the international community — including Egypt and the United States — began to place heavy pressure on the government of Sudan to either control Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda or eject them from the country.

In May 1996, bin Laden and company, who were not willing to be controlled, pulled up stakes and headed back to Afghanistan. The timing was propitious for al Qaeda, which was able to find sanctuary in Afghanistan just as the Taliban were preparing for their final push on Kabul, bringing stability to much of the country. While the Taliban were never wildly supportive of bin Laden, they at least tolerated his presence and activities and felt obligated to protect him as their guest under Pashtunwali, the ancient code of the Pashtun people. Al Qaeda also shrewdly had many of its members marry into influential local tribes as an added measure of security. Shortly after returning to Afghanistan, bin Laden felt secure enough to issue his August 1996 declaration of war against the United States.

The rugged and remote region of eastern and northeastern Afghanistan, bordered by the Pakistani badlands, provided an ideal area in which to operate. It was also a long way from the ocean and the United States’ ability to project power. While al Qaeda’s stay in Afghanistan was briefly interrupted by a U.S. cruise missile attack in August 1998 following the East Africa embassy bombings, the largely ineffective attack demonstrated the limited reach of the United States, and the group was able to operate pretty much unmolested in Afghanistan until the October 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. During their time in Afghanistan, al Qaeda was able to provide basic military training to tens of thousands of men who passed through its training camps. The camps also provided advanced training in terrorist tradecraft to a smaller number of selected students.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan radically changed the way the jihadists viewed Afghanistan as a place. U.S. military power was no longer confined to the Indian Ocean; it had now been brought right into the heart of Afghanistan. Instead of a place of refuge and training, Afghanistan once again became a place of active combat, and the training camps in Afghanistan were destroyed or relocated to the Pakistani side of the border. Other jihadist refugees fled Afghanistan for their countries of origin, and still others, like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, left Afghanistan for the badlands of northern Iraq — which, as part of the U.S. no-fly zone, was out the reach of Saddam Hussein, who as a secular leader had little ideological sympathy for the jihadist cause.

Pakistan’s rugged and remote Pashtun belt proved a welcoming refuge for jihadists at first, but U.S. airstrikes turned it into a dangerous place, and al Qaeda became fractured and hunted. The group had lost important operational leaders like Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan, and its losses were multiplied in Pakistan, where important figures like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were captured or killed. Under extreme pressure, the group’s apex leadership went deep underground to stay alive.

Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Iraq became an important place for the jihadist movement. Unlike Afghanistan, which was seen as remote and on the periphery of the Muslim world, Iraq was at its heart. Baghdad had served as the seat of the Islamic empire for some five centuries. The 2003 invasion also fit hand-in-glove with the jihadist narrative, which claimed that the West had declared war on Islam, and thereby provided a serious boost to efforts to raise men and money for the jihadist struggle. Soon foreign jihadists were streaming into Iraq from all over the world, not only from places like Saudi Arabia and Algeria but also from North America and Europe. Indeed, we even saw the core al Qaeda group asking the Iraqi jihadist leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, for financial assistance.

One of the things that made Iraq such a welcoming place was the hospitality of the Sunni sheikhs in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle who took in the foreign fighters, sheltered them and essentially used them as a tool. Once the largesse of these tribal leaders dried up, we saw the Anbar Awakening in 2005-2006, and Iraq became a far more hostile place for the foreign jihadists. This local hostility was fanned by the brutality of al-Zarqawi and his recklessness in attacking other Muslims. The nature of the human terrain had changed in the Sunni Triangle, and it became a different place. Al-Zarqawi was killed in June 2006, and the rat lines that had been moving jihadists into Iraq were severely disrupted.

While some of the jihadists who had served in Iraq, or who had aspired to travel to Iraq, were forced to go to Pakistan, still others began focusing on places like Algeria and Yemen. Shortly after the Anbar Awakening we saw the formation of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and a revitalization of the jihadists in Yemen, who had been severely weakened by a November 2002 U.S. missile strike and a series of arrests in 2002-2003. Similarly, Somalia also became a destination where foreign jihadists could receive training and fight, especially those of Somali or other African heritage.

And this brings us up to today. The rugged borderlands of Pakistan continue to be a focal point for jihadists, but increasing pressure by U.S. airstrikes and Pakistani military operations in places like Bajaur, Swat and South Waziristan have forced many foreign jihadists to leave Pakistan for safer locations. The al Qaeda central leadership continues to lay low, and groups like the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have taken over the leadership of the jihadist struggle on the physical battlefield. As long as the ideology of jihadism persists, transnational and itinerant jihadist militants will continue to operate. Where their next geographic center of gravity will be hinges on a number of factors.

Geographic Factors

When one looks for prime jihadist real estate, one of the first important factors (as in any real estate transaction) is location. Unlike most home buyers, though, jihadists don’t want a home near the metro stop or important commuter arteries. Instead, they want a place that is isolated and relatively free of government authority. That is why Afghanistan, the Pakistani border region, the Sulu Archipelago, the African Sahel and Somalia have all proved to be popular jihadist haunts.

A second important factor is human terrain. Like any militant or insurgent group, the jihadists need a local population that is sympathetic to them if they are to operate in numbers larger than small cells. This is especially true if they hope to run operations such as training camps that are hard to conceal. Without local support they would run the risk of being turned in to the authorities or sold out to countries like the United States that may have put large bounties on the heads of key leaders. A conservative Muslim population with a warrior tradition is also a plus, as seen in Pakistan and Yemen. Indeed, Abu Musab al-Suri, a well-known jihadist strategist and so-called “architect of global jihad,” even tried (unsuccessfully) to convince bin Laden in 1989 to relocate to Yemen precisely because of the favorable human terrain there.

The importance of human terrain is very evident in the Iraq example described above, in which a change in attitude by the tribal sheikhs rapidly made once welcoming areas into hostile and dangerous places for the foreign jihadists. Iraqi jihadists, who were able to fit in better with the local population, were able to persist in this hostile environment longer than their foreign counterparts. This concept of local support is one of the factors that will limit the ability of Arab jihadists to operate in remote and chaotic places like sub-Saharan Africa or even the rainforests of South America. They are not indigenous like members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or Sendero Luminoso, and differences in religion and culture will impede their efforts to intermarry into powerful tribes as they have done in Pakistan and Yemen.

Geography and human terrain are helpful factors, but they are not the exclusive determinants. You can just as easily train militants in an open field as in a dense jungle, so long as you are unmolested by an outside force, and that is why government is so important to place. A weak government that has a lack of political and physical control over an area or a local regime that is either cooperative or at least non-interfering is also important. When we consider government, we need to focus on the ability and will of the government at the local level to fight an influx of jihadism. In several countries, jihadism was allowed to exist and was not countered by the government as long as the jihadists focused their efforts elsewhere.

However, the wisdom of pursuing such an approach came into question in the period following 9/11, when jihadist groups in a number of places began conducting active operations in their countries of residence. This occurred in places like Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and even Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where jihadist groups joined al Qaeda’s call for a global jihad. And this response proved to be very costly for these groups. The attacks they conducted, combined with heavy political pressure from the United States, forced some governments to change the way they viewed the groups and resulted in some governments focusing the full weight of their power to destroy them. This resulted in a dynamic where a group briefly appears, makes a splash with some spectacular attacks, then is dismantled by the local government, often with foreign assistance (from countries like the United States). In some countries, the governments lacked the necessary intelligence-gathering and tactical capabilities, and it has taken a lot of time and effort to build up those capabilities for the counterterrorism struggle. In other places, like Somalia, there has been very little government to build on.

Since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government has paid a lot of attention to “draining the swamps” where these groups seek refuge and train new recruits. This effort has spanned the globe, from the southern Philippines to Central Asia and from Bangladesh to Mali and Mauritania. And it is paying off in places like Yemen, where some of the special counterterrorism forces are starting to exhibit some self-sufficiency and have begun to make headway against AQAP. If Yemen continues to exhibit the will to go after AQAP, and if the international community continues to enable them to do so, it will be able to follow the examples of Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, countries where the jihadist problem has not been totally eradicated but where the groups are hunted and their tactical capabilities are greatly diminished. This will mean that Yemen will no longer be seen as a jihadist haven and training base. The swamp there will have been mostly drained. Another significant part of this effort will be to reshape the human terrain through ideological measures. These include discrediting jihadism as an ideology, changing the curriculum at madrassas and re-educating militants.

With swamps such as Yemen and Pakistan slowly being drained, the obvious question is: Where will the jihadists go next? What will become the next focal point on the physical battlefield? One obvious location is Somalia, but while the government there is a basket case and controls little more than a few neighborhoods in Mogadishu, the environment is not very conducive for Somalia to become the next Pakistan or Yemen. While the human terrain in Somalia is largely made up of conservative Muslims, the tribal divisions and fractured nature of Somali society — the same things that keep the government from being able to develop any sort of cohesion — will also work against al-Shabaab and its jihadist kin. Many of the various tribal chieftains and territorial warlords see the jihadists as a threat to their power and will therefore fight them — or leak intelligence to the United States, enabling it to target jihadists it views as a threat. Arabs and South Asians also tend to stick out in Somalia, which is a predominately black country.

Moreover, Somalia, like Yemen, has broad exposure to the sea, allowing the United Stated more or less direct access. Having long shorelines along the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, it is comparatively easy to slip aircraft and even special operations teams into and out of Somalia. With a U.S. base in Djibouti, orbits of unmanned aerial vehicles are also easy to sustain in Somali airspace.

The winnowing down of places for jihadists to gather and train in large numbers continues the long process we have been following for many years now. This is the transition of the jihadist threat from one based on al Qaeda the group, or even on its regional franchise groups, to one based more on a wider movement composed of smaller grassroots cells and lone-wolf operatives. Going forward, the fight against jihadism will also have to adapt, because the changes in the threat will force a shift in focus from merely trying to drain the big swamps to mopping up the little pools of jihadists in places like London, Brooklyn, Karachi and even cyberspace. As discussed last week, this fight will present its own set of challenges.

Resuming normal services

I, even if no one else has, have enjoyed my three days dedicated to the Birmoverse…however now it’s back to this time line, which does have as many cool toys but nor has it been liberally sprinkled with anthrax and radioactive dust…

Lay the old divisions to rest…

I got some more homework from my visit to the Air Power Development Centre last week…a copy of the latest RAF Air Power Review (Autumn 2009)…I see that each issue back to 2000 is available online so will have to add them to the library when I next visit broadband land. I’ve just read the first paper on the Future of British Air and Space Power by the current Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton and am looking forward to working through the remaining six items…I do like the way Sir Stephen thinks (I’m sure that he is very relieved to hear this!) but his views are still very air-centric and I believe that this is a lesson that has yet to be learned…just as we need to cast off any perception that there is such a thing as a solely military option to a problem and embrace this  Comprehensive  Approach  concept, we also MUST forget about any one service (or branch of service if you want to take it down a level) that has primacy over the others – there is just military power as a blend of capabilities from air, land, maritime, SF, etc operating under a broader Whole of Government/Comprehensive Approach construct. It’s easy to talk the talk and adopt the doctrine but less easy to shake off the blankie of the Fulda Gap and decades of interservice sparring and competition. This message is further borne out in this article from the UK (courtesy of The Strategist) as Defence chiefs square up for a bit of biffo over who needs the best toys

The thing that the Brits (especially) need to realise is that playing in the big kids world costs real money e.g. as per the example yesterday about the evacuation chain for a British casualty from Afghanistan. They bleated, cried and sniped at the US all through the Iraq War – til they bailed rather ignominiously – and realised that perhaps instead of dumping on the Yanks, they should have been following them around, notebooks at the ready, hanging off every word and taking copious notes…because…the Americans have it together…like it or not…warts and all…they have it together. and in comparing their treatment by the US to that of Portugal, they only insult the Portugese…I’m not specifically Brit-bashing as these lessons apply to some degree to all of us…the world has changed, certainly since 911, probably way earlier but we just didn’t really notice…

Clean your room!

Neptunus Lex discusses obstacles to true democracy in Iraq – I think that it is high time that ALL of the Coalition of the Willing stand up and accept responsibility for the mess they created in Iraq. As I commented there, it was a decade before Germany and Japan were allowed to take off their democratic training wheels after World War 2 and that was without the internal divisions that tear at Iraq AND, in both cases, where THEY started ‘it’. ‘We’ started ‘it’ in Iraq and thus have a responsibility to see the clean-up through. Ironically Iraq under Saddam was less a threat to the world that Iraq as it is now post-intervention. Even more frustrating is that the US wrote the book(s) on COIN in FM 3-24 and then JP 3-24 but does not seem to have spent much time reading them:

Counterinsurgents Should Prepare for a Long-Term Commitment. Insurgencies    are    protracted    by    nature,    and    history demonstrates  that  they  often  last  for  years  or  even  decades. Thus, COIN normally demands considerable expenditures of time  and  resources,  especially  if  they  must  be  conducted simultaneously  with  conventional  operations  in  a  protracted war combining traditional and IW.

For some reason the WeRead app on Facebook keeps resetting my status on Accidental Guerrilla from ‘Read It’ to “Reading It’. In trying again to fix it once and for all (yes, I do tear my hair over minutiae, don’t I?), I noticed a review by ‘Sharif’, in particular, these words:

…Fits well into the perspective of Sir Edmund Hillary: “slowly and painfully we are seeing worldwide acceptance of the fact that the wealthier and more technologically advanced countries have a responsibility to help the underdeveloped ones, not only through a sense of charity, bu also because only in this way can we ever hope to see any permanent peace and security for ourselves.” Detail oriented, thorough and succinct. A must read to gain perspective of the challenges ahead…

Ultimately it’s all about stability. Countering Irregular Activities is a bit of a mouthful and Countering Destabilising Activities strays into double negativity – what they are is fact and in essence are stability operations conducted under the broad umbrella of the Comprehensive Approach. If you truly want stability, then go clean up your mess. If you truly want stability, follow the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in Haiti with a stability programme to address the real problems there – you could probably start by kicking out, or at least reining in, the cargo cult do-gooder NGOs. Even encourage Bill Clinton to run for President (of Haiti!!).

On NOT profiling

An interesting comment last night on the failing of profiling as a technique and discussing methods of identifying people at risk and potential threat – there is some food for thought on the Aggression Management website and I would be most interested to hear supporting and dissenting comments…

Flying fingers (all both of them!)

I have decided that it is well past time that I taught myself to touch type as even though fingers can rely fly now, then just don’t go fast enough and when I’m on a roll I tend to lose ideas because I can’t get them down fast enough. I’m dead keen on exploring open source software at the moment and so I am starting off with TypeFaster. Today is Day One and so far I can type words only using ‘f’ and ‘j’ at 28.6 words per minute…I’m also becoming quite partial to PDF XChange Viewer as a faster more powerful alternative to Adobe’s Reader: the free version allows commenting and comment export on PDF files without (so far as I can see) any watermarking or other promotional material to ‘encourage’ an upgrade to the Pro version.

It’s Only Paper

On Paper Modelers today there is a note that noted Hollywood special effects artist, Hilber Graf, has just died aged 54. He worked on The Abyss, and was also an author, screenwriter, paranormal investigator, Halloween haunted house creator and noted plastic/resin model builder. Some years ago he published an article on Paper Modelling “It’s Only Paper” that is a good intro to anyone considering having  a crack at this art form – and having seen some of the Paper Replika free-to-download models in Playing with Knives the other day, who wouldn’t want to try it in the privacy of their own home…?

Accidental Guerrilla Part 2

Well, that did get better as it progressed…I found the first two chapters close to interminable, loved Chapter 3 on Iraq and the last Chapter on the way ahead; I didn’t like the chapter of allegedly supporting case studies: nothing annoys me more than someone flogging a dead horse of a model when the evidence in the case studies simply doesn’t supply the model, in this case, that of the Accidental Guerrilla.

I agree that foreign fighters and Rupert Smith’s ‘franchisers of terror‘ are significant forces in the irregular activity world, however I simply do not accept that national guerrillas become such ‘by accident’. Opportunist, reactive or responsive would be better adjectives for national guerrillas in that they react to and/or seize an opportunity presented by the actions of national or international interventions (civil and/or military).

The other major factor that detracts from The Accidental Guerrilla is its over-fixation on Islamic terrorism, instead of upon more general terrorism and insurgency. By labouring the Islamic angle, the author may be going some way to further the rift between Islamic communities and the rest of the world.

Similarly, the whole concept of ‘hybrid warfare’ just grates…war is by definition is a complex activity that resists simple definitions – one which also tends to punish those who fail to respect this fact. To postulate that hybrid war is either new or different from any other form of war is illustrative of a concept inability to consider and learn from history. Another contribution to the global game of buzzword bingo…

David Kilcullen writes very well when recounting his own experiences, and considerably less well when trying to support his theoretical model. To get the most out of The Accidental Guerrilla, read the preface,  Chapter 3 The Twenty-First Day, and Chapter 5 Turning an Elephant into a Mouse in conjunction with Jim Molan’s Running the War in Iraq. It’s probably entirely coincidental that both books are written by Australian Army officers – or maybe not – maybe that slight aspect of distance from US and NATO issues provides an subtle but important difference of perspective. These readings will give a reader from most backgrounds a firm grounding in issues and approaches for the complex environment. I have a dozen or so pages of notes and will write a more detailed review in the next week or so…

The bottom line on The Accidental Guerrilla is that it is worth reading – the preface, Chapters 3 and 5 outweigh the slog through the other chapters…having said that, down here we have a beer company called Tui which sponsors a range of topical billboards across the country, using the Tui slogan “yeah right“…here’s some Tui moments from The Accidental Guerrilla (yes, I really do like it but these were too good to pass up):

Buy a crate on the way home tonight…