Interconnectedness has allowed society to take great leaps forward, social media and the internet remain an ungoverned space for nefarious actors. Violent extremist organizations, criminal groups, and state actors have all taken advantage of the anonymity and access afforded by modern technology to plan, execute, and support operations, gaining relative superiority over traditional security structures. As adversaries become more technologically savvy, the United States and its allies must become more adept at leveraging these trends. Open source intelligence, especially when coupled with rapidly improving big data analysis tools, which can comb through data sets that were previously too complex to derive meaningful results, has the potential to offset this growing problem, providing intelligence on enemy forces, partners, and key populations.
The operational and doctrinal relevance of Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Clausewitz’s On War in today’s counterinsurgency operations remains firm and valid. In numerous instances, they provide us a template to analyze various aspects of a counter-insurgency operation including the use of local values and principles as a tool to understand the strategic culture of an adversary. It must be understood that the evolution of technology may improve one or other aspects of a counterinsurgency operation, but the core elements remain more or less the same and are diverse depending upon the region of conflict. The non-linearity and flexibility of an insurgency are such that it can exploit various means such as misinformation campaigns, religious and ideological differences, as well as enlisting foreign support to keep it alive during the conflict.
There are several bilateral and multilateral agreements among nations to support inter-intra agency coordination and cooperation. There are also global security institutions such as United Nations Counter Terrorism Centre and its sister agencies such as United Nations Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force. However, many of these agencies continue to operate independently. This is apparent in the case of the United Nations Security Council designated Counter Terrorism Directorate and the United Nations Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate that have few operational partners within the European Union and yet to begin meaningful interactions with NATO.
The question that must be faced is this: Can the EU manage its vast resources to maximise its information sharing with partner agencies and tighten its grip around radical Islamic factions returning to Europe? To answer this question and provide an appropriate response to various other underlying questions, we must better understand foreign fighter factions, their agenda, and their operational mechanism.
Waging counterterrorism operations is not just about having the right inventory of weaponry and the latest technical tools. Neither is simply marshaling the political will of the American population sufficient for undertaking counterterrorism. Wherever the US government wants to wage sustained campaigns with drones, it needs the buy-in of local actors but the interests of many of the actors fundamentally do not align with those of the US. This inevitably boils down to constant bargaining and deal-making with local actors. Politics, thus, retains the final say on how counterterrorism campaigns unfold.
A recent article on The Strategy Bridge by James Dubik suggests U.S. policy on Islamic extremism suffers from Groundhog Day syndrome: endless policy repetition going nowhere. I wholeheartedly agree, but offer a different take on his argument. Islam is, at the most basic level, waging a war against itself, and we would do well to attend to this.
The current situation in Syria reminds us again that we are failing in our post-9/11 wars. We have accomplished neither the strategic objectives set forth by the Bush administration nor those of the Obama administration. Both administrations have had notable successes and achieved periodic tactical and operational progress, but neither created sustained strategic success...We must reset our thinking.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were a highly successful terrorist organization who were famous for successfully forming a fully functional military. Their fight for separation from the Sri Lankan government lasted a quarter century, and parallels can be drawn between the Sri Lankan conflict and the current situation in the Middle East (and elsewhere).
It is worth reviewing Al Qaeda’s strategic DNA for insights into what the group and its various factions would seek to achieve if given the opportunity. This leads the author to a prescription to contest Al Qaeda’s Salafist ideology by pointing out their extensive references to Maoist and Western strategists. I am skeptical that this would be a beneficial approach from agencies within the U.S. at least. But, the value of this book is its message that the flea remains vigorously at work against the dog, even if we would like to ignore that itch from time to time.
We do ourselves no good by rhetorically boxing in our responses to any sort of crime—whether motivated by a perversion of ideology or money or power. That those who perpetuate criminal enterprise use the infrastructure that powers our daily life necessitates a nuanced response to increasingly complicated criminal enterprises.
Increasingly, authors are delving into the nebulous connections between autocrats, apparatchiks, and terrorists. Some have a tendency to view these connections as either the continuation of domestic politics or the instrumentalization of radicals in lieu of raising and equipping capable armies. These perspectives are heavily invested in the concept of the state — more invested in that concept than the individuals analyzed. Westerners of diverse backgrounds tend to latch on to simple narratives when seeking to explain what is really a complex and jumbled mess of motivations Misunderstanding the rise of the state security mafias could have significant consequences. Jean-Pierre Filiu has admirably attempted to correct these interpretations.
When the strategist considers counter terrorism, they must grapple with the larger focus of their aim, which is the act of building a bridge between two unlike elements: policy and military action. At the tactical level, counter terrorism is an action meant to culminate in an event that prevents, preempts, deters, defeats, or punishes a terrorist. However, at the strategic level, counter-terrorism is meant “as a plan for attaining continuing advantage.” In order for our counter terrorism strategies to remain effective, we must reject the strategic heuristic of specific end states, and instead seek continuing advantage towards a better state of peace.