Skip to comments.The Jihadi Network's Fatal Flaw (This article kicks gluteus maximi!)
Posted on 06/14/2006 3:03:05 PM PDT by Dark Skies
Almost overlooked in the celebrations surrounding the elimination of Zarqawi is a considerable body of evidence that the Lion of Anbar was seeking to dramatically extend the range of his operations.
The day before Zarqawi was at last struck down, the London Times carried a short piece reporting on an international intelligence operation that had uncovered a terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi operating in at least eight countries. The following Sunday, the New York Times published a weakly-sourced article stating that Zarqawi had recruited and trained up to 300 foreign operatives who were sent back to their own countries, mostly in the Middle East and Europe, to await orders.
These reports are much more credible than many would be willing to grant. Zarqawi was simply following a strategy formulated by Islamisms leading theoretician, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, AKA Abu Musab al-Suri. Born and raised in Syria, Nasar became involved with Islamism at an early age, joining al-Talia al-Muqatila (The Fighting Vanguard), a group closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, while still in college.
He underwent training in Cairo and Baghdad, specializing in explosives and urban guerilla warfare. He later fought the Russians in Afghanistan, where he became associated with Al-Queda. During the 90s, Nasar lived in various parts of Europe (his pale skin and red hair made it easy for him to pass as a European), including Spain, where he married an apostate Spanish woman, and the UK, where he cofounded the Algeria-based Armed Islamic Group (GIA), one of the most savage of all Islamist organizations. Returning to Afghanistan, he worked closely with the Taliban and Al Queda. He was involved in 9/11 planning, arguing in opposition to Osama bin Laden by insisting that the planes should be fitted with WMDs. After the fall of the Taliban, he devoted himself, in his own words to filling one of the Muslims most important gapsthe analysis of our past experiences, drawing lessons from them, and examining the nature of the confrontations and battles that await us. Much of this material appeared in the form of Net postings or videotapes (several of which were recently obtained by CNN). The State Department put a bounty of $5 million on Nasars head, placing him in the upper echelon of wanted Jihadis along with ObL and Zarqawi. Nasar denied working directly with Zarqawi, claiming he had difficulties in reaching Iraq. His name came up repeatedly in the Madrid and London bombing investigations, enough to lead some investigators to believe he was at least indirectly involved. He may in fact have founded the network the London bombers were associated with, although no precise evidence exists. He was arrested in Pakistan in October or November of 2005, and then disappeared into U.S. hands. Custody of this dangerous man alone justifies the existence of the rendition program.
Nasars major importance is as a strategist. His many analyses of Jihadi strategy are widely read, quoted, and discussed on Islamist Internet sites, and have had a clear influence on recent terrorist efforts. His crowning contribution appeared in late 2004, a 1600-page treatise titled The Call of the International Islamic Resistance. This work is not easy to find in English, though its said to be ubiquitous in Arabic.
Islamic Resistance is a critique of Jihadi failures answered with a detailed blueprint for future strategy.
The enemy is strong and powerful, we are weak and poor, the war duration is going to be long preparations better be deliberate, comprehensive and properly planned, taking into account past experiences and lessons.
Nasar outlined a long-term campaign of sabotage and urban guerilla operations utilizing every available weapon up to and including WMDs. The goal is the complete destruction of the West. He particularly emphasized the importance of organization, recommending a broad-based, leaderless network to carry out operations. The aim was to create a system that could not be rolled up the way Al-Queda was.
If recent reports are correct, Zarqawi was attempting to create exactly this kind of network. Such a system would consist of small, distinct cells, with no direct contact between them, and no overarching hierarchal structure that could be shut down through decapitation. Separate cells would recruit, plan, and operate on their own, receiving only instructions, guidance, and technical information from overseas.
This kind of structure is known as a distributed network among fourth-generation warfare (4GW) enthusiasts. (4GW is a strategic school of thought holding that the type of warfare practiced by the Jihadis is a totally new form developed to combat the 3GW fast air-armor maneuver warfare perfected by the West. In truth, 4GW appears to be little more than terrorism and guerilla warfare fitted out with an elaborate new vocabulary.)
Whats really new and a minor justification for 4GW rhetoric is the use of the Internet as a contact tool. The contact system is always an Achilles Heel of any underground organization. By identifying one member, following him until he meets up with another, then following the second member, you can soon break open an entire network. This is exactly how Zarqawi himself was at last tracked down, with his spiritual advisor Sheik Abdel Rahman unwittingly leading a Coalition drone straight to his door. Such things as dead drops and the cell system were introduced to overcome this weakness.
But suppose you had a method of contacting network members without exposing anyone at either end? Using the Net for communications raises a frightening vision of a virtual army of terrorists born and raised in the West and undetectable by conventional police techniques. Such an army could operate effectively free of surveillance, receiving instructions by e-mail or IM, getting together only to carry out operations, striking their targets and then fading back into the population while intelligence and law enforcement look on helplessly.
Something very much like this may well have happened in London and Madrid. (Its also worth pointing out that this might conceivably have something to do with the NSAs program of intercepting e-mail communications.)
How concerned should we be? 4GW enthusiasts, and some of the more excitable military commentators, behave as if the concept is a magic bullet, an unbeatable strategy leveraging asymmetric assets to even the odds against the Western giant. But we heard much the same about Al Queda itself five years ago, and we know how that turned out.
Under close inspection, the giant-killer concept has enough in the way of flaws, errors, and lacunae to make it barely practicable, much less a war-winning strategy. These shortcomings appear in three major categoriesexperience, training, and discipline. Together they comprise a contemporary example of Clausewitzean friction the perversity of the universe at large that puts unforeseen obstacles in the path of even the most well-devised plan.
In war everything is simple, Clausewitz admonishes us. But the simplest things are the most difficult.
Many who work on the level of theory, without benefit of the winnowing effects of real-world practice, tend to give too much credit to pure information. From the point of view of the theorist (and this attitude colors the thinking of the entire IT field) information embodies all power. Whoever possesses superior information holds the upper hand.
Of course, its not that straightforward. You can send anything you like in an e-mail plans, intelligence, instructions, what have you. But you cant send experience. And thats a fatal shortcoming.
Consider a situation where you have perfect knowledge of a particular target plans, defenses, weak points, personnel, everything you need to know to get inside and destroy the place. Now give that information to an eight-year-old. Or a dull-normal, or a junkie, or a schizophrenic. Or the average teenager, for that matter.
This problem is insurmountable. It can be taken as given that there will be something wrong with fifth-column Jihadi volunteers. They will be either fanatics or misfits, both legendarily incapable of independent accomplishment. Its true that these categories include both Zarqawi, very likely a clinical psychopath, and Nasar himself, who, with his 1600-page manuscripts and endless ranting about the degeneracy of the West is a representative obsessive-compulsive.
But fortunately, competent flakes of this type are the exception John Walker Lindh is a more typical figure, as is the Toronto groups oldest member Qayyum Abdul Jamal, who at 43 is said to have never held a regular job. This is the human material that the Jihadis have to mold and as a rule, they will exhibit certain characteristics.
They will not listen. They will ignore instructions. They will overlook details. They will be overemotional. They will sulk and feud. They will create a mental narrative, romantic and wild, a Bruce Willis feature with themselves in the starring role, and act on that rather than any stodgy plan. And when things go wrong, they will panic.
Id hazard to guess (its hard to judge, considering the fog of political correctness that has been raised around the investigation) that this is what happened in Canada. And it can be depended on that, in most cases, it will happen again.
This is why there are such things as noncoms (sergeants in particular phlegmatic, no-nonsense types who have been around and know that things aint done the way they say in the book. Every organization has the equivalent of the sergeant rank, because every organization since the dawn of time has found them necessary to shepherd the less-than-capable. What Nasars virtual networks are attempting to do is operate without such a cadre of experienced low-level managers. And thats just not possible.
As far as training goes, reading is not doing. The clearest instructions in the world wont put across a thing to an individual who has never been involved in any comparable activity. We all recall the second London strike last summer, when the bombs failed to explode, resulting in badly-dressed mutts racing off in all directions. Zarqawis trainees in Iraq are unlikely to appear in any North American networks. In Canada, the only training the Toronto group got was running around in the woods in a kind of Jihadi paintball weekend.
A related issue is the difficulty of indoctrination. Such networks can only be recruited in already-prepared milieus, that is, Muslim communities. Its unlikely that renegade imams will be allowed to preach from storefront mosques with quite the same abandon as occurred in the past. (In North America, in any case. Europe, as always, is another story.) Indoctrination by Internet being a doubtful proposition, this in itself should serve to limit drastically the scope of Nasars technique.
The problem of discipline is highlighted by Toronto as well. We have no idea how the group was organized, or whether they were part of Zarqawis network. What is clear is that there was little or no adult supervision (Jamal, despite his age, really doesnt count). Those kids were chattering to people halfway across the North American continent. Word of their organization got at least as far as Georgia, prompting two would-be Jihadis to pay them a cross-border visit.
And when that pair was arrested, it did not occur to anyone to shut down operations, destroy all possible evidence, and scatter to the winds. No they went on with their plans, utterly oblivious, until the Mounties kicked the door in.
Toronto is where Murphy caught up with Nasar. Everything that could go wrong with experience, training, and discipline went wrong with a vengeance. If the second wave of Jihadis were all of the caliber of the Toronto crew, wed have nothing to worry about.
Unfortunately, thats not the case. London and Madrid show us that Nasar networks are far from being only a paper threat. As time goes by, the Jihadis will get better at it, particularly since they have the entire subcontinent of Europe to use as a laboratory. While it will never be a war-winning strategy, it can serve to arouse confusion and fear, which have their uses. (Its easy to picture an operation in which these networks soak up all security resources while a traditional Al-Queda team carries out an attack.)
So how do we handle it? The first point is that a distributed network doesnt resemble an army, a guerilla force, or even the customary terrorist organization. What it resembles, with its wide range, clandestine approach, and ability to appear seemingly at random, in obedience to factors invisible to an onlooker, is an epidemic disease.
Fortunately, we know a lot about tracking epidemic diseases. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have been in business for decades, and have refined their techniques to a high art. You do the epidemiology, learn everything there is to know about the microorganism, its life cycle, its habits, and in particular its vectors, and concentrate on those. The pool of potential Islamist infectees is relatively small, the behavior of the infecting agent (a 4GW fan would call it a meme) well understood, the methods of prophylaxis highly effective.
What is certain is that a top-heavy bureaucracy such as Homeland Defense cant meet the challenge. We need a small, self-contained unit, dedicated to handling this problem alone. A taskforce designed and staffed to deal with domestic distributed networks and nothing else.
It would need to be independent of any larger organization, though reporting to higher government echelons. It would require separate financing and its own resources, including investigative units ready to move out immediately when a possible target network is identified. Fortunately, we do have successful models for such a task force (even in going so far as to suggest a possible name we could call it Baker Danger).
The Jihadis have not yet formulated a strategy, of whatever generation, capable of matching the Wests overwhelming technological sophistication, organizational superiority, and preponderance of force. Nor, with Zarqawi dead and Nasar in custody (both, it must be added, in connection with extremely controversial efforts the Iraq War and prisoner rendition), is there any sign that such a thing is forthcoming. Overestimating an enemy can, through paralysis and wasted effort, be as crippling as underestimating him. There is no purpose served in overestimating the Jihadis. The butcher and the strategist have been taken off the board. We will not see their like among the Islamists again soon.
J.R. Dunn is a frequent contributor. Among many other things, he was editor of the International Military Encyclopedia for twelve years.
Looks like the "Z" man wanted to be bigger than Bin Ladin. Nice to have him no longer with us!
Some of these guys are experts on blending in with the local community, I see.
YES! I hope he's been waterboarded every day.
Sounds like Ted Kennedy.
Oh come on, like keeping the Senate bartender busy isn't a regular job.
Wow, its amazing how "normal" he looks. He could fit in perfectly in white suberbia America. Its very creepy.
Excellent article. And an excellent critique of network-centric warfare.
Someone needs to inform the goofball who writes this blog:
Hopefully, he's somewhere where proper Koran Handling Procedures are in effect.
True...but think of the damage ahMADinejad can wreak with a nuke that can reach Europe. Islam is fighting a long-term war of attrition. And, like communism, it has allies in the American left.
What is he on the dole?
On Planet Bizarro, Teddy would be a driving instructor.
Actually, in "old time" islam, being on the dole is the honorable thing. To work is to help the infidel, but to be on the dole is like accepting the "jizya" (tribute paid by non-islamics to muslims so they, muslims, don't kill us infidels). Jizya is a kind of institutionalized protection racket in islam.
"The fact that slaughter is a horrifying spectacle must make us take war more seriously, but not provide an excuse for gradually blunting our swords in the name of humanity. Sooner or later someone will come along with a sharp sword and hack off our arms." - Karl von Clauswitz, On War, 1832.
"Admittedly, an aggressor often decides on war before the innocent defender does, and if he contrives to keep his preparations sufficiently secret, he may well take his victim unawares. Yet such surprise has nothing to do with war itself, and should not be possible. War serves the purpose of the defense more than that of the aggressor. It is only aggression that calls forth defense, and war along with it. The aggressor is always peace-loving (as Bonaparte always claimed to be); he would prefer to take over our country unopposed. To prevent his doing so one must be willing to make war and be prepared for it. In other words it is the weak, those likely to need defense, who should always be armed in order not to be overwhelmed. Thus decrees the art of war." - Karl von Clauswitz, On War, 1832.
The will to live trumps the desire to die.
Allahs warriors are bloody but, in their lying, they are oblivious to the truth. I suspect that both allah and his warriors will be sorely disappointed when they learn the true nature of their enemy.
And every living creature, large and small, knows that...except for the Destroyer (Apollyon/Abaddon) and his followers.
Muslims follow death and don't even have the good sense to ask why.
Where I hope he was quietly offed. We don't need to know what happened to him as long as he never sees the light of day again.
The butcher and the strategist have been taken off the board.
Along with numerous others, from lowly jihadist foot soldiers on up to near the very top. Haven't quite gotten them, yet, but I'm hoping we're finding ways to get operatives into the remote areas of Pakistan where OBL and company are said to be hiding.
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