In the early days of the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), those within the Special Operations community tasked specifically with counterterrorism missions spent countless personnel-hours gathering intelligence about al Qaeda. As an AQI member was identified or detained, we sought immediate answers. What was his position in al Qaeda? Who did he work for in AQI? Who reported to this person? Was he being groomed to move up the ranks? All of this information was used, quite literally, to build large command and control org-charts of the AQI structure — with the very top spots feeding back into Osama bin Laden and his key lieutenants (the CEO and his C-Suite, so to speak). Understand the organization’s structure, the thinking went, and we can design a plan to dismantle it — ideally from the top down. “Cut off the head of the snake,” went the thinking.
This, of course, proved to be a fruitless exercise. Not because the intelligence was flawed (we were, in fact, flooded with good information), but because we were trying to force al Qaeda to be something that it was not — a hierarchy. What it was, and remains today in manifestations like ISIS and al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, is a distributed network of likeminded radicals. Its structure is organic and ever adapting to the world around it. Efforts to give it a formal design approach the problem incorrectly.
Read the full post on Foreign Policy's Best Defense blog.