In working on a set of terrorism seminars, Charlie recently came across the treasure trove of al Qaeda documents housed by West Point's Combating Terrorism Center. Two publications particularly piqued her interest:
- Managment of Savagery, by Abu Bakr Naji (translated by William McCants)
- Stealing al Qaeda's Playbook, by Jarret Brachman & William McCants
"Management of Savagery" is jihadi strategic study, making it the "playbook" referred to in the second pub. As the CTC notes:
Writing as a high-level insider, Naji explains how al-Qaeda plans to defeat the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East, establish sanctuaries for Jihadis, correct organizational problems, and create better propaganda. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the strategic thinking of al-Qaeda’s leadership and the future of the jihadi movement.
Much of it focuses on the expected problems of managing violence--and if you didn't know better, you'd think you were reading an Army or Marine Corps pub on the problems and perils of phase four operations.
The second doc is an analysis of Naji and other jihadi texts. Its conclusions reiterate the importance of a well-coordinated strategic communications or IO campaign on the part of the US. (Which probably all readers of this blog can agree 0n.) But, they also argue more starkly that,
Thus far, direct engagement with the United States has been good for the jihadi movement. As Naji argues, it rallies the locals behind the movement, drains the United States of resources, and puts pressure on the regimes that are allied with the U.S.
This combines with the development of radically decentralized safe-zones. They are no longer on the scale of Afghanistan but are now found in cities and online. As a result,
The jihadi movement has now metastasized, as Suri hoped, into a self”sustaining movement in which battles and bombings are more important as a means for recruiting and radicalizing a new generation of followers than as a means to a political end. This suggests that the United States must be aware of the consequences of creating new theaters for jihad, particularly in the Arab world.
This is not to say there is no role of kinetic operations in counter-terrorism campaigns. But even the worst Clausewitzian would realize that you don't win wars by playing along exactly according to the enemy's playbook (ie, large scale ground invasions of the Middle East). Creating the conditions for the savagery that Naji expects will bring about al Qaeda rule can't be in our long term best interests.
Using the CTC docs as a basis for a net assessment provides one way of figuring out how we might leverage our strengths against al Qaeda's weaknesses (which according to Naji are substantial). It's got to be better than the alternative.