Archive for March, 2008

Adapting to Insurgent ‘Outsourcing’ in Assam

24 March, 2008

The latest edition of the South Asia Intelligence Review has an interesting piece examining the adaptive use of new strategies and tactics by the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) in northeast India. The article by Wasbir Hussain – a member of India’s National Security Advisory Board and an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi – also examines the various adjustments in counterinsurgency tactics necessitated by ULFA’s new approach.

The counter-insurgency mechanism in northeastern India’s largest state, Assam, was almost falling into a pattern nearly two decades after it was launched, but drastic shifts in strategy by the highly adaptive United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the state’s frontline separatist group, have compelled the security establishment to carry out a major rejig in operations. In the past, kidnappings, selective killings and direct gun-battles with security forces were among the favourite tactics for terror and fund generation adopted by the ULFA, which was formed in 1979 to fight for the creation of a ‘sovereign, Socialist Assam’. Of late, however, ULFA appears to have adopted a strategy to protect its cadres from the hands of pursuing Army, Police and Paramilitary Forces, by avoiding direct combat with the troopers. There is, as a result, resort to the use of hirelings, who may not even be sympathizers of the group, to carry out bomb and grenade attacks. Security officials in Assam have described this new trend as ‘outsourcing’ by the ULFA, with the objective of inflicting maximum damage with minimum loss to the group itself.

The need to protect its well-trained cadres, and the corresponding adoption of outsourcing, is seen as a consequence of the recent success of both the kinetic and non-kinetic elements of COIN strategy in Assam, which has resulted in large numbers of ULFA cadres being killed or arrested, and equally large numbers responding to state government initiatives and surrendering. In response, ULFA has been forced to adapt, with some of its principal tactical shifts summarised below:

* In the past, the group used to recruit cadres and send them for prolonged military training at their bases in Bhutan, Myanmar or Bangladesh. The long absence of certain youths from a particular village or localities, and their reappearance after a considerable gap, made it easier for the security and intelligence machinery to ascertain if they were ULFA members and to keep tabs on them. However, in the wake of the loss of ULFA’s staging and training facilities in Bhutan, following the Bhutanese military crackdown in December 2003, and the comparatively better cooperation from the military junta in Myanmar, the ULFA is sending fresh cadres for short-term training, mostly within Assam and along the Arunachal Pradesh-Myanmar border.

* This strategy of sending recruits for short training courses has reduced the span of absence from their homes, and has lessened the possibility of suspicion being aroused in the minds of informers or the intelligence community.

* Until 2000, the ULFA was engaged in shootouts with the Security Forces (SFs), but such direct engagement between the rebels and the troopers have now become a rarity. The ULFA clearly finds the costs of direct confrontations disproportionate with any calculable returns.

* The new strategy adopted by the ULFA includes hiring youths, even students, who do not have any criminal records or do not figure in the scan list of the security forces, to lob grenades or plant improvised explosive devices (IED) at public places. These ‘stealth attacks’ constitute a zero risk to the rebel group in terms of potential loss of trained manpower.

The use of untrained ‘contractors’ has had negative consequences for ULFA’s operational effectiveness, however, with several incidents of such recruits being killed or injured while transporting or emplacing IEDs. Poorly executed or carelessly targeted operations have also accelerated the already increasing incidence of random civilian casualties resulting from ULFA operations, which has aroused public hostility against the group. Nevertheless, it has succeeded in its objective of insulating the ULFA hardcore from security force operations. This has forced a similar degree of adaptation on the part of the security forces, with some of the new tactics employed including:

* A close watch on school and college dropouts, after intelligence agencies ascertained that militants had been using such youths to work for them. Profiles of such dropouts or unemployed youth in an area are increasingly being maintained by Police and intelligence agencies.

* An increased focus by enforcement and intelligence agencies on front organizations, sympathizers and facilitators, who may provide the links to approach and hire mercenaries to execute bomb or grenade attacks…

* Pushing ahead with a well coordinated offensive to ‘dislocate’ ULFA cadres from their established camps / strongholds / areas of operation to newer areas. This is aimed at hitting at both the group’s ‘composition’ and ‘disposition’.

* Intelligence agencies say ULFA men have been pushed by military operations to places in Nagaland and East Karbi Anglong, where they have not been able to establish their logistics or local support networks, affecting their ability to strike comfortably.

* Such focused attempts at dislocating ULFA units, according to intelligence agencies, have forced different units of the outfit to come together. This has resulted in some lack of coordination and has affected command structures, because cadres of different units are not used to working together.

* These problems have been compounded further by the fact that ULFA’s bond with the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) is said to have become fragile, of late. According to intelligence agencies, this has compelled the ULFA to look for other locations to set up base, outside of Myanmar, where they had earlier secured safe haven under NSCN-K protection. This dislocation has made them more vulnerable to intensified SF operations.

* ULFA is said to have already set up semi-permanent camps in Arunachal Pradesh. Counter-insurgency forces are focusing their attention on these areas and are putting pressure on New Delhi to remove the ‘lacunae’ in the legal framework that does not allow the Army to move more than 20 kilometres beyond Assam’s borders, into Arunachal Pradesh, in hot pursuit.

In addition, in a bid to exploit mounting public disaffection with ULFA brutality, senior commanders have informed field commanders they will be dealt with severely if their units are guilty of human rights violations or other excesses while conducting COIN operations. Previously there had been several high-profile incidents of the death of suspected militants in custody, and the architects of the new COIN approach are determined such cases will not dilute growing public hostility toward ULFA in the future.

The validity of this posture was tacitly acknowledged by ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa in a 16 March statement in which he stressed that the local population was unhappy with ‘anti-revolutionary activities by revolutionary soldiers,’ adding that ‘the masses would be inspired if we could overcome our frailty and advance with renewed discipline.’

The adoption of outsourcing by ULFA is part of a wider global trend that has been evident in both Afghanistan (where Giustozzi details the use made of outsourcing by the Taliban when establishing itself in new districts), and Iraq (where it has been particularly exploited by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and by agents of Iran). As such, the success or failure of counter-strategies adopted by security forces in Assam are likely to prove instructive for those engaged with similar sub-state militant groups elsewhere.

Read the full text of the Wasbir Hussain article, entitled Assam: Counter-insurgency Rejig, here.


The above link appears to have expired. A copy of the article is available here.

Innovation or Inertia?

24 March, 2008

IRG member Dr. David Ucko has an essay in the current edition of Orbis (Spring 2008, not yet online), the policy journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Entitled Innovation or Inertia: The U.S. Military and the Learning of Counterinsurgency, it provides an assessment of how well the US is adapting to the lessons learned from its recent counterinsurgency campaigns, and the extent to which necessary changes are being institutionalised.


Following its encounter with insurgent violence in Iraq, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has sought to improve the U.S. military’s ability to conduct counterinsurgency. This effort suggests a potential turning-point in the history of the U.S. military, which has traditionally devoted its attention and resources to ‘‘high-intensity’’ or ‘‘conventional’’ combat. Given this institutional culture, what are now the prospects of the U.S. military ‘learning counterinsurgency’? In many ways, the ongoing reorientation is promising and targeted, informed directly by the U.S. campaign in Iraq. At the same time, Pentagon priorities still reveal a remarkable resistance to change, and this in spite of the radically altered strategic environment of the War on Terror. Given this intransigence – and the eventual fallout from the troubled Iraq campaign – the ongoing learning of counterinsurgency might very well fail to produce the type of deep-rooted change needed to truly transform the U.S. military.

Frank Hoffman has written a review of the essay on the Small Wars Journal site, available here.

The full essay is accessible below:

Innovation or Inertia: The U.S. Military and the Learning of Counterinsurgency [PDF]

Colombia’s FARC Rebels: Decaying from Within?

22 March, 2008

The Washington Post has a decent article in today’s paper on the status of the FARC rebel group in Colombia. It argues that the recent killing of a senior member of the group’s ruling council by one of his subordinates is symptomatic of an internal crisis within the group which has begun eroding its capabilities.

In a country where most people cannot remember a time of peace, Colombians are for the first time raising the possibility that a guerrilla group once thought invincible could be forced into peace negotiations or even defeated militarily.

Weakened by infiltrators and facing constant combat and aerial bombardment, the insurgency is losing members in record numbers. The FARC, as the group is known, lost 1,583 fighters in combat last year, its columns are plagued by command-and-control problems, and popular support is evaporating, the government of President Álvaro Uribe says.

Since 2000, the Uribe administration has received $5 billion in U.S. aid, mostly for military and anti-drug programs — more than any other government outside the Middle East. The money has helped it revamp the Colombian army, paying for new helicopters and training for elite troops, although rights groups remain concerned about abuses, including the killings of civilians.

The most serious problem the FARC is facing is not guerrilla deaths or the loss of territory, but mass desertion, according to political analysts, military officials and former guerrillas interviewed this month. Many said desertions have badly hurt morale and provided the military with important strategic information about the hermetic group.

Statistics provided by the Colombian defence ministry claim 2,480 rebels deserted the group last year, up from 1,558 the previous year. Disaffected rebels are encouraged to leave the group by widely publicised government initiatives, including amnesties for anyone not implicated in atrocities, and government programmes aimed at assisting the reintegration of former fighters.

While undoubtedly positive news, it should be stressed that the FARC does not face defeat any time soon, and the group has proved its resilience in the past. Nevertheless, even the possibility that the tide may have turned against the FARC will be welcome news to the Uribe administration, which has made rolling-back the gains made by the group in recent years one of its top priorities.

Read the full article here.

Lessons from Lebanon

18 March, 2008

Two pieces out this week seek to illustrate the lessons that should be drawn from Israel’s disastrous engagement with Hizballah in 2006. The Combat Studies Institute of the US Army Combined Arms Center has published a 96-page monograph by Matt Matthews, entitled We Were Caught Unprepared: The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War [PDF]. Meanwhile, the latest issue of CTC Sentinel, published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, has an article by IRG member and King’s College War Studies PhD candidate Andrew Exum, entitled Drawing the Right Lessons from Israel’s War with Hizb Allah [PDF].

Much in the Matthews piece is perceptive, including the assessment that the IDF adopted a strategy that was over-reliant on air power, technology and a faulty interpretation of effects-based operations:

As enemy rockets rained down on northern Israel, the IDF attempted to orchestrate the strategic cognitive collapse of Hezbollah through the use of air power and precision firepower-based operations. When this failed, the IDF sought to produce the same effects by using its ground forces to conduct limited raids and probes into southern Lebanon. These restrained initiatives designed to create a cognitive perception of defeat also failed to produce the effects necessary to incapacitate Hezbollah. The presence of several IDF mechanized divisions north of the Litani in the first 72 hours of the war, combined with a violent, systematic clearing of Hezbollah’s bunkers and tunnels, might have brought about the cognitive collapse [Chief of the IDF General Staff] Halutz so desperately sought. Unfortunately, the new IDF doctrine failed to incorporate a large land maneuver component into its effects-based approach.

According to Ron Tira, one of the major problems within the IDF was “the over-zealous embrace of the American effects-based operations (EBO) idea. EBO’s aim is to paralyze the enemy’s operational ability, in contrast to destroying its military force. This is achieved by striking the headquarters, lines of communication, and other critical junctions in the military structure. EBO [was] employed in their most distinct form in the Shock and Awe campaign that opened the 2003 Iraq War. However, the Americans used EBO to prepare the way for their ground maneuvers, and not as an alternative to them.”

However, in an echo of the ongoing debate in America regarding whether or not US forces are becoming overly focused on counterinsurgency rather than conventional warfighting, Matthews argues the inability to ‘step-up’ from COIN to conventional operations was key to the IDF’s failure in Lebanon:

Another crucial factor in the IDF’s reverses in southern Lebanon was the dismal performance of its ground forces. Years of counterinsurgency (COIN) operations had seriously diminished its conventional warfighting capabilities. The IDF was completely dismayed to find that its land forces could not conduct a successful ground campaign in southern Lebanon. Although Naveh was heavily criticized, his observations are astute and timely. “The point is, the IDF fell in love with what it was doing with the Palestinians,” he stated. “In fact it became addictive. You know when you fight a war against a rival who’s by all means inferior to you, you may lose a guy here or there, but you’re in total control. It’s nice, you can pretend that you fight the war and yet it’s not really a dangerous war…. I remember talking to five brigade commanders…. I asked them if they had an idea… what it meant to go into battle against a Syrian division? Did they have in mind what a barrage of 10 Syrian artillery battalions looked like?”

In the conventional arena, the IDF ground forces performed unsatisfactorily. The fight at Wadi al-Saluki, for example, revealed the failure of tank commanders and crewmen to use their smokescreen systems, the lack of indirect-fire skills, and the total absence of combined arms proficiency. The IDF lost many of these perishable combat skills during its long years of COIN operations against the Palestinians.

While there is undoubtedly some validity in this argument, it requires qualification. As Exum argues in his article, “The greatest mistake the U.S. military can make in studying the lessons of 2006… is to study the 34 days of fighting that took place in southern Lebanon in July and August of that year without any context.”

The IDF’s failure was not over-learning the principles of counterinsurgency, but not having applied them effectively in the years prior to the 2006 war: “Israel never dealt with the root political problems in southern Lebanon that led to the rise of Hizb Allah. The 2006 war did not take place in a 34-day vacuum; it was merely the latest bloodshed in a dispute between Israel and Hizb Allah that has been fought with varying degrees of intensity since 1982.”

As such:

The 2006 war was not evidence, then, that Israel had over-learned the lessons of counter-insurgency, but rather the opposite: Israel has never effectively learned counter-insurgency in the first place. Even in the West Bank and Gaza, the IDF continues to approach the fighting there as a counter-terrorism mission instead of a counter-insurgency mission. Moreover, while the presence of both a radicalized settler population and historical animosities might preclude the application of an effective counter-insurgency strategy in the Occupied Territories, Israel has never developed and applied counter-insurgency doctrine along the lines of FM 3-24 despite years of experience in irregular warfare dating back to Jewish guerrilla groups in pre-state Israel.

Read the Matthews piece here, and the Exum piece here.

Scions of the Surge

17 March, 2008
Thanks Jay for pointing out this quite moving and revealing article from Newsweek on the transformation of the US Army–not big ‘T’ Transformation but the small ‘t’ transformation of the American officer corps as it cycles through Iraq and Afghanistan. Here’s a few snips, though I recommend the whole thing:

…this new way of war needs a new kind of warrior, and it needs tens of thousands of them. Five years into the longest conflict the U.S. military has fought since Vietnam, young officers like Tim Wright have been blooded by multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve learned, often on their own, operating with unprecedented independence, the intricacies of Muslim cultures. Faced with ineffective central governments, they have acted as mayors, mediators, cops, civil engineers, usually in appalling surroundings. Most recently, and hardest of all, they’ve had to reach out and ally themselves with men who have tried and often succeeded in killing their own soldiers.
Brought up in rigid, flag-waving warrior cultures that taught right from wrong, black from white, they’ve had to learn to operate amid moral ambiguity, to acknowledge the legitimate aspirations of their enemies…

And while the skills these American officers have gained are crucial in murky conflicts like Iraq, they are not universally valued or trusted within the Pentagon. Petraeus has fought many battles with his bosses—including CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon, who resigned last week—over getting the resources needed to make his counterinsurgency strategy work. As his heirs move up the ranks, they will face similar struggles over which wars America chooses to wage in the future—and the way the Army fights them…

American officers learned very similar lessons in battling the Viet Cong. But much of that knowledge was simply lost. “It’s said we fought that war nine times, a year at a time,” says Petraeus, noting that because they had been drafted rather than volunteered, many
combat-hardened troops left the Army as soon as their yearlong tours in Vietnam were up. By contrast, with the Army stretched thin and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragging on, soldiers like Wright find themselves heading back into the fight for a second (or third or fourth) tour. “They have a level of experience that I don’t think our Army has had at that rank certainly since Vietnam, and maybe not even then,” says Petraeus…

Wright is a good student, a literate, humane man who proudly points out that West Point is a great liberal-arts school as well as a military academy. He has not been debased or degraded by war; he does not live only to survive for the moment. But the lessons of war and conquest change, and Wright, like the good student he is, has learned to change with them. He tried to read “The Best and the Brightest,” David Halberstam’s epic of the tragedy of American involvement in Vietnam, but “it was too painful, too close to what we went through.” Stacked in the corner of Wright’s room are DVDs of the HBO series “Rome.” Iraq, like ancient Rome or modern Sicily (or parts of northern New Jersey), is a murderous place, and Wright knows he must deal with some shady characters if he wants to bring peace to his little patch of it. General Petraeus says he instructs his young officers, “Go watch ‘The Sopranos’,” in order to understand the power dynamics at work in Iraq. Wright doesn’t need to watch Tony Soprano. He has Mr. X.

There’s a real challenge here for the Army which is twofold. First,
how do you cease the hemorrhaging of mid-career officers like this
whose experience is practically irreplaceable to less demanding,
possibly more financially rewarding, definitely easier careers on civvy
street? Second, how do you accelerate the transfer of the lessons
learned at great cost by trial and error (lots and lots of error, it
must be said) from the middle to the top? Wait for Wright and his mates
to become generals in their own right? I don’t think so. Adaptation
needs to be an order of magnitude faster than that.

Afghanistan’s Local Power Structures

17 March, 2008

Ghosts of Alexander is a new blog focused on COIN in Afghanistan from an anthropological angle. Early posts suggest it will be worth keeping an eye on, particularly following the demise of Afghanistanica.

The most recent post examines the nature of local power structures in Afghanistan, highlighting the complex challenge these fluid entities pose to foreign military and civilian personnel operating in the country. Particular attention is paid to the difficulty of avoiding inadvertently influencing the often fragile ‘balance of power’ that exists between these multiple local networks, and between them and the central government.

So how to interact with these local authority figures and power/survival structures? Are NGO workers and soldiers to act as an agent of the central government, extending its authority to a more local level? Or are they to give more weight to the needs of locals? Or of local authority figures? And is there a way to conduct oneself that can be acceptable to both the central government, local communities and local authority figures? And how does one reconcile those with the goals and needs of the foreign military and international aid community? How do you avoid pushing the losers of local power struggles onto the insurgents’ side?

Also, for those without the time to read Barnett Rubin’s authoritative but weighty sociological study, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan, there is also a useful overview of the concept of qawm – a form of identity grouping key to understanding social dynamics in Afghanistan.

Read the full post here. Also worth checking are the following earlier posts: The Taliban in 5 Books, and Strategic Communication Plan for Afghanistan.

Iraq, Oil and Insurgency

16 March, 2008

The New York Times has an interesting and lengthy feature out today on the role played by oil in the Iraqi insurgency, examining the case of the Baiji refinery in particular.

The sea of oil under Iraq is supposed to rebuild the nation, then make it prosper. But at least one-third, and possibly much more, of the fuel from Iraq’s largest refinery here is diverted to the black market, according to American military officials. Tankers are hijacked, drivers are bribed, papers are forged and meters are manipulated — and some of the earnings go to insurgents who are still killing more than 100 Iraqis a week.

Iraqi deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, cites (unnamed) Iraqi security analysts who claim Al-Qaeda in Iraq receives $50,000 to $100,000 per day from scams related to the Baiji refinery alone. This illicit diversion of oil revenues is presented as one of the principal reasons the insurgency continues to maintain momentum after five years, with money seen not just as an enabling factor for the insurgents, but a motivating factor too.

In fact, money, far more than jihadist ideology, is a crucial motivation for a majority of Sunni insurgents, according to American officers in some Sunni provinces and other military officials in Iraq who have reviewed detainee surveys and other intelligence on the insurgency.

Although many American military officials and politicians — and even the Iraqi public — use the term Al Qaeda as a synonym for the insurgency, some American and Iraqi experts say they believe that the number of committed religious ideologues remains small. They say that insurgent groups raise and spend money autonomously for the most part, with little centralized coordination or direction.

Read the full article here.

Is there an ‘emboldenment’ effect?

16 March, 2008

Here’s an interesting article from Harvard University’s Belfer Center and Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences which attempts to model mathematically the effect of the media on insurgent attacks in Iraq: Is There an “Emboldenment” Effect? Evidence from the Insurgency in Iraq. The authors attempt to empirically test whether negative press coverage or public statements of resolve (or lack thereof) leads to increased insurgent activity as would be suggested by theories that insurgents treat political will as the centre of gravity.

Overall, the results presented in this paper suggest several important facts. First, the findings suggest that there is an explicit and quantifiable cost to public debate during wartime in the form of increased attacks. Based on these results, it appears that Iraqi insurgent groups believe that when the U.S. political landscape is more uncertain, initiating a higher level of attacks increases the likelihood that the U.S. will reduce the scope of its engagement in the conflict. However, the magnitude of the response by Iraqi insurgent groups is relatively small. To the extent that U.S. political speech does affect insurgent incentives, it changes things only by about 10-20 percent. The estimated effects, while consistent in direction across different specifications, also vary considerably in magnitude. Given the relatively large standard errors and the potential lack of robustness to specification, these coefficients should be interpreted with caution—more dispositive of the cost-sensitivity of insurgents than a precise estimate of their elasticity to increased costs.

Second, the insurgent response to low resolve periods may not represent an overall increase in the total number of attacks, but rather a change in the timing of attacks. Because it may be difficult and costly to increase the frequency of attacks in a particular time period, insurgent groups may only seek to do this when the returns are sufficiently high. New information about U.S. cost-sensitivity increases the perceived return to violence and thus insurgent groups condense the violence they would have committed over several weeks into a shorter time horizon. To the extent that these additional attacks represent timing decisions designed to manipulate U.S. public opinion, simply recognizing this fact reduces some of the strategic value of that substitution.

Third, regardless of whether the observed effect represents an overall increase or intertemporal substitution, the evidence in this study indicates that insurgent groups are strategic actors that respond to the incentives created by the policies and actions of the counterinsurgent force, rather than groups driven by purely ideological concerns with little sensitivity to costs. There appears to be a systematic response of Iraqi insurgent groups to information about the U.S. willingness to remain in Iraq and/or public support for the war. U.S. counterinsurgency strategy should recognize that incentives, whether in the form of deterrence or inducements, can be effective in reducing both insurgent recruitment and the willingness of individuals to participate in attacks, and in encouraging individuals to collaborate with the government or withhold passive support to the insurgents. Support for the view that insurgent groups respond in part to incentives set by U.S. politics also provides insight into understanding the strategy and relative importance of different insurgent objectives. Insurgent groups may be willing to trade off destabilizing the Iraqi National Government for imposing increased costs on the United States (in the form of attacks) in order to reduce U.S. participation. It is apparent that the insurgency does not believe the ING is capable of credibly maintaining internal security independent of U.S. support.

The arguments and evidence presented in this paper suggest that insurgent groups do appear to respond to U.S. cost-sensitivity. The result is that insurgents attack more frequently and kill or injure more U.S. service men and women. This paper presents ample evidence that insurgent groups appear to respond rationally, and to that extent counterinsurgency should be considered an exercise in deterrence and incapacitation rather than simply in terms of search and destroy missions. To the extent that U.S. wishes to effectively combat the continued insurgency, future consideration regarding the production function of violence by insurgent groups and potential costs which may reduce violence are of paramount importance and left as areas of future research.

It is not surprising that insurgent groups are rational strategic actors; that much is quite evident from qualitative research. The contribution of this paper to the empirical base is significant, however. The tough question, what to do about it, is left unanswered:

From these results it is not possible to determine the benefits or costs of public debate.Without knowing the effect of changes in policy generated by this debate and the nature of changed perception of the insurgents about US casualty sensitivity, it is not possible to determine if criticism of U.S. policy is on balance bad. Thus, the direct consideration of how to adjust political speech to address this issue is a complex and the results of this paper do not bear directly on this question.

(Crossposted to KOW)

The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East

15 March, 2008

Presentation at Chatham House
9 April 2008, 17:30 to 18:30

As another event from Chatham House (see below), I was going to post this as an update to the last post – but seeing as the speaker is Olivier Roy, author of the excellent Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah, I figured it deserved its own post:

The speaker will argue that the unintended and unforeseen consequences of the ‘War on Terror’ have artificially conflated conflicts in the Middle East such that they appear to be the expression of a widespread ‘Muslim anger’ against the West. He will discuss his new book in which he seeks to restore the individual logic and dynamics of each of these conflicts to better understand the widespread political discontent that sustains them. Instead of two opposed sides, an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, he warns that the West faces an array of ‘reverse alliances’. He concludes that the West has no alternative but to engage in a dialogue with the Islamo-nationalists of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

For more information on this members-only event, and to register, click here. His new book is available here.


Roy currently has a piece in the International Herald Tribune, entitled Iraq will not be a Qaedistan, in which he takes exception to those in the West who “persist in seeing Al Qaeda as a territorialized Middle East organization bent on expelling the Christians and Jews from the region in order to create a ‘Dar al-Islam’ (land of Islam) under the umbrella of a caliphate”.

Instead he argues:

It is pointless thinking of Al Qaeda as a political organization seeking to conquer and rule a territory. Al Qaeda recruits among disenfranchised youth, most of them without direct connections with the embattled countries of the Middle East. Second-generation Western Muslims, converts, Saudis, Egyptians and Moroccans make up the bulk of the Al Qaeda traveling jihadists – not Afghans, Palestinians or Iraqis. Al Qaeda does not have the necessary local rooting for taking power.

While acknowledging that the Al-Qaeda phenomenon has operated within a truly global area of operations, Roy stresses that the movement has failed to achieve significant penetration within any single theatre:

…in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and now Iraq, the Islamist internationalist groups have been unsuccessful in diverting local and national conflicts, playing only the role of auxiliaries. The key actors of the local conflicts are the local actors: the Taliban in Afghanistan, the different Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon. These groups are not under the leadership of Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda has managed only to implant foreign volunteers into these struggles, volunteers who usually do not understand local politics and find support among the local population only as long as they fight a common enemy, such as American troops in Iraq.

But their respective agenda is totally different: Local actors, Islamist or not, want a political solution on their own terms. They do not want chaos or global jihad. As soon as there is a discrepancy between “the policy of the worst” waged by Al Qaeda and a possible local political settlement, the local actors choose the local settlement.

Read the full article here.

From 9/11 to 7/7: Global Terrorism Today and the Challenges of Tomorrow

15 March, 2008

Presentation at Chatham House
7 April 2008, 13:30 to 14:30

The Director of the FBI, Robert S. Mueller III, is talking at Chatham House on 7 April on the subject of the evolving nature of the terrorist threat in the West:

Since 11 September 2001 when Al-Qaeda launched a massive attack on US targets from its base in Afghanistan, terrorists have executed attacks around the world, including the bombing of the London Underground and bus system in July 2005. Terrorist tactics continue to evolve and expand in Al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups, as well as homegrown terrorist cells, through foreign training camps and internet recruitment. With the United States and United Kingdom remaining prime targets, the speaker will discuss the future implications of the terrorist threat, and how the global community must work together to combat it.

For more information on this members-only event, and to register, click here.


Chatham House are now putting videos of some events online at, so if you can’t attend their events in person it is worth keeping an eye on this page.


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