Posts Tagged ‘Hizballah’

Documents of Note #4

18 May, 2008

The following is the latest in a periodic round-up of reports, papers, monographs, etc likely to be of interest to IRG members and the wider COIN/CT community.

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The International Crisis Group has released the following new reports:

The Philippines: Counter-insurgency vs. Counter-terrorism in Mindanao

Lebanon: Hizbollah’s Weapons Turn Inward

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The Combined Arms Research Library has made the following documents available. Original date of publication is provided if the document is not new.

Violent Islamist Extremism, The Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat – US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Hamas: How Has a Terrorist Organization Become a Political Power? – Ben-Zion Mehr

Global Jihad: The Role of Europe’s Radical Muslims – James Palumbo and Daniel Vaniman, 2007

Losing the Population: The Impact of Coalition Policy and Tactics on the Population and the Iraqi – Timothy Haugh, 2005

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The SWJ Magazine has published interim versions of the following papers:

Third World Experience in Counterinsurgency – Russ Stayanoff

Force Structure for Small Wars – Andrew C. Pavord

Guerrilla Warfare and the Indonesian Strategic Psyche – Emmet McElhatton

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Eldis has made the following reports available:

Demilitarising militias in the Kivus (eastern Democratic Republic of Congo) – Institute for Security Studies (ISS)

Humanitarian action in Iraq: putting the pieces together – Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

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RAND has published the following research papers:

Breaking the Failed-State Cycle

Afghanistan: State and Society, Great Power Politics, and the Way Ahead

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More:
Documents of Note #3 [03 MAY 2008]
Documents of Note #2 [17 APR 2008]
Documents of Note #1 [14 APR 2008]

Owning ‘the Means of Communication’ in Insurgency

12 May, 2008

Relevant to the recent discussion here on this site regarding the propaganda of the deed in contemporary insurgency is a post by Brigitte Nacos over at the CTLab site. Nacos, who has written extensively on terrorism and the media, cites the recent engagement in Lebanon to illustrate the value for insurgents today in owning ‘the means of communication’, as well as having a deed-driven message to communicate.

Once upon a time, Karl Marx assigned power to those who own the means of production. Today it’s safe to say that power is in the hands of those who either own the means of communication or otherwise manage to communicate their messages directly to their target publics. Governments and influential interest groups have always understood this, and so have terrorists. This point was once again driven home in the latest clash between the Lebanese government and its backers and Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that has actually grown into a mighty guerilla and de facto ruling force. While Hezbollah’s own al-Manar television and radio networks carried the threats and hard-line rhetoric of Hezbollah’s leader Sheik Nassan Nasrallah, the organization’s fighters silenced the Sunni majority party by taking its television station off the air and setting its newspaper offices on fire.

Read the whole post here.

Arab Public Opinion, Al-Qaeda & the Long War

19 April, 2008

A recent opinion poll surveying Arab public opinion provides some fascinating insights on a range of issues relevant to anyone with an interest either in the region, in the countering of Al-Qaeda inspired transnational militancy, or in information operations.

The poll was conducted in March 2008 by the University of Maryland, in conjunction with Zogby International, and queried 4,046 people from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Outlined below are some of the findings I found particularly interesting.

Al-Qaeda

Only one question directly polled attitudes towards Al-Qaeda, but the responses are revealing:

When you think About Al Qaeda, what aspect of the organization, if any, do you sympathize with most?

30% – That it confronts the US.
21% – I do not sympathize at all with this organization.
18% – It stands for Muslim causes such as Palestine.
10% – Its methods of operation.
07% – It seeks to create a Taliban-style Islamic state.

Firstly, it is highly significant that the single most significant reason given for sympathising with AQ is its opposition to the US, rather than any inherent qualities of AQ itself. A similar result (33%) was returned in the 2006 version of the survey.

Taken in conjunction with the fact that only 7% of respondents sympathised with AQ’s ultimate goal of recreating a Salafist caliphate (also 7% in 2006), and the fact that 83% of respondents had either a ‘very’ or ‘somewhat unfavourable’ view of the US (see below), this would suggest that the single most effective strategy for countering AQ is not attacking either its ideology or its network – important as such efforts are – but reducing antipathy towards the US among AQ’s targeted constituencies.

Secondly, and most worryingly, the 21% of people claiming to have no sympathy with AQ at all is markedly less than the 33% who expressed no sympathy with AQ in 2006, suggesting that passive support for at least some aspects of AQ’s agenda is actually rising.

Much has been made of the suggestion that AQ’s brutal tactics, particularly the casualties inflicted on other Muslims, is turning ordinary Muslims against the organisation, with the rise of the Awakenings Movement in reaction to Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) excessess rightly cited. However, while those who always had reservations about AQ’s tactics may have been further repelled by AQ’s escalating brutality, the fact that 10% of respondents sympathised with its methods of operation in 2008 – down only 1% from 2006 – suggests that few of those who previously sympathised with the use of terrorism as a tactic have been dissuaded by the increasing barbarity.

Also interesting is the fact that 18% of respondents sympathise with AQ because they believe it stands for Muslim causes such as Palestine, up from 14% in 2006. Recent AQ communiques have placed greater emphasis on AQ’s support for the Palestinian issue than has been usual in the past, and it would seem the propaganda is getting results.

The US, Foreign Policy & Information Ops

Bearing in mind the apparent importance in the struggle against AQ of improving perceptions of the US, it is worth examining those questions in the poll which provide an insight into the nature of anti-US sentiment.

Generally speaking, what is your attitude toward the United States?

64% – Very unfavourable.
19% – Somewhat unfavourable.
11% – Somewhat favourable.
04% – Very favourable.

Would you say your attitudes toward the US are based more on American values or American policy in the Middle East?

80% – Based on American policy.
12% – Based on American values.

The United States has been actively advocating the spread of democracy in the Middle East, especially since the Iraq War. Do you believe that?

65% – I don’t believe that democracy is a real American objective.
20% – This is an important American objective, but the United States is going about it the wrong way.
08% – This is an important objective of American foreign policy that will make a difference in the Middle East.

Which TWO of the following factors do you believe are most important in driving American policy in the Middle East?

50% – Controlling oil.
47% – Protecting Israel.
33% – Weakening the Muslim world.
30% – Preserving regional and global dominance.
12% – Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.
07% – Fighting terrorism.
06% – Promoting peace and stability.
04% – Spreading human rights.
04% – Promoting democracy.

While the extent of antipathy towards the US is discouraging, particularly since the respondents all come from countries whose governments have favourable relations with the US, the fact that only 12% of respondents objected to US values, compared to the 80% who objected to US policies, indicates that this situation is eminently reversible.

In part this requires not a change in policy, but a change in the way policy is presented and communicated. Redressing the fact that 33% of respondents believe that US policy in the Middle East is aimed at weakening the Muslim world would seem a good place to start. The fact that this allegation is one of the key platforms in the Al-Qaeda narrative is indicative of just how far our information operations lag behind those of AQ in influencing the populations that form the long war’s centre of gravity.

Regarding policy itself, the following policy shifts were advocated by the respondents:

What TWO steps by the US would improve your views of the US most?

50% – Brokering a Comprehensive Middle East Peace with Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 border and establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capitol.
46% – Withdrawal of US forces from the Arabian Peninsula.
44% – Withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.
28% – Stopping economic and military aid to Israel.
13% – Pushing even more to spread democracy in the Middle East.
13% – Providing more economic assistance to the region.

Other Findings

The following are some of the key findings of the survey, as selected by the survey’s publishers. Particularly interesting is the fact that in Lebanon only 9% express sympathy with the majority governing coalition, while 30% sympathize with the opposition led by Hizballah, and that Nasrallah has increased his popularity as the most admired leader in the Arab world, being nominated by 26% of respondents.

Iraq: Only 6% of Arabs polled believe that the American surge has worked. A plurality (35% ) do not believe reports that violence has in fact declined. Over 61% believe that if the US were to withdraw from Iraq, Iraqis will find a way to bridge their differences, and only 15% believe the civil war would expand. 81% of Arabs polled (outside Iraq) believe that the Iraqis are worse off than they were before the Iraq war.

Iran: In contrast with the fears of many Arab governments, the Arab public does not appear to see Iran as a major threat. Most believe that Iran has the right to its nuclear program and do not support international pressure to force it to curtail its program. A plurality of Arabs (44%) believes that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, the outcome would be more positive for the region than negative.

The Arab Israeli conflict: There is an increase in the expressed importance of the Palestinian issue, with 86% of the public identifying it as being at least among the top three issues to them. A majority of Arabs continues to support the two‐state solution based on the 1967 borders, but an increasing majority is pessimistic about its prospects. If the prospects of a two state solution collapse, 50% believe it would lead to a state of intense conflict for years to come, while only 9% believe it would lead to a one‐state solution, and only 7% believe that the Palestinians would eventually surrender.

Palestinian Divisions: In the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, only 8% sympathize with Fatah most, while 18% sympathize with Hamas, and 38% sympathize with both to some extent. In so far as they see Palestinians as somewhat responsible for the state of affairs in Gaza, 15% blame Hamas’s government most, 23% blame the government appointed by President Mahmoud Abbas, and 39% blame both equally.

The Lebanese Crisis: Only 9% express sympathy with the majority governing coalition in the current internal crisis in Lebanon, while 30% sympathize with the opposition led by Hizbollah, 24% sympathize with neither side, and 19% sympathize with both to some extent.

Popular Leaders: Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, increased his popularity as the most admired leader in the Arab world (26%). There was also an increase in the popularity of President Bashar Assad of Syria. Also striking, however, was the emerging popularity of modernizing Sunni Arab leaders, particularly Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai, when respondents identify the two leaders they admire most.

Attitudes toward the US: 83% of the public has an unfavorable view of the US and 70% express no confidence in the US. Still, Arabs continue to rank the US among the top countries with freedom and democracy for their own people. 32% believe that, from the point of view of advancing peace in the Middle East, American policy will remain the same, no matter who wins the US elections. 18% believe that Barack Obama has the best chance of advancing peace, 13% believe Hillary Clinton has the best chance, while 4% identify John McCain as having the best chance for advancing peace.

Global Outlook: France continues to be the most popular country, China continues to make a good showing, and views of Pakistan have declined.

Media: Al‐Jazeera continues to command the largest share of the Arabic news market, with 53% of Arabs polled identifying it as their first choice for news, with practically no change from last year. Egyptian Television and Al‐Arabiya have made some gains over last year. To a plurality of respondents, the quality of both Al‐Arabiya and Al‐Jazeera has improved over previous years, with only a small minority perceiving a decline.

Download the full survey here [PDF].

Update:

The Economist has an article on the increasing attention being paid to assessing opinion in the Muslim world by polling organisations such as Gallup and Zogby International.

Interview with Defence Secretary Des Browne

29 March, 2008

Today’s Daily Telegraph has an interview with UK Defence Secretary Des Browne. The interview covers a range of topics, and some of what he has to say is likely to prove controversial.

Browne’s assessment of the situation in Iraq is upbeat, despite (and even because of) this week’s developments in Basra:

The Defence Secretary is remarkably calm under fire. Last week, he visited Basra and returned “as optimistic as I have ever been about the future of Iraq”.

That optimism has not been blown apart by the violence this week. “The Iraqis have decided that they’re ready to take on the militia. Their very presence in the city engendered a response. That was to be expected.”

The British did not, in his view, cut and run. “We left at exactly the right time. The majority of the violence when we were in Basra was directed at us.”

There is no plan for British troops to return to the city, although he does not altogether rule out re-engagement.

To my surprise he says the British withdrawal of troops could be “accelerated” rather than delayed by recent events.

“This operation is taking place on a timescale that’s quicker than we would have thought as a consequence of the growing confidence of the Iraqis. We hope by spring to be able to get to about 2,500 [British troops]. I’m not thinking that everybody could be home by Christmas but when the time is right we can reduce our forces.”

Such optimism isn’t entirely misplaced. As Max Boot has argued, “If Maliki is now getting serious about asserting the supremacy of the Iraqi state over the militias, that is a development to be cheered.” This echoes an argument put forward in the Financial Times, in which Steve Negus states that, while enormously risky, “If the prime minister succeeds, the pay-off would deliver a big boost to the credibility of a shaky government, proving that the growing national army is capable of taking on powerful militia and addressing fears that a withdrawal of US troops would leave Iraq’s fragile state at the mercy of armed factions.”

However, Browne’s repetition of the standard government line that the initial withdrawal from Basra was justified by the fact that the majority of the violence in the city had been directed against British troops is less convincing. The argument fails to acknowledge that the current clashes are in part a consequence of the British failure to displace the militias from the city, which made the kind of reckoning we are seeing now inevitable eventually.

Browne goes on to argue that we should be talking to militants such as the Taliban and Hizballah. This is likely to be questioned by some, coming as it does after the controversy that erupted following comments made by Jonathan Powell – a former aide to Tony Blair – who suggested it was a mistake not to be talking to groups such as Al-Qaeda. It is worth noting, however, that unlike Powell, Browne draws the line at engaging with Al-Qaeda:

In his view, the West must be seeking diplomatic as well as military solutions. Controversially, he argues that Britain should be willing to talk to extremists groups.

“What you need to do in conflict resolution is to bring the people who believe that the answer to their political ambitions will be achieved through violence into a frame of mind that they accept that their political ambitions will be delivered by politics.”

A former Northern Ireland minister, Mr Browne says there will always be some people who are “irreconcilable” to a peaceful path – he draws the line at al-Qa’eda because “their demand is an end to our way of life”.

But, he argues that the West should be willing to talk to people with a history of violence – including elements of the Taliban and Hizbollah.

“In Northern Ireland I talked to people with a past. There are different varieties of these organisations. There’s no question that some of them if we succeed will transfer into the political dimension.”

Read the interview 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.


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