Author Archive

Afghan Power Structures & Social Modelling

7 July, 2008

Christian Bleuer has an interesting post over at CTLab which assesses a recent paper by Geller and Moss on the subject of Afghan power structures. The paper focuses on the role played by qawm – a form of identity grouping key to understanding social dynamics in Afghanistan – in creating a human terrain susceptible to the kind of episodic low-level conflict which has long been a feature in Afghanistan.

Check the full post here.


COIN Inside the Wire – Jihadist Rehabilitation in Saudi Arabia

6 July, 2008

Journalist Shiraz Maher has an interesting article in today’s Sunday Times looking at Saudi efforts to rehabilitate captured Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants.

Although the Saudi programme’s emphasis on rehabilitating and releasing captured terrorists back into society makes it controversial in some quarters, there is increasing appreciation among COIN practitioners of the importance of ensuring detainee operations are consistent with the wider strategic goal of winning the war of ideas and securing the support of the population – a concept now often referred to as ‘COIN inside the wire’.

As such, the Saudi model – itself inspired by the success of a similar programme run by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) in Singaporean prisons with Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) detainees – is increasingly being implemented by US detention programmes in Iraq (see The Financial Times article linked to below).


It has been called the Betty Ford clinic for jihadists and within minutes of arriving at the Care Rehabilitation Centre on the outskirts of Riyadh, you can see why. The small complex, where the Saudi Arabian government is exploring a new way of reforming its wayward radicals, feels more like an exclusive boarding school than a Saudi jail.

The Times

Inmates have access to swimming pools, table tennis and PlayStations. In the evenings, guards and prisoners play football. An air-conditioned tent sits adjacent to the sports field, serving as a dining hall and common room where, when I visited, the prisoners were tucking into rice and lamb with fresh fruit for pudding.

In return for this privileged treatment, the prisoners – Islamic extremists, some of whom are convicted murderers – are obliged to attend lessons based around Islamic law and the jurisprudence of jihad. A team of psychologists teaches detainees how they should manage their emotions, particularly when reacting to world events.


The Saudi government insists all this is necessary to promote genuine rehabilitation and foster a meaningful relationship with the jihadists. But in the easy-going atmosphere of the “resort” – nobody calls it a prison – where inmates are referred to as “beneficiaries”, it is easy to forget the seriousness of some of their crimes.

The centre is divided into six areas, four of which hold Saudi nationals who fought (or tried to) in Iraq. The other two hold returnees from Guantanamo Bay.


The government has realised that the use of force alone will not contain Al-Qaeda. It has created an ideological security unit that coordinates the kingdom’s efforts in the war of ideas against its native jihadists. Those arrested in connection with terrorism are routinely subjected to attempts to reform their thinking.

Five jails, each housing 1,200 prisoners, have been built specifically for jihadists with the purpose of promoting ideological reform through dialogue and debate. Religious instruction in these prisons is directed by an advisory committee, which is also closely involved with the care centre.

The new prisons are far from the relaxed environment of the Care Rehabilitation Centre. Housing some of the most senior Al-Qaeda leaders in the kingdom, they are maximum security with sophisticated systems to deter any militants hoping to target them, including the use of buried seismic cables and microwave detection equipment.

CCTV also operates in the prisons, including cells and interrogation rooms. Most prisoners have a cell to themselves or occasionally share, although the rooms have been designed to minimise contact with other prisoners and are largely self-contained. Cells are fitted with their own televisions, encased behind toughened glass, and are centrally controlled by the guards. They are used to transmit religious education lectures prepared by the advisory committee directly into cells where inmates later have an opportunity to debate ideas and ask questions using an intercom.

After serving their sentence in these jails, prisoners are moved to the rehabilitation centre, which opened 18 months ago. It is designed to be a halfway house where ideas first introduced by the advisory committee in prison are consolidated and developed. The men are also given extensive support to help to reintegrate them into society after they leave, the thinking being that so doing makes them less likely to reoffend.

The initiative was largely inspired by circumstance after a senior Al-Qaeda figure surrendered in response to a royal amnesty. Unsure about what to do with him, the government asked a local sheikh, Ahmad Jilani, to live with him and ensure that he did not abscond while it searched for a more permanent solution.

“We discovered that after living with the sheikh, who challenged his ideas, he began telling us everything about how he was recruited, what attracted him [to jihad] and how Al-Qaeda is operating in the kingdom,” said General Mansour al-Turki, a spokesman for the interior ministry.


Families are encouraged to make regular visits to the centre, allowing inmates to socialise with spouses and children. Families have a crucial role to play in reforming the radicals and the centre offers advice on how to help prisoners to readjust after release. The emphasis on preparing both the families and the inmates for reintegration is particularly relevant to those returning from Guantanamo Bay.


How successful the centre is being in challenging jihadist ideas is hard to measure. The majority of men I met there were not Al-Qaeda’s ideologues but its foot soldiers. Most had answered the call to jihad without fully understanding the Islamist world view and, although religiously motivated, were fuelled by events.

Since its inception none of the inmates from the care centre has reoffended, but a visit to the home of Mohammed al-Fawzan, who tried to join the Islamic army in Iraq and was arrested on the Syrian border, reveals a more intriguing reason why some of those released from the care centre might want to sustain their good behaviour. Parked outside his modest one-bedroom apartment in a poor district of Riyadh is Fawzan’s new Toyota Camry, costing just under £15,000. The flat has been renovated and modernised with a fitted kitchen and bedroom furniture installed in preparation for his wedding. Fawzan’s living room hosts a 37in high-definition television with surround sound and a Blu-ray player. All this has been provided by the government, including an additional £15,000 for his wedding. And incentives are not limited to financial aid. The government also ensured that Fawzan was reinstated in his old job.


Further Reading:

In addition to the above article, Shiraz Maher has produced a documentary segment about the care centre that will be broadcast on Wednesday’s Newsnight (BBC2 10.30pm).

Also of interest on the subject:

The Business End
Andrew K. Woods, The Financial Times

Provides a detailed profile of Major General Douglas Stone’s efforts to apply similar principles to the US detention programme in Iraq.

Extremist Reeducation and Rehabilitation in Saudi Arabia
Christopher Boucek, Terrorism Monitor

Rehabilitating the Jihadists

Singapore’s Muslim Community-Based Initiatives against JI
Muhammad Haniff Hassan, Perspectives on Terrorism

Update (18 July 08):

Indonesia’s Approach to Jihadist Deradicalization
Kirsten E. Schulze, CTC Sentinel vol.1 no.8

Also relevant is the following extract from pp. 94-5 of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, Operation Iraqi Freedom: Strategies, Approaches, Results, and Issues for Congress [PDF]:

Detainee Operations

The broad “reconciliation” intent extends to an additional subset of the Iraqi population — those who have been detained by coalition forces.

Accountability. By the beginning of 2008, coalition detainee operations had evolved markedly from the days of the formal occupation, when they were characterized by under-staffing, limited facilities, and — due to ongoing aggressive military operations — a large and quickly growing detainee population. In the early days, it was common to find local communities frustrated first by detentions they perceived to be groundless, and then by the difficulty of determining the location and status of those detained.

One important, gradual change since then, according to coalition officials, is much better accountability, based on the introduction of biometrics, better information-sharing throughout the detention system, and simply better cultural familiarity with the multi-part names commonly used in the region.

“COIN Inside the Wire” Detainee Program. A second major change, introduced by the current MNF-I leadership, is a set of “COIN inside the wire” practices, designed to identify and separate the truly “irreconcilables” from the rest of the detainees.

This new approach is based partly on a better understanding of the detainee population, which apparently includes far more opportunists than ring-leaders — for example, under-employed young men who agree to emplace an IED in exchange for a one-time payment. The opportunism seems to be corroborated by the low recidivism rate — about 9 out of 100.

According to coalition officials, in the past, the coalition used its theater internment facilities simply to “warehouse” detainees. Those facilities effectively served as “jihadist universities” where detainees with extremist agendas could recruit and train followers. Today, the coalition cultivates the majority of the detainee population by providing detainees with voluntary literacy and vocational training, and bringing in imams to offer literacy and religious education. A family visitation program allows about 1,600 visits per week. According to a senior coalition official, “Now detainees themselves point out the trouble-makers.” To support this effort, two Theater Internment Reintegration Facilities are under construction, in Taji and Ramadi, to provide further education and skills training.

Detainee Releases. A third initiative is a planned release of detainees, projected to include a majority of the 23,845 current detainees in the coalition detention facilities. During 2007, the detainee population grew from about 14,000 at the start of the year to 25,000, due to surge operations and better incoming information from Iraqi sources. The release initiative is motivated partly by the overall emphasis on reconciliation, and partly by concerns that the forthcoming “security framework agreement” (see above, “Future Security Framework Agreement”) may place new constraints on coalition detainee operations. The targeted release program draws on the results of “COIN inside the wire” in separating the hardcore cases from one-time offenders. The program makes use of a guarantor system, in which tribal sheikhs and other local leaders may vouch for, and accept responsibility for, the future good conduct of detainees released back to their communities.

The release program calls for giving ground commanders the opportunity to comment on proposed releases. Some commanders have expressed concerns about the practical implications of the program, wondering in particular how jobs will be found for the released detainees, and what will restrain them from low-level, opportunistic criminality in the future if full-employment jobs are not found.

Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence – The Discrepancy Between COIN Doctrine and Ground Operations

5 July, 2008

RAND have released the latest in a series of occasional papers addressing counterinsurgency theory and practice. Entitled Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence — The U.S. Military and Counterinsurgency Doctrine, 1960-1970 and 2003-2006, and written by Austin Long, the paper challenges the notion that the development of improved COIN doctrine necessarily translates into an equivalent improvement in the conduct of COIN operations on the ground.

Long compares the conduct of contemporary COIN operations by US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq following the release of FM 3-24 with the conduct of COIN operations in Vietnam, and argues that in both cases organisational inertia has inhibited the force adaptation required to actually implement new doctrine on the ground.


The publication of a new counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine manual in late 2006 was widely heralded as an indication that the U.S. military was finally coming to understand the problems it has recently faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, this interpretation assumes a tight linkage between doctrine as written and operations as actually conducted. By comparing modern counterinsurgency doctrine and operations to those of 1960s, this paper tests and ultimately disproves this proposition.

An examination of COIN doctrine and operations in the 1960s reveals that operations seldom matched written doctrine. Instead of winning hearts and minds, improving civil-military relations, conducting small-unit operations, and gathering intelligence, most Vietnam War commanders and units attempted to defeat the insurgency through large-scale operations and overwhelming firepower.

Modern U.S. COIN operations in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate a similar preference for high-intensity warfare and a similar inability to adapt technologically and mentally to the requirements of COIN.

To help explain the discrepancy between written doctrine and actual operations, this paper posits that ingrained organizational concepts and beliefs have a much greater influence on operations than written doctrine. While embedded beliefs can help organizations as they conduct their preferred missions, they can be detrimental in other contexts.

Mental and material preparation for high-intensity warfare has made the U.S. military poorly suited to COIN. Altering these beliefs will require more than just new doctrine and some additional professional education: The services must reorient themselves mentally as well as physically.

Read the paper here.

Images from Afghanistan #3

24 June, 2008

The Times has published a gallery of photos chronicling the recent ANA / NATO offensive to clear Taliban forces from the Arghandab district in Kandahar province, which had been taken by the Taliban following a successful operation to free several hundred captured insurgents from Kandahar prison.


The Times

Afghan and NATO forces are clearing Taleban militants from a
strategic group of villages in Arghandab district near their
former stronghold of Kandahar (Allauddin Khan/AP)

The Times

Some of the Taleban fighters are said to have been former prisoners
who escaped during a recent night raid on Kandahar prison, possibly
the largest jail break in the world. Up to 400 Taleban fighters are
thought to have been among the 1,100 inmates who fled after two
suicide bombers blasted through the walls (Ismail Sameem/Reuters)

The Times

The Arghandab district of Kandahar province is also the location
of many opium poppy fields. The production of poppies in
Afghanistan has hit record levels this year, and is thought
to fund much of he Taleban operation (AP)

View all 11 images here.

Previous galleries:
Images from Iraq #1
Images from Afghanistan #1
Images from Afghanistan #2
Images from the Congo #1
Images from the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War

MNF-I Commander’s COIN Guidance

23 June, 2008

The Small Wars Journal has made available an excellent COIN primer produced by the Multi-National Force – Iraq (MNF-I) headquarters. Although the concepts should already be familiar to COIN students and practitioners, they are rarely expressed so succinctly. The focus is on the current campaign in Iraq, but the principles would form a sound basis for any campaign.

Secure and serve the population. The Iraqi people are the decisive “terrain.” Together with our Iraqi partners, work to provide the people security, to give them respect, to gain their support, and to facilitate establishment of local governance, restoration of basic services, and revival of local economies.

Live among the people. You can’t commute to this fight. Position Joint Security Stations, Combat Outposts, and Patrol Bases in the neighborhoods we intend to secure. Living among the people is essential to securing them and defeating the insurgents.

Hold areas that have been secured. Once we clear an area, we must retain it. Develop the plan for holding an area before starting to clear it. The people need to know that we and our Iraqi partners will not abandon their neighborhoods. When reducing forces and presence, gradually thin the line rather than handing off or withdrawing completely. Ensure situational awareness even after transfer of responsibility to Iraqi forces.

Pursue the enemy relentlessly. Identify and pursue AQI and other extremist elements tenaciously. Do not let them retain support areas or sanctuaries. Force the enemy to respond to us. Deny the enemy the ability to plan and conduct deliberate operations.

Generate unity of effort. Coordinate operations and initiatives with our embassy and interagency partners, our Iraqi counterparts, local governmental leaders, and nongovernmental organizations to ensure all are working to achieve a common purpose.

Promote reconciliation. We cannot kill our way out of this endeavor. We and our Iraqi partners must identify and separate the “reconcilables” from the “irreconcilables” through engagement, population control measures, information operations, kinetic operations, and political activities. We must strive to make the reconcilables a part of the solution, even as we identify, pursue, and kill, capture, or drive out the irreconcilables.

Defeat the network, not just the attack. Defeat the insurgent networks to the “left” of the explosion. Focus intelligence assets to identify the network behind an attack, and go after its leaders, financiers, suppliers, and operators.

Foster Iraqi legitimacy. Encourage Iraqi leadership and initiative; recognize that their success is our success. Partner in all that we do and support local involvement in security, governance, economic revival, and provision of basic services. Find the right balance between Coalition Forces leading and the Iraqis exercising their leadership and initiative, and encourage the latter. Legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people is essential to overall success.

Employ all assets to isolate and defeat the terrorists and insurgents. Counter-terrorist forces alone cannot defeat Al-Qaeda and the other extremists; success requires all forces and all means at our disposal—non-kinetic as well as kinetic. Employ Coalition and Iraqi conventional and special operations forces, Sons of Iraq, and all other available multipliers. Integrate civilian and military efforts to cement security gains. Resource and fight decentralized. Push assets down to those who most need them and can actually use them.

Employ money as a weapon system. Use a targeting board process to ensure the greatest effect for each “round” expended, and to ensure that each engagement using money contributes to the achievement of the unit’s overall objectives. Ensure contracting activities support the security effort, employing locals wherever possible. Employ a “matching fund” concept when feasible in order to ensure Iraqi involvement and commitment.

Fight for intelligence. A nuanced understanding of the situation is everything. Analyze the intelligence that is gathered, share it, and fight for more. Every patrol should have tasks designed to augment understanding of the area of operations and the enemy. Operate on a “need to share” rather than a “need to know” basis; disseminate intelligence as soon as possible to all who can benefit from it.

Walk. Move mounted, work dismounted. Stop by, don’t drive by. Patrol on foot and engage the population. Situational awareness can only be gained by interacting with the people face-to-face, not separated by ballistic glass.

Understand the neighborhood. Map the human terrain and study it in detail. Understand local culture and history. Learn about the tribes, formal and informal leaders, governmental structures, and local security forces. Understand how local systems are supposed to work—including governance, basic services, maintenance of infrastructure, and the economy—and how they really work.

Build relationships. Relationships are a critical component of counterinsurgency operations. Together with our Iraqi counterparts, strive to establish productive links with local leaders, tribal sheikhs, governmental officials, religious leaders, and interagency partners.

Look for Sustainable Solutions. Build mechanisms by which the Iraqi Security Forces, Iraqi community leaders, and local Iraqis under the control of governmental institutions can continue to secure local areas and sustain governance and economic gains in their communities as the Coalition Force presence is reduced. Figure out the Iraqi systems and
help Iraqis make them work.

Maintain continuity and tempo through transitions. Start to build the information you’ll provide to your successors on the day you take over. Allow those who will
follow you to virtually “look over your shoulder” while they’re still at home station by giving them access to your daily updates and other items on SIPRNET. Encourage extra time on the ground during transition periods, and strive to maintain operational tempo and local relationships to avoid giving the enemy respite.

Manage expectations. Be cautious and measured in announcing progress. Note what has been accomplished, but also acknowledge what still needs to be done. Avoid premature declarations of success. Ensure our troopers and our partners are aware of our assessments and recognize that any counterinsurgency operation has innumerable challenges, that enemies get a vote, and that progress is likely to be slow.

Be first with the truth. Get accurate information of significant activities to your chain of command, to Iraqi leaders, and to the press as soon as is possible. Beat the insurgents, extremists, and criminals to the headlines, and pre-empt rumors. Integrity is critical to this fight. Don’t put lipstick on pigs. Acknowledge setbacks and failures, and then state what we’ve learned and how we’ll respond. Hold the press (and ourselves) accountable for accuracy, characterization, and context. Avoid spin and let facts speak for themselves. Challenge enemy disinformation. Turn our enemies’ bankrupt messages, extremist ideologies, oppressive practices, and indiscriminate violence against them.

Fight the information war relentlessly. Realize that we are in a struggle for legitimacy that in the end will be won or lost in the perception of the Iraqi people. Every action taken by the enemy and United States has implications in the public arena. Develop and sustain a narrative that works and continually drive the themes home through all forms of media.

Live our values. Do not hesitate to kill or capture the enemy, but stay true to the values we hold dear. This is what distinguishes us from our enemies. There is no tougher endeavor than the one in which we are engaged. It is often brutal, physically demanding, and frustrating. All of us experience moments of anger, but we can neither give in to dark impulses nor tolerate unacceptable actions by others.

Exercise initiative. In the absence of guidance or orders, determine what they should be and execute aggressively. Higher level leaders will provide broad vision and paint “white lines on the road,” but it will be up to those at tactical levels to turn “big ideas” into specific actions.

Prepare for and exploit opportunities. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” (Seneca the Younger). Develop concepts (such as that of “reconcilables” and “irreconcilables”) in anticipation of possible opportunities, and be prepared to take risk as necessary to take advantage of them.

Learn and adapt. Continually assess the situation and adjust tactics, policies, and programs as required. Share good ideas (none of us is smarter than all of us together). Avoid mental or physical complacency. Never forget that what works in an area today may not work there tomorrow, and may or may not be transferable to another part of Iraq.

A PDF version of the whole 3-page document is available from the SWJ site here.

Images from Iraq #1

16 June, 2008

The Guardian has published a gallery of photos in which the paper’s award-winning photographer Sean Smith chronicles his experiences embedded with the US army’s 101st Airborne Division.


Sean Smith

US troops from the 101st Airborne Division patrol a market in Baghdad
Photograph: Sean Smith


Sean Smith

US soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division and Iraqi police watch
a football match between Australia and Iraq
Photograph: Sean Smith


Sean Smith

American troops from the 101st Airborne Division distribute food in Shulla,
north-west Baghdad. One soldier holds a baby whilst its mother collects supplies
Photograph: Sean Smith

View all nine images here.

Previous galleries:
Images from Afghanistan #1
Images from Afghanistan #2
Images from the Congo #1
Images from the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War

Tomorrow’s Army, Today’s Challenges

14 June, 2008

On Thursday, General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, gave a speech at the latest RUSI Future Land Warfare Conference, a transcript of which is available here [PDF].

Among his prescriptions for the future of the British Army is the following:

So let me focus on our key conclusions – which is that the Army of tomorrow must retain the capability to fight MCO and Stability Ops, both simultaneously and sequentially. We have reached the point now where the most likely operations are amongst the most demanding. Our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have clearly demonstrated that even with integrated technology and systems, the mass and footprint given by numbers are an essential element of the future Army – in other words we cannot get any smaller and I would argue strongly that we need to be bigger and to fully integrate our Regular and Territorial manpower focussed on most likely tasks.

Although we must maintain our ability to be expeditionary, the Army is moving away from the short lived doctrine that all campaigns can be short in duration. “Go First, Go Fast, Go Home” had a very short shelf life as a policy aspiration. We must have an increasing capacity to endure, which implies not only greater mass of people, but enough depth in joint enablers to allow wider concurrency together with greater endurance. In order to do this, I need a structure that is capable of the wide range of tasks in great numbers, which means that we will not be going down the path of a two tier specialised Army. We might need 30,000 for an MCO operation, but equally Stabilisation might require even more in certain stages. And I think it is also important to consider the inescapable fact that some Stabilisation Operations could be greatly shortened if large numbers are deployed. I have taken a lesson of the past 5 years of conflict that if you have an economy of force operation it will take far longer to reach your endstate – it is therefore a false economy.

In his speech, Dannatt essentially develops the ideas he originally set out in last year’s conference, in which he spoke on the evolving nature of contemporary conflict, and the doctrine and force structure the British Army must adopt if it is to meet the challenges it faces. Entitled “Tomorrow’s Army; Today’s Challenges”, a full transcript of that speech is available here, and is well worth reading in full. Below is an edited version breaking down his key points.


On the contemporary environment and the origins of the current transnational threat:

“I note, but don’t share, Francis Fukuyama’s view that the end of the 20th Century marked the triumph of the West and that capitalism, liberalism and democracy had emerged victors of that century’s protracted ideological conflicts. If he felt that the crumbling of Soviet Communism marked the “end of history”, I suggest he had forgotten to look back over his shoulder, where he might have noticed a Crescent-shaped shadow – a shadow coming into focus when the Cold War still had a decade or so to run, and perhaps some two decades before that other apparently defining event – 9/11.

…. while there was no defining event in 1979 like the Twin Towers or the Berlin Wall, it was a year when many powerful forces began moving – the plates adjoining the fault lines became active….

“So I suggest that what began a decade before the Wall came down, eventually led to the end of the stability of the old bi-polar World, and sowed the seeds of Global Terrorism – essentially an asymmetric response to a single Superpower by the militarily dispossessed and the historically humiliated – and which was dramatically illustrated by the airliner attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

On the need for continuing adaptation within the British Army, in the context of meeting the critical ongoing challenges presented by Afghanistan and Iraq:

“But it all takes time to turn the tanker as in the Army’s case we move from being Continentally-based facing a single threat, to becoming a genuinely Expeditionary Army, increasingly home-based but widely committed on operations – and the world is not standing still.

“As General Pete Schoomaker observed while he was still Chief of the US Army, it is difficult enough to change an Army, let alone to do so when you are trying to fight and win at least two wars.

“And, of course, it is the two major operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that are both key drivers of change and the all-consuming focus of the British Army at present.

“And it is success today in these two theatres – however you define success – that, as far as I am concerned, is both the top and bottom line because if we fail in either campaign, then I submit that in the face of that strident Islamist shadow, then tomorrow will be a very uncertain place.

On the nature of contemporary conflict in a globalised operational space, and the evolving role of the ‘home front’:

“As I have already commented, the end of the Cold War has not brought the ‘New World Order’ that many anticipated. Instead the range and variety of threats and challenges to our security have multiplied. The Army is being used for different purposes, further afield than we might have expected a few years ago, and in very demanding operational circumstances. We live in an economically and socially globalized society and the threats and challenges to our security are also global and have sympathizers in many societies and countries, including at home.

“These threats cannot be defeated by conventional means alone, as they are principally a conflict of values and ideas – a battle for hearts and minds – now on a global scale. And these threats do not just face us abroad, but increasingly we have identified that we need to understand our own home front. It is not only a matter of society feeding us with the soldiers of the future, but also it provides us with the basic consent for us to conduct military operations.

“The public will not continue to support the use of force in their name, unless the Army is trusted and respected, and this may be increasingly difficult to gain. The British Army is currently held in high esteem by our nation, but this is fragile and under no circumstances must we take this for granted. It will only be maintained through sustained and effective communication with the public at large and through our continued adherence to our core values and standards.

“It is therefore vital that we, as an Army, know what we stand for – thus our core values and of selfless commitment, courage, discipline, integrity, loyalty and respect for others are increasingly important as the foundation on which success will be built. And our standards of behaviour must be above reproach. And here is the crux of the question – if we are engaged in a wider battle of ideas, how do we maintain our firm moral bearing within the Army, when our wider society’s own moral compass may be spinning?

On shaping Army doctrine and training around an understanding of the enemy, and the on need for doctrinal development to be an iterative and adaptive process in the context of a long war:

“But it is also vital that we understand our opponents, their environment and their culture. In the same way that we studied the Soviets intensely for half a century, we must apply the same intellectual rigour to today’s challenges. However, in my view, our Manoeuvrist doctrine is well suited to respond to these challenges, for it encourages lateral thought and the ability to defeat multi-faceted and asymmetric threats, underpinned by our war-fighting ethos.

“I am determined that we should maximize our people’s potential through a greater understanding of the Manoeuvrist Approach and Mission Command, recognizing also the importance of a Comprehensive Approach within the framework of coherent campaign plans. I would hope that there is nobody in the room who is not completely familiar with the tenets of the Comprehensive Approach, and yet we still struggle to implement a truly unified purpose and methodology to tackle operations. We are operating in an era in which campaigns are likely to require non-kinetic effects more often than kinetic.

“The enduring problem will be that when the security situation is fragile, military forces will still be required to adopt the flexibility of approach to step across a number of lines of operation to fill gaps and provide additional capability – the trick is going to be how we best educate our people for this very demanding task. We are developing an understanding of each other and slowly we are educating and training each other – but it is slow, probably too slow.

“Furthermore, we need to recognize that we are probably engaged in a wider conflict that may last for a generation and I think this has yet to be recognized widely. The heady appeal of “go first, go fast, go home” has to be balanced with a willingness and a structure “to go strong, and go long”. In these circumstances, I think the nature of the Military Covenant, the relationship between the Organisation and the Individual, between the Army and the soldier, is critical. Although the nature of service is inherently unequal and soldiers often have to put in more than they receive, at the very least British Soldiers should always expect the Nation, the Army and their commanders to treat them fairly, to value and respect them as individuals and to sustain and reward them and their families with appropriate conditions of service.


“Furthermore, a key Issue identified by our recent work is how to prepare our people to deal with the complexity of operations now and in the future. We often try to template our operations – warfighting operations linking to COIN or perhaps the Contemporary Operating Environment of the “three, now four Block War” model, but our recent experience has told us that templates only go so far. The enduring, transitional and extremely complex nature of modern operations demands an iterative refreshment of doctrine and our capability requirements. More fundamentally, we need to develop the methods by which we can train and educate our soldiers – at all ranks – to help them manage this complexity. This requirement to be adaptable, agile and dynamic will continue to introduce tension into our force structure and equipment capability debates.

On developing a force structure appropriate to the contemporary environment:

“But moving more briefly to the Physical component, we must also ensure that the Army is both prepared for future operations and provided with the right equipment. It is, therefore, my intention that the physical capabilities of the Army, including the Joint Helicopter Command, deliver a comprehensive Land Manoeuvre capability to Defence. This will comprise a balanced Ground Manoeuvre capability of heavy, medium and light force elements working in partnership with an integrated Air Manoeuvre capability itself comprising an effective mix of lift, reconnaissance, attack and utility capabilities. And this overall Land Manoeuvre capability will either be supported by, or be in support of the air, maritime or SF components.

“Appropriate joint command and control, fires, intelligence and logistics will underpin our overall ability to conduct combined and joint operations across the full spectrum, synchronizing the full suite of kinetic and non-kinetic effects. Increasingly, in the context of one Army, the manpower for all of this will be drawn from genuinely integrated Regular and Reserve elements.

• From a ground manoeuvre perspective, while combined Arms brigades will remain the key building block for the conduct of the most likely operations, the ability to conduct high intensity war fighting operations at Divisional level (with three national brigades) remains the most demanding and therefore represents the ‘gold standard’.
• At the same time, air manoeuvre, enabled by the addition of AH to existing air assault and rotary wing capabilities will increasingly provide a commander with greater operational flexibility.

In conclusion:

“It is a battle of ideas, and the battleground will be unpredictable. In any event, we need to be prepared for a very wide range of tasks from warfighting contingent operations to low level combat within a complex environment, whilst critically maintaining the support of the population, the consent of the nation and maintaining our own values and reputation.

“The only way that we can prepare for the challenges of the future is to be flexible and agile, and being willing to adapt, while remaining robust in the defence of the standards that set us apart from others.”

Admin Note

25 May, 2008

Posting will be light over the next two weeks as I’m travelling.  Normal service will resume on 8 June.

Worrying Implications of the Terrorism Act for Insurgency Researchers

24 May, 2008

In a disturbing development of particular relevance to IRG members doing insurgency research in the War Studies Department at King’s – and to anyone working in the field in the UK – a masters student researching terrorist tactics at Nottingham University has been arrested and held for six days under the Terrorism Act after downloading Al-Qaeda related material from the internet.

Despite his Nottingham University supervisors insisting the materials were directly relevant to his research, Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. The student had obtained a copy of the al-Qaida training manual from a US government website for his research into terrorist tactics.

The case highlights what lecturers are claiming is a direct assault on academic freedom led by the government which, in its attempt to establish a “prevent agenda” against terrorist activity, is putting pressure on academics to become police informers.

Sabir was arrested on May 14 after the document was found by a university staff member on an administrator’s computer. The administrator, Hisham Yezza, an acquaintance of Sabir, had been asked by the student to print the 1,500-page document because Sabir could not afford the printing fees. The pair were arrested under the Terrorism Act, Sabir’s family home was searched and their computer and mobile phones seized. They were released uncharged six days later but Yezza, who is Algerian, was immediately rearrested on unrelated immigration charges and now faces deportation.


Sabir’s solicitor, Tayab Ali, said: “This could have been dealt with sensibly if the university had discussed the issue with Rizwaan and his tutors. This is the worrying aspect of the extension of detention [under the Terrorism Act]. They can use hugely powerful arrest powers before investigating.”

As well as the obvious implications for those conducting such valuable research, and for academic freedom in general, this incident raises other uncomfortable questions.

Since the passing of the Terrorism Act in 2006 it has been clear that the breadth of its provisions could potentially criminalise many people involved in legitimate research, indeed many people doing work in academia and in the private sector that is absolutely essential if we are to make progress in the ongoing ‘long war’. As such, it has also been clear that the authorities would therefore be relying upon a considerable amount of discretionary judgement when determining whether or not someone should actually be prosecuted under this legislation, which in turn raises questions as to how these discretionary judgements are to be made. Such discretionary judgements are not an ideal basis for any law, let alone one so sensitive, and one has to wonder whether in this case it was the Muslim identity of the individuals in question that prompted the arrests.

In many respects the Terrorism Act represents an important step in recognising and addressing the role played by the internet, and by radicalisation processes in general, in the current campaign being waged by Al-Qaeda and its decentralised affiliates. However, as this incident demonstrates, it is potentially highly problematic, and considerable care is going to be required if its implementation is not itself going to be a cause of further alienation and radicalisation among the UK’s Muslims.

Read the Guardian’s coverage of the arrests here.

Update: David here. I’ve blogged this also over at Kings of War:

Student researching al-Qaida tactics held for six days | higher news |

WTF is going on with the police?

A masters student researching terrorist tactics who was arrested and detained for six days after his university informed police about al-Qaida-related material he downloaded has spoken of the “psychological torture” he endured in custody.

Despite his Nottingham University supervisors insisting the materials were directly relevant to his research, Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. The student had obtained a copy of the al-Qaida training manual from a US government website for his research into terrorist tactics.

The case highlights what lecturers are claiming is a direct assault on academic freedom led by the government which, in its attempt to establish a “prevent agenda” against terrorist activity, is putting pressure on academics to become police informers.

I don’t get the reasoning behind this action. How can he be prosecuted for downloading something from a US government website? Why do those responsible not recognize that the AQ manual is required reading for anyone in this field? Get a grip!

Update: The more I think about this case the more puzzled I get. The article is portraying this as a threat to academic freedom and our commenters reckon its an example of profiling in action. Probably true on both counts but possibly defensible also (there really is a terror threat and radicalism is prevalent in universities). That said, the article mentions a ‘1,500 page’ Al Qaeda training manual which I am assuming (because its logical and about the right length) must be the Encyclopedia of Jihad downloaded from a ‘US gov’t website’. But I cannot find the full-length document on any government website. If anybody has a link please send it to me. What’s available are heavily redacted and translated versions. The real thing is available, I am told, in Arabic, on Jihadi websites. So, is the article wrong and he did not get it off a US government website? Or is the article wrong and what he had access to was the redacted version (which would be less worrisome and make the police look even worse)? Or something else? The story as reported just doesn’t add up. In any case, the basic point remains that discouraging precisely those students who possess the language skills and background from doing research on AQ terrorism is self-defeating.

Bureaucratic facade and political realities of disarmament and demobilisation in Afghanistan

22 May, 2008

Antonio Giustozzi, author of Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan, has a paper on DDR in Afghanistan published in the Conflict, Security & Development journal.


Internationally sponsored disarmament and demobilisation in Afghanistan was characterised by a marked divergence between the bureaucratic process designed by the UN and the political reality of disarmament. The bureaucratic process had several flaws of its own, which were particularly obvious in the case of DIAG, but the main reason for the substantial failure of disarmament was the absence of political will among key Afghan partners. International players in the process choose to compromise on rather unfavourable terms, saving the facade of demobilisation thanks to the formal disbandment of the militias incorporated under the Ministry of Defence, but in fact allowing thousands of militias to continue operating throughout the country.

The article shows how the very limited impact of DDR and even more so DIAG was already obvious in the early stages of the process and was deliberately ignored. The article concludes that the compromise could at least have achieved some limited aims, such as delegitimising the militias, had not many of their leaders been allowed to compete successfully for parliamentary seats shortly afterwards.

Access the paper here:

Bureaucratic facade and political realities of disarmament and demobilisation in Afghanistan
Update: Free version no longer available.