A useful research resource worth being aware of is the lists of small wars past and present maintained by the USMC Small Wars Center of Excellence:
h/t: Tom Odom at Small Wars Council
A useful resource, worth keeping an eye on, is the mapping service provided by UNOSAT – the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Operational Satellite Applications Programme. While the majority of content is development-related, occasional products focus on sub-state conflict.
Two recent products include a map of insurgent incidents in the Somali capital Mogadishu since the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and allied Ethiopian forces took control of the city on 29 December 2006; and a map of reported incidents of piracy off the Somali coast from 1 January to 24 April 2008. The two maps are interesting both for the information they present, and the way in which they represent it.
The following is further information about the UNOSAT project:
UNOSAT is the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Operational Satellite Applications Programme, implemented in co-operation with the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the European Organisation of High Energy Physics (CERN).
The UNOSAT core team consists of UN fieldworkers as well as satellite imagery experts, geographers, geologists, development experts, database programmers and internet communication specialists. This unique combination gives us the ability to understand the needs of our users and to provide them with suitable, tailored solutions anywhere at any time.
UNOSAT created an extended network of public and private partners, and collaborates with the majority of UN agencies, space agencies and several international initiatives active in satellite technologies field.
Created initially to exploit fully the potential of satellite earth observation, UNOSAT has developed skills in additional technical areas such as satellite navigation and telecommunications and is today looking into the future of integrated solutions.
Our mission is to deliver integrated satellite-based solutions for human security, peace and socio-economic development, in keeping with the mandate given to UNITAR by the UN General Assembly since 1963.
Our goal is to make satellite solutions and geographic information easily accessible to the UN family and to experts worldwide who work at reducing the impact of crises and disasters and plan sustainable development.
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.
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.
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.
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].
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.
Following a recent upsurge in Taliban attacks on education targets in Afghanistan, which echoes a similar campaign waged by the Taliban two years ago, The Independent reports that officials are ‘trying to harness parent power in an attempt to stop the Taliban burning schools and murdering teachers’.
Under the protection programme, sometimes called School Councils or School Shuras, villagers agree to provide a small quota of night watchmen to take turns on guard. “Parent power is exactly what it is,” an education official said. “We bring parents, teachers and some key people in the community together to agree to protect the schools.”
In Logar province last month, a primary school was saved by a gang of furious fathers who chased would-be arsonists into the night. The head of the local PTA, Basir, said armed men approached a co-ed primary school for more than 600 students after midnight. “They had guns and petrol to burn the school. But the guards saw them and started shouting,” he said. “Everyone came out of their houses and when the terrorists realised, they ran away.”
According to The Independent report, at least 235 teachers, students and education workers were killed and 222 wounded in the period from February 2006 to February 2008, while in the last three weeks, ‘at least 10 schools have been torched and a guard had his ears cut off’.
The provinces in which the attacks have occurred since the new term started on 23 March are listed as Kunduz (3), Kandahar (2), Helmand (1), Paktia (1), Khost (1), Wardak (1), Logar (1), and Farah (1).
Attacks on Education Targets in Past 3 Weeks [IRG]
In January, the PakTribune reported a speech by President Karzai in which he claimed such attacks were keeping 300,000 children out of school – up from 200,000 the previous year. Nevertheless, more than 5.8 million children, including 2 million girls, now regularly attend classes.
With the government incapable of providing individual protection to the thousands of schools across the country, the School Shura initiative – which already provides protection for 9,600 schools – provides a practical solution. Furthermore, exploiting the desire by ordinary Afghans to enable their children to get an education seems an effective way of generating a cleavage between the insurgents and local populations, with the School Shuras possibly providing the foundation for the future implementation of more broadly scoped village defence committees.
Experienced Afghanistan commentator Barnett Rubin has a couple of charts posted on his Informed Comment blog comparing attacks by Taliban and Anti-Government Elements in the first 13 weeks of 2008 with attacks in 2007. One of the charts, showing a clear escalation in the operational tempo compared to last year, is reproduced below:
Following yesterday’s Senate hearings on the war in Iraq with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, the Small Wars Journal has put together a comprehensive set of links covering the event – including transcripts, video, news reports, op-eds and blog reports.
The gist of Petraeus’s argument?
“Withdrawing too many forces too quickly could jeopardize the progress of the past year,” Petraeus testified. In the face of skeptical questioning, he added later: “We have the forces that we need right now, I believe. We’ve got to continue. We have our teeth into the jugular, and we need to keep it there.”
[c.f. Washington Post]
Included here [PDF] are the briefing slides that accompanied Petraeus’s testimony, which comprise a set of maps and charts visualising the progress made since the implementation of the Surge.
Europol have just released a very useful report examining annual trends in terrorism in the European Union. Entitled EU Terrorism Situation & Trend Report 2008, it provides a comprehensive but concise analysis of the situation in the EU in 2007. The analysis is based on quantitative data supplied by EU member countries, making it a useful source of citable information.
This short extract, summarising terrorism-related arrests, was interesting:
A total of 1044 individuals were arrested for terrorism-related offences in 2007. This is an increase of 48 percent compared to 2006. France, Spain and the UK have reported the largest number of arrests per member state.
The number of arrested suspects for separatist terrorism has more than doubled in comparison to 2006. This increase is mainly due to the vast increase in the number of arrests in France and Spain. In 2007, Spain saw a seven-fold increase in arrested suspects: from 28 in 2006 to 196 in 2007. France went from 188 people arrested in 2006 to 315 in 2007, an increase of almost 68 percent.
Concerning Islamist terrorism, the number of arrested individuals decreased compared to 2006. In 2007, 201 persons were arrested for Islamist terrorism, compared to 257 in 2006. This decrease can mainly be attributed to a 35 percent decrease in the number of arrested suspects reported by France.
However, the UK reported a 30 percent increase in arrested suspects. Although no affiliation could be assigned, UK authorities estimate that, out of the 203 persons arrested in 2007, the vast majority were in relation to Islamist terrorism.
There have been some problems with the Europol link above. To download the report directly from the IRG, click here.