View Full Version : Exploiting Divisions in Insurgent Leadership

Lance C. Mogard
01-21-2010, 03:41 PM
The Taliban, and almost all other insurgent groups, behave like any other heterogenous group of individuals fighting for a common cause. Their leaders do not always see eye-to-eye, they often bicker and fight, and they have even killed each other in order to advocate stance.

These divisions in insurgent leadership often become more pronounced when their military efforts are not successful. Finger pointing starts and the blame game consumes insurgent operational planning and execution.

This offers an excellent opportunity for coalition forces to implement strategic and tactical messaging campaigns designed to further agitate these splits within insurgent leadership. This would serve the goal of not only limiting the operational effectiveness of insurgent groups, but also to foster subversion and distrust within the inner circles of these groups. The former would serve our tactical and operational interests while the latter would be a great foundation for a strategic victory over each of these insurgent groups.

While this is but one piece of an overall integrated strategy for counterinsurgency (COIN), it is an important one at that--even if only for its prospect as a low-cost, low risk, and possible high-benefit strategy.

Does anyone have any relevant, theater experience where directed messaging/strategic communication operations were used to agitate insurgent leadership or exploit the divisions described above?

Other comments and questions are welcome as well.

Patrick O'Toole
01-27-2010, 02:37 AM
I know this doesn't directly address the issue of inter-Taliban infighting directly (more like the issues of the insurgency as a whole), but I was wondering if you saw this article on WSJ (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704320104575015103412001066.html?m od=WSJ_World_LEFTSecondNews) and considered the possible PSYOP implications of that development.

As the article alludes, the possibility for any substantial political development may be remote, but it seems as though someone with a bit more expertise in psychological warfare may find it to be an opportunity for exploitation.

Just my quick two sense based on today's news feeds.

01-27-2010, 04:20 AM
This may be of interest to you (http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA401353&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf) (PDF File), particularly the "Prison Sting" operation beginning on page 3.

Rex Brynen
01-27-2010, 05:00 AM
This may be of interest to you (http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA401353&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf) (PDF File), particularly the "Prison Sting" operation beginning on page 3.

A very interesting piece.

I was particularly interested in the section on CIA destabilization of the Abu Nidal organization (ANO) in the late 1980s (pp. 111-14). While working on my PhD thesis , I conducted interviews with the then head of PLO/Fateh counterintelligence, Salah Khalaf (Aby Iyad) in January 1987, as well as members of his staff and other PLO/Fateh intelligence personnel. What is striking is that Khalaf told me at that time about the PLO's (not the CIA's) growing success in using Fateh agents to sow dissension and paranoia in the ranks of the Abu Nidal organization. My interviews, moreover, took place 10 months before the November 1987 internal ANO killings that are cited in the study as evidence of the success of the CIA operation.

That raises several possibilities:

The CIA and PLO were simultaneously but separately working on internal destabilization efforts, each unaware of the other (but presumably with synergistic effects).

The CIA and PLO were working with some degree of coordination, either directly or indirectly. Certainly, there had been a history of prior contact between Palestinian and US intelligence dating back to Beirut of the late 1970s, despite supposed American no-contact policies. Also, PLO intelligence enjoyed fairly good relations with its French counterparts, which could have led to indirect information flows.

One side is claiming success for achievements actually made by the other party. (It must be said, however, that Khalaf was quite explicit about what they were doing, and indeed strikingly frank throughout the interviews about a number of sensitive issues which I was later able to confirm through other sources.)

I tend to explanations (1) or (2), although certainly can't exclude (3)--that is, either the PLO or the CIA overclaiming their responsiblity for what transpired.

As for Khalaf, he and the head of PLO intelligence (Hayil Abd al-Hamid) were later assassinated by an ANO operative in January 1991, in what was widely seen within Fateh as revenge for the earlier operations.

01-27-2010, 05:19 AM
Very interesting Rex, thanks for sharing that.

Lance C. Mogard
01-27-2010, 11:00 PM
Rex, thanks for the insight. Entropy, thanks for the thesis. This is exactly what I'm looking for. Hopefully this will spawn more anecdotes...