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Thread: The Danger of Conflation: AQ through Intel eyes

  1. #1
    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Default The Danger of Conflation: AQ through Intel eyes

    http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/20...sm_riedel.aspx

    In the course of researching the current strategy for Afghanistan I decided to research the leader of the team that developed it, Bruce Reidel.

    I frankly find the excessive reliance on both nation building development on one hand, and ramped up drone strikes on the other as difficult to rationalize. I assumed that the inclusion of the (to my knowledge wholly unsubstantiated) belief nation building will resolve an insurgency came from the CNAS/COINdinista crowd. After reading some of Mr. Reidel's work, I'm pretty sure I know where the CT focus came from as well.

    This article is actually pretty good in how it lays out the fact that AQ is a larger problem today than they were 9 years ago (there's a metric for regime change and COIN right there, BTW); and also in how it lays out what Mr. Reidel describes as the "Five Faces of AQ."

    Here is my quibble as a guy who spends a lot of time thinking about insurgency (both violent and non-violent) and the many related operations (UW, COIN, FID, IDAD): I would argue that only 2 of 5 are actually AQ and that those two are the only ones we should wage aggressive CT against; that the rest are all targets/tools of AQ's UW operations and should be thought of and dealt with very differently with approaches that are much more indirect.

    The Five Faces he lays out are:
    1. The Core group around bin Laden
    2. The syndicate of terror networks
    3. The regional franchises around the Islamic world
    4. The self-starting Jihadists with no formal linkage to AQ, and
    5. The idea, the narrative and Ideology of AQ.

    Mr. Reidel then conflates all of this as AQ. All as the threat that we must "isolate, disrupt and defeat" in AFPAK and elsewhere.

    I would argue 1 and 2 are AQ and its UW network. We should quietly, ruthlessly and persistently capture/kill 1 and disrupt 2.

    I would argue that 3 are all nationalist insurgent movements. That the best course is to engage with the governments where those movements thrive in rich conditions of insurgency, focus not on CT or even enabling CT, but rather on more neutral approaches to address the conditions of insurgency these groups feed upon. (For the nodes of AQ's UW network in these same areas see the paragraph above). When we attack these insurgencies directly we validate number 5 and contribute to this growth of AQ that Mr Reidel describes.

    As to 4, I believe many of these are as "radicalized" by the approaches promoted by experts like Mr. Reidel that Western governments have taken in going after group 3 as they are by message 5. By changing our approach to group 3 I believe that group 4 is largely mitigated as well.

    As to 5, sending the president out to "attack the idea of AQ" is probably the wrong approach. Better to co-opt what aspects of those ideas we can and make them our own, and then out-compete AQ with a better idea.

    I believe that so long as we continue to conflate this threat, we will continue to have these strategic effects that are the opposite of what we seek. This is one reason why I find the CT component of the new AFPAK strategy odd. The author recognizes the threat grows stronger in the face of what we have done, so he recommends that we continue with the same things, except even more vigorously.
    Last edited by Bob's World; 10-03-2010 at 05:10 PM.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Posted by Bob,
    I frankly find the excessive reliance on both nation building development on one hand, and ramped up drone strikes on the other as difficult to rationalize.
    Not surprisingly I agree with the first part of your statement, but I don't understand why you find the drone strikes against AQ senior leadership in Pakistan hard to rationalize? From my seat they appear to be based on good intelligence and they're having a telling effect on AQ's leadership. I also don't see AQ being able to generate effective messaging countering the drone strikes as they did in the past, do you? I much rather see our Special Forces partnered with Pakistan Security forces tracking down and killing AQ's leadership in Pakistan, but I don't think that is feasible, so why not use the drones

    The author wrote,
    In Pakistan and Afghanistan today, the terror group lets the local Taliban lead the war effort while its members stay in the shadows.
    I found this statement to be somewhat in left field, since AQ doesn't have a choice, if they tried to take over the fight in Afghanistan I suspect the Taliban would kill them.

    I don't have strong disagreements with the author's five faces:

    The Five Faces he lays out are:
    1. The Core group around bin Laden
    2. The syndicate of terror networks
    3. The regional franchises around the Islamic world
    4. The self-starting Jihadists with no formal linkage to AQ, and
    5. The idea, the narrative and Ideology of AQ.
    2 & 3 are intermingled, so I'm not sure what how he defines the difference between the two, but in fact many of these groups are or aspire to be linked with AQ. The brand name still sells globally among the Islamists. I get your point about some of these movements being nationalist movements, but that is also an over generalization. In PACOM the insurgency in Southern Thailand is still believed to a local issue, and I would argue that the MILF in the S. Philippines is also a local issue, but JI on the other hand have regional goals, they are not nationalists, they're caliphatists. Lashkar e Taiyyba clearly have regional and perhaps larger goals, and the list goes on ad nauseum. I think in many cases, just as during the cold war there are elements of both (nationalism and a foreign/global ideological piece). Every case needs to be studied independently to assess the underlying causes of the conflict, but I think it is clear in some cases there are regional franchises that envision a caliphate supported by external powers that has little or nothing to do with nationalistic goals. That doesn't mean they won't develop their own strategy and nuanced supporting ideology that needs to be addressed (versus a generic response globally), but they're still tied to the larger global movement.

    4 & 5 are also intermingled, self starting individuals (at least the ones the author cited) were inspired by AQ ideology promoted by the likes of Awlaqi through his influencial use of the internet. You usually don't self starting Jihadists without someone promoting the underlying ideology.

    In short I agree we do conflate issues, but it would be also be wrong to ignore the connections when they "actually" exist.

  3. #3
    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Bill,

    I have no problem with drone strikes against group 1 and 2; its the conflation of group 3 and drone strikes against them I find problematic. As you say, 2 and 3 are mixed together quite often, all the more reason to find a new kind of "precision."

    A weapon that strikes within feet of my intended target is very precise mechanically speaking; but if that target is a mix of nationalist insurgents and members of AQ's UW node that is plugged in with them we have a problem with a very different kind of precision. We lack a precise understanding of the nature of the problem.

    This is the problem I see with conflation. The average intel bubba would not see a problem with killing 5 MILF insurgents on Mindanao along with the two JI guys who were there delivering cash or some message. The commander/ops guys likely wouldn't see the problem either. Same same for Pakistan. We target a house with one AQ guy in it and 10 Pakistani Pashtuns who are Taliban. Both of these examples are tactical successes and strategic failures as they do not differentiate between good CT and who that needs to be applied to, and good COIN and how that needs to be applied.

    I know that most who read what I am writing here will think "So what?" and that is my very point.

    The "so what" is that AQ continues to grow in influence due to the broad brush we apply to the threat.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Movement?

    An initial reaction to both comments. Much of the current counter-AQ strategy appears to be based on two factors, the possibility of an attack (especially WMD or causing mass casualties) and creating time for other things to happen.

    I am unconvinced that AQ is growing. Yes, there is radicalisation, is there momentum behind it? Anger exists, thankfully little action (causation and motivation IIRC which you have mentioned before and several Muslims I know agree with).

    If we stick for the moment with the AfPak region, has our involvement really made real gains? Pakistan slips forward and back. Afghanistan stays constant.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Actually my primary concern with Pakistan has very little to do with AQ or the Taliban and has everything to do with how our pursuit of both is changing the delicate balance of deterrence between Pakistan and India.

    I think we apply a very incomplete and narrow definition to "sanctuary" (ungoverned spaces); and a very broad definition of AQ to combine to lead us to an incredibly destabilizing family of engagement. All of this seems to be done as if we think it has no affect on Pak-Indian deterrence

    Instability in Afghanistan through Muj and now Taliban agents is an important aspect of Pakistan's deterrence with India. As is stability in the tribal areas of Pakistan through largely allowing those populaces to be self-governing. With all of our intervention and forcing of Pakistan to adopt a very powerful conflict of interests (maintaining good relations with the US overtly, while covertly pursuing instability operations to support their deterrence against India). What effect on deterrence? Add to this India getting more involved in Afghanistan as well.

    Deterrence is a delicate balance game, walking a fine line between actions that provoke and actions that deter. When the balance point changes, mistakes are more apt to happen.

    Is it a victory for western interest in South Asia if we atrit AQ but provoke a nuclear exchange between Indian and Pakistan at the same time?? I don't think so. When Secretary Clinton recently spoke on Pakistan's nuclear weapons she made no indication that the thought had ever entered her head that we could be disrupting the balance of deterrence. Loose nukes are not the greatest risk. State employment of nukes is.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    I would argue 1 and 2 are AQ and its UW network. We should quietly, ruthlessly and persistently capture/kill 1 and disrupt 2.
    How do you reconcile that with this:

    Actually my primary concern with Pakistan has very little to do with AQ or the Taliban and has everything to do with how our pursuit of both is changing the delicate balance of deterrence between Pakistan and India.
    ...considering that most of those in category 1 and many in 2 are in those "ungoverned" Pakistani spaces? If not drone strikes, then what? The drone strikes are extremely unpopular among the domestic Pakistani population and I think they are having a destabilizing effect on Pakistan itself. Is there something else that can kill/capture 1 and disrupt 2 in without all the negative effects of drone strikes?

    This article is actually pretty good in how it lays out the fact that AQ is a larger problem today than they were 9 years ago
    That's a common assertion - one that I think is supported by little evidence.
    Supporting "time-limited, scope limited military actions" for 20 years.

  7. #7
    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Default Reconciliation and Evidence

    Quote Originally Posted by Entropy View Post
    How do you reconcile that with this:



    ...considering that most of those in category 1 and many in 2 are in those "ungoverned" Pakistani spaces? If not drone strikes, then what? The drone strikes are extremely unpopular among the domestic Pakistani population and I think they are having a destabilizing effect on Pakistan itself. Is there something else that can kill/capture 1 and disrupt 2 in without all the negative effects of drone strikes?



    That's a common assertion - one that I think is supported by little evidence.
    I don't believe there are any ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan or Pakistan either one. Plenty of self-governed spaces, through sophisticated, historic and cultural processes that have little to do with Kabul or Islamabad; but governed all the same. We disrespect the governance of this region and these people when we do not recognize the role and importance of this very legitimate, but often "unofficial" governance.

    Which leads us to reconciling my comments. We focus on getting permissions from and participation with the official governance in the capitals, and worry about western concepts of sovereignty as we have come to define them over the years and then use to measure the "success" or "failure" of other societies with. It is by forcing a conflict of interest on the official Pakistan government to extend and assert itself upon the self-governing Pashtuns that creates the friction; it is the violation of Western concepts of sovereignty that creates the friction.

    I suspect that if we allow Pakistan to go back to the business of restraining their official extension of governance to the Indus river valley we could work out a very reasonable accommodation with the Pashtun populace that is cast within concepts of Pashtunwali rather than Westphalia.

    Back in 2002 I read a report from a SOF Commander on the ground with the Pakistani military on their very first excursion up into the tribal areas post 9/11. As the Pakistan military were going about their business in a village, our guy was off to the side talking with the village elders. One comment stuck him significantly enough to include it in his report. It struck me as well as I read it in the basement of the Pentagon at 0200 working on SOF portion of the morning brief for the Army Staff.

    "You must understand" he said, "We really do not like the government forces coming up into our territory. You, however, we do not mind. You are here for revenge, and revenge we understand."

    We applied a Western solution to an Eastern problem. It is not working.
    We need to understand that the number one concern of Pakistan is India.
    We need to understand that Pakistan allows self-governance of the tribal areas for a reason.
    We need to understand that instability in, and influence over, Afghanistan will always be a critical national interest for Pakistan regardless of how much of our money they take.
    We need to understand that Western ways and perspectives are not inherently superior to the ways and perspectives of others.

    I would recommend we develop a campaign for going after Tier 1 and 2 AQ in Pakistan that carefully avoids tier 3, and that is negotiated with the tribal leaders of the region and shaped by concepts of revenge and Pashtunwali. I suspect that a Pakistan relieved of the pressure of extending governance and Westphalian concepts into the tribal areas will be very open to such a deal. Devils in the details, but I think it is a far more sound approach than the current one.


    As to Evidence of AQ's expansion of influence, that is really rooted in the eyes of the beholder. A shopkeeper, a farmer and a hunter all walk through the same forest; if later asked as to what they saw, you would get three very different answers. I know we have done very little to reduce the conditions of insurgency across Islam that AQ feeds upon with their UW campaign. I know AQ is in more of those areas now than they used to be. I know that Western influence is less in those same regions due to the very nature of our GWOT responses to date. I appreciate that the "caliphate" is far more a conceptual bit of recruiting propaganda than a true physical goal for an organization that appreciates better than we do that their greatest form of sanctuary is their very non-state status and the support of the poorly governed populaces they associate with.

    Even if AQ were wiped out to the man tomorrow, all of the conditions they feed upon are still there, and if anything enhanced by our our GWOT engagement. AQ is a symptom, they are a supplier stepping up to address a demand. Our fear should be that we somehow defeat this flawed supplier and allow them to replaced by a more effective one.

    By understanding conflation and breaking the problem back into its respective pieces we can then tailor our engagement much more effectively. To just bundle it all up into a ball and then smash that ball with a hammer is frankly stupid. Proving yet again, that smart people do stupid things. This is fixable. This still time to shift the majority of our focus to demand and to narrow the scope of how we engage supply.
    Last edited by Bob's World; 10-04-2010 at 10:52 AM.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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