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Thread: Assessing Al-Qaeda (merged thread)

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    The Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor, 15 Feb 07:

    The Threat of Grassroots Jihadi Networks: A Case Study from Ceuta, Spain
    ...The jihadi group in Ceuta was composed of at least 11 individuals and constitutes another good example of the emergence of grassroots jihadi networks in European countries. "Grassroots jihadis" refers to groups that sympathize with and relate to the global jihadi movement, sharing common strategic objectives, but have little or no formal connections to al-Qaeda or any other associated organizations. They could, however, eventually secure relationships with some established operatives....

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    Default Al Queda Shifting Focus to the "Near Enemy"?

    Interesting symposium on the state of the Jihad.

    One participant -- Bill Roggio -- claims Al Queda is shifting focus to the Middle East to form a caliphate, away from attacking the West directly.

    Until recently, al Qaeda's leadership has thought their goals would best be achieved by attacking the 'far enemy' – the U.S. and her allies - directly in order to force the nations to withdraw the support from the Middle East. This strategy has shifted over the past several years, as al Qaeda is now focusing operations and their organization primarily in the Middle East and the Muslim crescent. Al Qaeda's operations show it now wishes to focus its energy primarily on the 'near enemy.' This will the organization to consolidate power after forming their Islamic Caliphate, and set the stage for a final confrontation with the West.

    This does not mean that al Qaeda is not engaging Western forces – they are doing so directly in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the purpose of the operations are to first drive out the U.S. and the West by destroying their political will to engage in the region, and then create the individual emirates from which neighboring Muslim countries can be attacked and absorbed. While direct attacks on Western countries have not been excluded – al Qaeda will take an opportunistic shot to strike the West if it believes it will further their goals – the primary focus is now on fighting the regional wars.

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    Default Frontpage...

    Quote Originally Posted by AdmiralAdama View Post
    Interesting symposium on the state of the Jihad.

    One participant -- Bill Roggio -- claims Al Queda is shifting focus to the Middle East to form a caliphate, away from attacking the West directly.
    ... is hardly the non-biased source for a decent reference point for the items you have put up for discussion on our Council. You are trending towards a lot of "link drive-bys" without much original discussion on your part. I'm getting a bit concerned that you might think you have your own personal - "no-rules" - soapbox here. Ain't gonna happen - got it?

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    Of course. I certainly don't want to violate any rules here.

    Are the opinions of Stephen Emerson (writer for The New Republic and author of the book Warriors: Inside the Covert Military Operations of the Reagan Era, Walid Phares who has written for Global Affairs, Middle East Quarterly, and Journal of South Asian and Middle East Studies, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross (who was himself a radical Muslim and wrote a book on the experience) and Bill Roggio (who is a former infantryman doing reporting in Iraq now) not considered sources of plausible analysis? Or am I misunderstanding you?

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AdmiralAdama View Post
    Interesting symposium on the state of the Jihad.

    One participant -- Bill Roggio -- claims Al Queda is shifting focus to the Middle East to form a caliphate, away from attacking the West directly.
    I'll give you my opinion. I think AQ and its affiliates would like to rule a state and probably to recreate some sort of Islamic super state. I think they may be capable of seizing a state at some point in time (more likely through means other than terrorism and insurgency). I do not believe they could ever create a "caliphate."

    Ultimately Al Qaeda can kill and destroy but cannot create or administer. As salafists, al Qaeda has no executable political plan or strategy. They are not like the Bolsheviks and Nazis who had explicit political plans and strategies even before they seized power. Recent history suggests that even should al Qaeda's allies or affiliates take power somewhere, they stand little chance of unifying the Islamic world, much less creating a super-state which can challenge the United States. It is hard to imagine, for instance, the benighted Afghan Mullah Mohammed Omar, whom Osama bin Laden considered the paragon of an Islamic leader, ruling a modern, powerful state which could challenge the West. It is equally hard to imagine that Indonesia, Bangladeshi, Indians, Afghans, Iranians, Turks, Kurds, Chechen, Uzbeks, and others would accept an Arab-dominated super state, or that Arabs would accept a caliphate ruled by one of these other nationalities.

    To the extent that we can glean any sort of political program or plan from the Islamic extremists, it is a recipe for a failed state. The "new caliphate" is, like the medieval European idea of "Christendom," a fantasy, clung to by both some Islamic extremists and some Americans. To build American strategy on the delusions of our opponents rather than their capabilities is a mistake. To distort al Qaeda into the type of enemy we know and understand—a Hitler, Stalin, or Saddam Hussein who can be defeated by war—may be emotionally appealing, but it does not reflect reality. And by pretending that the challenge from Islamic extremists is something it is not, we are less able to deal with the threat that it is.

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    Default Yes

    Quote Originally Posted by AdmiralAdama View Post
    Of course. I certainly don't want to violate any rules here...

    Or am I misunderstanding you?
    Yes you are and you don't get it. This is our (Council members) living room - farting in it is one thing - a steaming #### is another. No ###-for-tat with you is on my agenda - get with the program here or move on - more of your insights and observations - the writer that you claim to be - rather than full-auto links to any and all items that support 'whatever you are about'.

    Side-note - maybe it is me - but your screen name and the Colonial Defense Force 'thingee' conveys that you really do not want to be taken seriously here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    I'll give you my opinion. I think AQ and its affiliates would like to rule a state and probably to recreate some sort of Islamic super state. I think they may be capable of seizing a state at some point in time (more likely through means other than terrorism and insurgency). I do not believe they could ever create a "caliphate."

    Ultimately Al Qaeda can kill and destroy but cannot create or administer. As salafists, al Qaeda has no executable political plan or strategy. They are not like the Bolsheviks and Nazis who had explicit political plans and strategies even before they seized power. Recent history suggests that even should al Qaeda's allies or affiliates take power somewhere, they stand little chance of unifying the Islamic world, much less creating a super-state which can challenge the United States. It is hard to imagine, for instance, the benighted Afghan Mullah Mohammed Omar, whom Osama bin Laden considered the paragon of an Islamic leader, ruling a modern, powerful state which could challenge the West. It is equally hard to imagine that Indonesia, Bangladeshi, Indians, Afghans, Iranians, Turks, Kurds, Chechen, Uzbeks, and others would accept an Arab-dominated super state, or that Arabs would accept a caliphate ruled by one of these other nationalities.

    To the extent that we can glean any sort of political program or plan from the Islamic extremists, it is a recipe for a failed state. The "new caliphate" is, like the medieval European idea of "Christendom," a fantasy, clung to by both some Islamic extremists and some Americans. To build American strategy on the delusions of our opponents rather than their capabilities is a mistake. To distort al Qaeda into the type of enemy we know and understand—a Hitler, Stalin, or Saddam Hussein who can be defeated by war—may be emotionally appealing, but it does not reflect reality. And by pretending that the challenge from Islamic extremists is something it is not, we are less able to deal with the threat that it is.
    I would also put forward (as one of my pet rocks) that as al Qaeda moves farther down the terrorist spiral of violence they will become less capable of governing anything (assuming that they ever were capable of such activity). They will become more wrapped up in their tactics of violence (and justification for same) and more distant from whatever their founding goals were. This is a common trend with all groups that make the slide from insurgent to terrorist, and I don't really see a TNI like al Qaeda being any different. In al Qaeda's case it could even be worse, as they will run head-on into a number of ethnic and tribal considerations as you mention, Steve.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Default Historical Method

    AA, I'd suggest you broaden your research a bit to include things you don't agree with. I don't know what your academic background is, but you might want to take the time to do some reading into historical methods and research. Cherry-picking sources isn't research - it's filtering your sources until they agree with your conclusion. I've pointed out before that you paint things with a very broad stroke...which may work well on the editorial page but falls short when it comes to serious research and scholarly writing (in most cases...some of the newer fields seem to like this kind of writing, but I digress).

    Your methods seem akin to those of the Fundamentalist Christian who does all her research in Christian bookstores or the Arabist who believes that Al Jazeera is the one source of all that's true in the world, or the dedicated eco-warrior who only believes what he hears from Al Gore or Michael Moore. Every source has some degree of spin, created by the perceptions of the author and aided by what the reader brings to the table. If you want to be taken seriously, take off your blinders, use a wide variety of sources, and present your opinions as opinions, not the One Word of Truth.

    Check out the required books for an upper-division history course at your nearest university bookstore. There's usually one class devoted to research methods (although for some idiotic reason some schools don't require this until the graduate level). Find some of the books that deal with research methods. Buy them and read them cover to cover until you understand them. That's your first step to quality research. I wish you well.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    AA, I'd suggest you broaden your research a bit to include things you don't agree with. I don't know what your academic background is, but you might want to take the time to do some reading into historical methods and research. Cherry-picking sources isn't research - it's filtering your sources until they agree with your conclusion.
    I'll second that suggestion. Also, the Battlestar Galactia stuff is demeaning to the very nature of this council. I mean, people are dying and getting maimed in combat for real. His profile gives the impression that this is fascinating from a combination of comic book and cliff note perspectives. I have agreed and disagreed with AA in the past at the expense of opportunity cost. But, he should take the pain, grow up, and become more diversified as well as learn the "company language" of the forum. Consistently approaching from a preferred tactical perspective is only going to get AA alienated. The SWC has more of a strategic platform that should be immune from "True Conservative" and "Democratic Underground" type of threads. I speak from experience. I have been raked over the coals once during the beginning of my membership. Do we still have that one forum that had pictures of user names on tombstones?
    "But suppose everybody on our side felt that way?"
    "Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. Wouldn't I?"


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    I'll give you my opinion. I think AQ and its affiliates would like to rule a state and probably to recreate some sort of Islamic super state. I think they may be capable of seizing a state at some point in time (more likely through means other than terrorism and insurgency). I do not believe they could ever create a "caliphate."
    I'm no monument to the history of Islam but aren't you describing Iran after the 1979 revolution? Irrerversible changes took place almost immediately. Mainly, westernization or progress depending on how you may define that aspect. Even Khomeini was unable to erase it after he used it. Even a large framed photgraph of Khomeini hanging on a wall is a voilation of true Islamic Law. Post Iranian Revolution Iran was unable to keep the institution they envisioned because of the same tools they used to get it started. Al Queda and others will fail as well. They blame - Modernization - that is, the United States, for ruining the ability to convert back to a pure state of Holy Law. In my opinion, it is a pipe dream. A dream that is distorted and has created a nightmare in the Middle East as well as The West, which started in our lifetimes after Great Britain and France couldn't maintain the regions they started long after the Ottomans' ceased any real contribution to Islamic Holy Law. Also, the fact that the USSR fell under its own weight and many of their Islamic satellite states went back to their old borders virtually overnight didn't help matters as well. Today, Islam is fragment upon fragments. And the calamity we are witnessing today is nothing new to its history. It was born out of calamity. And with the exception of the first generation of Islam there has never been an agreement amongst Muslims on what constitutes a true Islamic Order. So, as you suggested, a "Caliphate" hasn't existed in a very long time; not in every essence of the word. Wouldn't it be like France going back to the way things were before the French Revolution? Wouldn't that idea be ridiculous if a group of French terrorists were going around killing in that name? "Let them eat cake"?
    "But suppose everybody on our side felt that way?"
    "Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. Wouldn't I?"


  11. #31
    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Culpeper View Post
    I'm no monument to the history of Islam but aren't you describing Iran after the 1979 revolution? Irrerversible changes took place almost immediately. Mainly, westernization or progress depending on how you may define that aspect. Even Khomeini was unable to erase it after he used it. Even a large framed photgraph of Khomeini hanging on a wall is a voilation of true Islamic Law. Post Iranian Revolution Iran was unable to keep the institution they envisioned because of the same tools they used to get it started. Al Queda and others will fail as well. They blame - Modernization - that is, the United States, for ruining the ability to convert back to a pure state of Holy Law. In my opinion, it is a pipe dream. A dream that is distorted and has created a nightmare in the Middle East as well as The West, which started in our lifetimes after Great Britain and France couldn't maintain the regions they started long after the Ottomans' ceased any real contribution to Islamic Holy Law. Also, the fact that the USSR fell under its own weight and many of their Islamic satellite states went back to their old borders virtually overnight didn't help matters as well. Today, Islam is fragment upon fragments. And the calamity we are witnessing today is nothing new to its history. It was born out of calamity. And with the exception of the first generation of Islam there has never been an agreement amongst Muslims on what constitutes a true Islamic Order. So, as you suggested, a "Caliphate" hasn't existed in a very long time; not in every essence of the word. Wouldn't it be like France going back to the way things were before the French Revolution? Wouldn't that idea be ridiculous if a group of French terrorists were going around killing in that name? "Let them eat cake"?
    I believe the extremists MAY be able to take over an existing, functioning nation state and sort of hold it together (if it has oil). That's the Iran model. But that's not the same as a multi national "caliphate" which is what our strategy uses as the bogeyman.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    I believe the extremists MAY be able to take over an existing, functioning nation state and sort of hold it together (if it has oil). That's the Iran model. But that's not the same as a multi national "caliphate" which is what our strategy uses as the bogeyman.
    I agree with this. I honestly don't think that AQ or any related movement has the capability to create any sort of multi-national entity. We confuse talk with capability in this case. And as they spin deeper into their tactics and get further away from their strategy, they will become less capable of this sort of thing.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    I agree with this. I honestly don't think that AQ or any related movement has the capability to create any sort of multi-national entity. We confuse talk with capability in this case. And as they spin deeper into their tactics and get further away from their strategy, they will become less capable of this sort of thing.
    And I do too. The very history of Islam, the shift of the Calphate between Baghdad and Damsacus and ultimately Istanbul (as the Sultan), the fragmentation of both Sunni and Shia into sects and now the various groupings argue hard against the image or even the idea of a unified Calphate capable of ruling inside a country versus across the borders of many. In many ways the Islamic extremist view represented by AQ is the Sunni extremist version of Pan-Arabist thought, which died a quick death thn 1967. A parallel movement--and one confused by Westterners and Muslims alike--is the strengthening of Shia control in the region, at least temporarily. I add that latter clause because tha strengthening is very tentative. Syria is controlled by a Shia minority; a Sunni backlash is always a threat. Lebanon is always a toss up; Syrian influence there is not a always a given.

    This is not to say that AQ is not a threat. It is not however a monolith.

    best

    Tom

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Agreed. I'm not even sure AQ can retain monolith

    status; they might but the hold is shaky. I've always considered Hezbollah more potentially dangerous.

    Obviously the loose networking between the various groups of Jihadis etc. has some potential but a Caliphate isn't one of them. My only real concern is that in their pursuit of that unattainable goal they do something really stupid on a massive scale and get Europe aroused.

    The mood there may be broadly pacifistic and 'go along - get along' but if the French and Germans really get fired up that will have very significant reverbrations...

    P.S.

    Enjoy Kansas in late June...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    status; they might but the hold is shaky. I've always considered Hezbollah more potentially dangerous.

    Obviously the loose networking between the various groups of Jihadis etc. has some potential but a Caliphate isn't one of them. My only real concern is that in their pursuit of that unattainable goal they do something really stupid on a massive scale and get Europe aroused.

    The mood there may be broadly pacifistic and 'go along - get along' but if the French and Germans really get fired up that will have very significant reverbrations...

    P.S.

    Enjoy Kansas in late June...
    Europe aroused? Let me mull that concept over. I guess if they get REALLY aroused they might be inspired to write a stern letter to someone.

  16. #36
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Heh, I admit that today it's an extremely novel

    concept but history says they are perfectly capable of playing harsh and dirty.

    Do recall I said a really big and really dumb event. Conversations with serving folks from some of those nations indicate that that almost, not quite, a desire that something like that might occur (as a way of a resurgence and a problem eliminator) is present as a rarely and discretely discussed attitude. We all know Armed forces in Democracies are a little more right leaning than their societal norm -- but not much more...

    Hopefully, I'm just mumbling in my dotage.

    An allied topic; is it just me or do the Europeans do a better job of countering the media efforts of the bad guys than we have been able to do thus far? Your warning of the media battle from some years ago didn't click in establishment minds and we're paying a heavy price for that while they seem to be able to deflect or better respond...

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    CTC, 2 Oct 07: Cracks in the Foundation: Leadership Schisms in al-Qa’ida from 1989-2006
    The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point is pleased to present the report, Cracks in the Foundation: Leadership Schisms in al-Qa’ida from 1989-2006. Based on a collection of al-Qa’ida documents recently released from the Department of Defense's Harmony Database, in addition to the previously released documents utilized in the Combating Terorrism Center’s two prior Harmony reports, this report analyzes the history of al-Qa’ida’s internal and long-running debates over the strategies and larger goals of the jihadi movement. Many of these documents, captured in the course of operations supporting the Global War on Terror, have never before been available to the academic and policy community. Cracks in the Foundation includes a richly sourced account of the ongoing struggle between different factions among al-Qa’ida’s leaders and specific recommendations for effectively exploiting weaknesses arising from these internal struggles. We have provided brief summaries of each of the released documents, and the full texts of the released documents can be accessed via hyperlinks within the report, both in their original Arabic and in English. We hope this report will serve as a useful resource in our collective efforts to better understand and combat al-Qa'ida and its affiliated movements.

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    The kill rate in Iraq and Afghan, regardless of how accurate it is or is not, reflects I think the tactical need for AQ and its allies to have blooded operatives/cell leaders. The screw-ups in attempted attacks on the Western front have that element in common and we may be too inclined to chalk off such attempts as being the work of amateurs when in fact it may simply be a lack of nerve due to no combat experience, IMO.

  19. #39
    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Default After al Qaida?

    In a brilliant essay in the journal The American Interest, Barry Posen of MIT writes,

    "Today the most imminent U.S. security problem has to do not with conquest or intimidation but safety...The main discrete threat is al-Qaeda, but if the foregoing analysis is right, there are deeper forces feeding that organization than its interpretation of religious texts. These forces could give rise to other violent organizations. In other words, al-Qaeda is not the problem, but a particularly threatening example of a condition of global disorder and disaffection capable of giving rise to numerous such groups, Islamist and otherwise."

    Posen asks what the United States can do to address the conditions that gave rise to al Qaida. This is a vitally important issue. The implication, of course, is that the Bush strategy misdiagnosed the problem by focusing on the absence of liberal democracy.

    But there is another question which fewer strategists are grappling with: If in fact, it is systemic conditions which gave rise to al Qaida and if, in fact, the United States cannot ameliorate them, who will arise to replace al Qaida once that organization is destroyed? Are there proto-insurgencies or nascent radical organizations out there now which will rise in power with al Qaida gone? How can we identify them? How can we stop them?

    Strategy is not simply dealing with extant threats, but preventing the rise of new ones. Here's hoping that someone is grappling with this issue now.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    In a brilliant essay

    But there is another question which fewer strategists are grappling with: If in fact, it is systemic conditions which gave rise to al Qaida and if, in fact, the United States cannot ameliorate them, who will arise to replace al Qaida once that organization is destroyed? Are there proto-insurgencies or nascent radical organizations out there now which will rise in power with al Qaida gone? How can we identify them? How can we stop them?

    Strategy is not simply dealing with extant threats, but preventing the rise of new ones. Here's hoping that someone is grappling with this issue now.
    I've seen similar questions being asked in various BAAs and SBIRs, but its a question (in its most basic form) that's been asked by all ruling powers throughout history. Where will the threats to our power arise from and what can we do to prevent it? There's the biblical example of Pharoah and Herod attempting to intercept the rise of a great threat to their power (Moses and Jesus) by killing all of the first born children in their kingdom. That clearly didn't work, and no similarly motivated strategy has worked for any government since.

    Posen wrote:

    "The activist U.S. grand strategy currently preferred by the national security establishment in both parties thus has a classically tragic quality about it. Enabled by its great power, and fearful of the negative energies and possibilities engendered by globalization, the United States has tried to get its arms around the problem: It has essentially sought more control. But the very act of seeking more control injects negative energy into global politics as quickly as it finds enemies to vanquish. It prompts states to balance against U.S. power however they can, and it prompts peoples to imagine that the United States is the source of all their troubles."

    We need to lighten our touch, and change our global strategy; and part of that change is not pursuing the fool's errand of trying to predict and control every possible factor which may lead to future threats. The chaotic nature of life doesn't permit such control.

    At the end of the essay Posen recaps his points with a brief summarizing statement:

    "The United States needs now to test a different grand strategy: It should conceive its security interests narrowly, use its military power stingily, pursue its enemies quietly but persistently, share responsibilities and costs more equitably, watch and wait more patiently. Let’s do this for 16 years and see if the outcomes aren’t better."

    I wholeheartedly agree.

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