This will be my last post for a few days while I turn my attention to a socio-cultural analysis writing assignment for the Captains Career Course. Before going incognito, I wanted to follow up to Pat’s comments & questions to my second Helmand TOA post.
AQ efforts in Britain:
AQ-affiliated groups appear to be quite active in their efforts against the UK, but for the most part AQ’s efforts have not replicated the level of Bekay Harrach’s efforts in Germany. The preponderance of open-source reporting revolves around the AQ brand demanding the release of Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza al Masri. While AQ did not carry out any attacks on UK soil this year, they did execute a UK citizen who was kidnapped along the border between Niger and Mali. I was unable to determine whether the June 2009 execution of Edwin Dyer was directly attributed to the April 2009 threat of attacks if Qatada and Hamza were not released. It is, however, extremely plausible.
I also came across an Andrew Exum paper from May of last year titled “The Spectacle of War”. In it, Exum writes “A recent study by al-Qaeda expert Jason Burke demonstrated that insurgent propaganda videos on the internet had played a significant role in the radicalization process of young British Muslims convicted of planning or carrying out attacks on civilian targets in the UK.” The paper goes on later to quote this phenomenon as “cyber-mobilization”. I believe this form of propaganda is particularly threatening to the US and other western nations as it provides a cheap and simple “call to arms” for both overseas and domestic jihad. Perhaps this is actually the next phase of al Sahab’s propaganda campaign, where they turn from national governments to the incitement of foreign citizens?
Lessons learned (and not learned):
In 2008 the UK established a special entity to combat AQ propaganda. The article hyperlinked essentially covers the UK’s national strategy for combating terrorism via the internet, even going so far as to list the group’s key three themes and methods for inserting them. On the western side of the Atlantic, DOD Information Operations campaigns are largely decentralized. I am not aware of a domestic IO campaign, but if there is one it is likely spread across multiple organizations and entities in a fashion similar to the DOD. An extremely appalling blurb came from Bill Gertz’s 17 November “Inside the Ring” segment for the Washington Times where he discusses Congressional plans to slash DOD IO budgets. As many are painfully aware, the US is lagging far behind in the information fight. I’ll try to cover my thoughts more extensively in a later post, but I want to get this idea out to stoke some discussion. Perhaps the way ahead for the US is a similar organization to what the Brits are running: a national-level Joint (USG, DOD, civilian) IO organization that fights the information fight on the domestic and international fronts. The organization would be broken up into COCOM-sized regions (CENTCOM, AFRICOM, NORTHCOM, etc) where the planners and executors are small (i.e. agile) task forces that plan and prosecute the IO fight. It’s a concept, but the key point is that we (read: United States) simply do not have an effective propaganda machine. Our IO efforts to date are too disjointed to be effective.
The only way to build an ISAF/NATO consensus is to first determine a desired endstate to the US Afghanistan mission in Washington. By clearly delineating the conditions required to withdraw US forces from AStan (and in my opinion they should not be overly optimistic conditions), our Coalition partners will be more effective in selling the benefits, costs and risks of each option (COIN, CT-pure, hybrid, etc) to their respective citizenry. Until the US completes this, all US troop increases and requests to Coalition partners will be portrayed globally as an escalation to an open-ended war. The US must take back the information initiative through greater transparency of its national objectives in AStan, and remind the world of the righteousness of the mission.