08 June 2010

A Business-like Strategy: Al-Qaeda & Al Shabaab

I cherish those good 'ole days when my colleague Josh was around and posting every other day or so. (Hey Josh, keep trucking over there!). Remember the vibrant discussions we all had on the conglomerate vs. franchise model both here and over at SWJ. Let's revisit!

As the Washington Post reported today, "Foreign fighters gain influence in Somalia's Islamist al-Shabab militia." It is not by any means new to us that AQ's ideology is being imported at an increased pace into Somalia and other regions, such as Yemen. Al Sahwa discussed this months ago when Bill Roggio at LWJ reported that Al Shabaab merged with Ras Kamboni Camp.

The question is why. To embolden ASMM to fight Hizbul Islam? To prepare for the World Cup? (Here is an AEI Critical Threat's Project report assessing the threat of AQ during the World Cup, Charlie Szrom). No, this is simply short term.

Recently, US intelligence reports have estimated Al Shabaab to have approximately 200 fighters affiliated with AQ in southern Somalia. A franchise model holds that AQ wants to expand its business; "it has a great product to sell." A conglomerate model holds that AQ enables ASMM and encourages its success; "it believes in the mission/purpose of the movement and ability to excel."

If AQ senior leadership is beginning to take more of an armchair fighter, sort of a Chairman of the Board role, then it will seek to employ a collaborative campaign while maintaining consistency. This ensures the import of an ideology through a flatter hierarchy. The flatter hierarchy, in this case, imports also foreign fighters to improve operations. Is this an indication that Al Shabaab is weak, that it needs help, that it cannot figure out how to secure regional prowess? AQ wants its affiliate to grow because it grows as a result.
*This arguement is truly based on the assumption that AQ has the direct intention to recruit and deploy fighters to foreign areas.

Of course, we must also consider once again Ronfeldt's tribal paradigm . Is Somalia a pure example of a netwar (low-level conflict)? Regardless, it will escalate if we allow AQ's operational environments to expand.

Go ahead, ask me...Ok, yes, I do think AQ will pursue advancement of its operational environment through a business prism because it seeks to survive; it believes in both its mission (without a doubt that is the driving force) and its "product" (or as I say, dream of the Islamic State). The only way it approaches survival is by clinging to what it already has, which, in this discussion, is Al Shabaab.


  1. Excellent topic. I look at like a sandwich shop. You can be a mom and pop store, and try to grow the business organically, or you can sign on to a major franchise who will provide all the support and marketing necessary to get them on their feet.

    There is also the element of learning how to make sandwiches and getting that product out to market. The success rate of people who start a business on their own compared to signing on to a franchise is what to look at here.

    So if Al Qaeda is Subway sandwiches, are they willing to send a couple of books to franchise owners of the AQ brand and call it a day? Or does AQ want to send their franchise owners to AQ university, and hold their hand during the early stages of their new franchise? What insures success, both for AQ's goals of expanding, and for that franchise owner? Good stuff.

  2. Makes sense. Why not build something on an already fairly successful "local"/regional shop like Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen, particularly when it has leaders sympathetic to your cause?