Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Edge of Terrorism

Finding the Elusive Keys to Ending Pervasive Insurgencies
Scott Stewart     June 28th 2012
In recent weeks, insurgent forces in several countries have been forced to withdraw from territories they once held. Somalia's al Shabaab, which was pushed out of Mogadishu in October 2011, was ejected from Afmadow on May 30. The group now runs the risk of losing its hold once again on the port city of Kismayo, an important logistical and financial hub for al Shabaab.
In Syria, the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups were forced out of the city of Idlib and Homs' Baba Amr district in March. They also withdrew from Al-Haffah on June 13.
Meanwhile in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been forced to retreat from towns it took control of last year in southern Abyan province, including Jaar, Shaqra and Zinjibar. The organization controlled the area it seized from the government through its Ansar al-Sharia front organization. AQAP was able to capitalize on the infighting that began in Yemen in 2011 and successfully diverted the government's focus away from AQAP and other militant groups. But in February, the election of new Yemeni President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi allowed the rift created by the infighting to be slowly healed. As a result, a combination of Yemeni soldiers and local tribesmen, backed by U.S. intelligence and fire support, have been able to push back AQAP and Ansar al-Sharia in recent weeks.
Losing these cities will immediately and significantly affect AQAP's ability to reach its goal of establishing an emirate based on Sharia law in southern Yemen. However, the loss of this territory will not mean an end to the group, just as losses of territory by militants in Somalia and Syria do not mean those insurgent groups have been defeated definitively. The reason for this rests in the very nature of insurgent warfare. To insurgent groups, the loss of territory is a setback, but is only one episode in what they intend to be a very long war.
Ebbs and Flows
One of the basic tenets of modern Western warfare, as articulated by theorists such as Carl von Clausewitz, is the desire to destroy the enemy in quick, decisive battles that break the enemy's ability -- and will -- to fight. In contrast, one of the basic doctrines of insurgent warfare, as articulated by theorists such as Mao Zedong and Vo Nguyen Giap, is to decline decisive battle when the odds are not favorable and to live to fight another day. The insurgent wants to prolong the battle and create a drawn-out, grinding war that will gradually wear down the stronger enemy while insurgent forces build up enough strength to fight a conventional war and defeat their opponents. Western military leaders, then, seek to quickly resolve a war, while insurgents seek to prolong it by any means -- even if this means ceding control of territory until they can amass the strength to take it back.
In the modern jihadist context, this strategy was seen clearly in Afghanistan. The Taliban, when faced with overwhelming U.S. airpower in 2001, declined combat and permitted Northern Alliance ground forces to take control of Afghanistan's cities, rather than stand and fight until they were destroyed. The Taliban then launched a classic rural-based insurgency from the mountains using Pakistan as a haven for logistics and training. Iraqi government forces also took this approach when confronted by U.S. forces during the 2003 invasion.
Similarly, following the December 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, Islamist militants from the Supreme Islamic Courts Council -- many of whom would later go on to form al Shabaab -- declined to fight decisive battles and instead took to harassing the Ethiopian army's extended supply lines. This forced the Ethiopians to pull back from key cities they had captured, like Kismayo, and allowed the militants to regain control of large portions of southern Somalia. It is not unusual, then, for insurgent forces to take territory, only to surrender it and reclaim it again later.
For insurgents, the operational concept is that if the enemy attacks in force, they retreat; if the enemy stays in place, they conduct harassing attacks; if the enemy tires, the insurgents press the attack; and if the enemy retreats, the insurgents pursue. The idea is to apply prolonged pressure, both physical and psychological, and to create a mounting number of casualties over time. At the same time, the insurgent organization works to strengthen its own organizational support base and military capability. The basic doctrine of counterinsurgency is to deny insurgents the ability to establish and strengthen their support base and improve their capability.
The support base is a critical element for any insurgency. By gaining the sympathy of the population -- the human terrain -- the insurgents can rely on the population not only for material support, recruits and shelter, but also for intelligence. It blurs the human terrain, making it more difficult to distinguish insurgents from the population. This is why the political element of the insurgent effort was stressed so heavily in the theories of men like Mao and Giap, who viewed their actions in terms of the people's war.
They also believed that a population's long-standing grievances give the people the ability to endure suffering and heavy losses. The people therefore have a stronger will to fight than the privileged government combatant or the foreign imperialist invader. Having favorable human terrain also permits insurgents to apply pressure to the enemy by using unconventional warfare in rear areas with operations like sniper attacks, improvised explosive device attacks, assassinations and kidnappings.
Controlling Territory
It requires far more resources and effort to control and govern populated cities and towns than it does to conduct an insurgent campaign from the jungles or mountains. Maintaining control of a city requires many people to provide security while meeting the population's need for food, water, electricity and medical care. Such demands would use up many of the resources an insurgent organization would require to fight a protracted war of attrition, so it is not unusual for insurgents to abandon cities and foist the responsibility of caring for their populations upon the government. The goal in this approach is to force the government to expend its resources in order to meet the needs of the population, including security.
The insurgents can then come back to the cities with a small force to conduct harassing attacks on security forces or those cooperating with security forces, thus causing the government to invest even more resources in protecting the cities and reducing the number of forces available to pursue and fight insurgents in the countryside. Simply put, conducting insurgent attacks or terrorist attacks against the government's power center takes far less resources and manpower than it does to secure a town or city.
Because of this, withdrawing from a city or town allows a militant group to actually increase the resources it has available to conduct attacks. But though there are benefits to harassing attacks, insurgents must be careful to avoid too many civilian casualties, because a high civilian death count can turn the population against the group, as happened with the umbrella militant organization Islamic State of Iraq in 2007.
Although there have been numerous urban guerilla movements -- and indeed, there is an entirely separate doctrine for urban guerilla organizations -- most insurgencies are based in rugged, ungoverned spaces. In such areas, fighters can seek refuge, build bases and train. Such ungoverned spaces have played an important role in the current insurgencies in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and Mali.
Another important consideration in many insurgent refuge spaces is the insurgents' ability to use an international border to keep the government from attacking them. This use of the borders was famously evidenced by the Viet Cong's use of Cambodia and Laos.  More recently, this tactic has been utilized in the Taliban's use of Pakistan, the Iraqis' use of Syria and Iran, the Tuaregs' use of Libya and other Sahel countries, and the Syrian rebels' use of Turkey and Lebanon.
State sponsors can also provide significant help to insurgents. This was seen in the Soviet and Chinese help given to the Viet Cong and Viet Minh; and in more modern examples like the Iranian support for Iraqi insurgents, the Eritrean support for al Shabaab or the U.S., Turkish and Arab support for Syrian insurgents.
The real key in counterinsurgency is drying up the insurgents' base of support. Once that happens, the insurgents lose their ability to use the population as camouflage and as a source of recruits and material support, and the intelligence advantage is tipped toward the government. It is also helpful when the terrain available for insurgents to operate in is limited because it can allow counterinsurgents to systematically maneuver their armed forces in a way that forces the insurgents into open conflict.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, for example, waged an insurgency against the Sri Lankan government from 1983 to 2009. The Sri Lankan government defeated the insurgents after India and then China provided material, money and advisers to government forces. That Sri Lanka is an island also served to constrict the Tigers' movements and forced them to try to hold territory, which ultimately led to their failure. Another successful suppression of insurgency occurred in Malaya from 1948 to 1960, when the British army used forced migration to separate the insurgents from their population and economic base. This eventually forced the Malayan Races Liberation Army to fight in order to attain necessary resources that are usually provided by the local population. This alienated the insurgents from the population and eventually led to British success.
Undercutting an insurgent group's support is normally quite difficult, especially when the group has access to large areas of rugged terrain. In Yemen, AQAP has been able to pull back from the towns it controlled to the harsh and desolate hinterlands where it was born. In the wild, tribally controlled areas of Yemen, the combination of hostile physical and human terrain will make it difficult to find and kill insurgents. There have been jihadists in Yemen since the late 1980s. They have long found shelter with the conservative tribes from which many of the jihadists originally hailed and to which they returned after fighting in places like Afghanistan. Many of the foreign jihadists in Yemen and Pakistan have married into influential tribes to increase their local support.
Syria's demographic situation and its long history as an Alawite-dominated police state have cultivated a great deal of hostility against the regime. It will be very difficult for the government to undercut foreign or domestic support for the insurgents. As with Syria's past insurgencies, Damascus will have to threaten and coerce the Sunni population into submission to maintain its grip on power.
Somalia is a confusing jumble of competing clans that have withstood attempts to govern them since the early 1990s. Even if al Shabaab becomes severely damaged as an organization, clan-based Islamist militancy of one form or another will persist in the region for the foreseeable future.
The insurgent strategy of fighting a long, protracted war means that insurgents' recent withdrawals from cities and towns in Yemen, Syria and Somalia do not necessarily mean that the wars in those regions will end anytime soon.
Scott Stewart writes for Stratfor, from where this article is adapted.

Donors pledge 66 million U.S. dollars aid for Yemen's reconstruction

Sanaa, June 28 (Xinhua-ANI): Representatives of Yemen's donor countries pledged on Thursday an initial aid of 66 million U.S. dollars for reconstructing southern Yemeni cities which were destroyed during the months-long fighting against al-Qaida militants, official Saba news agency reported.
The aid was announced at a donor meeting in Sanaa and aimed to help thousands of displaced people in Yemen's southern province of Abyan who fled to refuge camps in neighboring provinces due to the anti-terror war.
The donors voiced their support to Yemen's political transition as well as their concerns over the insurgency in the country's southern regions, where the al-Qaida wing took advantage of the one-year unrest to control several cities.
Yemen witnessed more than one year protests that forced former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down and transfer power to his deputy Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Combating al-Qaida militants in the south is one of the challenges confronting Yemeni interim President Hadi, who has promised to launch a national dialogue to settle disputes among all political factions and uproot the Yemeni branch of al-Qaida. (Xinhua-ANI)

Experts warn Obama: US Yemen policy too skewed to terrorism

Top foreign policy experts warn Obama that his Yemen policy, steeled by lethal drone strikes on terror suspects, could harm long-term US security.
Middle East Online
June 28, 2012
By Stephen Collinson – WASHINGTON
Top foreign policy experts have warned US President Barack Obama that his Yemen policy, steeled by lethal drone strikes on terror suspects, is not sustainable and could harm long-term US security.
In a letter fanning debate on US policy towards a hot front in the campaign against Al-Qaeda, the experts said Wednesday that Yemenis perceived America as almost purely concerned with ruthless anti-terrorism operations.
The Obama administration pushed back strongly, highlighting a recently announced new $52 million aid increase to tackle Yemen's humanitarian crisis and insisted the US approach towards the country was "balanced."
"We believe the current US strategy jeopardizes our long-term national security goals," said the letter, signed by 27 bipartisan experts under the auspices of the Atlantic Council and the Project on Middle East Democracy.
A strategy that emphasizes economic and political concerns would better serve Yemeni stability and US interests, "rather than a primary focus on counterterrorism efforts and direct military involvement," the letter said.
"We accept that the US will take action against those who plot attacks against Americans when there is actionable intelligence," the experts said.
"However, removing members of militant groups with targeted strikes is not a sustainable solution and does not address the underlying causes that have propelled such forces to find fertile ground in Yemen."
Washington was a key player in a political transition that saw President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down this year after an Arab Spring-inspired uprising, ceding power to the current President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.
Yemen, the base of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was the locus of several thwarted terror plots against American targets, including a bid to bring down a US airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kurbi said on Wednesday in Dubai that the Sanaa government had asked in some cases for drone strikes to target Al-Qaeda leaders, lifting the veil on US attacks.
Obama said at the NATO summit in Chicago last month he was "very concerned" about Al-Qaeda in Yemen, after an AQAP suicide bomber killed 100 Yemeni troops.
The experts, however, called on Obama to shift from a "narrow focus" on counter-terrorism and prioritize social, economic and political development.
"The Yemeni people need to know that their country is more than a proxy battleground," the experts wrote.
Obama aides insist their strategy, highlighted in a visit to Sanaa by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year, is already broad and balanced.
Erin Pelton, a National Security Council spokeswoman, insisted that the administration was tackling "grave" economic, humanitarian and security challenges.
"We have supported Yemen's political transition despite those who warned that doing so would undermine counterterrorism cooperation," she said.
"We have encouraged and supported economic reforms that will place Yemen on a more sustainable path.
"We have spearheaded efforts to help Yemen reform and restructure its military and we have significantly increased our humanitarian aid and economic assistance this year."
The United States plans to give Yemen $170 million in aid this year, a sharp rise on last year's total of $106 million.
USAID administrator Rajiv Shah last week said $52 million of that aid would go to fast action humanitarian projects, during a trip to the southern city of Zinjibar, where government forces recently routed militants linked to AQAP.
Officials argue aid can only be effective if militants are first flushed out of volatile areas in a "clear, hold and build" strategy.
They admit privately though that there is a perception among Yemenis that American interests prioritize counterterrorism.
And they say conditions in Yemen are so complicated and volatile that striking the right balance is hugely difficult and subject to sudden events.
Yemen has long been a security concern for the United States, even before the October 2000 Al-Qaeda suicide attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden, which killed 17 US service members.
Last year, a US air raid killed the radical US-born preacher Anwar al-Awlaqi, a key player in AQAP believed to have inspired several terror plots against the United States.