In this monograph, Carole A. O’Leary and Nicholas A. Heras provide a comprehensive assessment of Muqtada al Sadr, one of Iraq’s most powerful and controversial political figures. The authors leverage their extensive network and experience (inside and outside of Iraq) to analyze how al Sadr overcame aggressive opponents to maintain his influence. A key feature of this study is its original research on topics of great importance to contemporary Iraq which are often underappreciated and understudied. The authors uniquely consider the influence of al Sadr’s father (a widely revered pre-1999 Arab nationalist) in al Sadr’s transformation from a figure of sectarian Shi’a to one of Iraqi nationalism.
To demonstrate how data-enabled intelligence and planning could be employed through a data science team, this occasional paper explores the practicality of using big data analytical techniques to identify local conflict patterns with operational-level consequences. This project offers the beginning of a modeling project for predictive analysis on the correlation between essential services and the incidence of attack in an active wartime environment. By creating data layers from existing information on essential services and comparing those data points with instances of attack, this research ultimately seeks to provide better models to forecast patterns of conflict in different sociopolitical contexts.
by Mark Grzegorzewski
In this Quick Look, Mark Grzegorzewski provides a brief overview of artificial intelligence (AI)—a specific field within computer science that explores how automated computing functions can resemble those of humans. In addition to an AI history timeline, the author touches on AI subfields, AI strengths and pitfalls, and ways SOF have employed AI technologies.
In this monograph, William “Bill” Knarr, Mark Nutsch, and Robert Pennington offer an unvarnished examination of America’s initial response to 9/11—the battle for Mazar-e Sharif and the events that preceded and followed that critical battle. Most remember the “horse soldiers” and the role U.S. Special Forces played fighting alongside the Central Intelligence Agency and Northern Alliance forces. Accounts of this operation have been portrayed in movies, but the difference between this monograph and other accounts is simple: the authors employ an academically rigorous methodology that is based on documentary evidence supplemented by interviews with those involved in the operations.
Understanding how and why Iran uses proxy forces throughout the Middle East is vitally important for policymakers, military strategists, and operators. The lessons in this volume are not isolated to U.S. approaches toward Iranian use of proxies but have broader implications in great power competition. Russia and China have their own versions of proxies that also seek to compete with the U.S. short of armed conflict. Zorri, Sadri, and Ellis have provided the special operations community with a roadmap to responding to such activities when so many are struggling to find a solution.
In this monograph Bill Knarr and Mark Nutsch recount how the Special Operations Forces (SOF) command and control evolved with all of the Village Stability Operations (VSO) dimensions culminating ultimately in the creation of the Special Operations Joint Task Force. With the 2018 National Defense Strategy calling for expanding the competition space below the level of armed conflict, VSO provides a timely and relevant example of how SOF can contribute to this vision. Just like terrorism, great power competition will play out in countries with weak sociopolitical systems. The inherently political character and joint, interagency, international/multinational, and corporate nature of VSO can be replicated in many parts of the world for sustainable strategic effect. This monograph develops the concepts for SOF on how to contribute more effectively and efficiently to the counterterrorism fight, but readers would do well to think about VSO principles and command and control in the context of great power competition.
Framed by more than three decades of anthropological research experience working in Syria and surrounding Middle Eastern countries, and experience working with both U.S. development and military entities, Dr. O’Leary and Mr. Heras offer a sociocultural and political analysis valuable for deployed SOF. They contend that the political strategy necessary for sustainable strategic effect in the unconventional warfare (UW) component of the counterterrorism operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was subordinated to the operational level imperative to cultivate a viable proxy force. The authors offer SOF a way to conceptualize strategic political analysis for UW efforts using Syria as a recent case study, but also provide a glimmer of hope for consolidating the gains made there in support of national policy.
Countering terrorism is very hard. Countering it across global and regional geographic boundaries is even harder. Also, as increasingly powerful technologies become available to terrorists, the consequences of failing to surmount their adaptiveness and agility become much larger. It is vital to recognize that, despite some very impressive progress that the United States and the international community have made in combating terrorism since 9/11, we still struggle as a global community with the creation of durable, permanent solutions, and outcomes against it. This important publication urges consideration of how we might be able to find better pathways, better solutions, and better designs into the future. The future will not wait for us.
In this monograph, Dr. Norman Cigar provides Special Operations Forces (SOF) commanders and planners with an overview of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) operational framework and presence in the area. He analyzes the strategic and operational issues that confront policymakers in responding to the threat posed by AQAP within Yemen’s challenging social, political, and physical environment. This monograph presents the far-reaching implications for SOF, from recognizing the nuances of Yemen’s tribal-based human terrain to understanding key relationships, rivalries, and competition between AQAP and other Yemeni players. AQAP will likely continue to represent a threat to U.S. interests and regional stability for the foreseeable future.
In this new JSOU Press occasional paper Dr. Paul Lieber and Dr. Yael Lieber explore alternative approaches for Special Operations Forces (SOF) to engage with radicalized groups through comprehensive engagement in the narrative space to defeat the effects of ISIS in the psychological and sociological aspects of the human domain. Rethinking this problem from a joint social psychology—notably realistic conflict theory (RCT)—and social network analysis approach can yield unprecedented insights on the inner workings of radicalized groups and their penchant for political violence. The authors explore conflict theory through the lens of the Robbers' Cave experiment conducted by Muzafer Sherif. The authors posit that in general, radicalization, and hopefully de-radicalization, may be said to follow a similar process whereby groups that are culturally, religiously, and/or racially diverse perceive each other as in competition for scarce resources such as employment, housing, education, and benefits--in-groups and out-groups. This paper continues with an analysis of the roles that are essential to promulgating and sustaining message influence within an in-group social network—group communication norms. Within these pages are tremendous insights, relevant to the SOF community, on ways to rethink counter-radicalization efforts.
In this paper, retired Air Force Colonel Timothy Brown describes the necessity to prepare for both conventional and irregular warfare (IW). Preparing for one or the other does not have to be exclusionary—competence in both can be complementary and symbiotic. Proficiency in one, backed by proper theory, doctrine, training, planning, and preparedness, can bolster proficiency in the other. Through a historical account of the unconventional warfare (UW) campaign in northern Iraq in 2003, the author provides an example of how UW, an activity of IW, is valuable to the nation and can, when properly applied in conjunction with a thoughtful plan, be a significant force multiplier. The historical example shows that despite considerable and nearly crippling geographic and political obstacles, the UW campaign in northern Iraq successfully aided the coalition advance to Baghdad.
In this paper the author, a retired special forces colonel, discusses political violence, radicalization, terrorism, and insurgency--some of the greatest security challenges the United States and its allies face today. Despite the fact that the United States Government (USG) has developed an exceptional counterterrorism (CT) capability to find and neutralize terrorists, the threat continues to exist. In fact, the problems only seem to be getting worse, with more and more attacks happening in the United States and Western Europe, and groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda recruiting thousands across the globe. The author discusses several reasons the United States isn’t more successful in its CT efforts. First, most policymakers fail to truly appreciate the nature of the problem. Second, in many cases the contemporary USG CT approach is flawed. Finally, the USG must continue to rethink Special Operations Forces employment to maximize their effectiveness against irregular threats.
An increasing proportion of Special Operations Forces (SOF) have an interest in Africa, and especially the Maghreb, which borders the Mediterranean and is where the Arab Spring started. In this monograph, Dr. Roby Barrett provides a regional historical analysis of how the people of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco have developed their views toward government legitimacy and religious authorities. SOF personnel from the U.S. and other countries have to be particularly mindful of the area's French colonial legacy (one of many attempts by outside powers to control these countries), as well as the dichotomy between coastal and interior populations, when considering how foreign involvement in the region and democratic institutions may be perceived by its inhabitants. This publication is an important look at how and why past efforts at secular democracy have failed in this region, and why they are likely to do so for the foreseeable future.
In this monograph, the authors offer compelling research that reminds government and military officials of the moral, legal, and ethical dimensions of protecting cultural antiquities from looting and illegal trafficking. Internationally, states generally agree on the importance of protecting antiquities, art, and cultural property not only for their historical and artistic importance, but also because such property holds economic, political, and social value for nations and their peoples. Protection is in the common interest because items or sites are linked to the common heritage of mankind. The authors make the point that a principle of international law asserts that cultural or natural elements of humanity’s common heritage should be protected from exploitation and held in trust for future generations. The conflicts in Afghanistan, and especially in Iraq and Syria, coupled with the rise of the Islamic State (IS), have brought renewed attention to the plight of cultural heritage in the Middle East and throughout the world.
A day does not go by without Iraq and Syria as well as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) being in the news. Most of the news coverage deals with atrocities, factionalism, civil war, and cultural/ethnic strife. The value of this monograph is Dr. Roby Barrett's thorough delve into history to help explain this complicated story. It is a story of creating states with artificial borders that have been ruled with iron fists to keep a lid on fractured societies. What we are witnessing and what Barrett explains is the dissolution of borders and the collapse of central governments in Iraq and Syria. In fact, the author contends that Iraq and Syria no longer exist as nation-states. Their ultimate fate is yet to be seen. Regardless, this monograph provides the reader with a historical review of the Greater Levant that helps explain the reality on the ground today.
Dr. Cerami’s paper examines contrasting views on the geopolitical effects of the post–Arab Spring, assessing Middle Eastern, U.S., and European perspectives on transnational security issues—exploring those threats that directly influence the roles and missions of U.S. special operations forces (SOF). His analysis begins focused on the outward-directed threats in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), including the use of force, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction proliferation, as well as human security issues, such as illegal immigration, refugees, and violence against noncombatants, especially women and children. He then assesses internal threats, such as the inability to address political conflict and enable non-violent transitions between regimes, from Iraq to Libya to Egypt to Syria. For the West, there are further questions such as the ability to influence efforts at MENA state building in positive directions and whether there are convincing arguments for favoring stability and security over meaningful reforms that include the rule of law, civil society, and legitimate governance. Dr. Cerami’s research is an intriguing look into a region whose stability is directly related to our national interests and national security.
In this monograph, Dr. Jarret Brachman delves into al-Qaeda’s crumbling global movement and its internal struggles, including its attempts to remain relevant in the shadow of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Brachman cites various internal writings of al-Qaeda’s past and present leaders, thinkers, and supporters. It becomes clear that this once dominant terrorist organization has changed in the post-bin Laden era, is becoming fractured, and is taking a backseat to ISIL. Brachman analyzes letters, blog posts, and social media comments from various ranks within al-Qaeda that show the discontent, frustration, and confusion the once prominent terrorist organization has faced in recent years. Although struggling, al-Qaeda remains a serious threat and maintains a global footprint. But as ISIL gains more publicity, al-Qaeda has more trouble competing for followers, funding, and attention. This monograph explores al-Qaeda’s recent efforts to make sense of itself.
The purpose of this short work is to contextualize the ongoing conflict in Syria through the combined lens of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, juxtaposed to the normative trend the West has followed ever so ineffectually since the conflict began in Syria. This work is an alternative view of the conflict that should be read as a cautionary tale concerning our lack of proficiency in strategy. It is broken down into three distinct parts. The first part contextualizes the conflict and the actors involved, to include the proxies. The second part lays out the strategic principles of Sun Tzu as pertaining to the conflict to provide a strategic framework with which the reader may make sense of the conflict's complex nature. The final part focuses on U.S. action keeping in mind Machiavelli within the Syrian conflict as informed by Sun Tzu's strategic principles. Dr. Rubright is a senior faculty member at the Joint Special Operations University and teaches in the fields of special operations, strategy, and counterinsurgency.
Dr. Knarr tells the story of Al Sahawa, the Awakening, in Iraq from a different perspective than most narratives. Many associate the beginning of the movement with Sheikh Sattar Albu-Risha's 14 September 2006 proclamation in Ramadi, where he coined the term Al Sahawa. However, Dr. Knarr contends that the Anbar Awakening, as a movement, started 12 months prior to the Sheikh's proclamation. As a movement, the Awakening began in the northwest of Al Anbar, in Al Qaim District along the Syrian/Iraqi border with the Albu-Mahal tribe. The Albu-Mahal, in what would become a fight for survival, realized that they could not fight Al Qaida in Iraq (AQI) on their own and pleaded for help from the Coalition and the Government of Iraq. The foundation for developing that partnership was a little known program called the "Desert Protectors." The development of the Desert Protectors has tremendous lessons for today as a newly formed Coalition organizes to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant(ISIL), an outgrowth of AQI.
SOF Role in Combating Transnational Organized Crime, edited by William Mendel and Dr. Peter McCabe
In April 2015, military and civilian personnel from Canada, Mexico, and the United States came together at Colorado Springs, Colorado, for a symposium hosted by U.S. Special Operations Command-North and facilitated by Joint Special Operations University and Canadian Special Operations Forces Command. Their task was to examine the role of Special Operations Forces (SOF) in combating transnational organized crime (TOC). The panelists and plenary participants set to work considering a wide range of issues attending to the TOC threat. After the Symposium concluded, panelists and speakers synthesized the results of their research and panel discussions in articles for publication—those articles are found in the chapters of this report of proceedings. The implication for SOF is they must continue to train to meet the strategic challenges ahead. This will require forward-deployed units that are engaged with their counterparts in host countries because TOC is both a threat to, and a result of, weak, emerging democratic governments that benefit from engagement. Readiness to conduct all SOF core activities will remain a priority.
Dr. Roby Barrett's newest monograph will help Special Operations Forces better appreciate the historical, domestic, regional, and other influences on the worldview and decision-making of Saudi Arabia's leaders, particularly those issues that have a significant impact on U.S.-Saudi security relationships. His monograph is a fascinating, condensed history of Saudi Arabia, focused on events and decisions that influence the modern political worldview of citizens in that country. For example, a history of tribes being ruled by outsiders; the pros and cons of alliances with the British and (more recently) the U.S., the impact of global geopolitics (e.g. Cold War), and the impact of regional neighbors' policies and events on Saudi Arabia's domestic and foreign policies (to include its relationship with the U.S.). This volume explains the importance of politically shrewd and pragmatic leaders and the ways that Iran's ambitions and policies threaten Saudi Arabia's regional influence, as well as how the historical fracturing of the U.S.-Iran relationship played well for Saudi Arabia. This monograph will useful to strategists, planners, and leaders interested in the region and the U.S. relationship with the Kingdom.
This is the award winning paper from the 2015 Lieutenant General Samuel V. Wilson Writing Award sponsored by the Joint Special Operations Command's Center for Counterterrorism Studies. The author analyzes ISIS's use of social media and offers recommendations to the combatant commander on what can be done to counter the threat. The author discusses social media and demonstrates how social media represents a paradigm shift in communication, complete with significant opportunities and challenges for the operational commanders and their staff. This paper offers a brief history of ISIS as a historical frame of reference and details how ISIS uses social media in its operations. It also discusses the important role social media plays in ISIS's operational and strategic objectives and how that impacts the combatant commander's intelligence collection, lines of effort, and current/future operations. Finally, the author provides tailored suggestions for the combatant commander and staff to consider when prosecuting an information operations campaign against ISIS consistent with U.S. policy and first amendment constitutional concerns.
Dr. Roby Barrett, in his latest JSOU monograph, provides an overview of the conflicts in early Islam that are still the sources of many conflicts today. Viewing the Islamic world as one entity, or one made up of major sects (Sunni and Shia), is misleading. Islam is a complex religion with a vast history of internal conflict that speaks to contemporary issues today, including discussions on terrorism and radicalism. Dr. Barrett discusses the shifting U.S. role relative to Islam and provides an overview of contemporary Islam, including radicalism and the issue of a fractured community. Islam's internal conflict highlights the reason why Pan-Islamic movements never gain much traction and why radical Islam remains disjointed. Dr. Barrett posits that the West must focus less on Islam as an ideology and more on those local issues that drive the threat. The insights provided by Dr. Barrett in this monograph challenge the reader to rethink how one approaches the challenges in the Middle East.
Dr. Mark Moyar outlines the history of the Village Stability Operations (VSO) program and its Afghan partner program, the Afghan Local Police (ALP). Based on years of extensive research within Afghanistan, Dr. Moyar covers VSO and ALP from their inception through the end of VSO and the transition of the ALP to complete Afghan control. He notes that the programs came into existence out of recognition that exclusive reliance on direct-action counterterrorism had been unable to stop the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent groups. He highlights the importance of understanding the human terrain and the strategic context when attempting to mobilize populations against insurgents and explains the challenges of empowering qualified and motivated Afghan leaders at multiple levels. He also emphasizes the importance of USSOF leadership and describes the challenges encountered in transitioning the ALP to complete Afghan control and its implications for the transition of future SOF programs.
In this monograph, Brigadier General (retired) Russ Howard presents a substitute for traditional International Relations Theory by asserting that strategic culture analysis of states and non-state actors or groups is a better predictor of behavior. Specifically, General Howard posits that studying and understanding the strategic cultures of threatening states and non-state actors might be a more useful mechanism for analyzing potential adversaries’ proclivity to using force to further their strategic security objectives. The author delves into the strategic cultures of The United States, China, Iran, North Korea, and al-Qaeda before analyzing commonalities among them. This foundation allows General Howard to then develop and provide actionable policy guidelines to contextualize an end state which strategic cultural analysis can provide. This strategic culture analysis can be beneficial to all echelons, from the SOF operator in a village who must understand and work within the strategic culture of the operational environment, to the policymakers who must decide National Strategy.
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has perhaps been the United States’ most intractable foreign policy issue. Dr. Roby Barrett provides a deep analysis of Iran’s motivations and finds that they are not the result of irrational messianic religious thought, but rather are based on a rational worldview developed over centuries of history. Looking back over the course of history Barrett argues that a strong sense of victimization and humiliation, rooted in Persia’s loss of its historical preeminence in the Gulf, shapes the Iranian psyche. He suggests that their president holds little actual power. The Iranian constitution vests the highest political and religious authority in the supreme leader; this includes the power to declare war and dismiss the president. As such the United States must be prepared to deal with the paradigm of an entire regime, not just the president.
Dr. Roby Barrett’s examination and study of some 200 years of the Sultanate of Oman’s dynastic history puts into context the last four decades of the Sultanate’s history. It answers the question of whether Oman has changed fundamentally from a nation fraught with instability and conflict to one of peace and stability. Barrett’s analysis of modern-day Oman will help the reader avoid the pitfalls of misinterpreting the present condition on the basis of Oman’s largely tumultuous past, which often featured conflict and competition for wealth and power. Dr. Barrett’s most recent monographs, this work on Oman and his earlier study Yemen: A Different Political Paradigm in Context, are bookends that will provide the SOF reader with a deep understanding of the present and historical context which has resulted in the southern Arabian region of today.
In this sweeping study of Yemen, Dr. Barrett argues that while Yemen may be a failed state, it is not a failed society. Yemen is a complex society with power built on family, clan, and tribal relationships. It is not one nation-state, but rather a balance of multiple Yemens based on fundamental social, cultural, and sectarian differences. Within this context Dr. Barrett asserts that now is the time to reconsider U.S. approaches towards Yemen. We should not seek governmental transformation, but rather strive to reach beyond the central government and weak institutions to engage tribes and clans. Throughout history, political power has ebbed and flowed between central and decentralized local and regional authority. Yemen today is no more or less fragmented than it has ever been. Our goal should be to strive to achieve a balance among these multiple Yemens--groups that have coexisted, almost in continuous conflict, throughout history.
The devastating terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 will forever resonate in the minds of Americans. The images of billowing smoke emanating from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon caused many to ask “who could do this to us?” To answer that question we must examine the past and look at the policies enacted by our government that caused a cyclic reaction within our enemy. The same is true for other governments that seek to expand their sphere of influence without examining those critical antecedents that affect the indigenous population. These disenfranchised subjects, when facing a foreign invader or apostate government, will often draw on a shared identity, be it cultural, ethnic, religious, or political, to sound the battle cry of resistance.
This paper is organized into four chapters that focus on the terrorist group Al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The four chapters examine different facets of the collective environment that have allowed AQIM to succeed and even thrive at times. The first chapter begins with Algeria’s war of independence with the French. It focuses on how the Algerians were able to successfully isolate the French from the population through the use of terrorism. It also lays the foundation for the concept of terrorism within Algeria to further a political agenda.
This monograph provides special oper¬ations readers with useful and important insights into how civic actions can achieve strategic objectives. The author uses Hezbollah as an illustration and reminder of this process by outlining the comprehensive activities of the Hezbollah Social Service Section as a precursor for success in Hezbollah’s political and military actions. The author estimates that about half of Hezbollah’s budget is dedicated to social services sectors such as health, veterans’ services, reconstruction and compensation, education, women’s groups, and even the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts (roughly analogous to the Boy Scouts). Such efforts are employed to capture the willing support of the people in order to further Hezbollah’s political aims. The concept is working, as Hezbollah has largely supplanted the Government of Lebanon in the southern part of that country while it continues to harass Israel and the West on the political-military front.
In exploring Counterinsurgency and the Indirect Approach, Dr. Thomas Henriksen assesses several cases where the United States has employed an Indirect Approach toward achieving strategic objectives, and he suggests where this concept has landed short of expectations. In the cases of Vietnam, Somalia, the Philippines, and other countries, he demonstrates that it is often difficult to fit the Indirect Approach doctrine into such a wide variety of strategic and operational environments.
Mr. Mullick's discussion of the strategic setting in Southwest Asia is particularly timely as the U.S. is diverting strategic resources from the Iraqi theater of war to the effort in Afghanistan. Concurrently, the new administration of President Obama is refocusing the national security strategy away from notions of a global war on terrorism to a security policy of a "broader engagement" with the countries of the world and particularly the Muslim world. As one part of this strategic vision, a particular effort will be made to dismantle or destroy Al Qaeda and its associates.
This paper is a new initiative for JSOU's Strategic Studies Department, the first to focus on a regional-cultural topic. JSOU Press anticipates publishing additional papers on other Middle Eastern or South Asian topics this year, as well as topics from other regions in future years. Hopefully this paper will inform the reader about issues of importance and enhance an understanding of a region of critical importance to the United States and its allies.
Dr. Thomas H. Henriksen in this publication provides a perspective on the challenging question, "Is Leaving the Middle East a Viable Option?" He lays out a convincing argument that historical involvement within the region based on commercial ties, the need to secure stable international oil supplies (for the U.S. as well as its allies), and engagement in the internecine Israeli-Arab conflict all remain critical security issues for the United States. He captures in a few pages volumes of information on the Middle East as he crafts and weaves the history of United States' involvement from 1783 to the present, highlighting the key policy-making decisions concerning the Middle East. The historical review provides the novice reader new understanding of the Middle East and the knowledgeable reader an excellent overview.
This monograph describes one facet of the Battle for Baghdad during the period January through November 2006. The story is based on the recollections, notes, and reports of the author, who served with the Multi-National Division, Baghdad (MND¿B) as the G9-the principal staff officer responsible for civic action, Special Operations Forces integration, and counterinsurgency training. In this timeframe MND-B treated civic action as a maneuver function inherent to its operations, and it employed task-organized combat forces to conduct Phase IV (Stability Operations) and Phase V (Enable the Civil Authority) in order to achieve U.S. and Iraqi military objectives.
The 2004 counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan was historic. Service personnel of general purpose, special operations, coalition, and irregular forces worked in unison to defeat the insurgency in a country stricken by war. Their unwavering trust, cooperation, close integration, collaborative planning, and nested execution were in many cases, textbook. In recognition of their professional effort, this case study captures many of the lessons learned in their planning and operations. Success in Afghanistan also came from the determination of millions of Afghans who were supported by these gallant sailors, soldiers, Marines, and airmen.