November 30, 2015


Do terrorists really think they're going to win? (Benedict Wilkinson, 11/25/15, BBC Magazine)

Scroll forward 125 years or so to a very different world, a very different man, and a very different set of political ambitions. Abu Musab al-Suri was born in Aleppo in 1958 with striking blue eyes and ginger hair. Not a great deal is known about his youth with certainty, but it seems that he joined the armed wing of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in about 1980. At some point, he travelled to Afghanistan, that great melting pot of modern violent Islamism, where he hobnobbed with the likes of Ayman al-Zawahiri, now the leader of al-Qaeda, and Abdullah Azzam, one of its original architects.

Al-Suri eventually became one of al-Qaeda's most influential strategic thinkers. And he has more in common with Johann Most than a ginger beard and a penchant for travel.

Like Most, al-Suri recognised a core problem with the use of terrorist violence as a strategy for achieving long-term major political objectives. Terrorism, he argued, might well irk nations and governments, but it was not enough to threaten them existentially. Governments are just too strong, political structures just too resilient. Terrorism might cause horrific destruction and terrible loss of life, but for al-Suri this was not enough to bring down a government or force it to change policies it held close to its heart.

In al-Suri's vision [a] campaign of seemingly random violence... will wear down a government until their resolve is eroded and they give into the terrorists' demands

Al-Suri therefore devised a different plan. He envisaged a global movement underpinned by an all-encompassing ideology, with violence at its very heart. Violence has two purposes. In the first instance, he argued, terrorism acts as a form of propaganda, drawing in supporters and advocates, just as Most had seen it.

This leads to stage two, when the movement, swollen with recruits, wannabes and supporters, can engage in repeated acts of violence. While these acts of violence might well be uncoordinated and small scale, in al-Suri's vision this campaign of seemingly random violence would create mass panic and widespread popular fear. It would wear down a government until their resolve is eroded and they give in to the terrorists' demands.

Both these stories illustrate the great problem at the heart of terrorism - what I call the Terrorists' Dilemma. And the basic problem is that terrorists tend to desire major political change, but have very little in the way of resources to achieve that change. There is a yawning gap between what they have and what they want.

Islamic State defections mount as death toll rises, U.S. official says (Tom Vanden Brook, 11/30/15, USA TODAY)

Defections of Islamic State fighters -- a closely watched measure by officials of U.S.-led coalition -- have begun to thin the ranks of the militants in Iraq in the last month, intelligence reports and drone footage show.

Wholesale defections, sparsely manned checkpoints and elite foreign fighters pressed into mundane duty indicate that the U.S.-led bombing campaign and advances by Kurdish forces are eroding the forces of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, said Army Col. Steve Warren, the top spokesman for the counter-ISIL coalition in Baghdad.

Top military officials estimate that the campaign has killed 23,000 Islamic State fighters, raising their death toll by 3,000 since mid-October.

...and not only is the caliphate not a cause they can win on, but winning would lead to their even quicker destruction, since trying to govern a state would just make target acquisition easier.  So all they really have to offer is violence for violence sake, which wears thin.
Posted by at November 30, 2015 6:10 PM