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  • David Crevillén - GrupoDC Solutions / Beatriz

Counterinsurgency on urban terrain: from Mosul to Europe's streets

Year 2 - Week 28

The research problem of this presentation came quite in a different way than common academic research questions, since we defined it as the outcome of more than a year of research about the topic of armed incident management along the training program developed in GrupoDC Solutions. In this context, we realized the need of an empirical explanation to the development of a new set of modus operandi used by the current terrorist threat in Europe and an adapted response to the new challenges.

The main question, therefore, and this is the basic idea of this presentation, is the persistent duality of global insurgency. By insurgency, we understand the movement with a political goal of overthrowing an established power by the use of violence and other tools as subversion, civil resistance, political warfare, et cetera. Implicit to this definition and both to a political goal and an established power is the existence of two more elements: territory and population.

So when we arrive at the infamous 9/11 we step up into a new security challenge that, if carefully analyzed, fitted quite well in the aforementioned definition of insurgency, but readapting the concept of territory from a local/national view (as presented in cases as Vietnam) to a global one, and from an established power (as the fight against the French colonial government in Algeria), to a power based on wider parameters as political, economic, social, cultural or ideological patterns represented by Western model of life. Obviously this new model of insurgency is represented by al-Qaeda and lately by its offshoot the Islamic State.

The global challenge of jihadism brought forward the revision of old COIN (Counterinsurgency) paradigms and the publication of new basic doctrine as the FM 3-24 in 2006 or enlightening books as “Counterinsugency” of David Kilcullen. This was the state of the art by 2010, and for some years the new considerations worked out in the new theaters of operations. But human memory is ephemeral and progressively we forgot 9/11 until it was substituted by new keywords as Bataclan, Nice, Berlin, Manchester or London Bridge. So it is in this point when the question arises: what has happened if al-Qaeda was neutralized almost a decade ago? Why the emergence of the Islamic State? And what happens with all these terrorist attacks in Europe and the US, mainly low-tech and over soft targets?

The answer comes if we take a closer look to classical insurgent doctrine. Insurgencies are adaptative and they move by operational phases conceived to move forward or, in case of probable defeat, backwards to regain forces and come back to a new expansive movement. That is what Mao Tse Tung said in his classical “Revolutionary Warfare” about guerrilla warfare, or David Galula –French colonel fighting in the Algerian independence war- about Algerian terrorism. In addition to that, we can add a third author of interest, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who reviewed Maoist theory regarding the treatment of territory: from establishing a number of safe havens as the insurgency advanced, to establishing a “foco” or unique safe haven, highly ideologized, from where to spread the fight and the territory. Probably this idea will sound familiar when you think about the territory that between 2013 till today goes from pockets of the Mediterranean Syrian coast to the East of Iraq, under the control of the so called Caliphate. Analyzing how this insurgent entity operates we find one of the key elements for our research: the same Islamic State that acts as a guerrilla in an advanced stage of conventionalization of forces in the Syrian-Iraqi territorial entity, as it looses the grip over territory adopts terrorist procedures of combat to face enemies both inside this very same physical space. But in addition, alleged ISIS terrorist attacks in Western countries mean the deployed procedure of combat to spread its Islamic core territory as hit-and-run strikes with the purpose of creating fear. From a practical point of view, what we have, hence, is a duality of insurgent models inside the same organizations; in this line, we must pay a special attention to the Islamic State, since al-Qaida follows a much more network model, based on classical Maoist territorial control doctrine. In opposition to that, the Islamic State is the one double acting as a classical insurgency in Iraq and Syria, while it behaves as a new delocalized insurgent actor whose procedure of combat is terrorism, operating in places as physically separated from its core territory as Paris of Manchester.

This second model presenting the bigger divergences regarding classical model is based on a self-developed doctrine that, even though linked by many similarities to Maoist classical one, differs in a number of elements to be kept in mind in order to provide a tailored counterinsurgent response. In this sense we should mention two authors, both of them members of al-Qaeda, whose teachings have been later on adopted by the Islamic State once split up from its original structure. The first author is Abu Bakr an-Naji with a book titled “Management of Savagery”; on it he develops the timing –as the equivalent of Maoist stages of guerrilla warfare- of jihadist insurgent model for controlling both territory and population:

1.- Intense and continuous attacks leading to the delegitimation of infidel States, undermining Western power structure.

2.- Controlling territory and population by terror and repression.

3.- Once population (as the Center of Gravity) has regained stability under the regime of terror, impose the final application of the Sharia or Islamic Law, bargaining stability by acceptance of the Caliphate.

On the other hand, a much more tactical approach is provided by a second author, Mustapha Setmarian aka Abu Musa al-Sury. Al-Sury, through his book “Calling to Global Resistance” and especially through the distribution of a number of articles published in Inspire –al-Qaeda magazine- especially by digital means, set a new framework of targets, modus operandi and even terrorist structure, approaching the jihadist model to the figure of the lone jihadist –in many cases self-radicalized by digital means and without physical connections with the organization-, developing low-tech attacks as stabbings and car rammings, with a high media and psychological impact over soft targets. This part, more than any other, will sound familiar. Since it has been the recurrent pattern in the last two years in scenarios of Europe or the US as Nice, London or San Bernardino.

So for model A or classical one, we have a well developed set of tools that have worked out through hits, misses and lessons learned in the form of classical COIN, being this based on military operations, cleaning and consolidation operations, and in the later times, a revisited model which includes aspects as political enhancements, Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC), concepts as NATO’s Comprehensive Approach which includes a higher role of cultural, political and identity issues on counterinsurgency management, local endowment programs as Afghanistan PRTs, or a more important role of Security Sector Reform programs as part of State-Building and reconciliation processes in countries as Afghanistan or Iraq.

But obviously, this classical and revisited model of COIN takes mainly place in the core territories where insurgent actors such as the Islamic State operate, and it is a model based on the use of military force, even though increasingly integrating civil tools as local administrations or NGOs. But what happens with the externalized terrorist insurgent model deployed in Western countries or model B, where the military options is limited to very extreme conditions and operational models such as cleaning and consolidating operations wouldn’t be possible? About this, we may bring back to mind the 8 minutes that took the London metropolitan police to arrive at Borough market and neutralized the terrorist threat. The response was undoubtfully superb, but who was on the spot during those 8 minutes. The problem, which is therefore what needs a solution, is that classical COIN is not totally suitable for Western urban environment due on the one hand to the legal and operational specifics of the terrain, but on the other to the very same presence of the actor that may take the lead in the response to a terrorist incident: first responders such as private security agents, workers in the attacked area and, especially bystanders. It is pretty obvious that prevention programs against radicalization, intelligence or Law Enforcement agencies’ operative work are key elements in fighting terrorism in the streets of Europe. But the goal of the Islamic State, stating an-Naji´s doctrine lines, is to spread terror to delegitimize Western power and to do that the symbolic target used to create a situation of fear is population or, in other words, victims. So the response given to this second model of insurgency running through the streets of Europe and that would be to the complementary tools still working in this environment should be oriented to minimizing the number of victims, in this way reducing the image of power presented by the insurgent actor and in parallel reducing also the perception of threat of citizens. So according to this reasoning, the complementary answer would count on a more inclusive security architecture open also to this broad category of first responders, who by definition are those individuals and potential victims that may modify the outcome of the incident with their action both in the management of the ongoing threat (evacuation, taking cover, hiding or even neutralizing the threat) and in the primary treatment of victims (preventing bleeding out, panic shocks, et cetera), until Law Enforcement and Emergency Services arrives to the theatre.

So we should consider that the implementation of protocols as Run-Hide-Fight and TCCC, that may sound familiar in countries as the US, but not so much in European side, or that traditionally are focused on war environments, should be also included in a wider security scope of tactical COIN where simply classical MOUT can`t be used, and where this new layer of first responders must be trained and aware of their potential role in facing the new challenge of terrorism in our streets.

In conclusion, or better said, no-conclusion, since we have years of work ahead, if insurgencies are adaptative so States should be to have a more effective COIN approach, and even though States are slow structures in motion, the focus should be put on integrating societies and private actors in security structures, always under legal supervision, the same done in successful models as NATO Comprehensive Approach or Afghanistan PRTs. It is not a matter of challenging the monopoly of the use of force but reinforcing the civil side of security through awareness. That could be a way of minimize vulnerabilities, reinforce prevention strategies and bring back societies to be actually the Center Of Gravity of Western COIN strategies.

Presentation on XIV ERGOMAS Biennial Congress, Athens, 26-30 of June, 2017.

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