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Archive for February, 2011

Wikistrat: If Kim Jong-il Died…..

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Wikistrat is running an interactive futurist simulation on possible pathways of change and regime change of the DPRK. I am participating alongside Thomas P.M. Barnett and HistoryGuy99 and the Wikistrat analytical team. Join us here.

Tom’s take:

New Simulation – The Death of King Jong-Il

…We have just launched our first open community simulation, where our analysts and subscribers explore a shock in the form of the sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Join our subscribers to engage in this live simulation, explore potential scenarios, aftershocks the various impacts of this event on countries’ interests. You can then play the Prime Minister and plan potential strategies for the United States, China, South Korea and many more.

Current ruler Kim Jong-Il turns 70 this year and is allegedly battling pancreatic cancer (very low five-year survival rate) and diabetes, as well as the obvious lingering effects of a stroke that occurred in 2008.

Starting in mid-2009 and culminating in a special party event in the fall of 2010, Kim positioned his under-30 third son, Kim Jong-Eun as his clear successor, although it is widely believed that Kim Jong-Il’s brother-in-law Chang Sung-Taek will play the role of regent for some indeterminate time.

North Korea’s recent military aggressiveness (e.g., ship sinking, artillery barrage of disputed island) suggests a determined effort to speedily credentialize Kim Jong-Eun among the military leadership that now controls much of the government, economy, and – most importantly – mineral exports to, and humanitarian aid from, patron China. Kim Jong-Il was publicly groomed as “founding father” Kim Il-Sung’s successor for roughly a decade-and-a-half, whereas Kim Jong-Eun will likely have had only a restricted public persona for 3-4 years at the time of his father’s death.

When Kim Il-Sung died in 1994, Kim Jong-Il nonetheless was unable to fully claim leadership status until three years had passed.


Interesting article (Hat tip Col. Dave)

N.Korean Protesters Demand Food and Electricity

Small pockets of unrest are appearing in North Korea as the repressive regime staggers under international sanctions and the fallout from a botched currency reform, sources say. On Feb. 14, two days before leader Kim Jong-il’s birthday, scores of people in Jongju, Yongchon and Sonchon in North Pyongan Province caused a commotion, shouting, “Give us fire [electricity] and rice! “A North Korean source said people fashioned makeshift megaphones out of newspapers and shouted, “We can’t live! Give us fire! Give us rice!” “At first, there were only one or two people, but as time went by more and more came out of their houses and joined in the shouting,” the source added.

The State Security Department investigated this incident but failed to identify the people who started the commotion when they met with a wall of silence.

“When such an incident took place in the past, people used to report their neighbors to the security forces, but now they’re covering for each other,” the source said.


Thursday, February 24th, 2011

We have been hearing a great deal about the “leaderless” Libyan resistance to Gaddafi. To a lesser degree, we heard similar things about Egypt when protestors failed to coalesce behind Elbareidi as Egypt’s national savior, but it was muted, perhaps due to the prominence of Wael Ghonim, an influential figure to whom western reporters and audencies could relate. Ghonim, however, was not a “leader” in the same sense as say, Nehru, Walesa or Yeltsin.

Are these revolts really of a different political character or do their “leaders” in this panopticonic global environment just have the sense to stay the hell out of sight?

Farrall in Foreign Affairs:How al Qaida Works

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Leah Farrall, the Australian former counterterrorism official who blogs at All Things Counterterrorism (and is a friend of Charles Cameron ) has an important analytical article in Foreign Affairs (hat tip to the oratorical Josh Foust):

How al Qaeda Works

Despite nearly a decade of war, al Qaeda is stronger today than when it carried out the 9/11 attacks. Before 2001, its history was checkered with mostly failed attempts to fulfill its most enduring goal: the unification of other militant Islamist groups under its strategic leadership. However, since fleeing Afghanistan to Pakistan’s tribal areas in late 2001, al Qaeda has founded a regional branch in the Arabian Peninsula and acquired franchises in Iraq and the Maghreb. Today, it has more members, greater geographic reach, and a level of ideological sophistication and influence it lacked ten years ago.

Still, most accounts of the progress of the war against al Qaeda contend that the organization is on the decline, pointing to its degraded capacity to carry out terrorist operations and depleted senior leadership as evidence that the group is at its weakest since 9/11. But such accounts treat the central al Qaeda organization separately from its subsidiaries and overlook its success in expanding its power and influence through them. These groups should not be ignored. All have attacked Western interests in their regions of operation. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has also long targeted the United States, but its efforts have moved beyond the execution stage only in the last two years, most recently with the foiled plot to bomb cargo planes in October 2010. And although al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has not yet attacked outside its region, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was reportedly involved in the June 2007 London and Glasgow bomb plots.

It is time for an updated conception of al Qaeda’s organization that takes into account its relationships with its subsidiaries. A broader conceptual framework will allow for a greater understanding of how and to what degree it exercises command and control over its expanded structure, the goals driving its expansion strategy, and its tactics.


Although al Qaeda had tried to use other groups to further its agenda in the 1980s and early 1990s, Osama bin Laden’s first serious attempts at unification began in the mid-1990s, when the organization was based in Sudan. Bin Laden sought to build an “Islamic Army” but failed. Al Qaeda had no ideology or manhaj (program) around which to build lasting unity, no open front of its own to attract new fighters, and many of its members, dissatisfied with “civilian work,” had left to join the jihad elsewhere. Faced with such circumstances, bin Laden instead relied on doling out financial support to encourage militant groups to join his army. But the international community put pressure on Sudan to stop his activities, and so the Sudanese government expelled al Qaeda from the country in 1996. As a result, the group fled to Afghanistan.

By mid-1996, al Qaeda was a shell of an organization, reduced to some 30 members. Facing irrelevance and fearing that a movement of Islamist militants was rising outside of his control, bin Laden decided a “blessed jihad” was necessary. He declared war on the United States, hoping this would attract others to follow al Qaeda. It did not. A second effort followed in 1998, when bin Laden unsuccessfully used his newly created World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders to lobby other groups to join him. Later that year, al Qaeda launched its first large-scale attacks: the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which it hoped would boost its fortunes. But these, too, failed to attract other groups to join, with some instead criticizing al Qaeda for the attacks and its lack of a legitimate manhaj.

With no coherent ideology or manhaj to encourage unification under his leadership, bin Laden instead pursued a predatory approach. He endeavored to buy the allegiance of weaker groups or bully them into aligning with al Qaeda, and he attempted to divide and conquer the stronger groups. In the late 1990s, he tried and failed to gain control over the Khalden training camp, led by the militants Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abu Zubaydah, and over the activities of Abu Musab al-Suri and Abu Khabab al-Masri, senior militant figures who ran their own training programs. Bin Laden’s attempts in 1997-98 to convince Ibn al-Khattab, a Saudi militant who led an international brigade in Chechnya, to come under al Qaeda’s banner also failed. His efforts in 2000-2001 to gain control over a brigade of foreign fighters in Afghanistan met a similar fate: the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who had supreme authority over the brigade, instead handed the leadership of it to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, another group bin Laden was attempting to convince to align with al Qaeda. Around the same time, bin Laden also unsuccessfully lobbied the Egyptian Islamic Group and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group to join al Qaeda’s efforts. And although al Qaeda supported the militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in his establishment of an independent training camp in Afghanistan, bin Laden was unable to convince him to formally join the organization.

The only real success during this period was al Qaeda’s mid-2001 merger with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, now al Qaeda’s second-in-command. The merger was possible thanks to Egyptian Islamic Jihad’s weakened position and its reliance on bin Laden for money. The decision was nevertheless contentious within Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and several of its members left rather than join with al Qaeda. In the end, al Qaeda’s only successful merger during its Afghanistan years added just five people to its core membership. Compared to this dismal record, the past decade has been highly successful….

Read the rest here (subscription required) or for a brief time in full, for free, here.

First, I’d like to say congratulations to Ms. Farrall who has been working hard researching the nuances of ideological, theological, tactical and organizational differences and personal rivalries that existed within the mutable and murky subterranean world of professional Islamist revolutionaries. It’s important work. Her recognition in FA is deserved and American terrorism experts should give her arguments close scrutiny.

Secondly, I will say her article shows the extent to which our takfirist enemies, not just al Qaida,  take seriously the ideas behind their global insurgency and that, to them, it is both global and local. The “internationalist” jihadis like Bin Laden seek to weld themselves together with the parochial “Nationalist-Islamists” and David Kilcullen’s local “accidental guerrillas” with a “eucumenical” radical Islamism. As many USG officials seek to ignore or promote an official line of ignoring the ideological and theological motivations of our enemies, they will probably dismiss Farrall unless she gains enough media prominence that this is no longer feasible – at which point, they will make nasty and anonymous criticism about her on background to The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Thirdly, Farrall has a very important point here when she wrote:

….They drew from takfiri thought, which justifies attacking corrupt regimes in Muslim lands, and on materials that outline the Muslim requirement to target the global enemy: in this case, the United States and the West. (This was framed in the context of defensive jihad, the need for which was reinforced by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.) The hybrid ideology and manhaj that emerged make little distinction between targeting local enemies and targeting global ones and have a one-size-fits-all solution — jihad. Partnering with al Qaeda does not, therefore, require a local group to abandon its own agenda, just broaden its focus. This helped assuage other groups’ fears that merging with al Qaeda would mean a loss of autonomy to pursue their own local goals.

This is what Global Guerrilla theorist John Robb would call “a Plausible Promise“, a required step in building an “open source insurgency” which can attract groups with differing agendas, opportunitic actors and ideologically motivated, socially alienated “lone wolves” to their banner. Al Qaida has tacticians who apparently agree, having formally adopted “Open Source jihad” in late 2010. So far, the executive branch departments of the USG seem to be studiously determined to ignore that as well, a stance that corrupts our analytical integrity and cripples our operational effectiveness. Lying to oneself is rarely a good way to get an advantage over an opponent.

I think I can speak for Charles Cameron in that we here at zenpundit.com hope to see more articles from Ms. Farrall in the near future.


SWJ BlogThe Hasan Slide Presentation A Preliminary Commentary by Charles Cameron

Wikistrat: Barnett on US National Military Strategy

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett on the new US National Military Strategy:

To subscribe to WIKISTRAT for their bulletins, interactive futurist simulation models and client-specific analytical services, go here.

Tom did a very nice job with this piece, particularly his reference to the historically underexamined but diplomatically significant Nixon Doctrine. He’s right. The strategic shift is a radical departure from the previous Bush era and is closely following the mammoth budgetary requests of our high tech services that are gearing up, along with industry lobbyists, to battle for every last dollar of a shrinking defense pie ( one reason I recently asked,  Is COIN Dead?). 

However, the military strategy should be driving acquisitions rather than being a shopping list transformed into a strategy ( see Shape the Future Force section) considering we are in at least two wars, perhaps three depending on how you count, from which we have yet to bring to a satisfactory resolution. That there is a shift here is not bad per se – East Asia is certainly far more significant to American security than is Afghanistan but that shift is so heavily laden with major economic and diplomatic variables, which, frankly, are of much greater longitudinal importance than military operational planning or short term force structure.


Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]

It’s not exactly news —

Napoleon supposedly said “Even in war moral power is to physical as three parts out of four” — and these two quotes say pretty much the same thing, translated and updated, don’t they?


Kudos to my blog-friend Christopher Anzalone, who keeps the rest of us current on digital Taliban offerings, AQ graphics and more. His Views from the Occident: Twitter Specials blog is my source for the interview with Abdul Sattar Maiwand, web-master of the official Islamic Emirate [ie “Afghan Taliban “] site, while David Betz blogged on Gaming Social Networks for Influence and Propaganda at Kings of War (Department of War Studies, King’s College London).

The interview with Maiwand gets into detail that will interest students of information operations and/or contemporary uses of technology — here’s a taste of something close to my good (and frequently prophetic) friend Howard Rheingold‘s notion of wireless quilts:

The news that is posted on the website is converted to SMS messages and sent to a number of people, who send it to other people. Each of them sends it to his acquaintances inside and outside Afghanistan and so a chain of dissemination begins. Each ones tries to spread the news more and more. We have seen many people requesting their friends and relatives to forward the news they receive to at least 20 other people, etc…and so this news becomes widely circulated in popular circles. Through the grace of Allah, we have seen many among the general populace rejoice when news reaches them of the victories of the Mujahideen over their enemies.

But you might like to read the whole thing…

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