Three Years after: Next Steps in the War on Terror

Three Years after: Next Steps in the War on Terror

by David Aaron

Three years after 9/11, the RAND Corporation held a conference to share results from recent terrorism studies with government officals, military officals, congressional staff, foundations, NGOs, foreign embassy representatives, and the public.  See more details below


Three years after 9/11, the RAND Corporation held a conference to share results from recent terrorism studies with government officals, military officals, congressional staff, foundations, NGOs, foreign embassy representatives, and the public.

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Three Years After

Next Steps in the War on Terror
By James A. Thomson Brian Michael Jenkins John V. Parachini Peter A. Wilson Cheryl Benard Bruce Hoffman Lynn Davis Michael A. Wermuth Michael O'Connell Gregory F. Treverton Olga Oliker Michael V. Hynes Andrew Rathmell

Rand Corporation

Copyright © 2005 RAND Corporation
All right reserved.

Chapter One


Three years after 9/11, many studies by scores of institutions have been undertaken to find ways of dealing with the challenge of terrorism. With the approach of the third anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the RAND Corporation decided to hold a conference to share the results of its recent studies with government officials, military officers, congressional staff, foundations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), foreign embassy representatives, and the public at large.

RAND started working on the issue of terrorism in 1972, after the attack on the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. The first person at RAND to pursue research on this topic was Brian Michael Jenkins, whom you will be hearing from today. He was in charge of the program that was called "Terrorism and Subnational Conflict." Under his leadership, a database called "The Chronology of Terrorism" was started in 1972, with the data going back to 1968. That database continues to be updated and available to the public. We felt that this was a field that was lacking in empirical evidence and that if we had evidence we could begin to learn somenew things.

And indeed we did. Bruce Hoffman, who we are also going to hear from today, began using this chronology in his research, and he noticed in the early '90s changes in the patterns of terrorism. In particular, he noted that while the number of terrorist events was declining, the lethality was growing. Through his research, he connected this to a change in the objectives of terrorism-in particular, the growth in terrorism with religious and millennial motivations. He and colleagues from RAND, with Air Force sponsorship, published a study in 1999 called Countering the New Terrorism, which was an effort to address how we could deal with this problem.

RAND principally works for clients (65 percent of which are in the federal government) who pay us directly under contract or grants for projects that they and we agree are worth pursuing. Ninety-five percent of our work is done on that basis, while 5 percent is self-initiated, supported by fees earned on our contracts, from donations mainly from individuals, or from endowment earnings. That money enables us to do independent projects and has allowed us to present this conference.

During the earliest days of working on terrorism, client interest in Washington varied. There were years when interest was intense, and then years when interest just vanished. That began to change in the '90s, especially after the phenomenon of the new terrorism, or al Qaeda, became obvious. Today, we have 50 projects that are funded by our clients.

Our work on this issue is in four broad categories: (1) Understanding the Nature of the Terrorist Threat; (2) Taking Direct Action Against Terrorists and Terrorist Organizations; (3) Seeking to Reduce the Support for Terrorists, concerned with the supply of recruits, the finances, and the like; and (4) Protecting the Homeland. We'll be presenting today a selection from these categories, and given the amount of work we do on this area I do want to stress that it is but a selection. Very many important areas are not included because of the limited time available, including our research on public health and terrorism. If this conference works, we'll come back again and provide another selection, focusing more closely on homeland security.

I mentioned this work comes from clients and donors and I want to take this opportunity to thank them for their support. I hope you'll conclude from this selection of topics that RAND is living up to its core values of quality and objectivity. We look forward to your reactions and to the discussion. Thank you.

James A. Thomson President and CEO The RAND Corporation

Chapter Two

The Jihadists' Operational Code

Brian Michael Jenkins

Knowing the adversary is a key to developing sound responses to security challenges. Such research has ample precedent. Before WWII, the German General Staff played out their plans for the invasion of France against German officers steeped in French military thinking. For their part, American officers read the works of German strategists and, later in the 1960s, the writings of Mao Tse-tung, Che Guevara, and Carlos Marighella. In 1951, during the Cold War, RAND published a book written by Nathan Leites, The Operational Code of the Politburo, which sought to understand the dynamics of Soviet decisionmaking. It spawned generations of "Kremlinologists."

Interestingly, many choose not to understand terrorists, often dismissing them as crazy fanatics. Initial efforts to understand their behavior focused on their individual pathology-the "terrorist personality." To go beyond this could be politically dangerous. It might confer a certain legitimacy on the terrorists; it risks getting into debates on causes and political goals, which objective definitions sought to avoid. It even could be seen as exhibiting a lack of antiterrorist zeal.

But without justifying terrorism, a broader examination of the terrorists' operational perspectives would be productive in several ways. It would suggest analytical frameworks for intelligence, challenge our own presumptions, and possibly open up different approaches for counterterrorist efforts.

One can start by asking several questions about terrorists:

What is their worldview? Their view of war? Their concept of fighting?

How do they think about strategy?

How do they view operations?

What is their operational code?

What might make their heart race?

Are there things they would not do?

How do they plan?

How do they recruit?

How might they assess their current situation?

How do they look at the future?

According to the Jihadists exemplified by al Qaeda, Islam is in mortal danger from the West. The source of this threat is the United States. Conflating events hundreds of years apart, they see Americans as the new Mongols. U.S. military bases throughout the Middle East, in the Persian Gulf, and Central Asia provide proof.

America supports the Zionists, no different from the invading Crusaders of the 11th century, who occupy Palestine and kill women and children indiscriminately. Apostate regimes in many countries have become American puppets, joining in the oppression of true Muslims. America also is the leading source of Western corruption that threatens Muslim souls.

The answer and the antidote to these developments is Jihad-Jihad defined as armed struggle.

The United States thus presents both a threat and an opportunity for the Jihadists. While it is hostile to Islam, it provides a common enemy and thereby a basis for building unity among Islam's diverse national, ethnic, and tribal groups.

By taking action, Jihad will awaken the Muslim community, demonstrate the power of Jihad, inspire the faithful, and bring about spiritual revival. Jihad offers an opportunity for revenge, a counter to humiliation. It is a powerful message whose appeal thrives on the failure of ideologies of Arab Socialism, Pan-Arabism, and Ba'athism to bring Arabs and Muslims respect and influence. Jihad feeds on anger.

The Jihadists define themselves and their struggle through action. Islam is to be defended through action. Believers will be galvanized through action. They will be awakened, inspired, and instructed through action. Action will propagate Jihadist ideology, expand the following, and encourage recruitment. Islam's global struggle will be unified through action. Embracing action will shield believers from corruption from the West.

Jihadist strategy is notional and opportunistic. The objectives are broad-to drive out the infidels from Muslim lands, topple "apostate regimes" like the House of Saud and the Egyptian government, foster religious revival, expand the Islamic community, and ultimately reestablish the Caliphate, which, at its height 600 years ago, stretched from the Himalayas to the Pyrenees. But the goal is building a following, not taking ground. The time horizon for success is distant and in any event determined by Allah. Jihadist strategy is neither linear nor sequential. There is no "road map" to victory. Strategic objectives do not dictate action; action is the objective.

As a consequence, continuing operations are imperative. Contributors will not support an inactive organization. Without action as a recruiting poster, potential recruits will go elsewhere. And operations with specific signature (such as simultaneous attacks) ensure "branding"-making clear which organization is in the vanguard. In this, al Qaeda differs little from other revolutionary vanguards in history.

The Jihadists' operational code of warfare emphasizes process and prowess-not progress. Warfare is not a terrible phenomenon, and peace is not the natural state of society. To the contrary, war is a perpetual condition. Man is inherently a warrior, and if not fighting an external foe, men will fight among themselves. Confronting an outside enemy will bring unity and unleash the great strength latent in the Islamic community.

Drawing upon the experiences of warfare in the Arabian peninsula long before the Koran and during centuries of tribal warfare since, Jihadist tactics call for isolated raids, not sustained large-scale operations or long military campaigns. The idea is to lie in wait, attack the enemy when he is inattentive, beleaguer him, make his life untenable. Showmanship in carrying out attacks demonstrates prowess.

For the Jihadist, fighting is a religious obligation. Strength in battle comes from religious conviction, not weapons. Combat is an opportunity to demonstrate one's belief through courage and sacrifice. Heroism is more important than the outcome. Those who sacrifice all are not only to be extolled but will be rewarded in Paradise. Fighting benefits the Jihadist individually and morally.

Of course, none of this means that there are not debates among Jihadists. There are differences:

Should they concentrate on local conflict or join up with al Qaeda?

Should they lie low to rebuild?

Was it wise to launch a terrorist campaign in Saudi Arabia?

How acceptable are collateral Muslim casualties?

Should the heretical Shia be enlisted or attacked?

Are kidnappings, or taking children hostage as in Russia, counterproductive?

To build an Army of Believers, Jihadists consider recruiting as an end in itself, not simply to serve operational needs. Recruiting is decentralized and continuous in an effort to spread Jihadist ideology. The themes emphasized in recruiting efforts are the suffering of the devout, the atrocities committed against Muslims, the injustice of the situation in Muslim communities, the humiliation inflicted on the faithful. Recruiting stresses the opportunities to take action against these wrongs. And Jihadist recruitment offers spiritual rewards.

Recruitment is a multistage self-presentation process in which volunteers must demonstrate increasing commitment to the Jihadist cause. This commitment leads the recruit through successive oaths and into the secret inner circles. Since the end of al Qaeda's sanctuary in Afghanistan, the constant talent hunt for volunteers with specialized skills has been decentralized.

Reconnaissance of targets and planning to carry out attacks are also continuous activities. Planning itself is considered a way to participate in Jihad. Plans are surrogate operations reflecting the planners' ambitions and fantasies. It is based on manuals, playbooks, and observed tactical lessons. At the same time, it is entrepreneurial, offering the opportunity for the Jihadist to take the initiative. Previous operations are examined in order to perfect techniques and to surpass predecessors.

Jihadists also take note of concerns voiced by the public in target countries. For example, public statements that the population is vulnerable to biological or chemical attack are picked up by Jihadists and possibly incorporated into operational planning. These steps are often then confirmed by Western intelligence. Our concerns become self-fulfilling prophecies.

How do things look to the Jihadists three years after 9/11? Any al Qaeda member briefing bin Laden would have to acknowledge that it has been a difficult 36 months since 9/11. The training camps in Afghanistan were dismantled. Thousands of Jihadists have been arrested worldwide. Some of al Qaeda's top planners-talent hard to replace-have been killed or captured. The organization's cash flow has been squeezed.

Moreover, infidels occupy Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, the Emirates, Qatar, and Oman. They threaten Syria. Apostate regimes in Jordan, Palestine, and Southeast Asia assist the infidels. American puppets in Kabul and Islamabad hunt Jihadists with mercenary tribesmen. Muslims are persecuted everywhere, but-apart from the Palestinians-there are no uprisings.

A briefer in Waziristan also would have to note that al Qaeda's communications have been disrupted. The operational environment is difficult. Transactions are dangerous. The organization has been forced to decentralize and risks loss of unity and fragmentation. Everyone in al Qaeda faces the threat of capture or martyrdom.

But, nonetheless, an al Qaeda briefer might also likely conclude that the Jihadists are succeeding. They have survived the infidels' mightiest blows. Recruits continue to join up (though caution is called for about possible infiltrators). America's arrogance has angered Muslims and alienated its allies. The shadow of 9/11 still hangs over the American economy.

Much of the original leadership of al Qaeda remains intact and can communicate publicly as well as clandestinely. A large cadre of loyal dispersed Afghan veterans is sufficient for hundreds of operations. And adequate financing exists to conduct such operations. Not only do preparations for further operations continue, but the pace of operations has accelerated over the last 36 months. Above all, the briefer would conclude that the Jihadists have demonstrated their faith, their courage, their prowess, which will protect their souls, inspire the Muslim world, and show their worthiness before God.

Finally, Osama bin Laden's briefer probably would see America's invasion of Iraq as a gift to the Jihadists. It has split the infidels and provoked the Muslim community. Their so-called quick victory has put American soldiers into a situation where they are vulnerable to the kind of warfare natural to Jihad. Iraq opens a new front for Jihad, one that provides a new, radicalizing experience for hundreds of new recruits. It will provide a new cohort of blooded veterans.

How long can the Americans stay in Iraq? Jihadists note that it took a decade to convince the Soviet Union to leave Afghanistan; they are convinced that America has less spine and little stomach for losses. They question whether the United States could last in Iraq until 2013. And when the Americans depart, chaos will ensue in Iraq, giving Jihad new space to operate. The apostate regimes in the region will, they believe, tremble and fall. With the oil wealth of the region in their hands, they will be able to force the West to abandon Israel, and the Holy Land again will be theirs.

Jihadist visions of the future may include one in which war continues until Judgment Day; continuous terrorist spectaculars inspire a global intifada; Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia fall; America suffers a humiliating defeat in Iraq; somehow, someday another 9/11. Perhaps Jihadist beliefs will transcend Islam to become a pervasive anti-U.S. ideology.

The Jihadists believe that in the long run, demographics and economics are on their side with millions of discontented youths in the region and in immigrant communities with no prospects-and many more educated with better economic futures but still seeking spiritual fulfillment, making them a fertile pool for recruitment. They believe that politics are with them; the infidel and apostate tyrants inevitably will fall. The Jihadists are convinced that they are the ones who will replace them.


Excerpted from Three Years After by James A. Thomson Brian Michael Jenkins John V. Parachini Peter A. Wilson Cheryl Benard Bruce Hoffman Lynn Davis Michael A. Wermuth Michael O'Connell Gregory F. Treverton Olga Oliker Michael V. Hynes Andrew Rathmell Copyright © 2005 by RAND Corporation. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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