CTX Journal Vol. 6, No. 1
From the Editor
Welcome to the February 2016 issue of CTX. Much has happened in the CT world since our November issue (vol. 5, no. 4) went online. Sadly, radical Islamist terrorism remains on the march, with major attacks on civilians in Paris and Beirut in November, and with ISIS claiming credit for bringing down a Russian passenger plane over Sinai in October. On the second day of the new year, Saudi Arabia threw some cheap oil on the flames of its rivalry with Iran by executing a prominent Shi'a cleric (along with 47 other people), and the two sectarian heavyweights broke off diplomatic relations. Where everybody is someone's enemy, there seem to be few friends.
Most of the articles in this issue, unsurprisingly, have something to do with ISIS. Captain Nicholas Dubaz starts us off, however, with some lessons drawn from his experiences as an intelligence officer and a civil affairs officer in Afghanistan. He describes how US forces can be tempted by technology to substitute quantity of information for quality of analysis, which too often leads to bad decision making. Shifting the work of intelligence to smaller, innovative edge organizations may be one solution.
To better understand why US and coalition strategies against ISIS have largely failed, Major Wael Abbas delves into the history of al Qaeda and ISIS. The first mistake, he points out, was to assume that the two organizations were ideologically different, which led the opponents of ISIS to underestimate the threat the group poses. The second major problem is that many coalition members have their own interests in Syria and Iraq and don't necessarily share the United States' goals for the region.
Major Caleb Slayton offers a heartfelt essay on the importance of familiarity with local language and culture for the SOF operator. Drawing on his lifetime of experience living and working in various parts of Africa, he describes how he was able to gain new insights and deepen his knowledge of local cultures by speaking even a few phrases of the local language to his hosts.
Dr. Siamak Naficy and Major Joshua Russo take a look at the human penchant to root for the underdog in unequal contests. What characteristics bestow under-dog status? And is it possible for members of a perceived top dog group—in this case, the Western coalition against ISIS—to use information operations to undermine the "deserving underdog" narrative of the opponent?
The concept of "operations and intelligence fusion" gained importance in Afghanistan as coalition military CT operations gave way to Afghan-led policing and criminal justice procedures. Major Awe (a pseudonym) describes a simple analytical tool, developed by a small SOF task force, which allowed them and their Afghan police partners to base their operational decision making on a clear, customizable intelligence picture.
Instead of our usual CTAP interview, we bring you a panel discussion in which five CT experts address questions about the rise of ISIS, the role ideology plays in its strategy planning, the proper role of the United States and its partners in the fight against the group, and how to counter its robust information operations.
Finally, for the Written Word, Blaire Harms explores a new work by terrorism experts Jessica Stern and J. M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror, in which the authors contend that ISIS is much more than just a bigger, more successful version of al Qaeda by closely examining the group's message, recruitment targets, and use of social media.
You'll notice we don't have a film review or an ethics or state of the art column in this issue. That's because you didn't write one for us. Did you see a movie about terrorism or insurgency that got you thinking? Have you faced a moral dilemma in the course of your duties that your fellow operators might be able to learn from, or that you're still looking for answers to? Are you creating works of art to help you express your feelings about what you've experienced? Contact me at the email address below, and let's talk. Or you can go ahead and send us what you have, and we'll consider it for publication.
As always, we present some of the latest publications from the Joint Special Operations University in our Publications Announcements. We welcome your letters and comments at CTXeditor@GlobalEcco.org. Keep up on global CT news and comment on articles by "liking" Global ECCO on Facebook. If you are interested in submitting an article for possible publication, send it to CTXSubmit@GlobalEcco.org
May this new year bring peace to everyone, everywhere. May every angry heart be soothed, may every hungry belly be filled, may every grief and fear find solace.
Managing Editor, CTX