Sebastian Gorka: America and Irregular Warfare

America and Irregular Warfare
(Sebastian Gorka, April 10, 2013)

Transcript available below

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About the speaker

Dr. Sebastian Gorka is former Deputy Assistant and Strategist to the President (2017) and author of the best-selling book, Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War. His new book is Why We Fight: Recovering America’s Will to Win.

Former Kokkalis Fellow at Harvard, he has taught at Georgetown, was Associate Dean at National Defense University and held the distinguished chair of Military Theory at the Marine Corps University.

Sebastian was born in the UK to parents who escaped Communism during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. He is an internationally recognized authority on issues of national security, irregular warfare, terrorism and democratization, having worked in government and the private and NGO sectors in Europe and the United States.

After September the 11th 2001, he spent four years on the faculty of the Program on Terrorism and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall Center in Germany and has been involved in the training and education of 1,600+ counterterrorism, special forces and intelligence officers and still teaches at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (Fort Bragg), home of the Green Berets. He has briefed the CIA, DIA, ODNI, the US Navy SEALs, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the President. 


Sebastian Gorka:

My area of interest is the intersection of grand strategy and non-state actors, so if you’re expecting a lecture on the strategy of Iran or China, you’re in the wrong room. I’m interested in understanding groups like Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, AQAM, AQIP, how they think, what their strategy is, what their strategic culture is, and how to destroy it.

What I’m going to do today I’m going to give you a summary of what is usually a 15-week course on the anti-threat doctrine of Al Qaeda. I usually get three hours to do this. Now, I’ve got two hours to do this, so with seatbelts on, I’ll be quick. We’ll have a break in the middle. Please stop me if at any point there are some issues you want me to clarify.

Before I say anything, I am required to make the following statement. Nothing you’re about to hear necessarily represents the views of the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, or any other government agency. Hopefully, in the future it might. I was checking if you guys were awake.

Alright, so in good PowerPoint tradition, DOD tradition, what I’ll do is I’ll give you the whole lecture on the next slide. So I’ll tell you everything I want to tell you on one slide, then I’ll talk for two hours, then I’ll remind you of what I just told you. So, if you had one cookie too many, then pay attention for five minutes and you’ll get the message.

So, what’s the message? Very simply, the first thing is that twelve years into this war, we still do not adequately understand the enemy and that’s a problem. You can, in this city, DC, you can go to half a dozen events every day where you’ll have scholars, practitioners like yourselves, academics, policy wonks argue about who’s the enemy, what’s al Qaeda. We’re in the twelfth year in the war and we’re still debating it. That would be like in 1944, arguing over who Hitler is and what the Third Reich is. If we didn’t do it then, why are we doing it now? We’ll talk about that in a second.

The second bullet I’ll explain and unpack a little bit later but I’ll just give you the one sentence cliff notes now. In the last twelve years, what we can see in the military art of Al Qaeda and associate movements is a shift from a Guevarist conceptualization of irregular warfare, focoist concept of irregular warfare, to a Maoist one. The enemy is learning and they are drawing the right conclusions from events such as the Arab Spring. I’ll unpack that as we go along.

Thirdly, we’ve got to stop seeing war the way Clausewitz understood it to be, as something functional. Clausewitz was a master of strategy but what was he writing about? He was writing about countries fighting countries. Right? That’s what his book is about. It’s about understanding how a government goes to war with another government. That’s not our problem today. Our problem is primarily non-state actors and they do not follow Clausewitz.

Penultimately, and this is very, very difficult for us to do in DOD is we’ve got to stop obsessing on the kinetic. You guys are masters of the kinetic, right? I’m sure you all are very proud of your shock groups on range 37, right? You know how to apply force very accurately. That is a great thing. That is a very important thing. However, the enemy is not just about kinetic victory. They can do things in the non-Kinetic, indirect domain that could be just as harmful to the United States and her Constitution and we need to appreciate that. We need to focus. We need to stop focusing predominately on the kinetic attack.

And lastly, we really have to understand the enemy threat doctrine of Al Qaeda. Yeah? If you’ve studied the Cold War, one of the marker points for the beginning of the Cold War is George Kennan’s Long Telegram. Right? The three thousand word, classified cable he wrote from Moscow back to DC, explaining what is the Soviet Union and what they want. We still don’t have an equivalent for George Kennan’s Long Telegram, explaining in just a couple thousand words what is the enemy’s strategic culture, what’s their threat doctrine, and how to defeat it and that’s a problem.

Okay, so, that was my lecture. Did you enjoy it? Okay, so let’s unpack it a little bit. Let’s look at the approach we have had in the last twelve years.

Oh, last point, just to make you guys feel good about your future career: irregular warfare is key to the future. Irregular warfare will not go away whatever big green believes, whatever the five-sided playpen would want you to believe, conventional, large, tank-on-tank warfare is not the future. Irregular warfare, UW, COIN, CT, that is going to keep us very busy for the next few decades.


So strategy. What have we been doing? You have all seen this, right, the famous McChrystal slide that was paid for out of your taxpayer dollars, my taxpayer dollars, your parents’ taxpayer dollars given to a very expensive British consulting company to explain what is going on in Afghanistan. Yeah, when General McChrystal briefed this, he of course famously said, ‘Once we understand this slide, we will have won the war.’ This kind of product is the evidence of why we are doing so poorly because this is the antithesis, the opposite of strategy. The idea that that helps anybody do their job in Afghanistan is an insult, but that is portrayed as the state of the art in strategic analysis.

So what is a better way or what is another way of looking at our approach?

Let me just tell you something first about why I say irregular warfare is the future. This one visual is from an article Dave Kilcullen and I published two years ago in Joint Forces Quarterly. It is based on a very interesting database called the Correlates of War (COW) database. That is an unclassified, university database that has crunched all the data from every conflict, every war since the time of Napoleon; when it started, when it ended, who was involved, how many casualties, and so on. They put it into one database.

The Reality of Warfare

We tried to represent that database with one visual, just to draw out the main, critical conclusions. And if you take the box, the large box, as all conflicts for the last two hundred years, that box represents 460 wars. Okay, so there are 460 wars analyzed since Napoleon. What is really interesting is if you categorize all of those wars, and what we find is that little red box up here. Less than twenty percent of all conflicts for the last two hundred years has been state on state, has been conventional, has been wars like Gulf One, like the Korean War, like World War I [and] World War II, governments fighting governments.

More than eighty percent of all wars for the last to hundred years have been states fighting non-state actors, as we have been doing in Afghanistan and Iraq, or non-state actors fighting each other, like tribal warfare. Bottom line: more than eighty percent of all wars for the last to hundred years have been irregular. Which means what? Which means DoD should call irregular warfare conventional, regular, yeah, but do not hold your breath on that. As long as you guys know the reality, that is enough for me.

Strategy 101

Okay, so that is just the data. Before we take a look at the strategic approach that we should have, let us just do a little 101 on strategy. Two things that I like to refresh memories on. Of course, if you ever mention the word strategy in a fancy cocktail party here in Georgetown, who are the two dead people you have to be able to quote? You have to be able to quote the good General Carl Clausewitz himself, right, and Sun Tzu. Yeah? Those are the two masters of strategy.

So what did they say? Sun Tzu, the author of that great little book, The Art of War, is most famous for saying what? If you wish to win in war, you must… What is the most famous quote of Sun Tzu? If you want to win, know your enemy, right? That is the quote, know your enemy. If you buy the book (and I hope you have it, it is a little book, you can read it in a couple of hours), he did not actually say that. What did he say? He said if you want to win, you must know the enemy and yourself, yeah? The full quote is, ‘If you know your enemy, you win half your engagements. If you know who you are or why you are fighting, you will also win half of your battles. If you know both who you are and the enemy, you will win one hundred battles out of one hundred battles.’ However, that is a bit too long for a CNN soundbite, and as a result it always gets boiled down to know your enemy.

My observation after many years of working with people like yourselves is that we have trouble with both sides of this. Not only do we have problems understanding the enemy, we are not really sure what we are doing in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. It was pretty clear back in October of ’01, but what are we doing there now? We went there to do what? What was the mission set in October of ’01?

Audience member:

Al Qaeda.

Sebastian Gorka:

Yeah, destroy the facilities of that organization, which executed a mass casualty attack on U.S. soil. We pretty much did that by December with three hundred guys and twenty thousand Northern Alliance [fighters], but we stayed there for another eleven years. Why? And next year, what has the White House said we are potentially going to do? Right, leave. Have we achieved the goal? Is Al Qaeda never going to come back? Is it destroyed? It seems that we have problems with both sides of that equation.

Moving on to the Prussian General, what did he say? One of the most famous sentences associated with Clausewitz is that war is the continuation of politics by other means, right, you have heard that. War is politics with guns. When you have run out of everything else, you reach for the M4. Okay, that is what he said, that is why he is famous, but he said something else before that. He said the first responsibility of a leader [or] of a commander is to understand the nature of the war he is about to engage in. The primary responsibility of the commander is to understand the nature of the war [he is] about to engage in because if you get this wrong, it really does not matter how good your team is, how good your training is, how good your equipment is. If you are fighting the wrong war, if you are playing checkers, and he is playing chess, it is going to be very hard to win.

Remember, for its first two-and-a-half years in Iraq, what were you forbidden to say we were doing in Iraq by the Secretary of Defense? COIN, yeah. We were forbidden from stating officially that we are actually facing an insurgency. The fight was officially against foreign fighters, and it was a CT mission. It took us two-and-a-half years to actually admit what the nature of the beast was, that we were not just fighting foreign fighters, we were fighting Iraqis, whether they were Baathists that we fired from the military, whether they were Sunni militia or Shia militia, we had to recognize who they were. You cannot beat an insurgency if you are doing CT. That is the kind of thing that I am talking about. Okay, so just a little one on one on where we are at on strategy.

US Strategy in Bumper Stickers

I became an American citizen last year, and one of the things I realized soon after is that we Americans love our bumper stickers. If you cannot crunch it down onto a twelve by four inch piece of plastic, it cannot be important, so what I decided to do is just a bumper sticker review of the last twelve years. What has been the strategic approach of the United States to 9/11 in bumper stickers. And this is what I came up with.

Global War on Terror (GWOT)

First, of course, we have right after 9/11, the Commander in Chief declared a global war against Al Qaeda, the Global War on Terror (GWOT). We could be here until midnight discussing the problems with that bumper sticker, that acronym, the legal problems, the strategic communications problems, the diplomatic ones. The fact is we had to replace it. A few years into the war, as a result, the Pentagon came up with a new bumper sticker and we replaced GWOT with Long War.

Long War

Is Long War an improvement? Probably not. Here we said we are in a global war against terrorism. Were we really? Were we in a global war against terrorism? Were we fighting all kinds of terrorists? Well, it was regional, it was focused on certain areas. Was it also fighting all kinds of terrorists? Did of your colleagues from Bragg deploy to fight Basque separatists in northern Spain? No. Eco-terrorists in the Canadian redwoods? No, so we had problems with the first one, and then we replaced it with this. And is that a better description? It tells you that the fight is going to be long. Does it tell you how long? Does it tell you against who? No, so not exactly an improvement.

Countering Ideological Support for Terrorism (CIST)

Then in about the sixth year of the war, the Bush administration came up with a very interesting new bumper sticker, not at the strategic level, not at the national level, but at the sub-strategic inside DOD, and that is CIST, not the medical condition but Countering Ideological Support for Terrorism. CIST was the DOD’s recognition after about five-and-a-half years that there is a non-kinetic part of this war, that we can go around hunting high value targets for as long as you like, but if you do not start attacking the ideology that helps Al Qaeda recruit, we will be doing whack-a-mole for decades. And that is how CIST was born. However, whilst it became an official acronym in DOD, it did not replace the Long War.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)

Lastly, at the tail end of the second Bush Administration, this is not well understood, a new strategic bumper sticker was born to replace GWOT, and that is what we are currently in now, CVE. That acronym was also used by the Obama Administration, and it was fully endorsed, so as of – what are we today, April 10, 2013, the official bumper sticker for what we are doing is countering violent extremism instead of GWOT, and within that the military part of CVE is OCO, overseas contingency operations.

What do you gentlemen think of those as strategic replacements to describe what we are doing against Al Qaeda? Better? Worse? Accurate? Inaccurate? You have got to have an opinion because that is supposed to be driving your jobs. That is the big picture explanation for what you are doing, whether you are doing it as a training team in Africa, whether you are doing a DA action, that is falling under a strategic banner that is CVE and OCO. Do you think that is a good banner?

I always ask my officers on the first day of class [to] tell me in English what OCO really means because nobody talks about ‘overseas contingency operations.’ What does that mean in English? The best translation I have had is ‘stuff you do overseas in an emergency.’ Right? That is what it means. So if I lose my passport on holiday in Paris, clearly, I am in an OCO. It is not a very good description. It is not a very good description.

And likewise, CVE has the same problem that this, [the Global War on Terrorism], had. Are we countering more violent extremism? Clearly not. We are countering a very specific kind of extremist, what one person has called the global jihadist, and that is a very specific target set, not all violent extremism. So to cut things short, the bumper sticker evolution of America’s strategic approach has been less than adequate, not accurate, and not very informative of what we are doing strategically.

Let us shift gears. Let us have a look at the enemy.

Why Does Al Qaeda Exist?

What is the enemy doing? How do we understand the enemy? There are many ways to slice this. You can talk about the evolution of Al Qaeda as an organization. You can talk about the personalities in it, the leaders and so forth. What I would like to do is just [review] one slide that I think is the most important way to understand where this threat came from, and [that] is perhaps the way of looking at it that we least often discuss, and that is to understand where Al Qaeda comes from historically, to put Al Qaeda into the correct context historically.

Al Qaeda is not a function of 9/11. It is not even a function of the first World Trade Center attacks in ’93. It is a product of much longer and older process. If I had the time with you guys, I would go back to the seventh century, and we would talk about all kinds of important events that led up to the creation of Al Qaeda.

Key Events in Muslim History

We do not have that luxury today, so what I would like to do is mention six or seven key events in the last hundred years of Arab and Muslim history that are essential to understand the threat doctrine that drives the people we face today, all of them. All of the people under the AQM umbrella are connected to these events.

So what is the first one?

When Bin Laden used to make statements and now when Zawahiri makes statements about the need to recreate the global caliphate, the religious empire of Islam, many commentators in the mass media make fun. They say that is ridiculous. What is this guy talking about, a religious empire of Islam? This is just some sad individual having a wet dream in a cave somewhere in South Asia.

Separating Mosque and State in Turkey
[Mustafa Kemal] rebranded the Ottoman Empire. He said firstly, we are no longer a religious theocracy, we are a republic. We have a new name, the Republic of Turkey. I am its new president. He changed his name to Atatürk, a modest name which means father of all Turks. And President Atatürk said we are now a secular republic. And just like the Founding Fathers in America, we are going to separate religion from politics. Separation of church and state here, in Istanbul it is separation of mosque and state. Everybody can be a Muslim, but that is what you do in the mosque on Friday. Islam can have nothing to do with politics.

Just to make sure we believed him, he did two more things. Now, stop for a second and put yourselves in the shoes of just Joe Muhammad, the average Arab. He does not have to be Turkish. He could be a guy walking down the street in Damascus, in Cairo, just somebody who believes that they are a good Muslim. One of his first measures in creating the new republic, President Atatürk banned the Arabic language.

So think about that.

Abolishing the Arabic Script in Turkey

The Ottoman Empire had been using beautiful Arabic script with the Qur’an, writing from right to left, and then from one day to the next they said officially, in government business, and in communications we are going to use another alphabet. Which alphabet did he replace the Arabic alphabet with? Whose? The infidel’s alphabet. If you go to Turkey today, they use a modified version of our alphabet.

Well, why is that important? According to Islam, what is Arabic? It is the language of Allah. That is why if you buy a Qur’an and it is not in Arabic, according to Islam it is not a Qur’an. If you buy it in French, English, or whatever, it is not really a Qur’an. It has to be in Arabic to be a real Qur’an because that is God’s language. So the President of Turkey has just made God’s language illegal and replaced it with the infidel’s [script]. You do not have to be a jihadi to be angry at that, you could just be a good Muslim.

What he did in 1924 is much more significant. In 1924 with his own signature, Kemal Mustafa Atatürk, the President of the Republic of Turkey, officially dissolved the caliphate. He officially said the theocratic empire of Islam ceases to exist. There was even a caliph, there was a commander in chief, there was an emperor, and he gave him his pink slip. He sent him into retirement. So somebody who says he is a Muslim has just dissolved the Muslim empire.

Think about the effect that has on the religious community. That is like some trumped up little Italian Prime Minister dissolving the Vatican and giving the Pope his retirement papers. That is a big deal. That is a really big deal after eleven hundred years to dissolve the empire. And look what happens less than five years later in Cairo. In 1928, a certain Hassan al Banna establishes the Ikhwan al Muslimin, the Muslim Brotherhood.

What was the Muslim Brotherhood’s mission from 1928 to today, to April 10, 2013? Just Google it online in English. The mission of the Muslim Brotherhood is to restore the caliphate that was unjustly dissolved by Atatürk in 1924. That is why these things are so important. These are trigger events. These are catalysts in understanding the evolution of extremist ideology.

World War II

Okay, then we move twenty years into the future. We have the consequences of another global conflict, not World War I but this time World War II, and that is what occurs in the Middle East in 1947 and 1948. Two issues, two huge geostrategic issues, collide at the same time after World War II. Firstly, you have all seen the black and white newsreels of the G.I.s and the Soviet infantry liberating the death camps, Treblinka, Auschwitz, Birkenau. And when the G.I.s bust in the gates, what did they find in 1945? They find huge piles of dead bodies, piles of shoes, but they also find what? Survivors.

Hitler tried to kill all the Jews of Europe, but thankfully he failed, so we have a big issue. We have saved European Jewry, or a fraction of it, by beating the fascists. Okay, where did the survivors go? Because remember where did this people, who we liberated from the death camps who were Jewish, where did they come from physically? Germany, Austria, Bucharest, Estonia, the territories of the Third Reich. They have been scooped up from the territories of the Third Reich and moved into labor camps. Why? Because there is no such thing as a Jewish state. There had not been for centuries, so big question, where do you send them?

Imagine if you are a cobbler or a baker, a Jewish man who is from Munich or Vienna, and you have just been liberated from a death camp by the G.I.s. In the last six years, you have seen your wife shot in front of you, your children taken away for medical experiments, and your parents have died in a labor camp. You have just been freed. How keen are you going to be to go back to Munich or Vienna? Not too keen, so first question, where do the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust go?

The second issue, coincidentally, is what is going on in the Middle East after World War II. Remember the whole territories of today we call the West Bank, Gaza, the Palestinian territories, and Israel, that whole area of the Middle East had a different name in 1945. That whole territory was called the British Mandate of Palestine. That whole area belonged to the UK, being gifted to the British after World War I by the League of Nations. After World War II, violence breaks out in the Middle East, Zionist violence, Arabist violence. Basically, the Palestinian territories are becoming unstable.

The British, after six years of fighting Hitler, decide they do not have the money or the soldiers to maintain control of the Middle East, and they decide to leave. The future of Palestine is dropped on the doorstep of the American president and the newly created United Nations. The British say, we have had enough, we are leaving. So [the] survivors of the Holocaust [want to move to Palestine while the] Brits are leaving Palestine.

Of course, somebody comes up with the bright idea that the Jewish people came from Palestine, so why don’t we create again a Jewish state? What is the one problem with that? They are not the only people there. Why is there a beautiful golden, domed mosque in the center of Jerusalem? You guys have all had your Islam 101 lectures, right? I do not have time today to give you my Islam 101 lecture. Why is the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the middle of Jerusalem? Does anybody know? Yeah, according to Islam, the rock underneath the dome is the place from where Muhammad ascended into heaven, so Jerusalem is important to Jews, to Christians, and to Muslims.

As a result, the Arab states of the Middle East did what? Boycotted the suggestion to create an Israeli state, so there is a standoff at the United Nations, some people say give the Jews a country. Others are saying absolutely not.

Now, what happens?

In 1947, we will really probably never know why, Stalin does a 180. Until that point, Stalin had been on the side of the Arabs, blocking the creation of an Israeli state. Overnight, he changed his mind, and he said okay, great idea. If Truman, who is the only person with nuclear weapons, and Stalin agree, who is going to stop them? Nobody. As a result, eventually Israel is created.

Now stop for a second again. Put yourself in the shoes of a mainstream, you know, normal, average Muslim. What have you just witnessed in the space of 20 years? Here, somebody who says he is a Muslim, dissolves the empire, and here every single Arab head of state fails to do what? Fails to maintain control of Jerusalem. Strike two, yeah? That is what I call a seismic shock to the psyche of the Muslim world.

However, the most important turning point, the most important year to understand Al Qaeda, is 1979 for multiple reasons. The first one is, of course, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Why is this important? Well, because of the way it occurred. We had a nation that was what? Western, godless, secular Soviet Union do what? Without provocation [the Soviet Union] invaded a Muslim territory. What does that require by Islamic law? Defensive jihad. By international standards, it requires self-defense. By Muslim philosophical standards, if a Western, secular nation invades an Islamic territory, you must do a jihad, a holy war.

And because Afghanistan is so weak, if you look at the power ratios between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, there are people like Abdullah Azzam, the Palestinian cleric from Jordan, who says there is no way the Afghans can win, so what do we have to do? Recruit non-Afghan Muslims to become UW guerrilla fighters against the Soviets.

This is when Al Qaeda is really created. It is what people do not talk about often enough. Abdullah Azzam created something called the Mujahideen Services Bureau, the MAK, the Mujahideen Services Bureau in Arabic. He traveled the world to recruit Yemenis, Egyptians, Saudis to come to Pakistan and them later Afghanistan to receive UW training and then deploy them against the Soviets.

And who would very soon become his deputy? Osama bin Laden. It is this organization, when Azzam is assassinated 10 years later, that Bin Laden will inherit. The M-A-K is, in fact, the pre-AQ. AQ was built out of the guerrilla warfare organization Abdullah Azzam created after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, so that is reason number one.

Reason number two is, of course, the Iranian Revolution. Now, the Iranians are Shia. They are Persian. They are not even Arab, but none of that matters, that they are Shia and they are Persian. Why? Ask yourself what is the key message of the Iranian Revolution? From 1979 right after 2013, who is the boss? What is the message? Is it the guy in the cheap suits, Ahmadinejad? Who is the real boss? The Ayatollah and the Supreme Council.

What do they wear? Clerical robes, right, so what is the message of the Revolution since ’79? We as Muslims reject the Western model of separation of church and state. We are going to reintegrate faith and politics. We are going to create an Islamic theocracy in opposition to the Western model of politics. That is a message for all Muslims, not just Shias, that theocracy is the model.

The last important event in ’79 that most people do not even know happened occurred on New Year’s Day of the Arab calendar. So we all know that the Arabs use a different calendar. It starts in the year that Muhammad moved to Medina, to Yathrib. In 1979, it was the beginning of the 15th century in the Arab world, so they were just entering the year 1400. Whenever there is a turn of century, there are always great expectations. We have seen it in the West with Christian millenarian cults. You remember a few years ago there was Y2K? There is always funky stuff going around when there is a turn of a century.

In the Islamic world, there were expectations of something very interesting was going to happen, and sure enough in Saudi Arabia on New Year’s Day something very interesting happened. On New Year’s Day, 300 terrorists armed with automatic weapons stormed the plaza in front of the Great Mosque of Mecca. So this is the holiest place in Islam, the Great Mosque. They opened fire on the people outside the mosque, rip the microphone of the Imam of the Grand Mosque from him, and declared a jihad, declared a holy war, against who? The government of Saudi Arabia and the King, King Saud. Why? Because they have decided that Islam had lost its way, it must regain its greatness, and it must be purged, and the only way to purge it was through holy war, through jihad.

Now, the interesting [thing] about this event is not that it occurred, but the consequences of it. Number one, the Saudi government in 1979 had no special forces, no CT, no HRT units, so they have no idea what to do when 300 guys with AKs take control of the holiest site in Mecca. In fact, those jihadis controlled the mosque for 13 days until a group of French Commandos were smuggled in by the Saudi Interior Minister, converted to Islam (because if you are not Muslim, you are not even allowed to step into Mecca), and the French commandos eventually did the job.

But what is really important is what happened in the meantime. The king of Saudi Arabia found out that the 300 jihadis were not operated by themselves, but that they had been encouraged and in fact religiously blessed by a group of Saudi clerics. So think about that for a second. Saudi holy man, ulema, had agreed with the terrorists and said yes, the king, he is not a real Muslim, he is just a puppet, and Islam has lost its way, and we need a holy war to get rid of the king and to cleanse the whole Ummah, the religious community of Islam.

Because of the closed nature of Saudi society, the king found out who these clerics were, and he invited them to the palace. This is in a great book, The Siege of Mecca, by [Yaroslav] Trofimov. He said to them, gentlemen, I know who you are, and I know your connection to the terrorists. If you guarantee for me that my family, my government, and my country will never ever again be threatened by jihadi ideology, you, your sons, and your grandsons will have jobs for life. You will be the court ulema. You will be the clerics to the king. Unfortunately for us, and for the Muslim world as far as I am concerned, the clerics said where do we sign?

The secret pact was initiated between the king and the clerics, and then endorsed [by] the jihadis. And one of the most important aspects of that pact was one of the footnotes, one of the codices, that ran as follows: whilst the propagation of jihadi ideology is haram, is forbidden on the soil of Saudi Arabia, its propagation in Dar al-Harb, meaning non-Muslim territory, is not only permissible but will be supported by this government, so jihad inside bad, jihad outside good. And we even have some very, very nice empirical evidence of this.

Until seven years ago, the most widely available English language version of the Qur’an that you could get ahold of in U.S federal penitentiaries had a very disturbing set of footnotes. There are lots of different versions of the Qur’an in English, right, but you cannot really mess with the core text because that is the word of God, so what changes between different editions? The footnotes, what is put in there to explain the word of God. And this version of the Qur’an had footnotes about Jews and Christians as pigs and donkeys and the need for all good Muslims to acquire weapons of mass destruction to kill the infidel.

Now, the only problem with this Qur’an, apart from it being the most widely available one in U.S prisons, was if you open the back cover, and I have a copy of it. It is a beautiful, bound version. If you open the back cover, which is of course the front, the first thing you will see on page one is the great seal of the Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the highest-ranking cleric in Saudi Arabia. And underneath the seal in English it states, this book [is] published and distributed by the government of Saudi Arabia. That was the most widely valuable Qur’an in the U.S penitentiary system until somebody with the FBI decided to read the footprints, so there has been an active I.O. campaign going on since ‘79, which connects directly to Al-Qaeda.

Okay, [the] last two events or signposts, if you want, along the way are in 1989, of course, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Why is this important? They have had their Vietnam. They leave. But if you are Bin Laden or if you are Zawahiri, sitting on a ridgeline with your binoculars, and you watch that last convoy of BTRs hightailing it to Uzbekistan, who do you think won that war? Not the two million Afghans that were napalmed, right? Me and my mujahideen, and the higher estimates for the membership of the MAK/AQ put their membership at between 50,000-100,000 trained fighters by ’89.

So Bin Laden and Zawahiri are convinced that with 50,000 guys they have just defeated a superpower, and not only that. What happens to that superpower two years later on Christmas day 1991? Two years later, the best Christmas present I ever got, the Soviet Union ceases to be. It dissolved itself, so not only have I militarily defeated a superpower, but I have also caused its destruction.

But how can a bunch of guys destroy a superpower? What is the only reasonable explanation if you are Bin Laden? I truly am a mujahideen. I truly am a warrior of Allah because if you look at the power relations, it is impossible, impossible, so that is his metric of success number one, a pretty good metric.

Then we have the last event that helps us understand, and this is a really very important, and again not well appreciated in terms of where Al Qaeda comes from. In the U.S., especially in the Pentagon, we have a very specific understanding of Gulf One. For us, Gulf One is what? How does big green look at Gulf One? Beautiful. Was it beautiful, the 99-hour ground campaign? I mean, does it get any sweeter than that? In quick, crash, nice fake left hook, and we have won, yeah? Minimal casualties, easy beginning, quick end, and we are out. That is their idea of classic war.

Well, that is not how jihadis look at it. Remember back in 1990, Bin Laden still held what citizenship? Before he became Sudanese, he was still Saudi. More importantly is you need to understand who his daddy was, Muhammad bin Laden. Muhammad Bin Laden came to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a penniless, Yemeni laborer. Within a few short years, he had become the richest building contractor in Saudi Arabia. Most of the highways were built by the Muhammad Bin Laden Group, and in fact, the mosque in ’79, the Grand Mosque, the holiest site of Islam, which was shot up by the jihadis and after the French hurled their hand grenades was pretty beat up.

Guess who got to rebuild the holiest building in Islam. Muhammad bin Laden. How is that for an endorsement, right? And what is important to know is not just that he was rich, but he was also best buddies with the King. Muhammad bin Laden and King Saud were very close. Now, he dies in an airplane crash, that is irrelevant, but the bin Ladens are close to the King, so when Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait, Bin Laden runs home. This is in a great book, The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright. And he requests an audience from the King as the King had been his father’s good friend.

And remember from Bin Laden’s point of view, who is Saddam Hussein? What does he think of Saddam Hussein? Yeah, he is a fake Muslim. Remember, I mean, this is the guy who said, you know, he worships Stalin. Well, Stalin was not exactly a paragon of Islamic behavior, so he is a fake Muslim, which is worse than being an infidel. Do not forget, infidels are one thing, but if you are a fake Muslim, that is even worse. So he rushes home. He tells the King, let me protect our country from this fake Muslim. I have just defeated the Soviet Union, and I can defeat this guy.

Unfortunately, the King, well, what does he say? First, he insults Bin Laden’s management because he says what do you mean? You with your 50,000 guys with AKs and flip-flops are going to defeat a guy [like Saddam Hussein]? Remember in 1997, Hussein had the biggest army in the Middle East. He had almost 2 million men in uniform, heavy tanks, air cover, you name it. Fifty thousand guys against 2 million, you are joking, right? So first he insults him.

Second, who does he invite instead? You have got to think like a jihadi. [He invites] the Zionist Crusaders. You do know we are all Zionist Crusaders, right? You could not pick a worse country from the point of view of Bin Laden unless it was Israel. You could not pick a worse country. Think of one metric.

Because of the king’s decision, he has to go to – remember those clerics that he co-opted in ’79 that he bought? He goes back to them in 1990-1991 after he decides to call us, and he forces them to issue the first fatwa, the first religious declaration of its kind since Muhammad, for 1400 years. And that declaration states that suddenly it is halal, it is permissible, for infidel forces to be stationed on the Arabian Peninsula. For 1400 years, it has been absolutely haram, and now suddenly with a bit of pixie dust, it is okay.

That is when something snaps in Bin Laden’s psyche. How do we know that? Within six months of that decree being issued, he starts to make public statements against the King. He calls him a pharaoh, calls him a fake Muslim, and within a year of that, the King actually strips bin Laden of his Saudi citizenship. And of course, what happens two years later in 1993 in Manhattan? The World Trade Center One [was attacked by Al Qaeda].

It is all connected, so that is why we have to appreciate Gulf One is where Al Qaeda changes because Al Qaeda has been doing what for decades? UW, guerrilla warfare. It has been using guerrilla tactics against what? Military targets in Afghanistan, Soviets. Then after it wins there, it shifts its focus to where? The Balkans. It sends its fighters to fight what? Serbian and Croatian military units to help the Bosnian Muslims, and then eventually to Chechnya.

But in 1993, what kind of targets does it start to attack? Non-military, so from the point of view of the practitioner, the way to look at it is that AQ was an international UW organization, an unconventional warfare organization, and thanks in part to Gulf One and the reaction of the King, it turns into what? A global terrorist organization. So there is a transmogrification, there is an evolution, there is a change of character in Al Qaeda.

Okay, that lecture usually takes about three hours. Questions?


Audience member:

I have heard a lot about the U.S integration with the Soviet Union. I know that we helped them out. How did that influence bin Laden, or did it at all?

Sebastian Gorka:

Which aspects of it?

Audience member:

The aspects of fighting.

Sebastian Gorka:

Oh, you mean what we were doing in Afghanistan?

Audience member:


Sebastian Gorka:

Okay, if you are interested in what America was doing in Afghanistan in the ‘80s, there is no better unclassified resource than the book Ghost Wars by Stephen Coll. He is at The Washington Post. How he did that without getting prosecuted, and how he got the access [that] he did is quite mind-blowing. It is about yay thick, but it tells you chapter and verse. It is like Charlie Wilson but with facts, okay? And what needs to be appreciated [is] this is where all the conspiracy theories are born. You know, ‘We armed bin Laden, we created him,’ all this stuff, right?

If you read Ghost Wars, you understand that there are a couple of things going on. When the Soviets invade Afghanistan, Ronald Reagan has just won the election, and he decides that we need to push back the Soviet Union from the territory they have now captured in South Asia, so what is the plan? We are going to assist who? The indigenous Afghan fighters, the kind of people who today we call the Northern Alliance, [Ahmad Shah] Masoud’s group, so we say we are going to assist the Afghan mujahideen. Saudi Arabia says oh really? For every dollar Congress gives the CIA, Saudi Arabia says we will match it, so when finally, the CIA gets a billion dollars for UW support, Saudi Arabia matches it with another billion.

But here comes interesting thing. The ISI, who do not like the Soviets, either, because the Soviets are the friends of India, Pakistani intelligence tell us this neck of the woods is really complicated, you know, very difficult to understand who is on your side, Pashto, Hazara, Uzbek. Let us help you. We will be your middlemen, so ISI posed itself as the people who are the middlemen between us and the fighters.

But the key, key issue here to understand is people like Azzam and Bin Laden are in a completely different category. They are what we term the Arab mujahideen, the non-indigenous mujahideen, the Qatari, Egyptian, Saudi [fighters]. Our operations had nothing to do with the Arab mujahideen. The Arab mujahideen was much smaller in number, and they even had their own separate training facilities.

My old boss was a marine who was training the mujahideen in Afghanistan. He said most actors, most people involved in that operation, did not even consider the Arab mujahideen to be serious fighters, so you know, the idea that we are walking over to the bazaar in Peshawar, and we are giving Bin Laden a couple of stingers is completely erroneous. Our support was for the indigenous fighters. But Stephen Coll’s book gives you chapter and verse.

What is AQAM’s Strategy?

Okay, I am going to shift gears a little bit in the next half, [and] move to the threat doctrine. if you want to understand the threat doctrine of the enemies we face today, the IW environment, there are a certain number of people you must be familiar with, and I am just going to give you four of them. These are the strategic leaders, the ideologues, that provide together the threat doctrine of Al Qaeda.

Now on this one slide, I am going to give you the cliff notes of the cliff notes of the cliff notes of the cliff notes. But however, I justify that approach because the CD-ROM Mr. Brown will give you has every single jihadi document I am about to quote in full, in English, unclassified as PDFs, so do not take my word for it. Go and read the source documents from The Jihadi Strategist.

[The] first person you must be familiar with is on the left upper [side], Sayyid Qutb. Who has heard of Sayyid Qutb? Okay, Sayyid Qutb was a minor government official in the Egyptian Ministry of Education in the 1950s. He is the doctrinal mastermind of the Muslim Brotherhood. His little book called Milestones, sometimes called Signposts Along the Way, should be understood by you as the FM of global jihad. It is the field manual of jihad in the modern age.

He came to the U.S. in the early 1950s for two years on an exchange program, traveled, lived in Washington, California, and Greeley, Colorado. And then, being convinced by the fact that America is a godless, materialistic, sex obsessed society, he went back to Cairo and wrote the book on how to destroy us. That is Milestones. The book is on the CD in the form of a short little book, and I will just share with you the core message or messages.

The first thing he says is that Islam has lost its way. The Arab world is weak because it is suffering from jahiliyya. Jahiliyya is an Arabic word that was used in the Qur’an by Muhammad to describe the pagan state of ignorance the Arab tribes were in in the 7th century, so all those pagan, polytheistic tribes were in a state of ignorance of God, jahiliyya. And Qutb says that is where we are again. We have lost our way. We have become pagans, and the only way for us to reclaim our greatness is to purge ourselves through holy war, so jihad is the only way to get back the caliphate.

What he says on top of that is really quite surprising because remember he says I am a Muslim, and I am writing to my fellow Muslims. And he states that Islam is not a religion, Islam is a political movement, again and again and again. He says it is a revolutionary party like the Communist [Party], like the fascist party, that must change the world. And in fact, the book is full of communist and fascist ideology and terms, such as the vanguard, that bin Laden will use later in his own fatwas.

And it is fascinating. He uses all this terminology frequently, but most often he does not admit where he is bringing it from. Why? Why would he not recognize the source? Because fascism and communism are Western and heathen, right? But he is fascinated by them. Why? Because he looked at people like Mussolini, who were able to bring hundreds of thousands of people together to mobilize them purely through the use of rhetoric and the spoken word.

Qutb is finally arrested by the Egyptian authorities, executed in 1966, and he is a martyr to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The second person is somebody I have mentioned already several times before. It is this handsome man down in the corner, and that is Abdullah Azzam. That is bin Laden’s former boss and spiritual mentor, the Palestinian Jordanian cleric who was the creator of the Mujahideen Services Bureau. The way to understand Azzam is that he is truly the Steve Jobs of global jihad. This is the man who built global jihad into an international grand.

And he is unique in the constellation of jihadi ideologues and strategists because he had a Ph.D. in fiqh, in Islamic jurisprudence, from al-Azhar University of Cairo. Al-Azhar is the most important learning, theological institution in the Sunni world. It is, in fact, where President Obama gave his infamous Cairo speech. And if you have a Ph.D. from al-Azhar, it means that when you say I am now issuing a fatwa, it is a fatwa, it is a holy decree.

[This] is interesting because if you look at Bin Laden or Zawahiri today, they are always issuing fatwas, right, fatwa this, fatwa that. Well, what was Bin Laden’s major? [Does] anybody know [what his major was in] college? Business, he was a business and engineering major. Zawahiri was an M.D. He is a doctor. Even by Islamic standards, business majors and M.D.s do not get to issue fatwas. We should not call them fatwas. The Islamic world should not call them fatwas. But when this guy says I am issuing a fatwa, it was legally and theologically a fatwa.

In 1979, note here, he issues a 40-page fatwa with incredible endorsements. The Mufti of Saudi Arabia, you name it, give him endorsements. The fatwa is fascinating because he says that jihad, and he does not mean, you know, inner striving or strenuous yoga, he means holy war, holy war is farḍ al-‘ayn (فرض العين). In Arabic, that means universal and individual obligation, so in a fatwa, in a holy decree, Abdullah Azzam states, holy war is an individual and universal obligation of all Muslims.

How does he justify that? What is his argument? It is a very canny argument. Remember what Atatürk did in Istanbul in 1924? He dissolved the caliphate. He sent the caliph into retirement. According to Azzam, that means the Muslim world no longer has what? A commander-in-chief. If you do not have an emperor, who is your commander-in-chief? Who is going to declare war? There is nobody. The Soviets have just invaded Afghanistan. What are you doing, sitting on your backside, waiting? You are never going to get deployment orders. Nobody is ever going to declare war because Atatürk fired the emperor. That is why jihad is an individual, universal obligation. You have just got to get an AK and go.

Not only that, think about this within the context of a very patriarchal society that is the Middle East. He said not only should you not wait for deployment orders, but you also do not need anybody’s permission, not your parents, not your brother – think about this – not even your husband’s permission. You just have to become a jihadi, and that is exactly what 15 years later the Chechen Black Widows will do in Moscow and Beslan. They will become holy warriors.

The third individual is our favorite HVT, our favorite high value target, today the current head of al-Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahiri, again an Egyptian, from a very, very prominent Cairo family, an M.D., a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood seemed to be too soft for him, so he becomes a part and parcel of the leadership of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ). He is arrested by the Egyptians, tortured, kept in prison, and then released in 1982.

What does he do in ’82? He immediately leaves Egypt and goes to Pakistan. And who does he meet in Pakistan? UBL. Zawahiri brings EIJ’s concept of fighting the near enemy, fighting the president of Egypt, to Bin Laden’s Wahhabi fighting the far enemy doctrine, and together, the meeting of those two individuals, creates the modern Al Qaeda.

He becomes Bin Laden’s deputy, and in preparation for 9/11, he writes a kind of memoir called Knights Under The Prophet’s Banner, knights with a K. It is also on the CD, as is the fatwa from Azzam. And the book is sent to an Arab newspaper in London, and he says to them, something big is going to happen in September, [and] when it does, you might want to publish my book. After 9/11, of course, the newspaper does so. The book has a very simple message: we are the Warriors of Allah. We are going to win. We have already destroyed one superpower. Now we are going to destroy the Zionist Crusaders. You can be on our side, or you can lose.

[It is] a very simple message, beautifully succinct I.O. campaign.

The last person I cannot provide a photograph [for] because he is a rather elusive individual. [He] is Brigadier S.K. Malik of the Pakistani Army. This man is more important than all of the others combined. If you only read one book on the CD, you need to read the good general’s book. Again in 1979, he publishes a book called The Qur’anic Concept of War. There is no book like this in Western military art anywhere.

The book has three messages. Number one, he completely rejects the Clausewitzian interpretation of war, so remember Clausewitz said war is just politics with guns. It is what countries do to realize their interests when all else fails. Malik, the general in Pakistan, says wrong, war has nothing to do with the realization of the interests of any nation-state. In fact, it has nothing to do with any nation-state. Why? Because the nation-state is a heretical invention of the infidel. We do not believe in nation states. We believe in [the] caliphate. As a result, war can only ever have one purpose, the realization of Allah’s sovereignty on this planet, period. War can only ever serve the realization of God’s sovereignty on this planet.

The second message from the book, again a repudiation of Clausewitz, as well as [Antoine-Henri] Jomini, remember – I am sure you have all had this everywhere, not just in the West, even in Asia, in China, in Russia. To teach the concept of center of gravity analysis, you look at the enemy, you do your IPV, you do your intelligence preparation for the battlefield. And what are you looking for? Key vulnerabilities, centers of gravity. If you hit them hard enough, the enemy is going to crumble. Resupply routes, communication links, whatever it is.

General Malik says there is no such thing as multiple centers of gravity in warfare. In fact, there is no such thing as a physical target in COG analysis. There is only one COG in war, and it is not even a physical target. The only center of gravity that matters is the soul of your enemy. You must convert or kill them, period. As a result, this is the last part of the book, the scariest part that connects it directly to September 11th, General Malik says since the soul is the only time that man is at warfare, the most efficacious mode of war is to use terror. Events like September the 11th are the most effective way to defeat your enemy. This is why this book is so important.

Now, it would be nice if you could say this is just one disgruntled Brigadier [who] did not get enough of a pension, and he is just, you know, some wacky, fringe personality. Unfortunately, we cannot dismiss this book. If you look at the PDF, you will instantly see two things on the contents page. The forward to the book was written, and it completely endorses everything in the book and says yes, jihad is an obligation of all Muslims, and I endorse everything in this book, is signed by Mr. [A.K.] Borhi. Mr. Borhi was the former Pakistani ambassador to India, and at the time of the book’s publication, was the equivalent of the Attorney General of Pakistan, endorsing the concept that terrorism is the only way to go to war.

More problematic is who wrote the introduction, a long introduction, again endorsing all the aspects of this book. He actually says jihad is not just an obligation of those who are in uniform but [of] all Muslims. That introduction was signed by General Zia-ul-Haq. General Zia-ul-Haq had been the commander of all Pakistani Armed Forces, who just before the book was published had executed a nice little coup, and was, in fact, the President of Pakistan.

So this is analogous to after the briefing today, after you go back to the hotel, going out to Books-A-Million, walking in there, seeing a book on the table written by Admiral Olson, General Mattis, pick a general, with a forward by Eric Holder, and an introduction by Barack Obama. That would not be a fringe book. This is not a fringe book, and of course, it has been captured on the persons of numerous HVTs in Afghanistan and elsewhere. This is a crucial book to understanding the enemy.

Okay, but have a look at the PDFs yourselves. So I said there would be a little bit of IW theory. Do not worry, it is just one slide. Let me explain to you what I meant by that bullet of AQ moving from Focoist to Maoist IW.

As you have all learned, as you all have been told, if you want to be an insurgent, if you want to do irregular warfare, there are only really two schools of how to do it. There is what Che [Guevara] said you have to do, and there is what Mao said you have to do. Che’s conceptualization is called focoist, from the Spanish for the focal point, for the individual, center. The individual insurgent leader is the catalyst for mobilization. He goes out into the hinterland. He has got his very cool Harley, right, his nice berets, you know, flowing locks. And by his personal example, the people look at him and say, wow, I want to be like him, I want to join the revolution. That is the focoist, the focal point where the individual leader is the catalyst of mobilization.

Mao said something very different. His conceptualization is, of course, people’s war. How does people’s war work? He said it is not enough for you to be a symbolic head, you have to build cadre. You have to go out into the villages. You have to have people who use propaganda, who use doctrine to mobilize and recruit. You have to provide services, health clinics, clean water, schools. It is like what Hamas does. You have to go out there and build the counter state if you wish to beat the government; top-down Che, bottom-up Mao.

Now of course, in the history of modern IW, only one of these is correct. Which one is it? He may be cool on all the t-shirts, [but] the short, fat dude is, in fact, the only guy who understands IW, right? He died the loser aged 39. How did that guy end up dying? He died in his bed aged 79 [as] the Premier of China. How is that for a metric for IW success? This guy, [Che Guevara], is a loser. This guy, [Mao Zedong], gets it.

Now, why do these two schools of theory matter? For one very interesting reason. You can make a pretty good argument that this man, UBL, was, in fact, a Guevarist. Think of the nature of 9/11. What was 9/11 supposed to be? I managed to hit the economic, the military, and the political heart of the Great Satan, and that will be a catalytic moment, and the whole ummah will rise up in revolution, right? That was his attempt to create a revolution around the world against the infidel in one moment. And of course, he was wrong and it failed, thank God.

However, if you look at what has happened in the last 12 years, if you look at the discussions on the closed chat rooms of the jihadi websites, you will see some very interesting things occur, which proves that the enemy always gets a vote, and the enemy learns. There are other groups out there that share the ideology of al-Qaeda, but are, in fact, Maoist and are much better at indirect war and IW. The most important of them is, of course, the Muslim Brotherhood. Remember what is their goal? Recreating the caliphate. What is AQ’s goal? Recreating the caliphate. How interesting!

I will talk about the Brotherhood just for a second. The Brotherhood is a very slippery organization. Think about it. It has existed for over 80 years. It has been persecuted. It has had its key members assassinated. It has been made illegal in numerous countries, but it is still around, and look at what it has been doing in the last two years in North Africa and the Middle East. The Brotherhood, to survive, has had to create built-in redundancies and hyper flexibility. One of the consequences of that is that it has a duality in its command structure.

Muhammad Morsi, the President of Egypt, is, in fact, really a front man. He is a nobody. He is a bit like Ahmadinejad in Iran. Why? Because the Brotherhood always has a second level of command and control, which is led by somebody who is not Morsi but the individual who holds the title of Supreme Guide. Currently, the Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood is this man, Mohammed Badie. And whose hand is he shaking? The most senior diplomat in the United States until recently, Secretary Clinton, not long before the first ever free elections in Cairo, so we are giving a lot of face time to the head of the organization created after Atatürk dissolved the caliphate.

Now, what is really interesting is we were talking about Al Jazeera in the break. Al Jazeera English is very different from Al Jazeera Arabic. If you speak Arabic and you watch that TV show, you will not recognize that these are being created by the same team because Al Jazeera English says one thing, [and] Al Jazeera Arabic has a very different message. [It is] exactly the same with the Brotherhood.

In a newspaper interview in Cairo just a matter of weeks before the first ever free elections in Egypt, this man said something that funnily enough was never translated into English, or never made it into The New York Times or The Washington Post, so days before the first ever elections, he said the following two sentences in Arabic to his audience. “The caliphate is now possible. The caliphate is now imminent.” And who won the elections? The Brotherhood. Seventy percent of the seats a few weeks later went to the Brotherhood and the Salafists who are even worse than the Brotherhood.

What we see is that AQ is learning from these people, that there is more than one way to catch a mouse, to skin a cat, and you do not have to go full force kinetic up front. You can go around and use economic warfare, other warfare, and you can use elections to get where you want to go. Okay, so that is theory.

Clausewitz versus Irregular Warfare

That is something from an article I wrote in JFQ about a year ago. It is kind of my take on why Clausewitz is important but why his trinity has to be reassessed. So if you remember Clausewitz said this is how war works. There are three types of actors. There is the government, there is the people, and there is the military commander, and each one of them is typified by a characteristic. The government is rational. It decides why to go to war. The citizen has a passion, a hatred of the enemy, that you leverage. And who is the master of using that passion? The commander because he has the skill. He knows how to apply it. He knows how to penetrate the fog of war and overcome friction.

What I think bears considering is do not throw Clausewitz out the window but think about his trinity in a more mobile fashion because today, the kinds of people we are fighting, whether it is Al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, AQAP or others, they still have three main constituents, but you need to replace the labels because it is not the government, it is ideologues. It is strategists like Azzam, like Malik, and they are not interested in rationale. What is their argument? Truth, they are fighting for truth, for God’s sovereignty. They have global sympathizers, not just a population delimited by a border. They look at Al Qaeda’s capacity to recruit people from and around the planet. And then we have down here Nonstate Commander but a Nonstate Threat Group.

Also, what the blue stripes indicate is that you can move from one corner of the trinity to another. Look at UBL himself. What was UBL over the last 30 years until we got him? Which part of the triangle did he fit in? In the 1980s, what was he? He was actually a field commander, a pretty crappy one but he was a field commander. He fought in Afghanistan, but then what did he become? An ideologue, a strategist, and an I.O. guy, so the trinity for the enemy is not carved in stone. They have flexibility, that is the only point we are really trying to make with that reassessment.

So What?

Okay, so let us summarize, the ‘so what question,’ how does this matter? Number one, Afghanistan and Iraq-type missions will not be replaced by big war. If you look at the data, IW will persist. The missions you gentlemen will have will not disappear even after we leave Afghanistan. Classic COIN doctrine is very limited in helping us in today’s theater. I can talk about that at length, why FM 324 is not really helpful. The war will persist to be connected in specific theaters. However, the enemy has learned and is shifting to a non-kinetic and indirect mode of warfare. AQ is learning from people like the MB, and the MB may be even more dangerous than AQ has been in the past. Our enemy does not believe in Clausewitz. That should not shock you.

And we need to focus on the nature of the threat group, why they fight, who they are, and not trendy theories of war. You have all heard them, asymmetric, fourth generation, hybrid. They are all Bravo Sierra, all of them, because the Taliban fighter does not wake up in the morning and say hmm, today I think I will be a fourth-generation fighter. No, no, no, will I be a hybrid? It is rubbish. He fights to express his identity, not just to realize concrete goals, and we need to appreciate that, the ideational aspect of war. And lastly, listen to what the enemy says if you want to know what they are doing.

We had Greater Clarity Eight Years Ago

Okay, so to cap it let me just share with you a sentence and then I will open for Q&A. The 9/11 Commission Report is a surprisingly good document. It is very candid. It is very honest. Yes, it is 600 pages long, but the 20-page executive summary is something you should consider reading. It is unclassified, it is on the net. I would just pull out one sentence for you to look at. Remember this was a document written by Democrats and Republicans together. It is not a political document. And eight years ago, when it was published, note what we understood eight years ago.

We as a nation have to defeat an ideology.

It is very hard to do that with direct action or with Reaper strikes. How do you kill an ideology with a kinetic application of force? [It is] almost impossible. Kinetic applications are not irrelevant, but they have to be added to the counter ideological part of the campaign, as well.

One Enemy: One Goal

Everything I have said, all the materials I have given you, can be summed up in that one slide that you will not hear very frequently in this city. The fact is this is our 25-meter target. This is what we obsess about day and night, the violent jihadists. We want to prevent another 9/11, another Fort Hood. We want to stop the IED from being detonated, whatever it is. We are obsessed with the kinetic. The reality is there is another group of people out there who outnumber the kinetic jihadists by a factor of a thousand, the non-violent jihadists. And we seem to say only these people matter, and these people are okay because they have not picked up a gun yet.

But what links them? They are one threat group. Why? Because their strategic intent, their objective, is the same. Both Al-Qaeda and non-kinetic jihadists, like the Brotherhood, wish to create undemocratic theocracies around the globe, and that is why we need to appreciate them as members of the same threat group.


If you want to dig deeper, if you are working on your Amazon Christmas list, I can recommend a couple of unpleasant bedtime readings for you. My Bible that sits next to my bed to understanding the enemy is this book. If you really want to get inside the head of AQ, Global Jihad by Patrick Sookhdeo is worth the $15 dollars just for the first appendix.

Then there is this book I wrote with my colleagues in DOD, which is a practitioners’ guide to CT and COIN. And lastly, to those of you who really want to get into the I.O./psyops aspects of this, my wife’s organization here at Westminster just published this book called Fighting the Ideological War, and what we did was we collected the best brains from the Cold War that had defeated a communist ideology, and we locked them in the room with today’s best experts on jihadi ideology. And we told them, you defeated the Soviet Union, you understand AQ, work out a game plan to defeat them. This is what they came up with.

Both Global Jihad and Ideological War are available here, and if you are interested, you can sign up at Westminster for the distribution list of their reports on understanding the enemy that come out every now and again. Okay, that is me. If you want to continue offline, there is my Gmail. Check out, and we have got about 15 minutes for any questions.