The international situation proves we are losing the war on terror, by failing to define the enemy and ignoring the battle ground. Western leader must acknowledge reality. Indeed, one of the wonders of human nature is how leaders transform information into knowledge, or perhaps better, how they disregard the hazards by ignoring, using mental agnosia, and appeasing. This politicians’ illness, the oblivion of reality, is pervasive, and “war on terrorism” has become a favorite slogan.
However, it is not only naïve, but also stupid as much as criminal to declare ‘we are at war with terrorism,” “we must fight terrorism.” We are not. We are at war with Islamic ideology, because Muslim groups and organizations has declared war against all other civilizations. Terrorism is a tactic, a means; one cannot be at war with a tactic, as if during WWII, the US went to war against the ‘Blitzkrieg’ or ‘Kamikaze.’
Those days, the free world was not afraid to clearly declare it is at war against Nazi Germany and Japan. Nowadays our leaders are afraid, terrorized, and intimidated, and that is why they even do not say ‘Islamic terrorism.’ Oddly enough they immediately reiterate that Islam is a peaceful and compassionate religion, and even that al-Qaeda and the Islamic Caliphate State are not Islamic. However, Islamic ideology is the only reason, the incentive, the motivation, and the only cause of the free world’s severe hazardous situation.
It is ridiculous to define the enemy as ‘al-Qaeda’ or ‘Islamic Caliphate State’ or ‘Taliban’ or ‘Hamas’ or ‘Hezbollah’ – and at the same time to “set free” the motivational force, the political drive of Islamic ideology to occupy the world. It is illogical let alone futile, not to courageously define the enemy, the rival you fight against. In World War II the Free World fought Nazi Germany and Japan on the international level. The aim was not the 16th German Armor Division or the 45th Japanese Regiment. Our leaders should loud and clear declare that we are fighting against Islamic ideology, Islamic ambitions to occupy the world. Our leaders must clearly assert that we are fighting against the ideology of Islam manifested in a tactical level as terrorism, Jihad, which knows no country and recognizes no borders. Our leaders must clearly establish that we are fighting against a world political movement, an imperialist colonialist political religion that seeks to submit and subdue us all and bring us to their 7th century desert.
In his Art of War, Sun Tzu remarks, “He who knows neither self nor enemy will fail in every battle.” This is exactly the contemporary Western world situation. It exhibits a catastrophic failure because it knows neither self nor enemy and stands as helpless as a kitten against the onslaught of Islam’s aggressive, political, ideological and territorial offensive. Where is the problem? It is exactly our leaders, our media, and academia. One can never awaken a man who is pretending to be asleep. One can never arouse a man who lives in utopian wishful world, and clearly denies the situation, and it is even unfortunate that one cannot bring knowledge to those who are in mental agnosia and ignorance. It is no less important to note that the conclusions we reach reflect the assumptions we make. Start with false assumptions and you reach false conclusions. Start with euphoric assumptions and you reach false peaceful conclusions.
However, data assembled from all reliable sources show that more than 70 percent of world violence and more than 90 Percent of world terrorism is connected directly to Muslims and Islamic ideology. Horrific data taken for more than twenty years also show that every minute there is at least one victim from the Muslims worldwide, most of them are Muslims by themselves. In 2015 there were 452 homicide bombings; all of them were Islamic. This date is crystal clear: the issue at stake is the Islamic ideology, and from here stem the targets and the means.
However, do our leaders really intend to combat Islamic terrorism to eliminating it, or perhaps they intentionally evade the issues by not truly defining it correctly? It is unfortunate to realize that the most salient characteristics of our generation is the deep crisis of leadership and the lake of statesmanship. It is pervasive and cut across all over the world. An accumulation of President Bush’s declarations show that he has never added the word “Arab” to terrorism, and when he said “Islamic terrorism,” he immediately adds that Islam is a peace-loving compassionate religion. Is it only a politically correctness? A denial? An ignorance? President Obama has adopted a worse policy: it is forbidden to put together “Islamic” with “terrorism;” it is imposed to utter that Islam is a “religion of peace;” and it is coerced to declare that al-Qaeda or the Islamic Caliphate State are nor Islamic movements, in fact they are anti Islam.
After London blasts of July 2005, British Prime Minister, and in many declarations, Tony Blair denounced “terrorism” and not “Islamic ideology. He persistently accused poverty, wretchedness and Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the causes of terrorism, while systematically said Islam is a religion of peace and the Qur’an is the book of wisdom. Almost the same ritual was reiterated by British Prime Minister David Cameron, the new elected Canadian Prime Minister, Trudeau, and even by the current Pope who declared that Islam “exemplifies shared belief of Christianity.”
The riots that erupted in France from the beginning of the 21st century, gives another example to the politics of oblivion and mental agnosia so characterizes Western leadership. Even the terrorist attacks in Paris, in 2015 and 2016, has not caused a strategic change in the operational code of the ideology and policy of France. Experts who watched closely these phenomena are amazed by the fact that also the reality of Muslims’ character and nature is distinct and obvious, there was consensus in France as much as in other states, among political leader and parties, the media and public opinion to deny the true reality that there was religious and cultural dimensions.
However, The folly of mental blindness and appeasement prevails, and hypocrisy combined with ignorance and political correctness, runs rampant: indeed, there are extreme verses as much as there are mild in the Qur’an, and this duality is found in every religion; and indeed, there are radicals among the Muslims just as in all societies, but they are just a minority, even weeds. The Muslim majority is different. However, this is the problem with all its severity, to be investigated by the following questions:
If that is the true situation – how do we know this? Are there any corroborating studies and data to substantiate this view? Or we only believe this is the reality? Even if a different peace-loving majority exists, is its voice heard? Does it have any influence in the decision-making processes and the policies adopted by the leaders? Or is it only in our mirror imaged personality? Where is public opinion voice, the political parties, the media, the leaders which prove there are other voices and policies? Or we just assume this is the situation?
How many peace movements, demonstrations and masses marching and rolling for peace and against terrorist perpetrators can be identified? Was any terrorist attack stopped or even just even denounced by the so-called majority? Or is it our own imagination alone? How many pressure and interest groups are there which actively function against Islamic fanaticism and Jihad terrorism? And if they do, to what extent do they influence? Or we just ignore reality out of politically correctness? How many NGO’s are there acting against the terrorist organizations and preventing aid from their reach? Do they even try to stop terrorism and convince it is act against humanity? Or we just want to believe that there are such? If there are moderate peace-loving political leaders, where are they? What influence do they have? Is their voice heard? What do they declare after the horrible acts of terrorism perpetuated, except of blaming the US and Israel? Or is it all our mental blindness and political denial?
Indeed, there are intellectuals and liberals, unfortunately very few, condemning the atrocious terrorist acts. However, who controls the Islamic communities and in the streets? Which voice is heard and is written in the communication Media? Who is more influential and admired by the youth; in the Madaris (school system)? In the mosques and in the media? Who are the heroes of the masses? And the biggest wonder of all, why do we always supply excuses and explanations to the horrific phenomenon we don’t understand culturally and ignorant religiously, and at the same time we do not demand from the others to apologize and act? Or we just have a death wish? Do we ignore reality out of confusion or the Stockholm syndrome is the cause, or the threatening lethal situation that frightens and horrifies us so deeply?
And if there is a silent majority, Nonie Darwish is correct by putting the blame on their silent which in fact means aiding and abetting the culture of hate, terror and beheadings. Moreover, Western and public opinion leaders dismiss the role of the religion and its deep influence on the Muslims. This situation is much worse, since our leaders totally deny what the Islamic terrorist organization clearly utter: that we are in a third world war, and it is a religious war. The latest example among the huge pile of Western denial declarations was the State Department spokesman, John Kirby that the terrorist attack in Brussels in March 2016, “was not about a religion… we don’t believe that it is indicative in any way of the Muslim faith or the people who practice Islam as a religion.”
Although the Qur’an is written in parables and vague; in a language full of contradictions, so that different people can choose passages to justify anything they want, the Qur’anic religious, ideological and political passages are clear and its targets are laid down clearly, and it commands its believers to accomplish them by all means. The aim is to occupy the world and to make Islam the only legitimate religion. Still, Western and public opinion leaders are unintentionally assisting Islamic victory by failing to know how to fight the enemy; by the politics of denial and ignorance of postponing decisions and activity to eliminate the threat by the media and the legal system; and by using mental blindness and mirror image instead of courageous policy.
Republican Senator, Allen West, is correct by insisting that the U.S. must understand 21st-century combat.
Today’s paradigm of battle and combat operations is completely different and more complicated. The conventional wars we knew have completely disappeared for an asymmetrical battlefield with non-uniformed, non-state belligerents, using unconventional weapons and tactics. Every nation that wishes to succeed in protecting its citizens and interests must quickly understand and adapt to the new battlefield. For the sake of our nation, and of all nations who seek freedom for their citizens, we must clearly identify the 21st century battlefield and ensure we are victorious on it.
Therefore, it is a must to deny the enemy sanctuary. Because this enemy has no respect for borders or boundaries, we must be willing to take the fight directly to him. It means to cut off the enemy’s flow of men, material and resources, and cordon off the enemy to reduce his sphere of influence, by denying immigration, expelling the radical Imams, and demanding the Muslims’ assimilation and integration. Above all, it is a must to win the information war. Unfortunately, the enemy is far more adept at exploiting the power of the Internet, broadcast media and dissemination of powerful imagery. It is exacerbated by Western media, seeing itself as an ideological political wing or at best as a neutral body.
Until the Free World nations are able to correctly and openly identify the enemy, we will continue to stumble and fail, and Islam continues to prevail. Once we have identified the enemy and the specific strategic level objectives, we must effectively fight. We have to be mindful of the wise words compiled by Sun Tzu in his “The Art of War” more than 25 centuries ago: “to know your enemy and to know yourself and to know the environment and countless amounts of battles, you will always be victorious.” However, the Free World leaders’ ‘war on terrorism’ has been exactly the opposite, as one cannot fight the means, but must fight by all means the perpetrator. There are still those who declare “the only way to defeat terrorism is to ignore it; as if it will disappear by itself. However, it is so crazy, meaning exactly to dance with death.
With Obama’s administration the situation has even worsen, as it is impossible to formally utter ‘Islamic terrorism’ together. There is Islam which is a religion of peace and compassion, and terrorism, which is al-Qaeda. Even the Taliban, the richest terrorist organization, is not completely a terrorist. It is even forbidden to use terms like ‘fighting jihadists,’ because ‘Jihad’ means to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal.’ Those who do not agree with the administration show ‘inflammatory rhetoric, hyperbole, and intellectual narrowness.’
Continuing these lines, John Kasich said after the Brussels massacre: “We are not at war with Islam; we’re at war with radical Islam.” This is really a willful blindness that goes on after the Paris and Brussels Islamic terrorist attacks. Daniel Benjamin, former State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, has essentially declared, what happened in Brussels is really just about Europe. It has nothing to do with the US; it can’t happen here. With all due respect any logical assessment must emphatically disagree. He is absolutely mistaken. Americans should fear exactly that.
Richard Perle said that the US administration “should keep eye on radical mosques,” and he two is wrong. All over the Free World’s governments should keep thousands of eyes on each and every mosque and directly monitor all Muslim Imams. It is a must. Everything begins with them, from radicalization to legitimization, and at the end of the continuum, the performance and execution of terrorist attacks.
There is also the case of Western media, its agenda is unfortunately different from the best interests of Western security. Perhaps it is the right time to demand the media just to tell the truth. After reporting the Brussels massacre, the media in the US was very busy with the probability of the “rise of the right wing in Europe.” The cover story was “terrorism;” not Islamic terrorism. The debates on the TV’s did not deal with the issues of Islam, they have given the audience an ample time to listen to Islamic and Western propagandists to exhibit a peaceful compassionate Islam. For the media, ‘the right wing’ is the problem and not Islamic atrocities.
There are so many issues to consider: the coercive terrorism-Jihad, exhibited as homicide bombings, beheadings, lynching. Hatred Terrorism, exhibited by violent demonstrations, Western women rapes, and rioting. Demography terrorism, mass immigration of young and able Muslims representing the arrow-head and forefront of Muslims to occupy and inherit. Deceiving terrorism–Da’wah: exhibited by NGO’s and organization acting legally and politically as interest and pressure groups. They use the ignorance of Western world public opinion to market totally different kind of Islam, as if it is a peaceful, tolerant, and compassionate.
There are more: Judicial terrorism. Through the NGO’s and other organizations, Muslims excel in suing and bringing to court according to Western legal system and laws anyone they blame of insulting them or insulting Islam according to their own judgment. This is very articulate and beneficial strategy: on the one hand they use hideous terrorism, and on the other, anyone who calls the spade, a spade is harassed and summoned to court. “Legal Jihad” is exploiting every provision of the law in free societies to promote Islam and to silence its critics through expensive exhausting lawsuits. There is also cultural terrorism: Western peoples wish to appear liberals, and not to be called racists or fascists. This is the course mainly in Europe, especially after its colonial past and the horrors of the two World Wars of the 20th century. Therefore, by violently intimidating and accusing all those who say anything against Islam, Muslims define him a racist, an Islamophobe, and a liar. They highly succeed in silencing out of intimidation, even forcing Western politicians to apologize and to make concessions.
There is also the academic terrorism. The most important case belongs to Edward Said, and his so-called “research,” Orientalism. He deliberately used West’s guilt remorse of the colonialist-imperialist era to produce a full of twisted ideas book, which is promoted by the leftist’s ignorant in the academia to dance on Western sensibilities. Reality shows: accuse the Europeans with anything, just don’t call them racists or fascists. The Muslims have taken the advantage and yield concessions and appeasement from Westerners by using their historic cultural invention of victimology and misery. This has also a direct link to displacement-transference terrorism, accusing Israel with all Muslims’ evil, describing it as a danger to world peace.
However, Arab-Muslims commit all these atrocities. This is exactly Islamic history represented by two words: Ghazawat (raids) on the infidels’ lands and Ghana’em (taking booty) from them. But it is washed away from world public opinion and attention by ignorance, promoted by the media in association with the academia. Indeed, the Middle East is an unprecedented greenhouse of conspicuous vicious trends, exemplifying the epitome of evil: politically, dictatorship of Arab-Islamic authoritarian regimes and corrupt patrimonial leadership; socially, poverty, wretchedness, and coercion of the miserable population (being the main reason for the huge mass-immigration to the Western countries); morally-ethically, murderous regimes that brutalize its peoples, with politics of mass-murder, genocide; abuse of human and civil rights; oppression of women and honor killings; lynching and beheadings that still exists and pervasive.
It is highly recommended to change our perceptions of Islamic ideology and practice: that the Free World is already engaged in the Third World War declared by Islam more than twenty years ago, That it is an existential civilization threat, no less hazardous than the enemies of World War II, but Western leaders do not yet grasp this to fight back. That although this is not a declared war between states, its consequences are no less lethal to the Free World’s existence. That terrorism perpetrators are perhaps not the tyrants of the past, but the new tyranny World Jihad much more lethal. That not like the ideological wars of the past, World Jihad’s ideology is religiously fanatic being without compromise and appeasement. That we are witnessing raids of terrorism and slaughter by fanatics determined to destroy Western culture and intended to bring our civilization back to their 7th century.
Oriana Fallaci, the late Italian intellectual, one of the earlier prophets concerning Islam, has put the mired lethal situation of the Western World perhaps the best in context. Her words were a warning signpost, a wake-up call, Western leaders did not want to listen even to notice:
Wake up people, wake up. Paralyzed by the fear of appearing racist, you do not understand that the reverse crusade has commenced. Drugged by the stupidity or by shortsightedness of the adherents of political correctness, you do not internalize that a religious war is transpiring here. A war, whose objective is to conquer our souls and rob our freedoms. A war conducted with the goal of destroying our civilization and our way of life.
Stunned by the preponderance of false propaganda, you do not want to get it into your heads that if we do not defend ourselves, if we do not battle, jihad will win. It will win and destroy the world which we were able to build. It will make our culture and identity disappear.
Debating them is pointless; conducting a dialogue with them is useless; and demonstrating tolerance towards them is suicide. How is it that leftists never open their mouths against the Muslim world’s primitive, theocratic regimes, which have no democracy, no freedoms and no individual rights? Why were we killed and die in wars declared against the enemies of freedom and civilization? Are these principles invalid to the despotic Islamic regimes?
Enough of your double standards of morality; enough of your opacity; enough of your hypocrisy. Crickets of all countries and languages stop the confusion and start along the path to sobriety. The mountain of Islam has not moved for 1400 years; a mountain that consciously opts for primitiveness and ignorance and is ruled by fanatics. Europe is becoming a province of Islam.
Islamic State threat moves online, expands across Africa
Two decades after the 11 September terrorist attacks in New York, terror networks Al-Qaida and Islamic State – also known as Da’esh – continue to pose a grave threat to peace and security, adapting to new technologies and moving into some of the world’s most fragile regions, the top UN counter-terrorism official told the Security Council on Thursday.
UN counter-terrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the threats posed by terrorist groups, saying that Da’esh continues to exploit the disruption, grievances and development setbacks caused by the pandemic to regroup, recruit new followers and intensify its activities – both online and on the ground.
“Today, we face transnational terrorist threats like Da’esh and Al-Qaida that are enduring and able to adapt to new technologies, but also expanding to include individuals and groups that commit terrorist attacks connected to xenophobia, racism and other forms of intolerance”, said Mr. Voronkov.
The UN counter-terrorism architecture, largely set up in the wake of the 9/11 attack, helps Member States implement effective frameworks to prevent, address, investigate and prosecute acts of terrorism.
It is also ramping up efforts to help countries adapt to the rapidly changing nature of the threat, which has become more digital and de-centralized in recent years.
Noting that the world is currently witnessing a rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan “which could have far-reaching implications” around the globe, he cited Da’esh’s expanded presence in that country and pointed out that several members of the Taliban have been designated as terrorists by the Security Council.
“We will need to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used as launching pad for global terrorism“, stressed the UN official.
He briefed the Council on the eve of the fourth commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism, observed annually on 21 August.
Islamic State in Africa
While Da’esh remains focused on reconstituting its capabilities in Iraq and Syria, Mr. Vornkov said the most alarming development in recent months is the group’s relentless spread across the African continent.
The so-called “Islamic State in the Greater Sahara” has killed several hundred civilians since the start of 2021 in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, while the group’s “West Africa Province” will likely gain from the weakening of Boko Haram, with additional spillover of terrorists and foreign fighters from Libya.
Meanwhile, the expansion of Da’esh in Central Africa – and especially in northern Mozambique – could have far-reaching implications for peace and security in the region.
“A global response is urgently needed to support the efforts of African countries and regional organizations to counter terrorism and address its interplay with conflict, organized crime, governance and development gaps”, said Mr. Voronkov.
Repatriating women and children
Alongside Da’esh’s expansion in Africa and its rapid shift online, Mr. Voronkov also cited the continued detention of thousands of individuals with alleged links to terrorist groups as another factor exacerbating the threat.
Deteriorating conditions in detention facilities and displacement camps in northeast Syria, in particular, are serving as a rallying cry for terrorist activities. They have already fuelled instances of terrorist radicalization, fund-raising, arms smuggling, training and incitement to terror.
Against that backdrop, he echoed calls from officials across the UN for Member States to voluntarily repatriate all concerned individuals, with a particular focus on children.
In September, the Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will jointly launch a global framework to support countries requesting assistance with protection, voluntary repatriation, prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals with suspected links to designated terrorist groups returning from Iraq and Syria.
The framework has already been deployed in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Taliban and Al Qaeda: Putting a fox in charge of the chicken coop?
Abu Omar Khorasani was taken from Kabul’s Pul-i-Charkhi prison and unceremoniously shot.
The first and only person to have been executed since the Taliban gained full control of Afghanistan, Mr. Khorasani was the head of the Islamic State in South Asia until he was arrested by government forces last year.
The precise circumstances of his execution are not known. His killing was, however, at least in part designed to send a message to the international community, and particularly Afghanistan’s neighbours, including China and Iran, as well as Russia, Central Asia’s security overlord.
The message was that the Taliban were cracking down on foreign jihadists and militants in Afghanistan.
Mr. Khorasani was an easy symbol. The Taliban and the Islamic State, whose ranks of foreigners are primarily populated by Pakistanis and a sprinkling of Central Asians, Uighurs, Russians, Turks, Iranians, Indonesians, Indians, and Frenchmen, have long been adversarial. The Islamic State recently accused the Taliban of being more nationalist than pious in their negotiations with the United States.
The Taliban message is a partial truth at best. What is true for the Islamic State is not true for Al–Qaeda and others such as the Uighur Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The Taliban appear to believe that they can get away with the differentiation because they perceived the United States as more focused in the withdrawal negotiations on ensuring that the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and other militants will not be allowed to use Afghanistan as a base for international operations rather than on getting them expelled from the country.
The perceived US focus may have been rooted in a concern that if Taliban’s hands were forced, they would let militants slip out of the country and not hand them over to authorities. That would make it difficult to control their movements or ensure that they are either entered into deradicalization programs or, if warranted, brought to justice.
“It’s a Catch-22. The Taliban ensuring that Al Qaeda sticks to rule risks putting a fox in charge of the chicken coop. How much better that is than having foxes run wild remains to be seen,” said a retired counter-terrorism official.
Officials of the Trump administration that negotiated the agreement suggest that the continued presence of Al-Qaeda and other militants in Afghanistan would violate the accord with the Taliban.
Former Vice President Mike Pence as well as Trump era State Department counterterrorism coordinator Nathan Sales argued that the deal “required the Taliban…to refuse terrorists safe harbour.”
Russia and China, while publicly more measured in their statements, are likely to share western concerns. Russia held military drills earlier this month with Tajik and Uzbek troops in Tajikistan, 20 kilometres from the border with Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda may have been boosted in recent weeks by multiple prison breaks in which the Taliban freed operatives of Al-Qaeda and other militant groups. It remains unclear however to what degree the breaks will help the group strengthen its presence in Afghanistan.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned this week that al Qaeda and the Islamic State could quickly rebuild their networks in Afghanistan.
The United Nations recently reported that Al-Qaeda “is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces”, and that its affiliate in the Indian subcontinent, “operates under Taliban protection from Kandahar, Helmand and Nimruz provinces.”
“Without information on who exactly escaped, it is difficult to determine whether historically significant figures remain within AQ’s AfPak network, or if it is mainly composed of newer figures these days, whether local or regional foreign fighters,” cautioned political violence scholar Aaron Y. Zelin. Mr. Zelin was referring to Al-Qaeda’s Afghanistan-Pakistan network.
Also unclear is whether Al-Qaeda operatives in Iran will be allowed to relocate to Afghanistan.
The prison breaks further go to concerns about relying on the Taliban to police jihadists and other militants with aspirations beyond Afghanistan’s borders. Of particular concern is the fact that the balance of power has yet to be determined between Taliban leaders who in recent days have been eager to put a more moderate, accommodating foot forward with security guarantees for their opponents, minorities and women and the group’s far-flung less polished rank and file.
The concern about the Taliban’s ability and willingness to control militant activity on Afghan soil is magnified by worry regarding the continued existence of warlords with the power to organise violence, provide jobs and public services, and forge or strengthen ties with militants.
“Warlords will play an active role in the future of Afghanistan. They will remain businessmen and political leaders, connected to global economic processes and networks. They will develop the military power that they need to control territory and wage war. They will, finally, continue to fight for more autonomy and, in some cases, might even manage to partially form their old regional polities once again,” said Romain Malejacq, author of a book on Afghan warlords.
“Afghanistan’s availability as a sanctuary for terrorists is, to say the least, related to its status as a warlord-ridden wasteland,” said journalist and author Graeme Wood.
The Taliban’s refusal to expel militants not only complicates the group’s efforts to garner legitimacy in the international community and particularly its neighbours, even if Al-Qaeda has been significantly weakened since 9/11 and is less focussed on attacking the United States and more on the Muslim world.
It also strengthens those who fear that Afghanistan will again emerge as a launching pad for trans-national political violence. “We are going to go back to a pre-9/11 state—a breeding ground for terrorism,” warned Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican member of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee. “They (the Taliban) will not restrict terrorist groups, just ask them to operate low-key,” added Douglas London, a former head of CIA counterterrorism operations for South and Southwest Asia.
The Taliban proved already 20 years ago that they valued loyalty when they rejected US and Saudi pressure to hand over Osama bin Laden no matter the cost. The Taliban have since come to appreciate Al Qaeda’s fighting skills and contributions to the Afghan militants’ cause.
Taliban fighters this week, in a violation of their pledge to inclusiveness, demonstrated their ideological anti-Shiite affinity with Al-Qaeda by blowing up a statue of Abdul Ali Mazari, a Shiite Hazara militia leader killed by the Taliban when they first took power in 1996.
Drones in the Hands of Terrorists: What Happens Then?
Ardian is a counter-terrorism researcher, lecturer and security analyst, with a field research experience in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Western Europe, the Balkans, Kenya, Somalia and Central Asia. Ardian is the co-founder and director of the American Counterterrorism Targeting and Resilience Institute (ACTRI), a U.S.-based research institute focused on studying translation left-wing, right-wing, and militant jihadi forms of political violence. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration.
Interviewed by Tatyana Kanunnikova.
What will be the role of drones in future terrorist attacks?
If we look at some of the most recent examples in Europe—for instance, the Gatwick Airport incident where drone sightings were reported—these led to a lot of confusion among airport officials as well as policymakers and law enforcement. In this specific case, we are talking about dozens of flights canceled, millions in costs for the airport as a result of the shutdown. We are also talking about the anti-drone technology that needs to be implemented by the airport, which translates into substantial financial costs. If we look at other places, such as active conflict areas, we’ll see that Houthi rebels used drones to target and assassinate Yemeni leaders and they were also striking key national infrastructure in places like Saudi Arabia. Even here, in the United States, sightings and illegal actions of drones flying over cities and close to government facilities in some cases speak to the fact that drone operations may be a thing in the future.
Here, in the United States, there are examples of individuals who have attempted or actively pursued ways to utilize remotely piloted aircraft or drone technology in general to cause harm to U.S. interests. For example, in 2012, a group of Virginia-based individuals, with direct or indirect affiliation with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based terrorist organization, sought to acquire this sort of technology for the terrorist group. In 2011, we had a U.S. national, who actually was a student at one of the reputable universities here in the United States and who plotted to pilot explosive-laden, remotely controlled planes and attack U.S. government facilities and military installations. If we look at the issue from this particular standpoint, there is potential for malicious use of drones in not only active conflict zones but also here in the West, which should not be overlooked.
In 2017, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that drones constituted an imminent terrorist threat to U.S. cities. Is this threat still considered imminent?
That is a good question and that has been part of the discourse here in the United States as well. The concern is that they come with a very low acquisition cost, which presents an opportunity to pursue that kind of technology to many groups, state and non-state actors, including private individuals. One can easily procure parts to build it. It does not require sophistication in terms of running the aircraft as well.
These are all areas of concern for officials and law enforcement, especially here in the West. While I would caution against labelling drone usage for malicious or harmful purposes as the most pressing threat in the West, one should still not discount the fact that local law enforcement and other entities may not be best positioned to counter the drone threat. They are not necessarily best equipped and staffed to adequately address such a threat. I would say it is one thing to confront or operate against drone threats in active conflict zones, where the military has the resources and the capability to address that kind of threat. Domestically, in the West in general, that could be an issue given that we arguably lack the sort of sophistication needed to detect, monitor, and counter drone threat at the local level, in our cities.
Are modern terror groups capable of modifying consumer drones to conduct improvised attacks?
Terrorist groups, especially those of the modern day, have been very capable of doing that. I have witnessed first-hand such cases during our research in Syria and Iraq. I’ve seen a number of modified consumer drones used by ISIS to target the Peshmerga in the North of Iraq, Iraqi security forces in Mosul and other places. From a structural standpoint, [ISIS] were known for their Phantom DJI models. They often utilized Styrofoam, a light, easily accessible, cheap material to build drones, as well as to modify and turn other drones into actual weapons. In many cases, we saw that they were able to mount certain amounts of IEDs or other explosive devices.
There was, of course, the ability to pursue that kind of technology given a low acquisition cost. One thing that we also see is the mimicry in the use of drone technology. For example, the drone technology that has been used by ISIS is being mimicked by ISIS affiliates in other parts of the world as well because, again, of the low acquisition costs and the ease with which it can be built.
What tactics and techniques do drone-using terrorist groups use?
From my personal research experience as well as experience in places like Syria and Iraq, the drone technology was primarily used to gain intelligence, for surveillance purposes. Drone usage has also proven powerful for propaganda purposes, namely imagery that was captured through drones and exploited for propaganda purposes. Of course, one must not overlook the military-strategic component, such as the ability to mount explosive devices and drop them onto enemies. It also serves to demonstrate “aerial power,” which comes, again, with a huge propaganda value that VE and terrorist groups have been able to put to use as well.
Another thing that we see, which is very interesting, is that the drone usage, especially as far as ISIS is concerned, has given them this opportunity to claim the alleged power and control not only on the ground but also in the airspace. This gives the illusion as though—especially as it [ISIS] started losing its controlled area in 2016-2017 and onwards—the drone operations afforded the group with this sort of aerial superiority, the operational capacity to penetrate into the airspace and attack enemy forces. This did give them [ISIS], from a propaganda perspective, a huge boost as well. And we have seen, for example, that ISIS would launch their drones laden with explosives into enemy lines, accompanied by other drones equipped to record such attacks, which was then shared via Telegram or other social media platforms utilized by ISIS for their propaganda purposes. As for the success of their drone-led attacks, it is really debatable; firstly, because they [ISIS] are only going to advertise their successes. We actually do not know much—at least publicly—about their downfalls or any limitations. Some of the images, if we look at some past attacks, in 2017, for example, when ISIS dropped several IEDs via drones onto the Syrian army base storing significant stashes of weapons in a stadium, showed significant damages to the Syrian military. But we do not know with certainty about their successes, the level of their success, as we often see what they choose to share on their media.
What we do know is that it is important for us to differentiate between terrorist groups or non-state actors that have utilized drones in a limited capacity and those that have active drone programs. If we look at organizations like Hezbollah (Kataib Hezbollah), Hamas, ISIS or even Houthis, they do have a record of successfully running drone programs, weaponized drone programs. In fact, these programs are sponsored by a state. For example, we know that Iran has played a significant role in sponsoring Hamas and Hezbollah’s use of drones, and so on. Again, when trying to differentiate where the drone threat might come from, it is important to understand the difference between the usage of drones by certain groups or entities in limited capacity versus those who have been running or supporting drone programs.
Are drones more likely to be used as means of transportation or as autonomous weapons?
In many cases, aside from the primary surveillance function, they have been utilized by terrorist groups as a means of transporting explosive and other materials from point A to point B. But as for the use of autonomous weapons, to my knowledge to date, to be able to drive this sort of autonomous drone weapons, they lack such a capability given that such drone technology needs to be accompanied with artificial intelligence. Most of these [drones] are programmed to, say, carry out attacks, drop a bomb, and so on. There has to be artificial intelligence incorporated with these autonomous weapons for them to be effective in other ways. But I have not seen this sort of technology, especially with ISIS. Perhaps, this could be the case with other groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
What targets would terrorists prioritize when conducting drone attacks?
As for the targets, what we have seen in places like Iraq and Syria, much of the drone strikes targeted, of course, the military, those perceived as enemy. As I mentioned earlier, in 2017, there was a highly publicized attack where ISIS dropped a significant number of explosives onto the Syrian army positions and weapons supply points. Attacks were also carried out against the Iraqi security forces during operations in Mosul. Surveillance function is an important component because it affords this sort of “pre-attack” planning ability to ISIS and other terrorist groups to better organize and coordinate their attacks. They would normally send out drones to collect information and then follow up with an attack, as is often the case. What we have seen is not only the use of drones for attack purposes but also the demonstration of power by sending many drones at the same time to create an illusion or perception that ISIS is capable of attacking with multiple drones and penetrating the enemy’s aerial space.
There is a nightmare scenario that small drones can be used to deliver chemical or biological agents in an attack. Or disperse deadly viruses over a public gathering place. Is it real?
In Iraq or Syria, where ISIS or other operating terrorist groups are involved, it is a matter of being able to gain access to chemical or biological weapons. It is not a far-fetched notion. And there are some examples of such incidents taking place. There were some efforts on the part of ISIS to deliver chemical, biological and other weapons of mass destruction via drones.
Are drone strikes effective against terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS? If yes, why?
As regards counterterrorism, if we ask government officials, they would argue that they are effective. The way to measure such effectiveness would be to look at how certain terrorist leaders—or those associated with terrorist actions at some level—have been targeted. Most recently, Qasim al-Raymi from al Qaeda in Yemen was killed via drones, so that was one measure of success. During the Obama administration, in Yemen alone, we had upwards of 1200 drone attacks targeting different militants. During President Trump, we delivered hundreds of attacks, specifically targeting militants in Yemen, Somalia and other places. In Pakistan alone, the drone targeting campaign lasted over 10 years. We also have the recent example where the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was targeted and killed via a drone strike.
But again, if we look at terrorist organizations as unified and cohesive organizations, then we could say that killing their leaders specifically should reduce terrorist attacks as well. But we also know that terrorist organizations are not cohesive or unified in many ways. In that regard, the effects of killing a terrorist leader become perplexing or complex. For example, when a terrorist leader is killed, in theory, it should lead to a situation where a terrorist group’s leadership and control is undermined. On the other hand, depending on who comes next in the line of succession, the successor may be more prone to violence.
It is a really complicated question. In retaliation, groups may also increase terrorist attacks against civilians. And we have also seen this in terrorist groups with centralized leadership. One must also consider drone attacks leading to civilian casualties and significant grievances. I conducted research with my colleagues in Somalia last year. And during the course of interviews, drone attacks were largely criticized and raised as the source of grievance by some, even leading to recruitment and joining Al Shabaab in some cases. Although those attacks were aimed at Al Shabaab leaders or affiliates, or ISIS operatives, grievances were raised that they did lead to civilian casualties as well.
What are the risks associated with drone operations? Are there ways to mitigate those risks? How do we prevent them?
Some drones can fly at a very high altitude, while some fly only at low altitudes, which can be problematic under either scenario. From an anti-drone technology standpoint, that becomes a problematic proposition and requires a better understanding of how drone technology may be applied in the future. But again, as I mentioned earlier in the example of drone sightings at the Gatwick airport, when it led to significant confusion and material damage, the same thing applies here [in the West] in local contexts because of the inability to fully grasp and understand this emerging technology, but we’re also talking about the need to counter that technology if deployed in cities or in other places where it could pose significant difficulties and strains, especially on local governments and law enforcement.
Last year, for the first time in history, drones autonomously attacked humans. According to the UN report, these drones were supplied by Turkey to the Libyan forces. Can machines be allowed to make their own decisions to kill or should autonomous drone attacks be banned?
I have not done much research on the topic, and I do not know if these autonomous attacks led to human casualties. If this is the case, that would change the course of how we understand autonomously driven objects, specifically as it relates to drones. As stated earlier, autonomous weapons, coupled with this sort of artificial intelligence, do make sense in some way, provided that humans exercise some level of control. We have to understand the decision-making process that goes into creating this sort of autonomous technology [drones].
We know from our research that we could feed a certain image to a drone, which would enable that particular drone to carry out an attack based on the image fed. Having said that, a slight change, modification, misreading of that image (or its pixels) by the drone could lead to significant errors in terms of targeting capabilities. The lack of human control may always pose a level of risk. Humans need to play a role in a drone’s “decision-making” process. If we look at other fields that utilize these autonomous technologies, like self-driving, autonomous vehicles (AV), one can find errors there as well. From such a perspective, that could be problematic as well. Also, the question is not only how they [autonomous drones] are used but also where and how many of them are used. If we are talking about an autonomous drone being utilized in certain operations, say in a conflict zone like Syria and against ISIS, it may lead to different outcomes as compared to, say, using them in non-conflict areas, in cities and where large segments of civilian population are present. The room for error is especially there in the case of the latter, when operating in spaces where civilians are present. Again, we do not know much [publicly] about this emerging technology, including their decision-making process, their objectives, how they operate in different geographic areas, etc. These are all questions we need to better understand and address.
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