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Strategies to Counter Armed Islamic Movements

It is an established fact that the nature of wars differs from time to time and place to place due to the varying nature of the parties involved and circumstances on the ground. During the last three decades we have seen numerous conflicts, each of which possesses unique features given the nature of the enemy, the battleground, and the tactics involved.

In this era, the battleground has expanded to include almost all areas where Muslims are present, whether as majorities or minorities. On the other hand, the aggressors include almost all major world powers and military alliances- America, Russia, NATO, Israel, India, and client states that belong to one camp or the other. This concentrated attack has also provided the aggressing states and organizations ample opportunity to coordinate their efforts and share their expertise. The current international environment therefore offers a wide array of options to work against revolutionary resistance or Jihadi movement (rebels or terrorists in the parlance of the aggressing states). This situation has made the current battle the most challenging one faced by Muslims in contemporary history.

The enemies have devoted considerable efforts to studying conflicts involving Islamic movements. It has been an ongoing process that has consumed time and energy for the enemy to arrive at a sound strategy and devise appropriate plans at the operational and tactical levels. The evolving tactics and ideological tendencies of the resistance have equally offered a complex challenge in terms of devising an adequate strategy that can provide the counter for the opponent’s strategy at each stage- from the moment an idea is conceived to its planning and implementation stages.

In this article, we shall provide a quick overview of some of the important strategies employed by the enemy in fighting armed Islamic movements with a view to disperse their strength, cripple the cadres’ will to fight and weaken the popular support base. These strategies are essentially of two types, one relying on the military muscle and the other on soft power.

Military Strategies:

We shall only highlight here some of the more frequently used strategies. Details may be covered in later posts.

  • Targeted areas are divided into different zones according to the resilience or weakness of the resistance. Military operations are concentrated first on selected points that resemble weak fronts. The weakness of the front in question may be due to a lack of will to fight amongst the fighters, lack of training and expertise, the geography of the area being unsuitable for guerrilla warfare or lack of popular support.

  • Use of surprise combined with shock and awe tactics. This normally relies on the employment of highly concentrated firepower- whether from the air or the ground (artillery and concentrated infantry attacks)- so as to decide the battle in the shortest possible span of time and bring about a collapse of morale in the opposing side.

  • In the early stages of the battle, an attempt is made to target the ideological symbols and seasoned military leadership. If targeting the leadership is not possible, pressure is applied to restrict their movement and reduce the ability to manage and influence events on the ground.

  • As mentioned earlier, the initial focus tends to be on weak fronts. Gradually, the military focus shifts to the stronger and more resilient fronts. However, only one front is engaged at a time so as to allow for a concentration of force. Safe passages are left for the more resilient fronts. Due to the indiscriminate use of force, everyone- civilians and combatants- are forced to flee or retreat to safer and stronger areas that have not been targeted yet. This creates pressure on these areas and gradually weakens their ability to withstand an enemy onslaught due to the increasing flood of civilian refugees. The greater the number of civilians in a warzone, the greater the burden of responsibility and civilian liabilities. All of this comes at the cost of the military work.

  • As the enemy proceeds with military operations, it trains and finances a parallel local force which may take over the areas evacuated by the resistance and prevent the formation or return of the resistance in the future. Each time these local forces are targeted by the resistance, the enemy intervenes with its air power.

  • As for the decisive battle which seeks to target the opponent’s center of gravity, the enemy takes sufficient time to plan and prepare for it. It gathers all its military resources, deploys the best of its intelligence capabilities, devotes serious political efforts, and does not initiate hostilities until the appropriate time arrives and the chances of success appear to be overwhelming.

Soft Power Strategies:

This category includes a diverse and often overlapping array of tactics. Soft power, because of its subtlety and the difficulty to counter it by overt means, may often prove to be more dangerous than the use of military force. Some of the methods employed under this strategy include:

  • Gathering as much information as possible, using all available means. When any need arises in the future, the data archive of the targeted area is searched for all available data. For the analysis of such data, research and analysis organizations- both known and covert- are employed.

  • People living in occupied areas are profiled and their records maintained. In case of need, old sympathizers and agents living in hibernation are contacted and activated.

  • New intelligence networks are continuously formed so as to gather information and implement projects on the ground which are of military, political, intelligence or social value.

  • Allied states and client regimes are used to support armed movements and exploit their financial, and logistical vulnerability. This close interaction allows the enemy to gain a full appreciation of the structure of resistance movements, their political approach and abilities. A correct reading of the other is of critical importance in shaping future outcomes. This framework does not prevent these allied or client regimes to work for their own particular interests- which may not be in line entirely with the interests of the occupier itself. However, in the end these allies and client regimes revolve in the orbit of their overlords and remain in cooperation and coordination with them in fighting armed resistance movements.

  • Coordination with rival states in combating armed movements and recognizing common interests in this regard. Importance is given to combating the common enemy that fights to gain liberation from the hegemony of world powers possessing a disproportionate influence in shaping global events. An effort is made to contain and manage differences so that there is no negative spillover on the common goal of combating these armed movements.

  • Resistance movements are categorized into ‘extremists’ and ‘moderates’. Each category is further divided into different shades according to the degree of moderation or extremism so as to make it easier to devise the appropriate strategy for dealing with each type of foe. 

  • Seeds of discord are sowed from the very beginning in the ranks of resistance movements. Persistent efforts are made to reinforce tendencies that lead to a single group trying to dominate the scene at the expense of everyone else or extend the influence of its group at the expense of others. In order to implement this policy, the enemy makes use of states that have a close relationship with resistance movements or tries to penetrate resistance organizations. 

  • The occupier ensures the provision of basic facilities in areas under its control. The focus remains on luxury, entertainment and provision of consumer goods and services. No industrial infrastructure is built so that the occupied territories remain in need of financial, technical and military aid, which in turn is used for gaining leverage over a puppet regime.  

  • The enemy seeks to create a network of official and unofficial media outlets so as to spread its propaganda, project its own success stories in occupied areas and distort the message of the resistance. Most importantly, new ideas are spread among the society to counter the values, religious and moral principles on which a Muslim society is founded. The focus is often on the moral disintegration of the youth and women.

  • As for defiant and uncompromising fronts, a policy of piecemeal truces is favored. These truces are never fully enforced by either side. Secondly, threats of military operations and their last minute annulment are used in a stick and carrot approach. These operations are often delayed or aborted at the last moment by the intervention of states ‘allied’ with or ‘supporting’ the resistance and whose role is often duplicitous. Similarly, public pressure from the popular support base itself is also utilized. This policy weakens the will to fight among the elements of the resistance movement and has a negative influence on its morale. It eventually fosters an environment conducive to the widening of differences and eventually infighting amongst resistance groups. The militarily dominant factions succumb to internal power struggles which consume their manpower and ammunition. This leads to a gradual breakdown in order in these areas, paving the way for a decisive onslaught in which the odds of victory are strongly in the enemy’s favor. The popular support base, tired of the infighting, withdraws its support from the resistance and shows willingness to accept a political compromise.

These are some of the methods used by the occupation to confront armed movements in general and Islamic movements in particular. In future articles, we may delve deeper into the details of these strategies and explain how each one was practically implemented on the ground in different theatres.

(Source: Qiraa min Wahyi al Maraka: Asaleeb Muharabatil Harakat al Islamia)

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