The truck-attack in Nice is an example of the adaptive, improvised and synthesising nature of a new generation of asymmetric warfare being used by Salafi-Jihadi inspired terrorists. Notice the timing. Not necessarily when the fireworks began but on the eve of France down-grading their State of Emergency. That is, they knew France was beginning to relax on their most symbolic national day.
The civilian nature of the attack, in terms of the victims and the methods used, is morally and mentally disorientating and disturbing, causing enormous entropy for the public as well as law enforcement and security agencies. No sooner have we understood the nature and network of the last attack, the terrorists, have improvised, adapted and evolved to create yet another localised attack with globalised impact.
This is asymmetric warfare waged within our civilian social system that was anticipated by William Lind in his 1989 paper titled, The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation. The newly elected Australian Government and our international strategic partners need to recognise this warfare is being played out over a moral, mental and physical continuum; and it is complex.
The Moral, Mental and Physical Continuum
When working in Taliban influenced locations in Afghanistan, it became evident that for a local Afghan, being a member of the Taliban was not of physical significance. Even if the young village boy or seasoned mujahedeen might lose his life. Instead being a member of the Taliban was a state of mind.
While the physical elimination of the territory held by ISIS is important, governments should deploy equal resources to developing approaches that neutralises the Caliphate that forming in the minds of wannabe terrorists living within our community. As Osama bin Laden’s oldest Son, Hamza, said recently, “we are all Osama”. Countering violent extremism or de-radicalisation programs are yet to develop approaches to this complex moral and mental challenge.
Often the language used by political leaders, the media and influential commentators helps to shape images of a warrior status. Instead we need a public narrative that penetrates this moral and mental fantasy and destroys it completely. These perpetrators should be branded with the same social stigma as paedophiles or other forms of moral framing that means there will be no paradise in the after-life for them.
A General Strategic Framework
Neutralising a threat that manifests conflict along a moral, mental and physical continuum will be more likely if an adaptable strategic framework is adopted.
Attempting to predict the next improvised attack is almost impossible for our police and security agencies. The financial cost and the type of surveillance required, may not be permissible or tolerable. Further, the West tends to overlay complicated processes over complex problem sets. The current terrorism phenomenon, which is a modern day revolutionary movement, is a complex problem that cannot be broken down by a linear process of analysis, more suited for complicated systems.
An adaptable strategic framework is more suited to complex challenges. It would allow a multi-faceted, inter-connected and reinforcing lines of operation, more capable of developing and implementing novelty. This approach could open opportunities that closes the open spaces in which terrorists operate and constricts the inner-psychopath contained within these terrorists. The announcement by the infamous cyber-hackers, Anonymous, that they would target ISIS online networks, is a good example. A declaration by the highest Islamic authority from Saudi Arabia, the UK, Australia, Indonesia etc that all those participating, contemplating, supporting these groups will be labelled as takfir or excommunicated, could be another. Combined with a range of financial, physical, law-enforcement, and community-intelligence applications that continue to develop our own ‘least expected’ tactics of asymmetric conflict.
An adaptable strategic approach means instead of being expected to predict attacks, police and security agencies, will be better equipped to anticipate a range of scenarios that they can pro-actively prepare for or respond to, accordingly. The fact is we still have not yet determined how to shape the environment in which this mindset forms and matures.
This is a globalised, inter-connected conflict that will continue to evolve, adapt and regenerate. We are dealing with an enemy that sees our democratic principles as weaknesses to exploit, knowing those same principles will protect them. Drone strikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq are only part of the overall approach. Instead it must be neutralised through a coordinated series of disorientating asymmetric tactics within a broad, long term strategy with the objective of forcing it to self-immolate, or fold back into itself. It involves what TE Lawrence described as “arranging the minds.” This requires the development of a new generation of complex-orientated problem solvers.