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Addressing the Zawahirist Outsurgency

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Addressing the Zawahirist Outsurgency

by James Q. Roberts

Download the full article: Addressing the Zawahirist Outsurgency

We can debate whether we are at war with Al Qaeda, but rest assured Al Qaeda is at war with us. The targets, methods, diversity, geographic dispersion, and lethality or near lethality of the recent series of Al Qaeda inspired attacks should cause us to reassess the very nature of this conflict.

Attacks in the last few months include a shooting spree by U.S. Army Major Dr. Nidal Hasan, at Fort Hood; an attempted aircraft bombing by Abdulmuttalab, a Nigerian, over Detroit; an axe attack by Muhamed Geele, a Somali, in Denmark; and a precision suicide bombing by Dr. al-Bawali, a Jordanian, in Khost, Afghanistan. Only al-Balawi had ever been to Afghanistan or Pakistan; and he was apparently sent there by the Jordanian intelligence service, perhaps with help or urging by our Central Intelligence Agency.

These events show that Al Qaeda franchisees are operating without need of direction from the corporate headquarters. Al Qaeda today is a flat, dispersed, multi-celled structure which executes on "commander's intent" not waiting for orders from above. Actors self radicalize, seek out and connect with inspirational figures like Al Aulaqi in Yemen, and execute plots independent of commands from senior leaders.

This paper proposes a change in our approach. It argues that Al Qaeda is conducting an "outsurgency"- similar to, but different from - an insurgency. Furthermore, that this movement is underpinned by virulent and violent Zawahirist ideology, and that containment (as in the context of the Cold War) and counterinsurgency doctrines might be adapted to form the basis of an improved U.S. national strategy to combat Al Qaeda.

Download the full article: Addressing the Zawahirist Outsurgency

James Q. Roberts is the Principal Director (Special Operations and Combating Terrorism), Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Special Operations/Low-intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities), Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

These are his personal observations, and do not represent OSD, DoD, or USG policy.

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