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The al Qaeda Franchise Model: An Alternative

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The al Qaeda Franchise Model

An Alternative

by Captain Joshua McLaughlin

Download the full article: The al Qaeda Franchise Model: An Alternative

This article stems from a series of posts I recently wrote at al Sahwa, and is intended to offer an alternative to the commonly accepted "franchise" model that is frequently discussed in reference to al Qaeda (AQ) on a global scale. Just a few examples of the widespread use of the word "franchise" are available here, here, here and here. My intent is not to provide an operational framework or design for AQ subordinates at the operational or tactical levels; instead, my aim is to supplant "franchise" with "conglomerate" as the most representative business model for the relationship between AQ and its affiliate groups.

Download the full article: The al Qaeda Franchise Model: An Alternative

Captain Joshua McLaughlin is a recent graduate of the Field Artillery Captains Career Course. His most recent operational assignment was with 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry in Mosul, Iraq as the Task Force Fire Support Officer. He also blogs at al Sahwa.

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Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 4:46pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M---this goes to the lack of understanding of the AQ strategy---I was one of the very few who for years has said that al-Zawahiri was the true thinker behind AQ---yes the world understood UBL but if one looks at these couple of comments by Zawahari from the earlier days one now understands the Sept 2013 released General Guidance taking AQ back to the near fight where they are making far more inroads than the far fight ever did excluding 9/11.

Zawahri is a thinker and observer and he has always been willing to learn---something that UBL was not---a UW focused thinker/observer has historical tradition in the UW world starting with Mao then on to Ho then onto Che then the on and on until we have a Zawahri. Thinkers generate strategies and they tend to not come off of their strategies as we tend to do as we as a Force are reactors and have always been reactors.

Zawahri grew up in the ME and was jailed and understood resistance at the ground level something UBL did not experience and in the UW world ground experience takes precedence.

Unity and Disunity
With the passing of years, I became more aware of the urgent need for unity in the Islamic action and of the fact that it is incumbent upon the mujahidin who are bounded by a pure creed to join ranks, to be more flexible in dealing with other believers, to prioritize their work and efforts, and to overcome their personal tendencies and vain desires.

Ayman al-Zawahiri’s efforts to achieve a “blessed unity” among the various jihadi groups appear to originate in pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 4:10pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M---what is worrying me greatly is the resilience that AQ is showing---ie in 2007/2008 the Algerian group was struggling and then they signed on as an AQ affiliate and they have exploded.

AQI now ISIL together with the JRTN in Iraq is causing the Iraqi Security Forces to reel and the list goes on worldwide.

We do not have to get into Syria for which the US appears to have no strategy.

Yemen, Mali, Somali/Kenya, Nigeria, Philippines and the list seems to go on and on.

Now watch the transnational criminal organizations slide in---they already have with Hezbollah on the drug smuggling side based on a recent DEA court case.

For all the drones fired and JSOC raids AQ is still not going away. Liked the recent national level political comments that things are going well in AFG especially since AQ is not in AFG---but they are surviving nicely in Pakistan.

If one in fact understood their strategy and UW we might as you mention be a lot further down the road.

Let's not even get into the Shia side of the house with Hezbollah, the Iraqi Hezbollah, or the AFG Shia group.

Bill M.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 3:48pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09


You make a great point that frustrates me to no end. AQ does have a strategy that they publicized and remain true to and we simply ignore it and assume they don't. In fact many of our actions throughout GWOT has actually facilitated their strategy. Afghanistan was meant to be nothing more than a quagmire they wanted to drag us into to bleed us out financially and we obliged by developing and endstate that wasn't achievable and even if it was it wouldn't have made much of a difference in the overall global conflict. I'll never forget the young CPT's comments on SWJ many years ago who said AQ didn't have a strategy or doctrine, they didn't understand UW, etc., so we would easily defeat them. Here we are today still wondering why they're so resilient. It is way past time to reframe our perspective and approach when it comes to defeating AQ.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 2:21pm

In reply to by Bob's World

Bob's World---actually when this was written he was close to the reality.

If we look at AQs September 2013 General Guidance (by the way one can find it on open source---they never really hide it from us---we just never seem to want to admit they have a strategy)to the filed units one sees a strategy at work---why we seem to be always fighting the tactics not the strategy is our single biggest failure over the last ten years.

To study this concept of "franchise" Syria gives us the opportunity to see it up and close.

Bob's World

Mon, 02/01/2010 - 4:32am

"Global Insurgency" was a horrible misnomer driving all kinds of misguided thinking and actions.

"AQ Franchise" is much more accurate, but still misses the point.

"Conglomerate?" If this was a child's game, I would say "you are getting colder..." This is going back toward the same type of thinking of this as one big movement that was driven by "Global Insurgency."

I think it is best to simply recognize that AQ is a non-state actor conducting a Global/Regional Unconventional Warfare Campaign.

What we call "AQSL" is the hub of this movement, (or corporate HQ is one is more comfortable with the franchise model).

What we call "AQN" is more accurately "AQUWN"; this self-healing, amorphous network of capabilities and activities that they use to fuel, incite, support their UW campaign. To my thinking THIS IS THE AQ STRATEGIC COG. Without out the network, they are a group of extremists in a mosque basement, or cave somewhere. With the network they can raise havoc by inciting and supporting insurgency among poorly governed Sunni populaces around the world. Many of these populaces are in the Middle East and North Africa. Many are in your own neighborhood. Foreign Fighters are a node of this network that various nationalist insurgent movements provide fighters to go to where the west is and fight them there.

The key to taking this apart must be two-fold. One must seek to understand and disrupt the network. Not at the borders, but at the critical nodes wherever they lie. Second is to understand that each insurgency movement is unique and distinct, and to not brand them, or even recognize them as "AQ." To do this merely lends credibility where it should not lie, and confuses people as to seeing it as one big "conglomerated" movement. It isn't.

You have to deal with each insurgency separately. The issues creating causation in Saudi Arabia are unique from those creating causation in Libya. Common to both is that the West has granted their governments a license to brutally suppress their own populaces quest for good government under the guise of "counterterrorism." This fuels AQ's message that these nationalist insurgents must defeat the West/US support to these despots first, before they can enjoy success at home.

Those Muslim populaces of western countries that are targeted have concerns that are real to them that must be addressed seriously as well. How is their new nation treating the people of their old nation? How well has their new nation embraced and incorporated them as citizens?

These are all solvable problems. But CT won't get us there, and neither will bundling it all up as one big enemy to defeat. First we must form a fresh perspective, and "franchise" is better than most for moving toward a more accurate perspective.


Sun, 01/31/2010 - 9:37pm

It is my anecdotal opinion, based on being a Pakistani Muslim and living amongst muslims in Saudi Arabia, that getting at the head would have been by far the more effective strategy. People with grievances against the US are a dime a dozen in the Muslim world. After all, the US is the main support of Israeli occupation and is thought to be a major source of support for dictatorial regimes in the Arab world (rightly or wrongly is another argument). The question in front of a Muslim who wants to reverse Israeli-US domination is: what is the best way to change this situation? many different options are out there, most do not involve terrorism or even warfare against the US and its allies. But when someone opts for no-holds barred-terrorism, succeeds in hurting the US, and GETS AWAY WITH IT (by staying alive and keeping his organization alive) then that increases their attraction. Many of their other actions (like killing innocent Muslims) also decrease their attraction. Its a dynamic situation, not fixed. But my point is that their ability to "take a licking and keep on ticking" is a tremendous factor in attracting recruits to their cause. As Bin laden said, people bet on the strong horse. So, if you really wanted to make this terrorist initiative less attractive, you would be well advised to go after the top people. If Bin Laden and company had been hauled up before some court in 2001 AND their supporters in Afghanistan and Pakistan forced to recant or be destroyed, this international franchise/conglomerate would be dead. If you want a business analogy, its like a company markets terrorism as the best option and terrorism fails at first go, then the stock of that conglomerate is sunk. If their system seems to work, they are in business (and for a terrorist, being able to hit, stay alive and keep hitting is all you need). In this case, the longer they survive, the better their bet begins to look...does that make sense?
Of course, if the real objective is to support Israel by channeling anti-Israel/US feeling into an ultimately self-defeating and nihilistic channel, then maybe its a good idea to let them live and use their conglomerate as fly-paper...but that sounds too convoluted a conspiracy to me....

Booge (not verified)

Sun, 01/31/2010 - 1:30pm

Conglomerate design may provide a framework for targeting middlemen; I.e. Training, financing. Al Qaeda is hierarchical but operates "by its own means" like you say. Is targeting the middle tier the way to eliminate the Central Hub of AQ? Franchise model supports a top-down: if you attack OBL then you dismantle the hierarchy.


Sun, 01/31/2010 - 12:50pm

I am still not clear as to why the US decided (or it just happened due to bureaucratic drift? that may be even worse) to de-emphasize the hunt for Bin Laden and Zawahiri? COnglomerate or franchise (and conglomerate seems a better description to me), it had a brand that was crucially dependent on a few top people. By letting them get away for 8 or 9 years, the US has allowed the initiative to slip away. In another year or two it really may not matter anymore but 4 years ago, the momentum would have been lost for them if they has not been able to show that they can survive and even thrive in the face of the world's largest military machine. Unless the "real objectives" of the US have nothing to do with AQ, this lapse would seem to be a very costly one.