Global War on Terrorism: How Does the United States Military Counter and Combat the Worldwide Spread of Islamic Extremism?
Richard K. Snodgrass
Reviewing the events of the decades preceding the devastating attack on the Homeland on September 11, 2001, reinforces the fact the world in general, the West and the United States in particular, have been subjected to the constant threat of terrorist attacks by groups and individuals espousing a twisted version of Islam through bombings, shooting sprees in public locations and suicide attacks against mostly soft targets. These attacks have been perpetrated by a wide range of state sponsors of terrorism, groups and individuals with varying motivations and aspirations. But they all have one thing in common: Islam. The United States and its partner nations in the battle against Islamic Extremist terrorists must discover new and improved courses of action to combat these extremists and their ability to recruit, brain-wash and train continuing waves of future terrorists.
In the foreseeable future, the dominant challenge facing the United States is the asymmetrical threat of terrorism, especially in the form of Islamic extremism. From the original attack on the Twin Towers in 1993, to the African embassy attacks in 1998, to the devastating destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11, and more recently the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and overthrow of the Yemeni government, the United States military apparatus has proven incapable of adequately addressing this threat through the application of predominately conventional warfare. To combat this ever worsening rise of Islamic extremism requires the focused dedication to the creation of hybrid joint forces that are culturally sensitive, religiously respectful and possess enhanced language skills.
Many associated with the military will most likely comment we already have forces that have training in these three areas and that these forces reside in the Special Operations Command. It is true we do have our Special Forces, Civil Affairs (CA) and Psychological Operations / Military Information Support Operations (MISO) forces who are exposed to this training during the process to earn their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). A result of this training, they are extremely adept at working with host nation security forces and the local populace. However, there are not enough of these forces to conduct their own mission, much less work with the tens of thousands of Soldiers who will deploy to conduct overseas contingency operations. Therefore, it is vital we greatly increase the capacity of this capability so that every squad-sized element has at least one Soldier adequately trained and educated to a specified level. Expanding the cultural awareness capacity of the traditional units normally engaged in missions that put them in constant contact with the local population in foreign lands will serve us well in our efforts to minimize the instances of Soldiers engaging in offensive actions, often accidently, through a lack of understanding of the local customs and traditions, or a basic exposure to the values of respecting other cultures that are most likely very different from those they were exposed to growing up in the United States.
As recently as February 2015, the Army Times reported a huge push to recruit, train and field 5,000 special operations Soldiers, including 3,000 Green Berets, 950 Civil Affairs (CA) Soldiers and 800 Psychological Operations / Military Information Support Operations (MISO) Soldiers. This will be an extremely time consuming process as only a small percentage of recruits are ultimately successful in completing a pipeline taking 43 weeks for MISO, 46 weeks for CA and 67 to 103 weeks for a Green Beret. Another indication of the shortage in these critical specialties is the fact they are eligible for Selective Reenlistment Bonuses up to $72,000.1
These are not the forces we have to worry about alienating Muslim populations in the area of responsibility in which the US is conducting operations. It is those young Soldiers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Commissioned Officers who are conducting those day-to-day interactions, key leader engagements and presence patrols in the cities and villages of Iraq and Afghanistan, and whose actions, proper and improper, are being witnessed by the very populace we hope to influence in a positive way.
Culturally Sensitive and Religiously Respectful Joint Forces
On a positive note, our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have created recognition among the services of a need for education on culture. However, the methods lack an acceptable effort for interoperability of the needed education, with each service approaching this requirement based on an assessment of their particular needs, instead of a joint perspective. Some of the new programs include, but are not limited to the Defense Language Institute, U.S. Army Training Command (TRADOC) Culture Center, U.S. Air Force Culture and Language Center at the Air University, U. S. Navy Center for Language, Regional Expertise and Culture, U.S. Army Human Terrain System and the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Center for Advance Operational Culture Learning.2
Of all these initiatives, it is the Marines who have led the way through the Regional, Culture and Language Familiarization (RCLF) concept. This is a web-based application that breaks down the globe into sub-regions, concentrating on the ethnic groups and languages to that region. The program’s mission statement,
“to ensure that Marine units are globally prepared and regionally focused so they are effective at navigating and influencing the culturally complex 21st Century operating environment in support of the Marine Corps' missions and requirements. The program is based on seventeen regions that may expand as required in the near future. Each region may contain many different cultures but due to some shared cultural traits and geographical proximity, they are bound by common economic, political, and historical or social issues,” encapsulates the needed focus of all services and the joint community necessary to counter Islamic extremism the US and the West will continue to face.3
The RCLF module is the most appropriate approach within the Department of Defense as it not only provides distance learning capabilities in language and cultural emersion, but also ties this training into the Professional Military Education (PME) requirements for Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers. This establishes “blocks” of requirements to be accomplished throughout their career path from Lieutenant / Warrant Officer through Lieutenant Colonel / Chief Warrant Officer 5 and Sergeant through Master Sergeant.4
The infamous actions in Abu Ghraib detainment facility, Koran burnings and urination on corpses can be the result of a lack of cultural sensitivity education and an unwillingness to respect religions other than our own. In the book “BlackHearts, One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death,” Jim Frederick chronicles what can occur when Soldiers who lack this ability to respect local culture and religion, resulting in a view of the local citizens as non-humans, leading to rape and murder of the very individuals we are there to help.5
These criminal actions can also impact the relationship with the security apparatus (military and police) our forces are working, training and living with on a daily basis. Cultural insensitivity and a real or perceived lack of respect of Islam obviously creates friction points between our Soldiers and the host nation forces. This friction prevents a synergistic relationship, commitment from our partners, and in extreme instances, is an instigator of insider attacks. In the Department of Defense December 2012 Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, there is significant discussion on the dramatic rise of insider attacks (commonly referred to as Green on Blue) between 2007 and 2012. The number of incidents ranged from a low of three in 2008 to 29 in 2012. 6
The report identifies four probable motives for the insider attacks as:
1. Infiltration (an insurgent is able to enlist in the ANSF);
2. Co-option (a current member of the ANSF is recruited by the insurgency to conduct the attack);
3. Impersonation (insurgent obtains an ANSF uniform and uses it to gain access to the FOB);
4. Personal motives (member of the ANSF acts on their own without guidance from the insurgency). 7
This represents a tremendous recruiting tool for the insurgency, and further demonstrates a dire need for institutional education through pre-commissioning, initial entry training, Non-Commissioned and Commissioned Officer Education Systems and Professional Military Education. As David Kilcullen, the former Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser to General David Petraeus points out in his article in the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, the United States is much more likely to face irregular warfare in the future, as opposed to conventional force-on-force conflicts. 8 Moreover, the common thread of our involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa has been battling an opponent who bases their existence on the tenets of Islamic extremism.
Language Capable Joint Force
In the overwhelming majority of school districts throughout the United States, there is a crippling lack of requirement for our youth to learn a foreign language, which of course translates to potential military recruits and leaders who are devoid of this highly valuable skill when serving in a foreign nation, working with host nation officials, local leaders, military partners and the general populace we want to leverage to dry up support to an insurgency. The ability to communicate, at any level of conversation, with someone in their native language is usually considered the most basic sign of respect for their culture and their country. This does not necessarily imply the ability to conduct an entire key leader engagement without the services of a Department of Defense translator or a local hired interpreter, but at least the capability to converse in the pleasantries that are an important component of establishing relationships in the Muslim world: greetings, asking about your counterpart’s family, eating and drinking, counting, and the days of the week. Phrases you can expect to use in virtually every key leader engagement. This shows an effort to learn about the locals, their customs and traditions and helps establish a lot of good-will early in the relationship. Will these actions change the mind of the most virulent jihadist? Of course not. But for that part of the population who do not actively or passively support the insurgency, it can help counter any message that U.S. forces are there to disrespect the host nation customs, traditions and religion.
During my 2005-2006 deployment to Iraq working with the Iraqi police forces in the Kurdish provinces of Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah, I developed a several hundred word capability in Kurdish, instead of Arabic. This effort bought tremendous amounts of good-will with Kurdish government and police leadership, especially with those older and very senior in rank. I was informed that when Sadaam Hussein was still in power, it was illegal for the Kurds to speak their native language in public. So to see a United States Army captain greeting them in Kurdish instead of Arabic, they were simply astonished, and incredibly receptive to any advice I presented, making my deployment an extremely productive and rewarding experience.
Fortunately, there are several tracks we can pursue to develop the language capability of our joint forces: traditional college and universities where our future leaders are participating in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program; the Defense Language Institute, Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) in Monterey CA where the majority of Army personnel are trained; the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS) at Fort Bragg, NC; or Command Language Programs operating within units utilizing commercially available systems such as Rosetta Stone software. 9
Aside from the process of actually identifying future service members with the ability to learn a foreign language and successfully training them for this new skill set, one of the most difficult tasks for our strategic leadership is to correctly identify the needed languages for future needs and contingencies. Chinese, Korean, Arabic and Farsi will easily appear on most planners’ radar. The last two administrations have focused a lot of attention on the continent of Africa, integrating all aspects of national power –DIME (Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic). Africa has over 1.000 languages and dialects and many strategic fault lines that may flare up and involve a populace that speaks Berber, Portuguese or Swahili, so it is impossible to make perfect predictions. 10 But we can certainly focus on the most likely scenarios, and start with our future leaders attending institutional learning at our nation’s military academies and ROTC programs by implementing requirements for basic and intermediate foreign language courses at a minimum, and advanced courses for those demonstrating a higher proficiency. We can also encourage and reward those students who wish to obtain their degree in foreign languages. If a standardized level of foreign language proficiency is established at the academies and ROTC programs, this will create tremendous inroads toward developing a multi-language capable joint force.
The initial process for helping to identify the ability to learn a foreign language is to administer the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB). This test needs to be administered to all in-coming freshmen to the academies, first year students in the ROTC programs and new recruits who achieved a minimum score on their service’s version of the Armed Forces Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. For efficiency, it would be advisable to develop a “pre-test” to the DLAB, and then administer the full battery to those applicants achieving a certain score. The actual DLAB is a web-based test, comprising of 126 multiple choice questions and is scored out of a possible 176 points. Half of the test is audio and half is written. It does not test a current language proficiency, but rather the ability to learn a foreign language.11
For Army linguists, Army Regulation 11-6 rates their proficiency on a scale from 0 to 5, with 5 being the most proficient. Basic language training is designed to bring a student to a level 2 proficiency (described as limited working proficiency). Intermediate language training is designed to bring a student to a level 2+ proficiency (described as limited working proficiency, plus) and the advanced language courses are designed to train a student to level 3 proficiency (described as general professional proficiency). The third column, LPIND (Language Proficiency Indicator) is a 4 digit code where the first 2 numbers represent the listening / reading level and the last 2 numbers representing the speaking level. 12 For purposes of this paper’s recommendations, a level 2, limited working proficiency will certainly be sufficient to appropriately prepare our joint forces to fully engage their host nation and partner nation counterparts. It will also serve to help qualify the service member for the “Cultural” additional skill identifier (ASI), as well as language proficiency pay.
From a practicality standpoint, based on the limited number of training seats available and the protracted period of time it takes to send a service member through the Defense Language Institute; (over one year for many languages), training via this method alone is not practical, and will require other training approaches. The Special Warfare Center and School already provides language training for Civil Affairs, Military Information Support Operations (MISO) and Special Forces operators at their Fort Bragg, schoolhouse. This is another source to be leveraged, although it will certainly require an increase of civilian and military instructors, web-based training material, support staff and classroom facilities. However, expanding the capacity of a current capability is always more advantageous, less expensive or time consuming than the initial creation of the capability.
Another resource that was previously available to service members, as well as their families, was the Rosetta Stone web-based language training program. This was provided to service members free of charge by simply accessing this software via the Army Knowledge Online (AKO) website where there was a direct link to the Rosetta Stone website. The Army elected not to renew the user contract with Rosetta Stone when the contract ended on September 24, 2011.13 As someone who effectively used this software, I can attest to its value as a language resource tool. It would need to be reinstated for this proposal to be viable and would certainly be more cost efficient than traditional methods of language learning in a classroom setting.
Additional Skill Identifier (ASI)
Although they may go by different names, the overall concept is basically the same within the various services; identify a need for specialized capability, training and education, then create an alpha-numeric combination to capture this ability for future assignments. Within the Army’s personnel structure it is known as an Additional Skill Identifier (ASI). 14 The Navy uses the term Additional Qualification Designator for Officers and the Air Force goes by Special Experience Identifier to match uniquely qualified personnel to specific critical missions.15 Regardless of the name, the philosophy must be adapted within the construct of establishing a manner in which to identify those who have accomplished this valuable level of learning and ensuring they are assigned to those leadership positions requiring this education for mission accomplishment.
As our military leaders look to the future in an effort to forecast where we will be required to conduct operations and against whom those operations will be conducted, it can be anticipated our civilian leaders will continue to seek out partner nations with which to work to create a coalition, especially in the Middle East with Muslim countries. This was the case with Desert Storm and efforts are in place to achieve the same with the current fight against ISIS. In the 2012 Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, it specifies the following challenge for the military leadership: “U. S. forces will plan to operate whenever possible with allied and coalition forces.” 16
Accordingly, US commanders will be required to not only be aware of the culture, norms and thoughts of the enemy, but will be required to also understand the same when working with partner militaries and government leaders. Failure to establish positive working relationships with senior leadership from different cultures and religious backgrounds at the strategic level will create potentially more difficulties than at the operational or tactical level. To achieve this, the Department of Defense must do the following;
- Codify this concept in all of our strategic documents: National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, National Military Strategy, Quadrennial Defense Review and the Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review. Fully integrate the value of cultural capabilities into the framework of the various War Colleges and create a curriculum of study designed to offer a Master’s level degree to students, both those in residence and distance learning. Senior level buy-in is key for the rest of the force to fully realize the importance of attainment of this skill-set on our future conflicts with Muslim religious extremism.
- Designate Cultural Training one of the most basic concepts of all initial entry-level training for Officers and Enlisted service members. This includes the military academies and all ROTC programs. Develop a curriculum of learning that will enable students to earn a minor in Cultural Awareness, which can be applied to the process of earning their ASI once they are commissioned and achieve other milestones in their culture educational pathway. For our enlisted service members, develop cultural training to become a part of Basic and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) for every (MOS).
- Make Cultural Training an integral component of all levels of PME for both the Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer Corps. Make provisions to prevent “grandfathering” for those who have already progressed to higher levels of their military education. These are the leaders who will soon be in elevated positions of leadership and must be more prepared for working in a multinational, multicultural area of operations.
- Another component of the cultural education process is language training. Language capability potential must be identified early in a Soldier’s career by the development of an abbreviated version of the DLAB that will be administered to those achieving a minimum score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). Those earning an acceptable score will be administered the full DLAB once they arrive at their Basic Training station. Students of the Academies and ROTC programs will go through the same process during their first year. All students will be required to take a minimum of two (2) semesters of a foreign language and those who pass the DLAB will be “strongly encouraged” to earn a minor in a foreign language and be given preferential opportunities to attend further language training upon completion of BOLC (Basic Office Leader Course). These opportunities must be extended to the Reserve component Soldiers as well.
- Soldiers who have already completed their initial entry training will conduct similar language ability testing. Those passing the DLAB will be selected for attendance at an institutional language training facility, such as DLI or SWCS. Until such time as the capacity is sufficiently increased to accommodate this influx of students, Rosetta Stone will be made available in their selected language and they will be assigned to a distance learning cohort with an instructor from DLI / SWCS to monitor their progress and further prepare them for attendance at an actual school.
- The attainment of the Cultural Awareness ASI must be viewed by the force as a career enhancer. For the enlisted service member, it must be worth a significant number of promotion points and place the service member ahead of their peers for attendance in their NCO professional development courses. For the Officer Corps, it should be required to serve in various leadership positions during overseas contingency operations that place the leader in positions of frequent interaction with the host nation populace and foreign military advisor roles. Promotion boards must be instructed to view leaders with this particular ASI in a very favorable light, much as was the case in 2006 when there was a concerted effort to get more Officers to volunteer to serve as members of a MITT (Military Training Team) working and living with the Iraqi Army.
No matter what name they go by: Al-Qa’ida, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Ansar al-Shari’a, or most recently, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), all of these terrorist organizations present an existential threat to United States interests and allies around the world, the American homeland and our way of life. Thanks to the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the original Al-Qa’ida threat had been greatly neutralized, culminating with the death of Bin Ladin. With the lack of action by the United States toward the recent onset of civil war in Syria, coupled with the al Maliki-led government’s alienation of Sunni populations in Iraq, and Turkey allowing its borders to remain porous to foreign fighters, ISIS has been able to make never before realized inroads to establishing a caliphate in Syria and Iraq. The more success they achieve, the more they are able to recruit and influence around the world, even in America. The United States is losing the battle with radical Islam in general and ISIS in particular. Defeating this threat will require US military intervention. This intervention means more than air combat missions and “boots on the ground”. It means those boots need to be filled with US Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen who are culturally aware, religiously respectful and language capable.
1. Tan, Michelle, “SPEC OPS needs 5,000 Soldiers,” Stars and Stripes (FEB 23, 2015), accessed May 11, 2015.
2. Simakhov, Vadim Konstantine, “CULTURAL COMPETENCE AND THE OPERATIONAL LEVEL OF WAR,” (Newport, R.I.: Naval War College, 2013). 3
3. “Mission,” USMC Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning, 2013, accessed May 14, 2015, https://www.tecom.usmc.mil/caocl/SitePagesHome.aspx.
5. Frederick, Jim, “Black Hearts-One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death”, 2010.
6. Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, 36-38.
8. David J. Kilcullen, “The City as a System: Future Conflict and Urban Resilience,” The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 36, no. 2 (Summer 2012); 31.
9. AR 11-6, Army Foreign Language Programs, 2013.
10. One World Nations Online-“Official and Spoken Languages of African Countries.” Accessed May 11, 2015. http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/african_languages.htm
11. AboutMilitary.com, “Defense Language Aptitude Battery”, Accessed May 12, 2015 http://usmilitary.about.com/cs/joiningup/a/dlab_3.htm
12. AR 11-6, Army Foreign Language Programs, 2013.
13. “Army Rosetta Stone Access has Expired.” Accessed May 11, 2015. https://usarmy.rosettastone.com/
14. United States Department of the Army Pamphlet 611–21, Military Occupational Classification and Structure. 2007
15. Department Of Defense Instruction 1312.01 JAN 28, 2013.
16. Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, 4.
Kilcullen, David J. “The City as a System: Future Conflict and Urban Resilience.” The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 36, no. 2 (Summer 2012): 19-39.
One World Nations Online-“Official and Spoken Languages of African Countries.” Accesses May 11, 2015. http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/african_languages.htm
Panetta, Leon E., and Barack Obama. Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21stCentury Defense. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Defense, 2012.
Simakhov, Vadim Konstantine, “CULTURAL COMPETENCE AND THE OPERATIONAL LEVEL OF WAR,” (Newport, R.I.: Naval War College, 2013). 3
Army Times Newspaper, online. “Spec Ops Needs 5,000 Soldiers.” Staff Writer Michelle Tan. FEB 23, 2015. Accessed May 11, 2015. http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/careers/army/2015/02/23/army-special-operations/23304113/
United States, Department of the Army. “Army Rosetta Stone Access has Expired.” Accessed May 11, 2015. https://usarmy.rosettastone.com/
United States, Department of the Army. Army Pamphlet 611-21, Military Occupational Classification and Structure. Washington, D.C. 2007.
United States, Department of the Army. Army Regulation 11-6, Army Foreign Language Programs, Washington D.C., 2013.
United States, Department of Defense. Department of Defense Instruction 1312.01, Department of Defense Occupational Information Collection and Reporting, Washington, D.C., 2013.