Unbeatable: Social Resources, Military Adaptation, and the Afghan Taliban

Unbeatable: Social Resources, Military Adaptation, and the Afghan Taliban

Following the 9/11 attacks, the Afghan Taliban were obliterated in a lightning war prosecuted by the United States. Their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan ceased to exist as a physical entity, and the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, fled to Pakistan.…

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                    [post_content] => Insurgencies are famously difficult to defeat, yet the Afghan Taliban have proven especially so. Accounts of Taliban resilience have focused on both the deficiencies of Western efforts and the Afghan state and on Pakistani support for the Taliban. These accounts fail, however, to reveal the full picture of how the Taliban have been able to survive. Drawing on original field research, this article explores how the Taliban’s success has been shaped by factors internal to the insurgency, namely, the social resources that sustain it and the group’s ability to adapt militarily.

The fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was swift and brutal. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States went to war against al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in Afghanistan. Taliban forces were obliterated in a lightning war prosecuted by American special operations forces and their Afghan allies, supported by an armada of warplanes. U.S. air forces did most of the killing. The U.S. Air Force and Navy dropped 18,000 bombs in the air campaign, 10,000 of which were precision munitions. The exact number of Taliban fighters killed is unknown, but according to one estimate the death toll was 8,000 to 12,000.[1] By early 2002, the Taliban emirate had ceased to exist as a physical entity, and its leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had fled to Pakistan.

Within five years, however, the Taliban had regrouped and returned in large numbers to southern and eastern Afghanistan. In the decade that followed, the new Afghan state and its Western backers were unable to stop a Taliban insurgency from steadily gaining more ground across the country. In 2016, the Taliban seized Kunduz city in northern Afghanistan for a second time, having done so the year before as well.[2] The Taliban had also come close to capturing the provincial capitals of Helmand and Uruzgan in the south and Farah in the west. In May 2016, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan command reported that only 65 percent of the country’s 407 districts were under government control.[3] This highlights the question of how the Taliban was able to come back so successfully from utter defeat.

Between 2001 and 2016, the United States spent around $800 billion on war in Afghanistan. The international community spent an additional £240 billion building up Afghan security forces. In 2010, at the height of the international military effort in Afghanistan, just over 100,000 U.S. troops and around 40,000 troops from fifty other nations were deployed there. Despite all this military might and international largesse, the Taliban were not defeated. How can this be explained? To date, studies on the war have mostly focused on deficiencies in the international military effort and problems with the Afghan state. Lack of success in defeating the Taliban has been blamed on the failings of Western leadership and strategy, on the hubris and incoherence of the international effort, and on flaws in counterinsurgency tactics and operations.[4] Equally important has been the scale of corruption in Afghanistan, fueled by the massive influx of international aid, which has undermined both the legitimacy and the effectiveness of the Afghan government and security forces.[5]

In explaining the persistence and success of the Afghan Taliban, many commentators have highlighted the support the group received from Pakistan. The long, porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (across which men, material, and money move with relative ease), the use of refugee camps in Pakistan as secure rear bases, and significant military assistance from the Pakistani Army have unquestionably been important to sustaining the insurgency in Afghanistan.[6] The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of the Pakistani Army has been central in this. The ISI has largely succeeded in hiding its involvement in the Afghan conflict, working through undercover agents, civilian sympathizers, contractors, and retired officers. Taliban interviewees are also cautious about commenting on Pakistan’s role in their struggle. Thus, outside the world of secret intelligence, it is possible to get only glimpses of the ISI’s assistance to the Taliban. While the group receives significant financial support from Gulf Cooperation Council states (and from various sources within GCC states), and some military assistance from Iran and possibly Russia, Pakistan has been the Taliban’s most important source of funds, training, and military supplies.[7] According to the journalist Steve Coll, by 2008 it had become apparent to the U.S. military that the Pakistan Army was supporting the whole deployment cycle of Taliban forces, from their training in Pakistan to their deployment in Afghanistan to their return to Pakistan for rest and recuperation. Coll even notes that “Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps troops along the Pakistan border were firing on American border posts to provide covering fire for the Taliban to infiltrate into Afghanistan and return.”[8]

Less studied, however, is how the Taliban have been the makers of their own success. To be sure, the literature on the Taliban is sizeable and includes important books on the group’s origins, politics, culture, and war making before 2002.[9] Antonio Giustozzi has produced a number of studies on the organization, governance, and fighting tactics of the post-2002 Taliban insurgency.[10] Still missing, though, is a comprehensive explanation for the Afghan Taliban’s remarkable resilience. How is it that the Taliban managed to survive onslaught by the most powerful military alliance in the world?

In this article, I draw on two bodies of theory from the field of security studies, one on the roots of insurgency and the other on military adaptation. The former identifies the critical nature of social resources that give resilience to insurgencies — in particular, the strength of horizontal networks within the insurgency and vertical links into host communities. The latter identifies those factors that make it more likely for militaries to adapt to evolving challenges in war. When applied to the Afghan Taliban, what’s revealed is an insurgency that has a deep well of social resources and that has, over time, improved its ability to innovate and adapt. Taken together, these factors point to an insurgency that is highly resilient and one that is unbeatable by military means alone. This finding has vital implications for the Trump administration’s strategy, which revolves around intensifying the military effort against the Taliban.

In addition to presenting new insights informed by theory-driven inquiry, this article draws on a large number of original interviews with Afghan Taliban leaders, officials, and field commanders. Careful protocols were followed to ensure the fidelity of the interview data.[11] Of course, the reliability of what Taliban members say is inevitably open to question. On some matters, Taliban interviewees were inclined to exaggerate (e.g., the level of public support the group enjoys) or to be less than forthcoming (e.g., the role that Pakistani intelligence plays in providing support for the group). To minimize the risk of corrupt data undermining the analysis, the main findings are developed from multiple interviews and, where appropriate, are related to published scholarship on the Taliban.

This article proceeds with a review of the literature on the social roots of insurgency, applying those insights to the Afghan Taliban, as well as a review of the literature on adaptation in war, likewise applying insights to the Taliban case. It concludes with a look at the implications of these findings for the new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan.

Social Sources and Insurgency

Even in situations that are ripe for rebellion, organizing an insurgency is far from easy. As political scientist Jeremy Weinstein notes, insurgent leaders face multiple challenges, chief among them maintaining control, especially as the insurgency grows, and extracting resources (e.g., funds, supplies, and recruits) without alienating local populations.[12] Some insurgent groups rely on terror to impose discipline within their ranks and to keep local populations subdued. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is a prominent practitioner of this tactic.[13] Even more savage was the Revolutionary United Front, whose atrocities in Sierra Leone in the 1990s included abducting children and turning them into sadistic killers, and hacking off the limbs of countless thousands of civilians.[14] One problem with wielding terror as a tactic is that it “can stifle opposition but cannot engender loyalty and support from the civilian population.” For insurgent groups seeking to hold territory, this creates the ever-present risk of civilian defection to the opposing side.[15] For many insurgencies, consent is as important as coercion in maintaining both internal control and external local support. Weinstein points to the importance of “social endowments” in mobilizing people to join or support an insurgent movement. Social endowments include preexisting networks, common identities, shared beliefs, and norms of reciprocity, all of which facilitate cooperation and collective action, especially in situations with short-term costs and only the promise of long-term gains.[16] In his major study on the cohesion of insurgent organizations, Paul Staniland also highlights the role of prewar social networks, noting that insurgent leaders often “‘socially appropriate’ existing structures of collective action for new functions.” Staniland distinguishes between two types of structures: horizontal networks and vertical ties.[17] Horizontal networks link people who may be dispersed geographically through common ideological beliefs or professional identities. Political parties are a prime example. Insurgent movements often originate from or incorporate political parties. One example is the peasant insurgency in Nepal from 1996 to 2006, which sprang from the Maoist wing of the Communist Party of Nepal.[18] Vertical ties, on the other hand, are preexisting linkages between insurgent groups and local people, often based on common ethnic, tribal, or familial networks. These make it possible for insurgent groups to bind local communities to their cause and to extract resources from and exert control over them. Thus, “bonds of family and kinship” were crucial to the success of the Naxalites in mobilizing peasant support for their Maoist insurgency in eastern India.[19] Staniland argues that variance in the cohesion and resilience of insurgencies may be explained by the degree to which they are founded on, and are able to exploit, both horizontal networks and vertical ties. Over time, many insurgencies develop governance processes and structures to provide services for civilians in the territory they control. This requires insurgent groups to divert resources that could otherwise be devoted to their armed struggle. It may also require insurgent groups to take civilian preferences into account, even when they differ from the interests and preferences of the insurgency.[20] In the case of secessionist insurgencies, the impulse to govern is obvious since the struggle is focused on achieving independent statehood. In other cases (especially with Maoist insurgencies), insurgent groups are ideologically predisposed to govern the areas and populations over which they have control.[21] For most insurgent governments, establishing the means to police the population and regulate disputes is the first order of business. The provision of other public services, such as education and health care, is usually a secondary concern.[22] Nonetheless, providing some governance is important in the long term for insurgencies to sustain public support. This can, in turn, lead to the moderation of ideologically driven insurgent governments, if only for pragmatic reasons.[23] Regardless of the extent and effectiveness of their governance, insurgencies will often take on the symbolic trappings of statehood, and “perform” like a state. As Zachariah Mampilly notes, "[b]y mimicking the behavior of the modern state, rebels seek to discursively construct a political authority imbued with a comparable legitimacy enjoyed by national governments."[24] Such behavior can be important in sustaining the political claims of an insurgency group. When it comes to the Taliban, this discussion raises two questions. First, what role did horizontal networks and vertical ties play in the development of the post-2002 insurgency? Second, how successful have the Taliban been in creating state-like structures and public services since 2002?

The Social Roots of Taliban Resurgence

At the core of the Taliban movement is a horizontal network, based on common religious schooling and shared military experience, that endows the group with a powerful, unifying ideology and worldview. The Taliban movement was founded on a network of Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan within which the group’s leadership and cadre were educated. Thousands of young men were mobilized from these madrassas to fight against the Soviets in the mujahedeen war in the 1980s. Mujahedeen fighting groups organized themselves into larger networks, called “fronts,” or mahaz, each led by a great leader who was able to disburse military supplies from foreign donors across his front to field commanders.[25] According to one major study on the origins of the Taliban, “In greater Kandahar, there were literally hundreds of Taliban commanders and dozens of Taliban fronts. … The Taliban sought to distinguish themselves from other mujahedeen groups by offering a more ostentatiously religious jihad to those who fought with them.”[26] Young Taliban fighters formed strong bonds with the movement and with each other through the rigors and hardships of the mujahedeen war.[27] The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, and the fall of the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul three years later, removed the common cause that had held different mujahedeen parties together, and civil war promptly ensued. In southern Afghanistan, local warlords had free rein to prey on civilians, imposing arbitrary fines, stealing land, and kidnapping people for ransom and sexual abuse. In Kandahar, the Taliban returned to arms in 1994, under the leadership of Mullah Omar, to bring security and justice to the Pashtun population. Within four years, Taliban fighters had swept across the country, defeating or buying off rivals who stood in their path. By 1998, only a few pockets of resistance remained, most notably the Tajik Northern Alliance, which was holed up in its mountain retreats in the northeast. Upon seizing control of the country, the Taliban established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Chronically underfunded (with an annual budget of around $80 million) and untrained in public administration, the Taliban were unable to reestablish basic public services across the country. Moreover, the group imposed myriad fundamentalist strictures on the population, most notably preventing women from going to work and girls from going to school.[28] Accordingly, the downfall of the Taliban in late 2001 and early 2002 was welcomed by a great many Afghans. [quote id="1"] The major challenge for the interim Afghan administration of Hamid Karzai in 2002 was asserting government rule beyond Kabul and preventing a return to civil war. Karzai did this primarily by coopting various warlords into the new Afghan government. In this way, the corrupt warlords who had been pushed out of power by the Taliban in the 1990s returned as local governors and police chiefs. Under the guise of officialdom, these reincarnated figures once again stole from and abused the population. This, in turn, provided fertile ground for the gradual return of the Taliban into southern and eastern Afghanistan beginning in 2004. As one local elder from Helmand province noted, “day by day people got fed up with this Afghan government and welcomed the Taliban back into their districts.”[29] The United States ruled out peace talks with the Taliban in 2001 and 2002, and Karzai did not respond to a number of Taliban overtures during this period. Instead, U.S. special operations forces hunted down Taliban “terrorists,” who were rendered to detention facilities in Bagram, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. Many “common people,” as the Taliban call non-Taliban locals, also were caught up in the net thrown by U.S. special operations. As Mike Martin notes, the Americans “failed to understand how offering a bounty would cause people to denounce anyone they were having a feud with, or even innocent people, in order to collect the money.”[30] The injustice of U.S. counterterrorism operations, combined with the return of abusive warlords, drove the Taliban to remobilize. Echoing the views of several Taliban interviewees, one noted: “When Karzai became president, Taliban were not fighting, they were in their houses. … But when the Americans and Afghan governments were disturbing and attacking on the families of all those Taliban … this is the reason that Taliban started fighting again.”[31] In late 2002 and 2003, groups of Taliban began to operate in the southern provinces of Uruzgan, Helmand, and Kandahar and the eastern provinces of Paktia and Khost. Senior Taliban figures also began to remobilize in Pakistan, leading in March 2003 to the formation of a Taliban leadership council in the city of Quetta. Called the Rahbari Shura by the Taliban, it is more commonly known in the West as the Quetta Shura. In the years that followed, the Taliban effectively reestablished a government in exile. Mullah Omar remained in hiding so his deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, chaired the Quetta Shura. Provincial and district governors were appointed, starting in Kandahar and Helmand in 2003 and 2004 with other provinces in southern and eastern Afghanistan following in 2005. Twelve national commissions were established in Pakistan (military, politics, finance, culture, health, etc.) that effectively operated as shadow Taliban government departments.[32] From 2004 on, the Taliban returned in a more concerted way to southern Afghanistan. Taliban infiltration of rural districts followed a pattern. In most cases, it began with small groups of Taliban visiting villages to make contact with sympathizers, foment rebellion, and intimidate or kill pro-government elders and clerics. As they became more confident, these Taliban emissaries held open meetings to call on people to wage jihad on the “cruel government” and “foreign invaders.” Taliban mullahs were also dispatched to preach jihad to villages. As leading expert on the Taliban, Antonio Giustozzi, notes, “The strategic task of these ‘vanguard’ teams was to prepare the ground for a later escalation in the insurgency.”[33] In Musa Qala district in northern Helmand in 2004, the Taliban “secretly entered the district and talked to some villages and elders … they told the people that they were coming back to the district to fight against the government.”[34] In 2005, the Taliban returned in force to Musa Qala and “within two to three months they had captured all the villages,” leaving only the district center under government control.[35] In eastern Afghanistan, significant Taliban mobilization predated the formation of the Quetta Shura. In mid-2002, the former Taliban minister of tribal affairs, Jalaluddin Haqqani, began to remobilize his front, and later that year Haqqani fighting groups were operating in Paktia and Khost.[36] Indicative of a powerful horizontal network, mobilizing Taliban fronts in southern Afghanistan reunited under the Quetta Shura. Invariably, rivalries emerged between some senior Taliban figures and the fronts they led. The rivalry between Mullah Baradar and Mullah Dadullah was especially pronounced. The eastern Taliban also resented the dominance of the Kandahari clique within the movement, and in time this led to the emergence of two additional leadership shuras that rivaled the Quetta Shura. The first was Miran Shah Shura, based on the Haqqani network, which declared autonomy from the Quetta Shura in August 2007.[37] The second was the Peshawar Shura, which declared autonomy from the Quetta Shura in 2009.[38] Both shuras took direct control of the fronts and fighting groups in their networks. Yet neither openly challenged the primacy of the Quetta Shura. This was both symbolically important and consistent with Taliban ideology, which emphasizes the centrality of obedience to the emir. It also ensured that most Taliban members, regardless of what front they were in, retained and evoked a residual loyalty to Mullah Omar.[39] Vertical links were equally important to the establishment of the Taliban insurgency. A closed political system developed under Karzai whereby government resources flowed primarily to the familial and patronage networks of the warlords appointed to office.[40] Many disenfranchised communities ended up siding with the Taliban out of disgust at the inequitable distribution of those resources and the corruption of the new warlord-officials.[41] Downtrodden communities also aligned with the Taliban to gain protection from abusive pro-government militias. In some cases, the Taliban expertly exploited local dissatisfaction by supporting local elders and mullahs who called for rebellion and silencing those who were opposed.[42] The Taliban also stoked popular opposition to the presence of armed foreigners. This was not difficult given the growing Afghan anger toward U.S. night raids on homes as well as civilian casualties caused by U.S. airstrikes. Expressing a view typical of many interviewees, one local elder in Ghanzi noted that he “was happy for return of Taliban in our district because of the cruelties of the Americans.”[43] Clumsily executed British operations in Helmand — and the widespread perception that these were targeting the poppy crop, the main livelihood for most locals — caused a popular revolt in the province in 2007.[44] One group of local elders later recalled, “We thought the British were trying to kill us with hunger — they destroyed our opium but didn’t give us one Afghani [the Afghan currency]. That is why people decided to join the Taliban; they needed someone to defend them.”[45] In fact, the British did provide compensation for the destruction of poppy crops, but farmers got nothing as this scheme was administered by corrupt local officials.[46] In many places, rebellion mapped onto existing tribal rivalries. A noted example is the Ishaqzai community within Sangin district in Helmand. For generations, the Alizais and Alikozais of northern Helmand had been in competition with the Ishaqzai. Under the Taliban state, Ishaqzais held a number of key government posts in the province, including the governorship. The tables turned when Karzai appointed an Alizai warlord as provincial governor and an Alikozai warlord as head of the provincial secret police. As Martin notes, warlords in both positions “used the cover of their government positions to tax, harass and steal from the Ishaqzai.”[47] One Alikozai admitted in 2007 that “The Ishaqzai had no choice but to fight back.”[48] As they gained control of sizable portions of territory, the Taliban set about trying to reestablish an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan. To achieve this goal, Taliban provincial governors were provided with a modest budget.[49] The Taliban lacked the resources and expertise, however, to replicate the state. For many Afghan locals and Taliban commanders in Helmand, establishing a shadow government was not seen as a major part of the Taliban war effort.[50] The only area in which the Taliban were able to provide alternative government services was in the administration of justice. There was high demand for Taliban services given the frequency of rural disputes over land, trade, and family matters. Initially, the Quetta Shura sought to replicate the court system of the Islamic emirate of the 1990s, with standing lower and higher courts. In Helmand, the Taliban were able to reestablish the emirate court system for a time. But in most places, justice was administered by shadow governors, Taliban mullahs, and military commanders. According to Thomas Johnson and Matthew DuPee, “The Taliban shadow justice system is easily one of the most popular and respected elements of the Taliban insurgency by local communities, especially in southern Afghanistan.”[51] Under growing pressure from operations of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the Taliban switched in 2009 from standing to mobile courts in Helmand. As one elder noted, “Judges are hiding; sometimes they meet in people’s houses, sometimes in the mountains, sometimes in the mosques.”[52] Nonetheless, Taliban courts remained widely used because, compared with the official Afghan courts, they offered accessible, quick, and corruption-free justice. As one elder observed, “In two or three hours, [the Taliban] could solve disputes with someone over one jerib of land. Now in Lashkar Gah, if you have a dispute with someone over one jerib of land, you have to sell twenty jeribs to pay the courts.”[53] In the end, the Taliban never fully invested in reconstituting their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Instead, the military campaign took precedence. The 2010 edition of the Taliban rulebook (the layeha) specifies the structure of the Taliban shadow government at provincial and district levels and even provides for the appointment of suitably skilled non-Taliban officials. In reality, in many cases the local Taliban commander de facto acted as the shadow governor. [54] As one local elder from Musa Qala noted, “There was a [Taliban] district chief, but he didn’t have much influence. Most of the power was with commanders who had lots of fighters in the district.”[55] U.S. and international forces intensified their campaign targeting Taliban leadership, which led many shadow governors to flee to Pakistan, where they would issue instructions by mobile phone.[56] This gave local commanders even more authority in matters of governance. A local elder from central Helmand described the status quo this way in 2011: “When people have an issue, they will approach the local [Taliban] commander. They don’t know who the district chief is.”[57] The Taliban focus on the military campaign meant that, with the exception of administering justice, the Taliban were not able to provide public services to people in areas under their control. This, combined with the conflict’s growing intensity, led support for the Taliban to decline over time in many parts of Afghanistan. Aside from those villages and sub-tribal groups that had allied with the Taliban, many farmers just wanted to get on with their lives in peace. In eastern Afghanistan, Taliban restrictions on the movement of civilians, and interrogation of locals suspected of spying, became further sources of friction.[58] The Quetta Shura did regulate the shadow governors to ensure that they took measures to win over communities, such as banning arbitrary executions and limiting attacks on teachers and health officials. The 2007 and 2010 editions of the layeha outlined processes for communities to complain to the Quetta Shura if a provincial or district governor was too repressive or corrupt. Two district governors were replaced in Sangin in 2009, one for allowing Taliban fighters to attack local farmers who had received government agricultural aid and the other for his overly draconian administration of justice.[59] The Taliban also took measures to strengthen the military chain of command to improve adherence by field commanders to directives from Quetta (This is discussed further in the next section). While attacks on schools and extrajudicial killings declined in 2010 and 2011, they did not disappear altogether.[60] [quote id="2"] The Taliban benefited from extensive social resources in establishing the post-2002 insurgency. Shared education, ideology, and military experience all endowed a powerful horizontal network that helped the Taliban mobilize its fighting groups and maintain the coherence of a movement that contained many rival fronts and shuras. The Taliban were also able to develop and exploit vertical links with disgruntled villages and disenfranchised sub-tribal communities, which helped the group to seize control of rural areas from pro-government warlords. The situation is more mixed with regard to the Taliban’s success in developing legitimacy by establishing state-like structures and services. The Taliban sought to reestablish the Islamic emirate in the areas they controlled and took care to listen to the concerns of locals. But the group’s ability to govern was severely hampered by the conflict. Only in the administration of justice were the Taliban able to provide a public service that was valued by local Afghans. Shoring up insurgent morale and public support was an extensive Taliban propaganda campaign that utilized many forms of media — including jihadi magazines, radio, night letters, and sophisticated uses of social media — and contained narratives tailored for local Afghans and Pakistanis as well as global audiences.[61]

Military Adaptation in War

War involves a dynamic struggle between two or more armed parties, each trying to outwit and outfight the other.[62] By its nature, war demands that those engaged in this bloody struggle be prepared to adapt both to their environment and to the other side’s strategy and tactics. Military history is replete with examples of how fighting forces have adapted under battlefield pressure,[63] as well as how they have taken advantage of newly available technologies.[64] Those militaries that fail to adapt quickly or extensively enough are at greater risk of defeat and find that, even if they do end up winning the war, the price of victory was higher than necessary.[65] Notwithstanding these realities about adaptation, military organizations can nevertheless be slow to change. That is in part because, through training, planning, and equipment, militaries invest heavily in excelling at particular methods of waging war. This, in turn, creates a “competency trap,” whereby it becomes difficult to abandon existing ways of doing things.[66] So, how and when do militaries adapt? The literature on military change identifies the shock of defeat as a key driver.[67] Although militaries have powerful incentives to adapt based on their battlefield setbacks, higher-ups sometimes fail to appreciate and act upon lessons learned on the ground. This points to another key factor in military adaptation identified in the literature: namely, effective organizational leadership. When the innovations originate from below, i.e., on the battlefield, all that is required are senior leaders who are prepared to support the necessary changes throughout the organization.[68] In some cases, innovations will flow from the top, for example, when senior leaders champion organizational change in order to harness new technology, incorporate foreign military lessons, or respond to new political direction.[69] In a study published in 2010 on British military operations in Afghanistan, I identified two key enablers of military adaptation. One is the degree of centralization within an organization. Here it is about getting the balance right. Military adaptation requires sufficient delegation of authority so that battlefield commanders have the latitude to try out new tactics when the old ones prove ineffective.[70] It also requires sufficient centralized direction to ensure that organization resources are committed to developing and rolling out new tactics and to acquiring the equipment necessary to operate in new ways. A second key enabler is personnel turnover: Fresh ideas can travel into organizations with people. This is well understood in business, in what has become, in many sectors, a global hunt for talent. It applies in the military context with changes of command and the rotation of units into and out of theatres of operation.[71] In an important correction to my model, Kristen Harkness and Michael Hunzeker identified political considerations as a further factor critical in enabling military adaptation. In a study of the failure to adapt in the British counterinsurgency campaign in Southern Cameroons in 1960–61, they found that “British politicians chose to sacrifice military effectiveness for broader strategic and political interests, thus subverting bottom-up adaptation.” Their research highlights the importance of political leadership in setting overarching objectives for military campaigns, putting in place any high-level operational constraints, and allocating the resources necessary for adaptation.[72] Until now, scholarship on military adaptation has focused on the armed forces of states — that is, organizations with centralized authority exercised through a formal hierarchy and structured into functionally based subunits.[73] Indeed, through a process of transnational emulation of professional norms and practices, state-based militaries around the world have come to adopt remarkably similar organizational structures since the 19th century.[74] However, non-state military actors are more heterogeneous. Some emulate the hierarchies, units, and uniforms of state-based militaries, to varying degrees of fidelity. Others have a hybrid structure, with subunit formation reflecting local circumstances, and a less centralized and more informal hierarchy in which authority is often exercised through patronage networks. This variation can be seen in the military forces of Afghanistan’s foremost warlords during the late 1990s, specifically the more hierarchical and formally structured army of Ismail Khan and the patrimonial and semi-regular forces of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostrum.[75] In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military commanders perceived themselves to be at a disadvantage when it came to military adaptation, believing that, with their flatter hierarchies and networked structures, insurgent groups found it easier to adapt.[76] Certainly, the less regimented culture and informal hierarchies of insurgent groups reduce the social and organizational barriers to experimentation. At the same time, as noted above, military adaptation requires sufficient organizational capacity to identify operational problems and develop tactical and technological solutions.[77] Modern militaries devote considerable resources to developing such capacities whereas insurgencies are less able to do so, suggesting that insurgencies may find it more difficult to ensure wider adoption of new tactics and integration of new technologies. The literature on military adaptation thus leads to the following questions when considering the Taliban. First, how did the Taliban adapt to battlefield setbacks? Second, what role did Taliban leadership — military and political — play in enabling that adaptation? Third, how centralized is the Taliban, and how has the group’s organizational structure affected military adaptation? And, finally, as the insurgency grew, is there evidence that new ideas about military matters had a significant impact on the Taliban?

Military Adaptation and Taliban Resilience

The Taliban have proven to be highly adaptive adversaries. During the war with the Soviets, the Afghan mujahedeen developed a pretty standard repertoire of guerrilla tactics. In particular, these involved planting mines in roads, ambushing convoys, and conducting raids against military bases.[78] Experience gained in this conflict shaped Taliban thinking about how they should fight. However, this did not stop the Taliban from adapting after the fall of the Islamic emirate. As noted above, the deployment of Western combat forces into southern and eastern Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007 increased pressure on the Taliban insurgency. The group responded with a number of adaptations to improve its ability to mass and control its forces in the field. The Taliban also adapted tactics to take advantage of bomb technology and to reduce exposure to Western firepower. The Taliban’s loose organizational structure, based primarily on a large number of semi-autonomous fronts linked to various shuras, presented a fundamental problem for the Quetta Shura in terms of managing the war effort. Initially, the Quetta Shura tried to get fronts to cooperate by offering financial incentives. The Taliban also tried to mass forces by moving experienced fighting groups across provinces, usually within the same mahaz network. By 2008, the Taliban leadership realized that this attempt to reform the mahaz system was not working. Anecdotal evidence from Helmand province illustrates the problem. In Kajaki, an Afghan interpreter hired by the British to listen to Taliban communications “described almost comical attempts by different commanders to shirk combat and foist the responsibility on other commanders.”[79] Around this time the Peshawar Shura began to develop a more centralized command system for Taliban fighters in the east and northeast. This new system involved the creation of provincial military commissions to plan large-scale operations, manage logistics, and deal with disputes between front commanders, as well as the appointment of district military commissioners (Nizami Massuleen) to ensure that field commanders complied with direction from the Peshawar Shura. This type of centralized system was alien to Taliban culture. So where did it come from? The Pakistani military’s extensive support for the Taliban, including providing military advisers, no doubt contributed to the creation and functioning of this more centralized system. But recent work by Claudio Franco and Antonio Guistozzi suggests that the Taliban’s organizational innovations originated in the more regimented structure of Hezb-i Islami, a rival mujahedeen party during the Soviet war. The Peshawar Shura was formed partly out of a breakaway faction from Hezb-i Islami in 2006. In this way, Hezb-i Islami’s ideas about how to organize the insurgency came into the Taliban. This more centralized system was subsequently adopted, with some reluctance, by the southern Taliban when Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir was appointed to head the Quetta Military Commission in 2009. There is a complicated but important backstory here: Zakir, a prominent Taliban commander from northern Helmand, had fallen out with his erstwhile patron, Mullah Baradar, and so he aligned instead with the Peshawar Shura. It was only under pressure from Peshawar that Baradar appointed Zakir to oversee the Quetta Military Commission. From this position, which he occupied until 2014, Zakir was able to ensure that the new centralized system rolled out across the south.[80] In addition, from 2008 on, foreign aid flowing through Pakistan was increasingly directed toward the Peshawar Shura, which allowed them to progressively outspend the Quetta Shura in funding the war.[81] This, in turn, enabled Peshawar to push its professionalization effort on Taliban fronts in the south as well as the east.[82] The result was a somewhat cumbersome double chain of command, in which Taliban units belonging to a particular front would respond to both their parent networks and the Peshawar or Quetta military commissions (whichever had given direction).[83] As one field commander noted in 2011, “If we see an ISAF convoy or police or army, we have orders to attack them. But if we make a plan to attack someplace, I ask Haji Mullah [his mahaz chief]. Sometimes we get orders from the nizami commission as well.”[84] Taliban interviewees also confirmed that the military commissions took over the task of resolving problems among commanders: “When some small problems come between to Taliban commanders, they are solved by the nizami commission in a very short time.”[85] Where necessary, a mediator figure — “a Pakistani mullah,” sent from Quetta — would be dispatched to sort out conflict between commanders when the district military commissioners were unable to cope on their own.[86] Thus, while it enabled more coordination between fronts and fighting groups, the Taliban’s new centralized system did not foster state-like command and control. The Taliban also adapted tactics in response to battlefield pressures. In Helmand, for instance, the group made wide use of fairly conventional infantry assaults in 2006 and 2007 in an attempt to overrun British outposts. The exact number of Taliban fighters killed in action over this period is unknown, but British defense intelligence estimated it to be in the thousands.[87] In response to these growing losses, Taliban field units adapted by moving toward greater use of asymmetric tactics. Taliban commanders interviewed across nine districts in Helmand reported this change. Three of these interviewees confirmed that the imperative to reduce Taliban battlefield casualties drove the shift in tactics.[88] Nevertheless, the Taliban still engaged in occasional large-scale attacks and paid a heavy price when they did so. This included, most spectacularly, an assault on Lashkar Gah in October 2008 by a 300-strong force, with the objective of decapitating the provincial government and discrediting the British mission. This attack was repulsed by airpower, leaving around 150 Taliban dead.[89] Perhaps having learned from such setbacks, in 2010 the Quetta Military Commission issued a general order instructing field units to avoid direct combat and to make greater use of guerrilla tactics.[90] [quote id="3"] Based on extensive interviews with Taliban commanders and officials, Giustozzi shows how alongside the new tactics came a number of “technological innovations,” including the introduction of anti-aircraft heavy machine guns, heavy mortars, advanced anti-armor weapons, and large-scale use of sniper rifles and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).[91] Taliban interviewees admit to having received military equipment from Iran, and some said they had received military supplies from Russia.[92] Interviewees are far more careful in discussing support the Taliban received from the Pakistani Army. It is very likely, however, that these Taliban technological innovations were facilitated by equipment and training provided by Pakistan. The Taliban’s most significant technology-enabled military adaptation was the move to industrial-scale use of IEDs. In Quetta and Peshawar, the Taliban established Mine Commissions to lead this effort. In 2006, around 30 percent of all coalition fatalities were caused by IEDs. The next year, the share rose to almost 40 percent. From 2008 to 2010, IEDs were responsible for more than half of all coalition troop deaths.[93] By late 2008, use of IEDs had quadrupled in Helmand from the previous year. The number of such devices detected in Helmand jumped from around 100 per month in late 2008 to more than 450 per month in the summer of 2009 (they caused 80 percent of British fatalities that summer). This number continued to rise in 2010, to more than 600 in February and 700 in March.[94] Initially, most improvised explosive devices were made using recycled Soviet mines and unexploded ISAF ordnance. To meet demand, however, the Taliban had to switch to large-scale production of explosives using fertilizers from Pakistan.[95] By 2009, 80 percent of IEDs used these types of homemade explosives.[96] Western forces responded to the threat by deploying far more capable armored vehicles. The Taliban’s homemade explosives were about twenty times less powerful than military explosives, so it was difficult for the group to produce IEDs large enough to destroy such vehicles. U.S. and British forces also invested more heavily in IED detection capabilities. The Taliban responded by reducing the metal content in the devices to make them harder to detect. By 2011, the Taliban were producing IEDs on an industrial scale in Helmand, Kandahar, and Khost.[97] Hunting down IED makers became a priority for U.S. and coalition intelligence and special operations forces. One Taliban source gives insight into the impact of this counter-IED campaign on the Haqqani network: It lost almost 100 IED makers in 2013 and around 75 in 2014.[98] According to Taliban sources, the Iranians began to provide remotely triggered mines capable of penetrating Western armored vehicles in 2010 and increased the supply in 2011 and 2012.[99] Such extensive use of IEDs made it increasingly difficult for U.S. and coalition forces to move around. In 2006–07, the British had only two IED disposal teams for the whole of Helmand. There were six teams by late 2008 and fourteen by late 2009, but this was still not nearly enough. A British military review of the IED threat concluded that it had created “a defensive mindset” in British forces, who were increasingly focused on simply not getting blown up. The situation gradually improved for U.S. and international forces with the deployment of new armored vehicles, better training and equipment for detecting IEDs, and the targeting of IED production. By 2011, the proportion of coalition troops killed by IEDs fell below 50 percent. It dropped further, to around 30 percent, in 2012.[100] Since the coalition mission ended in December 2014, bringing with it the withdrawal of Western combat forces, the burden of fighting the Taliban has fallen on the Afghan National Security Forces, whose unarmored trucks and lack of counter-IED capabilities leave them highly vulnerable to such devices. Professionalization of the war effort by the Peshawar Shura, including adoption of military commissions by the Quetta Shura, was critical to the Taliban’s ability to adapt militarily. With a shift in tactics came a new military training regime, reinforced by directives from Quetta and Peshawar compelling the tactical commanders to undergo training and receive regular advice on guerrilla tactics. One Taliban commander in Helmand noted in early 2012 that “now we are all focused a lot on getting training of IEDs, making of Fedayeen vests, getting ready of Fedayeen bombers and guerrilla fighting.”[101] According to another commander, Taliban units undergo “15 or 20” days of training every four months.[102] One interviewee from Sangin said that the Taliban “decided to open new training centers for mujahedeen.”[103] Yet another offered a contradictory and altogether more convincing view, given U.S. and British military operations: “We don’t have a secure place for our training. One day we get training in one area and the other day we get training in another area.”[104] Many Taliban interviewees from Helmand reported “foreign Taliban” (in this case meaning fighters from Pakistan) entering their districts for a week or two to provide military training. These men are most likely members of mobile training teams dispatched from Quetta or Peshawar that move from village to village.[105] Pakistani and Iranian military advisers appear to have provided significant support to the Taliban training effort.[106] This centrally directed and resourced training regime greatly increased the Taliban’s capacity to absorb new weapons and bomb-making technology into general use by field forces.[107] The ability to adapt has been key to the success of the Taliban insurgency. Early tactics learned during the Soviet war — ambushing military convoys and raiding enemy bases — proved suicidal in the face of Western artillery and airpower. The loose structure of the Taliban, based on the mahaz system, also greatly limited the group’s ability to mass force and achieve decisive outcomes on the battlefield. The Taliban adapted in two major ways: first, by introducing some degree of centralized command of fighting groups through a system of provincial military commissions and district military commissioners; and, second, by shifting to guerrilla warfare tactics and avoiding direct engagement with enemy forces. The latter adaptation involved a massive increase in the use and sophistication of IEDs, significantly hindering freedom of movement by international and Afghan security forces. The typical drivers of military adaptation are present in the case of the Taliban. Growing battlefield losses drove the Taliban to find new ways to fight and organize. This effort accelerated when Mullah Zakir assumed leadership of the Quetta Military Commission in 2009. The Taliban’s political leadership, in the form of the Quetta Shura old guard, was not keen on Zakir and his organizational reforms, but pressure from the Peshawar Shura backed by Pakistani funds swept aside these concerns. The decentralized structure of the Taliban had given local commanders too much latitude to fight when and how they liked. Under Zakir, some semblance of centralized command was superimposed on the mahaz system. This, over time, enabled the rolling out of new tactics, training, and bomb technologies. Finally, new ideas travelled with people into the Taliban: Organizational and tactical innovations came not only from the Pakistani ISI (as previously believed) but were also adopted when a breakaway faction of Hezb-i Islami was absorbed into the Taliban movement, forming the Peshawar Shura.

Conclusion: The Problem with U.S. Strategy

The resilience of an insurgency is substantially shaped by its social resources and its ability to adapt. The importance of these factors is identified in the relevant theoretical literature and is furthermore evident in the case of the Afghan Taliban. The group was founded on a powerful horizontal network. In establishing a post-2002 insurgency, however, the Taliban were able to exploit vertical links into host communities as well. The group was less successful in its efforts to rebuild the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan but garnered some legitimacy from the efficiency of Taliban courts. The Taliban also adapted militarily, in terms of tactics and supporting technologies, as well as in the command of insurgent fighting groups. The latter improvements to the Taliban’s chain of command, and the overall professionalization of the insurgent war effort led by the eastern Taliban, also increased the group’s capacity to adapt tactically. Previous studies have further highlighted the importance of foreign support for the Taliban and of their ability to operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan. The combination of the group’s social resources, ability to adapt, and trans-border support make the Taliban’s resurgence from what had looked like utter defeat not all that surprising. Ultimately, insurgencies win by not losing, especially when facing off against a foreign great power. Essentially, the insurgents need only outwait the foreign interloper. This has been the Taliban’s basic strategy. Under President Trump, the United States has decided to double down in Afghanistan. One element of the “new” Trump strategy involves getting tough with Pakistan for failing to crack down on the Taliban. On Jan. 1, 2018, the president tweeted that Pakistan was playing the United States for “fools” by giving “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”[108] His comments triggered an immediate suspension of U.S. military assistance to Pakistan.[109] The Trump administration is gambling hugely by cracking down on Pakistan given Islamabad’s capacity to make things far worse both by interfering with the U.S. logistical routes through Pakistan, and by increasing support to the Taliban.[110] Even in the unlikely event that the Pakistan Army withdraws its support for the Afghan Taliban, the United States would still have to contend with an adaptive insurgency that has strong social roots. This is where the other element of the Trump strategy to intensify the relatively modest U.S. military effort in Afghanistan becomes problematic. Around 11,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan, 8,400 of whom are committed to supporting NATO’s Resolute Support mission to “train, advise and assist” the Afghan security forces. In August 2017, Trump approved the deployment of an additional 3,900 troops to Afghanistan. Gen. Joseph Vogel, head of U.S. Central Command, declared that in 2018 U.S. forces would “focus on offensive operations and ... look for a major effort to gain the initiative very quickly as we enter into the fighting season.”[111] It is hard to see how such a modest increase in U.S. ground forces could have a decisive effect. The U.S. military’s last attempt to turn the tables on the Taliban came in late 2009 and early 2010, when there were around 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and about 40,000 troops from coalition partners.[112] Afghan capabilities, insofar as they have grown since 2010, can hardly make up for the withdrawal of Western combat forces.[113] Indeed, the Afghan security forces have steadily lost ground across the country since 2014, with major Taliban gains that year in the south (Helmand and Uruzgan provinces), east (Ghanzi, Wardak, Kapisa, and Logar provinces) and north (Kunduz province).[114] According to the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, only around 70 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts were under government control in late 2015. Two years later, that share was down to just over half of the districts.[115] History is instructive here: When the United States got bogged down in drawn-out wars against peasant armies in Korea and Vietnam, it resorted to major bombing campaigns to break the stalemate. This failed to work in both of those wars.[116] In Afghanistan, history is repeating itself. In December 2017, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, revealed that a major campaign by U.S. air forces was targeting some 500 Taliban drug laboratories in southern areas, bringing the number of airstrikes in 2017 to three times more than had occurred in 2016.[117] Afghan civilians have borne the brunt of this bombing campaign: The United Nations reported a 52 percent increase in civilian deaths caused by airstrikes in 2017 in comparison to the year before.[118] Civilian casualties notwithstanding, the United States is pursuing a targeted bombing campaign. Noting that the Taliban earn around $200 million a year through its taxation of the opium trade, Nicholson declared, “We’re hitting the Taliban where it hurts, which is their finances.” He added: “The Taliban have three choices: reconcile, face irrelevance or die.”[119] According to the leading analyst on the Afghan opium trade, David Mansfeld, the U.S. military is grossly overestimating both the Taliban’s ability to collect taxes and the amount of poppy being destroyed in the bombings. Mansfeld finds accordingly that the bombing campaign is having far less impact on Taliban revenue than is claimed by U.S. military commanders.[120] [quote id="4"] In a January 2018 Foreign Affairs article titled “Why the Taliban Isn’t Winning in Afghanistan,” Seth G. Jones argues that “Although the Taliban has demonstrated a surprising ability to survive and conduct high-profile attacks in cities like Kabul, it is weaker today than most recognize.”[121] Jones is only partly right. Citing various Afghan opinion polls, Jones argues that public support for the Taliban has plummeted thanks to its extremist ideology, brutal tactics, and reliance on both the drug trade and support from Pakistan. He fails to note, however, that polling in Afghanistan is famously unreliable and that public views of the Taliban are especially difficult to gauge in areas under Taliban control. He is on safer ground in noting that few non-Pashtun Afghans recognize the legitimacy of the Pashtun-dominated Taliban and that Afghanistan’s growing urban population abhors the socially regressive ideology of the Taliban. Some in the Taliban leadership have long understood these realities and foresee the Taliban entering government only through a power-sharing arrangement.[122] These days the Taliban’s main problem is not the group’s decline in popularity but its waning cohesiveness. In November 2016, Michael Semple and I spent a week conducting interviews with seven senior Taliban figures. Our subjects included two former deputy ministers, a former provincial governor, and two former senior military commanders. What we discovered surprised us. We had expected Taliban confidence to have been boosted by recent battlefield success. Instead, those we interviewed reported widespread disillusion within the movement, with the state of Taliban leadership, and with a seemingly endless war. Multiple interviewees told us that many Taliban members feel that the war lost direction and purpose after the withdrawal of foreign combat forces. The Taliban’s current leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, is widely seen as ineffective and lacking the moral authority of the group’s founder, Mullah Omar. This is undermining the ideological cornerstone of the Taliban, namely obedience to the emir. Several factions are vying for power within the movement, most notably the Ishaqzai-dominated Mansour network based in northern Helmand (led by Mullah Rahim, the Taliban governor of Helmand).[123] Thus, while the Taliban maintains strong vertical ties with rural communities, which have supported the group’s battlefield gains since 2014, the horizontal network holding the insurgency together is weakening.[124] Sending more U.S. troops into Afghanistan and pushing them out into the field is likely to provide some short-term gains. Importantly, the presence of a Marine battalion in Helmand helps prevent the provincial capital from falling to the Taliban. Yet this marginal increase in combat-force levels will not break the strategic stalemate in Afghanistan when massive U.S. military power failed to do so in 2010. Rather, sending in more troops and conducting more airstrikes may well make the Taliban stronger. Meanwhile, destroying drug processing and production facilities will hurt not only the Taliban but also anybody involved in opium farming, which is just about every farmer in Helmand. It stands to once again drive them into the arms of the insurgents. And just as before, public patience is likely to wear thin at apparent U.S. military carelessness and mounting civilian casualties.[125] In the end, ramping up the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan risks reenergizing the Taliban’s sense of purpose and uniting a movement that may be beginning to unravel. If the United States is not careful, it could end up bombing its way to defeat in Afghanistan.   The author would like to acknowledge the generous funding of this project by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC Grant ES/L008041/1, “The Taliban's War: The Other Side of the Taliban Conflict, 20012015”).   Theo Farrell is professor and executive dean of law, humanities, and the arts at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He was previously professor of war in the modern world and head of the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. He is a fellow of the U.K. Academy of Social Sciences and former president of the British International Studies Association. Professor Farrell is the author of Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan, 2001–2014 (Penguin Random House, 2017), which was shortlisted for the RUSI Duke of Wellington Medal for Military History and the British Army Military Book of the Year. It was also named as a book of the year in the Times and the Evening Standard. Image: isafmedia [post_title] => Unbeatable: Social Resources, Military Adaptation, and the Afghan Taliban [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => unbeatable-social-resources-military-adaptation-and-the-afghan-taliban [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-06-06 11:40:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-06 15:40:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=573 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => Following the 9/11 attacks, the Afghan Taliban were obliterated in a lightning war prosecuted by the United States. Their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan ceased to exist as a physical entity, and the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, fled to Pakistan. Within five years, however, the Taliban had regrouped and returned in large numbers to southern and eastern Afghanistan. By 2016, they had overrun at least a third of the country. How did the Taliban come back so successfully from utter defeat? This article draws on the literatures on civil wars and on military adaptation to identify and unpack two sets of factors that explain the relative success of insurgencies: the availability of social resources and the elements that drive and enable military adaptation. Drawing on a large number of original interviews with Taliban leaders, cadre, and field commanders, I demonstrate how these factors combined to make the Taliban essentially unbeatable. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Less studied is how the Taliban have been the makers of their own success. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => In the end, the Taliban never fully invested in reconstituting their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Instead, the military campaign took precedence. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => [H]ow centralized is the Taliban, and how has the group’s organizational structure affected military adaptation? ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Professionalization of the war effort by the Peshawar Shura, including adoption of military commissions by the Quetta Shura, was critical to the Taliban’s ability to adapt militarily. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 56 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Michael E. O’Hanlon, “A Flawed Masterpiece,” Foreign Affairs 81 (May/June 2002): 48, 55, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2002-05-01/flawed-masterpiece. [2] Mujib Mashal and Najim Rahim, “Afghan Forces Push Taliban Out of Kunduz Center, Officials Say,” New York Times, Oct. 4, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/05/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-kunduz.html. [3] Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, July 30, 2016, 86, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2016-07-30qr.pdf. [4] Theo Farrell, Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan, 20012014 (London: The Bodley Head, 2017); Jack Fairweather, The Good War: The Battle for Afghanistan, 200614 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2014); Daniel P. Bolger, Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014); David H. Ucko and Robert Egnell, Counterinsurgency in Crisis: Britain and the Challenges of Modern Warfare (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013); Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (London: Bloomsbury, 2012); Sten Rynning, NATO in Afghanistan: The Liberal Disconnect (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012); David P. Auerswald and Stephen M. Saideman, NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014); Sherard Cowper-Coles, Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign (London: Harper Press, 2011); Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011); Tim Bird and Alex Marshall, Afghanistan: How the West Lost Its Way (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011); M.J. Williams, The Good War: NATO and the Liberal Conscience in Afghanistan (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); Seth G. Jones, In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009). [5] Chris Kolenda, “Endgame: Why American Interventions Become Quagmires,” PhD thesis, King’s College London, 2017; Sarah Chayes, Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security (New York: W.W. Norton, 2016); Antonio Giustozzi, The Army of Afghanistan: A Political History of a Fragile Institution (London: Hurst, 2015); Astri Suhrke, When More Is Less: The International Project in Afghanistan (London: Hurst, 2011); Peter Marsden, Afghanistan: Aid, Armies and Empires (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009). [6] Peter Bergen with Katherine Tiedemann, ed., Talibanistan: Negotiating the Borders Between Terror, Politics, and Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Vahid Brown and Don Rassler, Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 19732012 (London: Hurst, 2013); Carlotta Gall, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 20012014 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). [7] Carlotta Gall, “Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/world/asia/saudi-arabia-afghanistan.html; Ahmad Majidyar, “Afghan Intelligence Chief Warns Iran and Russia Against Aiding Taliban,” The Middle East Institute, Feb. 5, 2018, http://www.mei.edu/content/io/afghan-intelligence-chief-warns-iran-and-russia-against-aiding-taliban; Justin Rowlatt, “Russia ‘Arming the Afghan Taliban’, Says US,” BBC News, Mar. 23, 2018, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-43500299. The extent of Pakistan support to the Taliban is documented in Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 20012016 (London: Allen Lane, 2018); and Gall, The Wrong Enemy. [8] Coll, Directorate S, 329-340. [9] Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: The Story of the Afghan Warlords (London: Pan Macmillan, 2001); Gilles Dorronsoro, Revolution Unending: Afghanistan, 1979 to the Present (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005); Kamal Matinuddin, The Taliban Phenomenon: Afghanistan, 19941997 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 19702010 (London: Hurst, 2012); Rob Johnson, The Afghan Way of War: Culture and Pragmatism: A Critical History (London: Hurst, 2011). [10] Antonio Giustozzi, Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan (London: Hurst, 2007); Antonio Giustozzi, ed., Decoding the New Taliban: Insights from the Afghan Field (London: Hurst, 2009). [11] In total, 282 interviews with Taliban and 138 interviews with non-Taliban Afghan locals were conducted by Afghan researchers over two periods, from 2011–12 and 2014–15. Those interviewed were not paid for their interviews. Interviews were recorded in field notes and transcribed into English. The research project was led by myself, and the field research was supervised by Dr. Antonio Giustozzi. In conformity with the project protocols, I do not reveal the precise location and date of the interviews in order to protect the anonymity of the interviewees. The findings from the 2011–12 pilot project were published as Theo Farrell and Antonio Giustozzi, “The Taliban at War: Inside the Helmand Insurgency, 2004–2011,” International Affairs 89 (2013): 845-71. The overall findings of the main project will be published as Antonio Giustozzi, The Taliban at War (London: Hurst, forthcoming). [12] Jeremy M. Weinstein, Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 43-44. [13] Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror (London: William Collins, 2015). [14] Kieran Mitton, Rebels in a Rotten State: Understanding Atrocity in the Sierra Leone Civil War (London: Hurst, 2015). [15] Zachariah Cherian Mampilly, Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life During War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011), 52-55. [16] Weinstein, Inside Rebellion, 48-49. [17] Paul Staniland, Networks of Rebellion: Explaining Insurgent Cohesion and Collapse (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014). [18] Madhav Joshi and T. David Mason, “Between Democracy and Revolution: Peasant Support for Insurgency Versus Democracy in Nepal,” Journal of Peace Research 45 (2008): 765-82, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27640768. [19] Alpa Shah, “The Intimacy of Insurgency: Beyond Coercion, Greed or Grievance in Maoist India,” Economy and Society 42 (2013): 480-506. [20] Nelson Kasfir, “Rebel Governance — Constructing a Field of Inquiry: Definitions, Scope, Patterns, Order, Causes,” in Rebel Governance in Civil War, ed. Ana Arjona, Nelson Kasfir, and Zachariah Mampilly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 22-23. [21] Bert Suykens, “Comparing Rebel Rule Through Revolution and Naturalization: Ideologies of Governance in Naxalite and Naga India,” in Rebel Governance in Civil War, ed. Arjona et al., 138-57. [22] Mampilly, Rebel Rulers, 63-64. [23] Till Forster, “Dialogue Direct: Rebel Governance and Civil Order in Northern Cote d’Ivoire,” in Rebel Governance in Civil War, ed. Arjona et al., 203-25; and Suykens, “Comparing Rebel Rule Through Revolution and Naturalization.” [24] Zachariah Mampilly, “Performing the Nation-State: Rebel Governance and Symbolic Processes,” in Rebel Governance in Civil War, ed. Arjona et al., 77-78. [25] Johnson, The Afghan Way of War, 217-39. [26] Van Linschoten and Kuehn, An Enemy We Created, 45. Initially, it was believed that the Taliban originated in Kandahar in 1994 as a religious militant group that sought to bring law and order to southern Afghanistan and stop local warlords from abusing the area population. This view was most notably advanced in Rashid’s Taliban: The Story of the Afghan Warlords. However, van Linschoten and Kuehn have subsequently proven that the Taliban predated the 1990s and indeed fought in the mujahedeen war. This is also recounted in the published memoir of a former senior Taliban. See Abdul Salam Zaeff, My Life With the Taliban (London: Hurst, 2010). [27] On the mujahedeen as “brothers-in-arms” communities forged in war, see David B. Edwards, Caravan of Martyrs: Sacrifice and Suicide Bombing in Afghanistan (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017). [28] Christina Lamb, The Sowing Circles of Herat (London: HarperCollins, 2004). [29] Interview with local elder no. 7, Nad-e Ali district, Helmand, March 2012. [30] Mike Martin, An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict (London: Hurst, 2014), 125. [31] Interview with mahaz commander no. 2, Nangarhar, 2015. [32] Interview with national commission member, 2014; interview with former member of Rahbari Shura, 2014. [33] Giustozzi, Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop, 101. [34] Interview with local elder no. 3, Musa Qala, Helmand, 2012. [35] Interview with local elder no. 4, Musa Qala, Helmand, 2012. [36] Interview with Taliban cadre no. 10, Peshawar, 2015. A number of Taliban fronts also reactivated in Nangarhar in 2004–05, each with many hundreds of fighters. Interview with mahaz commander no. 1, Nangarhar, 2015; interview with mahaz commander no. 2, Nangarhar, 2015. [37] Interviews with two cadre, Miran Shah Shura, 2015. [38] Interviews with four Taliban leaders, Nangarhar, 2015. [39] See, for example, Graeme Smith, “What Kandahar’s Taliban Say,” in Decoding the New Taliban, 191-210. [40] On closed versus open political orders, see Douglas C. North, John Joseph Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast, Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). [41] Interview with local elder no. 4, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. [42] Carter Malkasian, Jerry Meyerle, and Megan Katt, “The War in Southern Afghanistan, 2001–2008,” unclassified report (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analysis, July 2009): 11, 14, https://info.publicintelligence.net/CNA-WarSouthernAfghanistan.pdf. [43] Interview with local elder no. 3, Qarabagh, Ghanzi, 2014. [44] Farrell, Unwinnable, 226-28. [45] Interview with group of local elders no. 9, Nad-e Ali district, 2012. [46] Interview with elder no. 3, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. [47] Martin, Brief History, 49. [48] Cited in Tom Coghlan, “The Taliban in Helmand: An Oral History,” in Decoding the New Taliban, 139. The British Army provided limited and reluctant support to the Afghan government’s poppy eradication program. Britain was the lead nation for the international counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan; however, the British Army quickly realized that it risked losing local support in Helmand if its forces were too closely associated with the destruction of the poppy crop. The British got blamed for it anyway. See Farrell, Unwinnable, 227-28. [49] Interview with Taliban leader no. 14, Quetta, 2015. [50] Interview with local elder no. 3, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011; Taliban commander no. 2, Nad-e Ali, 2012; and Taliban commander no. 1, Marjah, 2011. [51] Thomas H. Johnson and Matthew C. DuPee, “Analysing the New Taliban Code of Conduct (Layeha): An Assessment of Changing Perspectives and Strategies of the Afghan Taliban,” Central Asian Survey 31 (2002): 84, https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2012.647844; see also Coghlan, “The Taliban in Helmand,” 148-49. [52] Interview with local elder no. 5, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. Also confirmed by interviews with elder no. 1, Now Zad, 2011; elder no 6, Nad-e Ali, 2011; and elder no. 2, Garmsir, 2011. [53] Interview with local elder no. 7, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011; similar view was offered in interview with elder no. 5, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. [54] Johnson and DuPee, “Analysing the New Taliban Code,” 85-86. [55] Interview with elder no. 3, Musa Qala, 2011. [56] Interviews with elder no. 4, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011; and elder no. 3, Musa Qala, 2011. [57] Interview with elder no. 4, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. [58] Interview with local elder no. 1, Logar, February 2015; interview with local elder no. 2, Logar, February 2015; interview with local elder no. 10, Nangarhar, March 2015. [59] Phil Weatherill, “Targeting the Centre of Gravity: Adapting Stabilisation in Sangin,” RUSI Journal 156 (2011): 98, 22n, https://doi.org/10.1080/03071847.2011.606655. [60] Antonio Guistozzi and Claudio Franco, The Battle for the Schools: The Taleban and State Education (Berlin: Afghan Analysts Network, 2011), http://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/10/2011TalebanEducation.pdf. [61] Thomas H. Johnson, Taliban Narratives: The Use and Power of Stories in the Afghanistan Conflict (London: Hurst, 2017). [62] The dynamic competition at the heart of war is captured by Carl von Clausewitz’s description of it as “a duel on an extensive scale.” Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Middlesex: Penguin, 1987), 101. [63] Williamson Murray, Military Adaptation in War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). [64] Theo Farrell, “Introduction: Military Adaptation in War,” in Military Adaptation in Afghanistan, ed. Theo Farrell, Frans Osinga, and James A. Russell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), 9-10. [65] The classic study is by Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch, Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War (New York: Free Press, 1990). [66] James G. March and Barbara Levitt, “Organizational Learning,” in The Pursuit of Organizational Intelligence, ed. J.G. March (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 78-79. [67] Barry R. Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); Stephen Peter Rosen, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991). [68] Philipp Rotmann, David Tohn, and Jaron Wharton, “Learning Under Fire: Progress and Dissent in the US Military,” Survival 51, no. 4 (August 2009): 31-48, https://doi.org/10.1080/00396330903168824. Thus, nonresponsive senior leaders within the military or the government can block necessary military adaptation. See Adam M. Jungdahl and Julia M. Macdonald, “Innovation Inhibitors in War: Overcoming Obstacles in the Pursuit of Military Effectiveness,” Journal of Strategic Studies 38 (2015): 467-99, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2014.917628. [69] The importance of senior leaders with the vision and organizational standing to lead military innovation is explored in Rosen’s Winning the Next War. See also Theo Farrell, Sten Rynning, and Terry Terriff, Transforming Military Power Since the End of the Cold War: Britain, France and the United States, 1991-2012 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). [70] The importance of sufficient “force autonomy” to enable military adaptation is also identified in Torunn Laugen Haaland, “The Limits to Learning in Military Operations: Bottom-Up Adaptation in the Norwegian Army in Northern Afghanistan, 2007–2012,” Journal of Strategic Studies 39, no. 7 (2016): 999-1022, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2016.1202823. [71] I also identified a third enabling factor, poor organizational memory, that is not relevant for the Taliban case. Theo Farrell, “Improving in War: Military Adaptation and the British in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2006–2009,” Journal of Strategic Studies 33, no. 4 (2010): 567-94, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2010.489712. [72] Kristen A. Harkness and Michael Hunzeker, “Military Maladaptation: Counterinsurgency and the Politics of Failure,” Journal of Strategic Studies 38, no. 6 (2015): 777-800, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2014.960078. (Quote is from p. 778-79.) [73] James A. Russell, Innovation, Transformation, and War: Counterinsurgency Operations in Anbar and Ninewa Provinces, Iraq, 2005–2007 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011); Chad C. Serena, A Revolution in Military Adaptation: The US Army in the Iraq War (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011); Farrell et al., ed., Military Adaptation in Afghanistan; Stephen M. Saideman, Adapting in the Dust: Lessons Learned from Canada’s War in Afghanistan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016). [74] Theo Farrell, “Transnational Norms and Military Development: Constructing Ireland’s Professional Army,” European Journal of International Relations 7 (2001): 309-26. [75] Antonio Giustozzi, Empires of Mud: War and Warlords in Afghanistan (London: Hurst, 2009). [76] Stanley McChrystal, My Share of the Task: A Memoir (London: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013), chap. 7–10. For a stinging critique of the U.S. military’s failure to adapt in Iraq, see Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (London: Allen Lane, 2006). [77] Francis G. Hoffman, “Learning Under Fire: Military Change in Wartime,” PhD thesis, King’s College London, 2015. [78] Ali Ahmad Jalali and Lester W. Grau, Afghan Guerrilla Warfare: In the Words of the Mujahideen Fighters (Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2001); Russian General Staff, The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost, trans. and ed. Lester W. Gru and Michael A. Gress (University of Kansas Press, 2002), 62-72. [79] Coghlan, “The Taliban in Helmand,” 145. [80] Claudio Franco and Antonio Giustozzi, “Revolution in the Counter-Revolution: Efforts to Centralize the Taliban’s Military Leadership,” Central Asian Affairs 3, no. 3 (2016): 272-75, https://doi.org/10.1163/22142290-00303003. [81] On the rise of the Peshawar Shura, see Franco and Giustozzi, “Revolution in the Counter-Revolution,” 249-86. [82] On the importance of “resource control” to the leadership of insurgent groups, see Alec Worsnop, “Who Can Keep the Peace? Insurgent Organizational Control of Collective Violence,” Security Studies 26, no. 3 (2017): 482-516, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1306397. [83] Interview with Taliban commander no. 2, Nad-e Ali, 2012. This procedure is confirmed in interviews with Taliban commanders from other provinces (Baghlan, Kunduz, Wardak) conducted in 2011–12 as part of a project run by one of the authors. [84] Interview with Taliban commander no. 1, Marjah, 2011. [85] Interview with Taliban commander no. 1, Now Zad, 2011; also confirmed by interviews with Taliban commander no. 4, Garmsir, 2011; Taliban commander no. 4, Marjah, 2011; Taliban commander no. 2, 2011, Now Zad; and Taliban commander no. 4, Kajaki, 2011. [86] Interview with Taliban commander no. 5, Sangin, 2011. See also Antonio Giustozzi and Adam Baczko, “The Politics of the Taliban’s Shadow Judiciary, 2003–2013,” Central Asian Affairs 1 (2014): 199-224, https://doi.org/10.1163/22142290-00102003. [87] Interview with staff officer, Defense Intelligence, Ministry of Defense, London, November 2008. Tom Coghlan reports that “British commanders estimated that approximately 1,000 Taliban died during 2006.” He places less credence in newspaper reports of many thousands of Taliban dead. Coghlan, “The Taliban in Helmand,” 130. [88] Interviews with Taliban commander no. 8, Garsmir, 2011; Taliban commander no. 3, Kajaki, 2011; and Taliban commander no. 3, Marjah, 2011. [89] Interview with senior staff officer, 3 Commando Brigade, Ministry of Defense, London, July 1, 2010. For a dramatic account of the Taliban attack, see Ewen Southby-Tailyour, 3 Commando Brigade: Helmand Assault (London: Ebury Press, 2010), 55-66. [90] Interview with Taliban commander no. 3, Sangin. This is confirmed by 12 interviewees, with a number referring specifically to a “general order” from the Quetta Shura. [91] Antonio Giustozzi, The Taliban at War (London: Hurst, forthcoming), chap. 4. [92] Interview with former Taliban front commander, November 2016; interview with former Taliban provincial governor, November 2016. [93] Ian S. Livingston and Michael E. O’Hanlon, Afghanistan Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction and Security in Post-9/11 Afghanistan (Washington: Brookings Institution, May 2014), 11, figure 1.17, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/index20140514.pdf. [94] Directorate Land Warfare, Lessons Exploitation Centre, Operation Herrick Campaign Study, March 2015 [redacted and publicly released version], Annex A to Annex E, chap. 3-6, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/492757/20160107115638.pdf; also Olivier Grouville, “Bird and Fairweather in Context: Assessing the IED Threat,” RUSI Journal 154 (2009): 40, https://doi.org/10.1080/03071840903255252. [95] Fertilizers containing ammonium nitrate are banned in Afghanistan. [96] Antonio Giustozzi, “Military Adaptation by the Taliban, 2002–11,” in Military Adaptation in Afghanistan, ed. Theo Farrell et al. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), 251. [97] Giustozzi, The Taliban at War, chap. 6. [98] Interview with Taliban leader, Miran Shah Shura, 2015. [99] Interview with several Taliban commanders, Faryab, 2014; interview with Taliban commander, Kandahar, 2014; interview with Taliban leader, Miran Shah Shura, 2015. [100] Farrell, Unwinnable, 242-44. [101] Interview with Taliban commander no. 3, Marjah, 2011. [102] Interview with Taliban commander no. 4, Garmsir, 2011. [103] Interview with Taliban commander no. 6, Sangin, 2011. [104] Interview with Taliban commander no. 5, Marjah, 2011. [105] Interview with Taliban commander no. 3, Sangin, 2011. [106] Interviews with Taliban commander, Kandahar, 2014; and with Taliban cadre, Nangarhar, 2015. [107] On the importance of organizational capacity to “absorb” new military technologies, see Michael C. Horowitz, The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010). [108] Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter post, Jan. 1, 2018, 4:12 a.m., https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/947802588174577664. [109] Haroon Janjua, “‘Nothing but Lies and Deceit’: Trump Launches Twitter Attack on Pakistan,” Guardian, Jan. 2, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/01/lies-and-deceit-trump-launches-attack-on-pakistan-tweet. [110] Mujib Mashal and Salman Masood, “Cutting Off Pakistan, U.S. Takes Gamble in Complex War,” New York Times, Jan. 5, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/05/world/asia/pakistan-aid-afghan-war.html. [111] Carlo Muñoz, “U.S. Forces to Go on the Offensive in Afghanistan, Says Top Commander,” Washington Times, Jan. 2, 2018, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/jan/2/top-commander-us-forces-go-offensive-afghanistan/. [112] Farrell, Unwinnable, 292-324. [113] In a less-than-encouraging development, the U.S. Department of Defense for the first time in eight years classified the data on Afghan security forces’ operational readiness. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, Oct. 30, 2017, 99-100, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2017-10-30qr.pdf. [114] Lauren McNally and Paul Bucala, “The Taliban Resurgent: Threats to Afghanistan’s Security,” Afghanistan Report no. 11 (Washington: Institute for the Study of War, March 2015): 13-17, 19-20, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/AFGH Report.pdf. [115] Of the 407 districts in Afghanistan, 7% were under insurgent control or influence, 21% were contested, and 72% were under government control in November 2015. By October 2017, these ratios had shifted to 14% under insurgent control or influence, 30% contested, and 56% under government control. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Addendum to SIGAR’s January 2018 Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, Jan. 30, 2018, 1, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/Addendum_2018-01-30qr.pdf. [116] On Korea, Robert A. Pape finds that U.S. bombing was unable to have a significant impact on the enemy war effort or the civilian economy, hence he concludes that no coercive leverage was produced. On Vietnam, he argues that the U.S. bombing campaign “succeeded in 1972 where it had failed from 1965 to 1968 because in the interim Hanoi had changed from a guerrilla strategy, which was essentially immune to air power, to a conventional offensive strategy, which was highly vulnerable to air interdiction.” Robert A. Pape, Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), chap. 5 and 6 (Quote is from p. 209). [117] Eric Schmitt, “Hunting Taliban and Islamic State Fighters, From 20,000 Feet,” New York Times, Dec. 11, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/11/world/asia/taliban-isis-afghanistan-drugs-b52s.html. [118] U.N. figures comparing civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes in the first nine months of 2016 and 2017. Shashank Bengali, “U.S. Airstrikes Rise Sharply in Afghanistan — and So Do Civilian Deaths,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 4, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-afghanistan-us-airstrikes-20171204-htmlstory.html. [119] Schmitt, “Hunting Taliban.” [120] Andrew Cockburn, “Mobbed Up: How America Boosts the Afghan Opium Trade,” Harper’s Magazine, April 2018, https://harpers.org/archive/2018/04/mobbed-up/. [121] Seth G. Jones, “Why the Taliban Isn’t Winning in Afghanistan: Too Weak for Victory, Too Strong for Defeat,” Foreign Affairs, January 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2018-01-03/why-taliban-isnt-winning-afghanistan. [122] Michael Semple, Theo Farrell, Anatol Lieven, and Rudra Chaudhuri, Taliban Perspectives on Reconciliation (London: Royal United Services Institute, September 2012), https://rusi.org/sites/default/files/taliban_perspectives_on_reconciliation.pdf. [123] Theo Farrell and Michael Semple, Ready for Peace? The Afghan Taliban After a Decade of War (London: Royal United Services Institute, January 2017), https://rusi.org/sites/default/files/201701_bp_ready_for_peace.pdf. [124] For more recent analysis supporting this view, see Antonio Giustozzi, “Do the Taliban Have Any Appetite for Reconciliation in Kabul?” Center for Research and Policy Analysis, Mar. 19, 2018, https://www.af-crpa.org/single-post/2018/03/20/Do-the-Taliban-Have-any-Appetite-for-Reconciliation-with-Kabul-Antonio-Giustozzi. [125] Sune Engel Rasmussen, “Afghan Civilians Count Cost of Renewed US Air Campaign,” Guardian, Sept. 5, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/05/afghan-civilians-count-cost-of-renewed-us-air-campaign. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 517 [post_author] => 155 [post_date] => 2018-03-20 15:47:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-03-20 19:47:43 [post_content] =>

1. Introduction: Change or More of the Same? The Future of the Jihadist Movement

By Stephen Tankel In summer 2010, the National Intelligence Council organized a small, one-day conference with Europe-based academics to get their read on possible futures for the jihadist movement. I was one of the approximately twenty participants. Osama Bin Laden was still alive, but the core al-Qaeda organization was beginning to come under rising pressure in Pakistan as a result of increasingly intense drone strikes. Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was degraded thanks to the surge of U.S. forces and the Sunni Awakening. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was emerging as the most dangerous jihadist group in the world. We looked for trends and debated the future of the core of the al-Qaeda organization in Afghanistan and Pakistan, whether AQAP might take up the mantle of leadership and what that would augur, and who could emerge as the next bin Laden, among other things. Today, with the core of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) increasingly squeezed in Syria and Iraq the jihadist movement may be facing an even bigger inflection point. Will al-Qaeda be able to regenerate and fill the void? Could another group — perhaps an ISIL or al-Qaeda affiliate, or maybe an independent actor — take the reins? Or might we witness the atomization of the jihadist movement after years in which ISIL and al-Qaeda became its competing lodestars? In either case, what would this mean for the long-running fault line between globalism and nationalism? And what of the 40,000-plus foreign fighters who flocked to Syria and Iraq, or the technological advances that ISIL exploited to recruit them and direct or inspire attacks around the world?[1] To help clarify the problem, we brought together three scholar-practitioners — Kim Cragin, Josh Geltzer, and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross — to weigh in on what lies ahead for the jihadist movement and the threats its adherents pose. Evolution of the Jihadist Movement: A Brief History Any assessment of where the jihadist movement might go, must account for how it has evolved to date. Despite their pretensions to universalism, jihadists have often disagreed over issues such as which enemy to prioritize, where to fight, and whether it is appropriate to attack fellow Muslims. The two main currents in the jihadist movement before 9/11 were revolutionary and pan-Islamic. Revolutionaries prioritized changing the political order in their own homelands by overthrowing the ruling powers. Pan-Islamic jihadists were focused on defending the umma — the worldwide community of Muslims — and liberating all occupied Muslim lands. Al-Qaeda was one of the few truly multinational jihadist groups that existed prior to 9/11. It developed its concept of global jihad while based in Sudan during the first half of the 1990s and then in Afghanistan for the latter half. Al-Qaeda’s global jihadist ideology prioritized attacks against the United States as the first step in a larger plan to create the conditions for toppling apostate regimes in the Arab world. Bin Laden and his inner circle believed that as long as the United States could project power into the region, it would be able to pressure Muslim countries to bend to its will and keep jihadists from toppling local regimes.[2] Driving America out of the region would enable jihadists to confront local regimes directly and inspire the youth to rise up and join these revolutions. At that point, al-Qaeda leaders believed that regimes in the Middle East and Persian Gulf would collapse. Numerous groups expanded their enemy hierarchies after 9/11. While jihadists who had previously been pan-Islamic began pursuing revolutionary action, some revolutionary groups grafted pan-Islamic or global jihad onto their preexisting local agendas. The U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq contributed to this phenomenon, muddying the waters between pan-Islamic jihad against non-Muslim invaders and global jihad against the United States specifically.[3] Al-Qaeda also evolved. Its leaders refined and expanded their organization’s rationale for action, blending takfiri thought, which justifies attacking apostate Muslims, with the requirement to fight the United States and its Western allies.[4] Being more overt about its revolutionary tendencies helped al-Qaeda reduce the barriers to alliances with other organizations. This became increasingly important once al-Qaeda started adding affiliates. As a result, although bin Laden continued to prioritize the United States, al-Qaeda increasingly boasted an agenda that made less of a distinction between local and global enemies.[5] By 2011, analysts worried more about some of al-Qaeda’s affiliates, especially AQAP, than they did about the core organization, which was under significant pressure in Pakistan as a result of U.S. drone strikes. Initially, it appeared that successful political transitions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen following the Arab Spring would undermine the jihadist narrative that violence was a necessary handmaiden for revolution or that the United States was willing to prop up autocratic regimes.[6] Yet, far from being a death knell, the revolutions ushered in by the Arab Spring reinvigorated the jihadist movement. The weakening or outright removal of police states created space for mobilization in places where jihadists had previously had little room to maneuver and enabled a level of activity unforeseen hitherto. As the Arab Spring gained steam in 2011, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took the reins of al-Qaeda after bin Laden was killed, directed AQI to form a group and deploy it across the border into Syria.[7] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of AQI, sent a contingent of battle-hardened fighters to form Jabhat al-Nusra (JN).[8] It became one of the most effective rebel groups in the Syrian conflict. In April 2013, al-Baghdadi issued a statement officially absorbing JN and renaming his organization the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIL).[9] The move both revealed and exacerbated a rift between the two groups. JN prioritized jihad against the Assad regime in Syria, was willing to cooperate with other rebel groups to realize this objective, and pursued a population-centric approach. ISIL sought to use Syria as a launching pad for a renewed offensive in Iraq and remained committed to the old AQI strategy of intimidation and sectarian provocation that sought to pit Sunnis and Shiites against one another. Before long, ISIL controlled substantial territory in Syria. These battlefield successes, combined with a mastery of social media, helped ISIL attract the lion’s share of foreign fighters in Syria.[10] In June, four months after al-Qaeda disowned it, ISIL launched its major military offensive in Iraq that captured the country’s second largest city, Mosul. Afterward, al-Baghdadi announced the reestablishment of the caliphate and declared himself the leader of the umma.[11] Numerous jihadist groups — some of them previously loyal to al-Qaeda — offered their allegiance. Although primarily focused on building its proto-state, ISIL also used the territory as a base for launching international terrorist attacks. Indeed, as Kim Cragin points out below, the group conducted more external operations — attacks conducted outside Syria, Iraq, or its 25 so-called provinces (used interchangeably with affiliates) — than the al-Qaeda network (AQN) did during a similar time period in its heyday. ISIL’s ability to conduct external operations has diminished since the group lost Mosul in July 2017 and its fighters fled Raqqa, Syria the following October.[12] These losses have also called into question the wisdom of ISIL’s aggressive approach, fueled speculation about whether al-Qaeda will resume the titular leadership mantel of the jihadist movement, and ignited debates about the nature of the jihadist threat in the years to come. Looking Ahead: The Future of the Jihadist Movement All three contributors to this roundtable point out ways in which the essence of the jihadist movement remains largely unchanged, while simultaneously identifying various factors that are shaping its ongoing evolution. Each essay has its own take on which elements will be the most critical. Four issues are worth highlighting:
  1. The Local and Geopolitical Terrain: Analysts have worried for years about jihadists’ access to ungoverned or poorly-governed territory that could be used for training, communications, and operational planning. As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross observes, although ISIL has lost most of its territory in Iraq and Syria, jihadist safe havens and enclaves have grown more numerous since 9/11, especially in countries roiled by the so-called Arab Spring. Josh Geltzer also points out that the core ISIL organization is not yet defeated. Eradicating it is likely to prove challenging, in large part because of the continuing complexities of the overall dynamic in Iraq and Syria. Both authors also sound the warning about Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) — al-Qaeda’s erstwhile affiliate in Syria — and the dangers that other al-Qaeda and ISIL affiliates continue to pose because of their ability to exploit both local grievances and grinding conflicts in weak states. Kim Cragin foresees no end to these ongoing conflicts. She argues the status quo is likely to remain in places where al-Qaeda or ISIL affiliates operate, with the important caveat that veteran foreign fighters will bring new tactical knowledge to these conflicts that could make regional groups even more lethal and push them towards greater brutality. Cragin contends a more dramatic impact from foreign fighters will likely be felt in many of the Muslim majority countries where ISIL and al-Qaeda do not have affiliates.
  2. Tensions in the Movement: Scholars identified two fault lines that have defined the jihadist movement. One is between centralization and decentralization, and the other is between globalism and nationalism.[13] Just as al-Qaeda affiliates have thrived even with the core of the organization under enormous pressure, it is unlikely that the fate of ISIL affiliates rests entirely on ISIL’s fortunes in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, Geltzer contends that as ISIL’s core loses territorial control, it is possible that some of its affiliates will distance themselves from the central organization. Gartenstein-Ross argues forcefully that analysts should not be too eager to view such a development as evidence of decentralization within the wider movement. Despite the difficulties the core organizations of al-Qaeda and ISIL are each facing, he asserts that the trend within the jihadist movement has been toward centralization. Global jihadism has simultaneously continued to spread according to Gartenstein-Ross. Most groups likely will continue to fixate primarily on regional objectives, but more of them have also adopted a transnational vision and continue to engage in transnational activities even if they do not prioritize attacks against Western targets. The spread of foreign fighters, which Cragin documents, could reinforce this trend.
  3. Technology and Foreign Fighters: According to Cragin, the most immediate threat to the West — North America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand — depends on foreign fighter returnees, specifically whether they are motivated and able to conduct attacks or recruit another generation of Western jihadists. As Cragin notes, foreign fighters have conducted the majority of external operations directed by ISIL leaders. Gartenstein-Ross and Geltzer zero in on how jihadists take advantage of technological advances to enable these operations. Jihadists have combined mastery of social media with the use of end-to-end encryption, which is often inaccessible to governments, to radicalize new adherents, mobilize them, and provide the kind of assistance to remote operatives that physical terrorist networks used to provide in person.
  4. Leadership of the Movement: All three contributors to this roundtable posit that ISIL and al-Qaeda appear poised to remain key players in the jihadist movement, even if some of their affiliates may be better positioned in the near term. Their respective leaders — al-Zawahiri of al-Qaeda and al-Baghdadi of ISIL — both lay claim to leadership of the movement. The competition is not simply organizational. Al-Qaeda leaders have criticized ISIL for splintering the movement, declaring a Caliphate that did not have staying power, and pursuing a brutal, takfiri strategy that has often included attacking other mujahideen (Muslim holy warriors). Al-Zawahiri lacks charisma and has struggled to motivate followers like bin Laden did, but ISIL’s losses in Iraq and Syria create space for al-Qaeda to reclaim its vanguard position. As Cragin notes, al-Qaeda has taken more of a population-centric approach and sought to present itself as a less virulent alternative to ISIL. Geltzer and Gartenstein-Ross identify various developments, such as the fortunes of HTS in Syria and its relationship with al-Qaeda’s core, which could influence whether al-Qaeda is successful in its bid to retake the titular mantle of the jihadist movement. Geltzer also posits that ISIL’s ingenuity and pioneering use of the Internet may have paved the way for a new jihadist group to capture some of the jihadist “market share” by combining online technologies with a compelling narrative and a leadership capable of inspiring followers.
Although plenty of us who came together that summer day in 2010 noted the potential for instability in the Middle East — not exactly a bold prediction — no one foresaw the Arab revolutions that would begin months later or the effects they would have on the jihadist movement. Nor did anyone predict that, within a half decade, a former soccer enthusiast in Iraq who had done time in a U.S.-administered prison camp would command the most powerful jihadist group the world had ever seen and declare himself the leader of the Caliphate.[14] What we tried to do, and what the three authors of the following essays have done so well, is to identify the trends and factors that could inform the trajectory of the jihadist movement. Then, like now, major actors in the movement were under strain, but the fundamentals suggested the jihadist threat would not disappear any time soon.   Stephen Tankel, an associate editor at the Texas National Security Review, is an assistant professor at American University, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New America Security, and a senior editor at War on the Rocks. His new book — With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror — will be published in May 2018.

2. The Riptide: How Foreign Fighter Returnees Could Shape the Jihadist Movement

By R. Kim Cragin “Confused.” That’s how one senior Turkish official recently described the attitudes of foreign terrorist fighters being held in detention centers under his purview.[15] It also seems to be an apt description of the post-territorial Islamic State (ISIL) as well as the wider jihadist movement. To understand how the movement might evolve in the future, it’s helpful to look to the past. Until the mid-1980s, jihadists often pursued their objectives — the creation of a caliphate to be governed by sharia (or Islamic law, strictly interpreted) — in their home countries. This changed after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Foreign fighters from around the world traveled to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet forces and in doing so globalized the jihadist movement. Arguably, just as these “Arab Afghans” guided the jihadist movement for the past three decades, the future of the movement rests with a new generation of foreign terrorist fighters from Syria and Iraq. Two individuals currently claim leadership over the jihadist movement: Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL. Two other individuals have also considerably influenced the direction of the movement: Abu Musab al-Suri and Abu Bakr Naji. In his book, Call for Global Islamic Resistance, al-Suri wrote that underground organizations, like al-Qaeda, had failed to mobilize Muslim populations. He also rejected open confrontation — or large-scale insurgencies — because, according to al-Suri, the United States had demonstrated its ability to succeed against the mujahideen (Islamic holy warriors) under these circumstances.[16] Al-Suri concluded that the mujahideen should combine open confrontation in a limited number of Muslim countries with a “leaderless resistance” in the West.[17] In al-Suri’s vision, jihadists residing outside Muslim countries should not become foreign terrorist fighters, but rather stay home and join that leaderless resistance.[18] Another jihadist ideologue, Muhammad Khalil al-Hakaymah, with the nom de guerre Abu Bakr Naji, articulated a contrasting strategy to al-Suri’s in his book Management of Savagery. Naji argued that jihadists should work to instill chaos in all Muslim countries. Then, as regimes collapse, they should take control and re-establish order by imposing Islamic law.[19] In order for Naji’s strategy to be successful, it requires support from all jihadists and therefore he urges those living outside Muslim countries to travel to conflict zones and become foreign terrorist fighters. ISIL adopted components of both Naji’s and al-Suri’s strategies. In keeping with Naji’s direction to create chaos, the group’s fighters exacerbated tensions between Sunni, Shiite, and Christian populations in both Syria and Iraq. They took control of territory, city-by-city, implementing Islamic law as they went along, most notably in Raqqa and Mosul. ISIL leadership also encouraged its fighters outside Syria and Iraq — based in their so-called provinces like Libya, Egypt, and Yemen — to mimic this approach.[20] Then, following al-Suri’s advice, ISIL extolled its sympathizers via social media[21] to either join the fight in Syria as foreign terrorist fighters or undertake attacks wherever possible, essentially advocating for a leaderless resistance in the West:[22]
If the infidels have shut the door of hijrah [travel to Syria and Iraq] in your faces, then open the door of jihad in theirs. Make your deed a source of their regret. Truly, the smallest act you do in their lands is more beloved to us than the biggest act done here [in Syria]; it is more effective for us and more harmful to them. If one of you wishes and strives to reach the lands of the Islamic State, then each of us wishes to be in your place to make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorizing them until every neighbor fears his neighbor.[23]
This combined strategy — chaos, open confrontation, and leaderless resistance — was successful between June 2014 and June 2017. While ISIL’s territorial gains within Iraq and Syria have been well documented, it is perhaps less well-known that ISIL has been more aggressive in its violence against the West than al-Qaeda. Indeed, ISIL conducted more external operations — attacks conducted outside Syria, Iraq, or its 25 so-called provinces — from 2015 to 2017 than the al-Qaeda network (AQN) did during a similar period from 2008 to 2010. ISIL’s “inspired” operations, which fall into the category of a leaderless resistance, make up a significant proportion of the total number of its operations: 37 percent (or 273 external operations). Inspired attacks do not exceed those directed by ISIL leaders, however, which make up 55 percent of the total. Further, of those external operations directed by ISIL leaders, foreign fighter returnees conducted most of them.[24] All of this changed after ISIL’s loss of Mosul in July 2017 and, in particular, after ISIL fighters fled Raqqa in October 2017.[25] Not only did ISIL lose territorial control in Iraq and Syria, but its ability to conduct external operations also diminished. Between December 2016 (the height of its influence and reach) and December 2017, the number of external operations directed, enabled, or inspired by ISIL dropped by 30 per cent.[26] Thus, like al-Qaeda’s previous efforts in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Iraq, ISIL’s recent losses call its basic strategy into question. Of course, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda leaders have always disputed the wisdom of ISIL’s strategy. They also have criticized Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for splintering the jihadist movement.[27] In September 2015, for example, al-Zawahiri issued a series of speeches in which he drew distinctions between al-Qaeda and ISIL. Al-Zawahiri stipulated that (1) al-Qaeda supported ISIL fighters’ efforts to attack Shi’a Muslims and secularists, but not other mujahideen; and (2) al-Qaeda supported ISIL fighters’ efforts to help Muslims globally, but not if it meant encouraging defections from al-Qaeda’s ranks.[28] In this context, al-Qaeda leaders have attempted to set themselves up as a less virulent alternative to ISIL, albeit also with questionable success. Both Naji and al-Suri remain influential thinkers with al-Qaeda and ISIL, as well as in the wider jihadist movement. Yet neither strategist has cracked the code on how to achieve victory. As we have seen, al-Qaeda and ISIL are at odds over the direction the movement should take. And they continue to compete with one another to lead it. This brings us back to the “confusion” personified by those foreign terrorist fighters who left Syria after the fall of Raqqa and are now languishing in Turkey’s detention centers with nowhere else to go. The future of the jihadist movement likely rests in the hands of these veteran foreign terrorist fighters. Foreign Fighters: The Past and Future Vanguard Historically, after similar conflicts in Afghanistan and Bosnia, veteran foreign fighters have chosen to either return home or join likeminded mujahideen in third countries.[29] Of those who returned home, some reintegrated peacefully. But most did not.[30] They established local terrorist cells, sent resources to other mujahideen in ongoing conflicts, and recruited others to support the jihadist movement.[31] The Afghan veterans were integral to the expansion of al-Qaeda’s network, including al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Jemaah Islamiyya (JI) in Indonesia, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).[32] Veterans of the wars in Bosnia and Iraq similarly contributed to the rapid expansion of ISIL worldwide, including its recruitment of foreign fighters.[33] It is therefore likely that we will see a similar pattern with the veterans of the more recent conflicts in Syria and Iraq. The most immediate threat posed by the jihadist movement to the West — North America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand — depends on the willingness and ability of these foreign fighter returnees to participate in local attacks for ISIL or al-Qaeda. The United States government has estimated that 40,000 individuals left their home countries and travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight.[34] Approximately 14,910 foreign terrorist fighters have already departed these battlefields.[35] Significant numbers have returned home through smuggling networks or have been deported by Turkey: 980 foreign fighters have returned to Tunisia; 900 to Saudi Arabia; 850 to Russia; 830 to Indonesia; 550 to France; 500 to Jordan; and 300 to Germany.[36] Only 36 per cent of these are in prison.[37] The rest remain a potential threat for either participating in an ISIL-directed attack locally, an al-Qaeda attack, or creating local terrorist cells of their own. Beyond external operations in the West, some of the veteran fighters from Syria and Iraq have already relocated to other conflict zones, such as Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Yemen, and the southern Philippines. Tunisian security officials have noted the presence of ISIL training camps in Libya. Some of the trainers, reportedly, are foreign fighter veterans.[38] Other veteran fighters have taken on leadership positions in the so-called ISIL provinces. Bahraini national Turki al-Ban’ali reportedly moved from Mosul to Libya to take on the role of emir of ISIL in Libya.[39] Abu-Hajir al-Hashimi, the once-leader of the Islamic State-Sinai (now deceased), had been an officer in the Iraqi army before joining ISIL and eventually moving to Egypt.[40] Thus, we are already beginning to see foreign terrorist fighters depart Syria and Iraq to participate in other conflicts. Based on historical patterns and current realities, some of these relocating foreign fighters will re-join al-Qaeda and others will attach themselves to local ISIL affiliates. We will likely witness in-fighting between al-Qaeda and ISIL factions in these areas of conflict for a period of time. But, given their common worldview, it is also likely that a certain degree of cooperation will exist on the ground. The veteran foreign fighters will bring new tactical knowledge to conflicts — e.g., in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles — and will push local groups toward the brutal tactics sensationalized by ISIL. But, for the most part, the status quo will remain in these ongoing conflicts. Thus, the most dramatic shift will likely be felt beyond these conflict zones: in the West and even more so in many of the Muslim majority countries where ISIL and al-Qaeda do not have affiliates. The future of the jihadist movement in the rest of the world will not depend on al-Qaeda versus the ISIL, nor the writings of one ideologue versus another. But rather, over the next three to five years, many of these veteran foreign fighters will attempt to persuade others to join their cause. As in the past, this recruitment will take place in prisons, prayer groups, mosques, and universities. Veteran foreign fighters will continue to reach out on social media. And, as in the past, they will be successful. The question is how successful. The answer will depend on the success or failure of re-integration and de-radicalization programs for the foreign fighter returnees and their families. Some countries have begun to implement such programs, but most of them are nascent, leaving the prospects of de-radicalizing veteran foreign terrorist fighters uncertain.[41] It will also depend on counter-terrorism cooperation worldwide. Interpol has begun to assist law enforcement agencies around the world in their efforts to monitor foreign terrorist fighters as they attempt to return home or relocate to other countries.[42] But this cooperation, too, has only recently begun to accelerate in the international community, primarily due to the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2396 in December 2017.[43] Other, wider factors will matter too. For example, attitudes toward and treatment of Muslim minorities in the West, as well as in other countries such as Myanmar, India, and Thailand, will be an important determinant.[44] Thus, in this wider context, the future direction of the jihadist movement over the next three to five years depends both on the behavior of foreign fighter veterans and on the global response to them in the wake of ISIL’s territorial defeat today.   R. Kim Cragin, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at the National Defense University. She is a widely published expert on counterterrorism, foreign fighters, and terrorist group adaptation. Cragin recently left a position as senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and also has taught as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland. The opinions expressed here represent her own views and are not those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government

3. We Squeezed the Balloon: As ISIL Collapses, Jihadism Remains in a Growth Phase

By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIL) has rapidly imploded since the latter half of 2017, yet despite this fact, global jihadism remains a potent force. Since the Arab Spring first began in late 2010, jihadism has experienced a rapid growth phase that continues today. In addition to jihadists continuing to fight on Syria’s front lines, major battlefields where these militants have recently controlled territory, or threaten to, include Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, the Philippines, Somalia, and Yemen. Despite this, ISIL’s implosion has left many wondering about the future of the jihadist movement. In order to understand where it is headed, we must consider three factors: First, the geopolitical backdrop against which jihadism continues to thrive. Second, the fact that violent non-state actors are currently doing a very effective job of exploiting technological advances. And third, the present state of two major fault lines in the jihadist movement that have come to define how we understand it: centralization vs. decentralization, and globalism vs. nationalism in regional militant groups. Similar to what happens when one squeezes a balloon, the caliphate’s collapse has displaced jihadists, their ideology, and the threats they pose, into other places. Yet, though aspects of the jihadist movement continue to evolve, we should not be too quick to declare that its essence has changed. While defeating ISIL as a territorial entity was necessary for various pragmatic and moral reasons, it unfortunately does not signal the beginning of the end of global jihadism — a movement that is dedicated to overthrowing existing political orders and replacing them with a transnational political Islamic entity, and that will act transnationally to advance this goal[45]  — as a significant strategic threat. Indeed, even as the caliphate has fallen, global jihadism has continued to spread. Room for Growth: The Geopolitical Context For years, the existence of ungoverned spaces used to enable training, communications, operational planning, and other organizational functions have factored heavily in analysts’ evaluation of jihadist threats. These ungoverned spaces and jihadist safe havens have increased in number since the time of the 9/11 attacks, especially in countries touched by the Arab Spring. Even after ISIL’s collapse as a territorial entity, Sunni jihadist groups continue to control a significant swath of territory in Syria. Indeed, even ISIL’s collapse may end up being less devastating to the group than it initially appeared would be the case, as Turkey’s invasion of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin has distracted ISIL’s foes, whose attention is now focused more on fighting one another than it is on mopping up the remainder of the caliphate and preventing its resurgence.[46] While ISIL is the group we most associate with holding territory in Syria, many different jihadist groups now hold or contest areas of the country. In Libya, the government was never able to reestablish its writ after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in 2011. Jihadists have predictably exploited this situation. ISIL succeeded in capturing and holding the city of Sirte for months, while other jihadist groups have experienced even more sustained success. The Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB) and the Mujahedin Shura Council (MSC), an umbrella organization in which ASMB plays a leading role, have seized control of the eastern coastal city of Derna. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb officially endorsed the MSC in July 2015.[47] Jihadists also have significant operating space in Yemen despite the United States escalating its kinetic campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As the New York Times recently reported, “the threat of a terrorist attack — with the most commonly feared target a commercial airliner — emanating from the chaotic, ungoverned spaces of Yemen remains high on the government’s list of terrorism concerns.”[48] Both Mali and Somalia face burgeoning jihadist-led insurgencies. In Somalia, African Union forces have already begun to reduce their numbers, bolstering the jihadist group al-Shabaab’s hopes that it could again become the dominant military force in southern Somalia. In the place where the “global war on terror” first began — Afghanistan/Pakistan — not only has the Taliban been gaining ground militarily, but available evidence, including the discovery of a 30-square-mile al-Qaeda training facility near Kandahar, suggests that the Taliban has not severed its ties to al-Qaeda.[49] ISIL has also established a foothold in Afghanistan, where it has been responsible for a string of mass-casualty terrorist attacks.[50] Although it doesn’t fit the mold of other safe havens, which are typically made possible by operating in ungoverned spaces, Turkey deserves a mention here. In recent years, U.S. officials have been alarmed by Turkey’s growing willingness to shelter violent jihadists, including those connected to al-Qaeda.[51] In addition to ungoverned spaces and safe havens, jihadism has experienced significant growth in areas where it had previously been a marginal movement at best. Prior to the outbreak of the Arab Spring, analysts held that Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak had defeated the country’s militant Islamic groups after they overplayed their hand in the 1997 Luxor massacre.[52] Today, jihadism has powerfully reemerged, and there are more frequent attacks than ever before by militant groups like ISIL’s Wilayat Sinai, including the devastating November 2017 attack on a Sufi mosque in northern Sinai that claimed over 300 lives.[53] In countries like Tunisia and Jordan, jihadism has moved from an afterthought to a first-order strategic concern. Meanwhile, the jihadist resurgence from South to Southeast Asia — most dramatically underscored last year by the months-long capture of the Philippine city of Marawi by a regional ISIL affiliate — represents a reversal of one of the major success stories of the post-9/11 era. Early Adopters: Taking Advantage of Technology Jihadists’ ability to leverage technological advances, especially in the communications space, is another reason that their movement remains strong. Technology has historically had an ambiguous impact on sub-state violence. On the one hand, states can leverage new advances, including for surveillance purposes and gathering information from local populations.[54] On the other hand, militant groups can capitalize on these same platforms. Many key recent advances appear to, on the whole, favor jihadists. The world has witnessed breakthroughs across so many spheres, including social media and encrypted end-to-end communication, that exploiting new advances has seemingly proven easier for those who would use these technologies for the more straightforward task of destruction than for those who want to use them to protect. An early sign of jihadists’ growing ability to take advantage of new technologies was the way ISIL combined a deft exploitation of social media with breakthroughs in DIY video production techniques to craft slick and effective propaganda that helped drive a record number of foreign fighters to the Syria-Iraq theater.[55] The suspension of pro-ISIL social media accounts by service providers later reduced, but did not eliminate, the yield that ISIL received from this platform.[56] By the time states caught up, ISIL had already found other creative ways to exploit new technologies. For example, the post-Edward Snowden boom in end-to-end encryption allowed ISIL to craft digital methods of providing the same assistances to remote operatives that physical terrorist networks once provided in person.[57] Over the past few years, Syria-based ISIL operatives have found recruits online, spurred them to action, and have played an intimate role in the conceptualization, target selection, timing, and execution of attacks. They have also used encrypted communication platforms to assist in bomb-making techniques. Virtual planners have even helped operatives who got cold feet, literally coaching them right up until the moment they blew themselves up. In a July 2016 suicide bombing outside a concert in Ansbach, Germany, attacker Mohammad Daleel told the virtual planner with whom he was communicating that he found the security measures outside the concert daunting. The Long War Journal reports their ensuing conversation:
The unnamed operative told Daleel … to look for an appropriate place to put his bomb and then try to “disappear into the crowd.” The jihadist egged Daleel on, saying the asylum-seeker should “break through police cordons,” run away and “do it.”   “Pray for me,” Daleel wrote at one point. “You do not know what is happening with me right now,” Daleel typed, in an apparent moment of doubt.   “Forget the festival and go over to the restaurant,” the handler responded. “Hey man, what is going on with you? Even if just two people were killed, I would do it. Trust in Allah and walk straight up to the restaurant.”[58]
And that is what Daleel did. He walked into a wine bar and blew himself up, injuring 15 people. Had Daleel not been communicating with a virtual planner up until the moment of the attack, his fears and uncertainty very likely would have prevented him from completing his terrorist mission. The virtual planner model has helped transform lone attackers, relying solely on the internet for inspiration, guidance, and planning, from the bungling wannabes of a decade ago into something much more dangerous.[59] The operatives who are recruited and coached by virtual planners have been seamlessly incorporated into jihadist groups’ global strategy in a way that “lone wolves” never were before. There are also technological advances that jihadist groups haven’t yet employed in Western countries, but that they have already begun using in Iraq and Syria. In January 2017, researchers from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center and Harvard University’s Belfer Center published an article examining documents discovered by the Iraqi military that shed light on ISIL’s program for developing and enhancing its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities.[60] They found that ISIL had “a formal, institutionalized, and resourced drone unit as early as 2015,” and that the group was already planning on using UAVs in an offensive capacity at that time. And ISIL did indeed use UAVs for military purposes. BuzzFeed’s Mike Giglio did some of the most valuable embedded reporting from Iraq on the campaign to push ISIL from its territorial stronghold. In a report published in June 2017, he graphically described ISIL’s use of UAVs against Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Force fighters with whom he was embedded:
ISIS drones swarm overhead as the battalion’s convoy pushes into the outskirts of western Mosul the next morning. One after another they drop grenades, wreaking havoc as soldiers fire their weapons wildly into the sky. From one of the Humvees, I watch as the battalion’s portly cook makes his lunch rounds in an armored truck, driving up and down the convoy to deliver Styrofoam boxes of food. The drones track him, dropping grenades as soldiers gather to collect the boxes. They are remotely piloted by militants who weave in and out of civilian neighborhoods on motorbikes to take cover from airstrikes. ISIS also uses the video feeds on the drones to coordinate mortars and car bombs. On the front lines, its fighters are standing their ground, and soldiers at the head of the convoy can hear them shouting, “Allahu Akbar.”[61]
In January, Russian forces in Syria destroyed a swarm of 13 improvised UAVs as they approached the Khmeimim airbase and Tartus naval facility to carry out an attack. Though no Russian forces were killed, this fact should not cause undue complacency. As militant groups innovate, their early attempts to try out new tactics often appear to result in failures, but they would be better understood as steps in the learning process. Moreover, the Russian investigation of the UAVs revealed their impressive range. The UAVs were “launched from a site more than 50 kilometres (31 miles) distant from their targets,” and could strike a target 62 miles away.[62] Although jihadists currently seem to be getting more out of new technologies than states do, relative to their respective capabilities, states may be able to gain the upper hand in the future. But for now, the efficacy of militant groups continues to rise, and for every new app or tech toy that we stop to admire, someone else is wondering how they can use it to wreak havoc. Inside the Jihadist Movement: Assessing its Fault Lines New communications technologies contribute to a general sense of interconnectedness, which is a crucial component of globalization. At the same time, this interconnectedness is highly relevant to the jihadist movement, as it fundamentally relates to two key fault lines within that movement that have defined how we understand it: centralization vs. decentralization, and globalism vs. localism.[63] In the past, analysts have been too eager to discern trends toward decentralization and localism that, if true, would work to America’s advantage.[64] Similar perceptions have arisen from some recent high-profile internal disputes involving core al-Qaeda members, as well as the fall of ISIL’s territorial caliphate. But caution is warranted before concluding that the essence of the jihadist movement has now definitively shifted toward a decentralized or locally-focused entity. Centralization vs. Decentralization Analysts have consistently tended to underestimate the role of senior leadership in providing strategic direction to jihadist groups, leading them to conclude that these groups are highly decentralized. Before ISIL’s rise as an independent entity, al-Qaeda — as the world’s preeminent transnational jihadist group — stood at the center of this debate. Its senior leadership was generally underestimated, in part, because al-Qaeda does not fit scholars’ top-down leadership model.[65] When ISIL essentially controlled its own state, it better accorded with this model. It remains to be seen, however, how analysts will assess the relevance of ISIL’s core leadership to its affiliates now that the group has lost most of its territory. Another reason that analysts may have a tendency to view the jihadist movement as decentralized is that state officials frequently disparage or downplay the role of jihadist groups’ senior leadership — either as part of information operations (IO) campaigns or due to sincere belief — dismissing them as irrelevant, disconnected, unable to communicate, and the like. These official portrayals have an impact on scholarly and analytic perceptions of organizational dynamics.[66] For al-Qaeda, although it has evolved somewhat over time, the group’s current organizational structure reflects the strategic vision of its founders. From the outset, al-Qaeda adopted an organizational design wherein the group’s senior leadership outlined a strategic course, empowered mid-level commanders to execute the strategy as they saw fit, and even encouraged “terrorist entrepreneurs” to pitch them on new plots. This latter characteristic spurred scholar Bruce Hoffman to note that bin Laden often “operated as a venture capitalist” in his running of al-Qaeda.[67] This concept of “centralization of decision and decentralization of execution,” as it has been described,[68] remains relevant today, and indeed, has enabled al-Qaeda to maintain organizational and strategic coherence even in the face of considerable challenges, both external and internal. But al-Qaeda’s decision to adopt new affiliates created an organizational challenge in terms of maintaining strategic coherence that did not exist at the group’s founding. Although the implications of these new affiliates are discussed below, it is worth stating here that the foundational principle of centralization of decision and decentralization of execution would prove important in incorporating them into the group’s broader organizational plans. Even in times of great duress, al-Qaeda has always viewed some form of leadership over the jihadist movement as essential, so as not to leave the movement rudderless. Even when al-Qaeda was at its nadir in November 2002 — when the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan had displaced it from the safe haven it previously enjoyed, and when U.S.-led kinetic operations were constantly taking important al-Qaeda leaders off the battlefield — the organization rejected Abu Musab al-Suri’s proposal to move to a leaderless model of jihad.[69] Of course, the fact that it sees itself as a centralized organization does not mean that al-Qaeda’s senior leadership is influential throughout the network in practice. Since 9/11, two specific obstacles to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership maintaining strategic coherence have arisen. First, the group has expanded geographically, taking on new affiliates at the same time that its senior leadership has remained targeted and thus constrained. Second, these affiliates have grown financially independent of al-Qaeda’s leadership, making loyalty and allegiance important tools by which al-Qaeda Central attempts to maintain organizational and strategic cohesion. Al-Qaeda’s leaders have built enduring relationships with jihadists across the globe over the decades. These personal relationships — which are often solidified on the battlefield, or through marriage and extended family networks — serve as a binding force, and as a buffer against disobedience. Allegiance to the organization’s brand and mission serves as another crucial source of organizational cohesion — and also provides al-Qaeda Central with indirect coercive power, because jihadist groups that defect or clash with al-Qaeda’s leadership may be unable to benefit from relationships with al-Qaeda-aligned regional jihadist groups. For example, both al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Shabaab in Somalia helped to bolster Boko Haram organizationally when the Nigerian government cracked down on the insurgent group in 2009. Boko Haram’s later defection to ISIL in 2015 may have impeded its ability to be succored by al-Qaeda-aligned jihadist organizations when a four-country offensive targeted the Nigerian jihadist group beginning that year. Al-Qaeda is not the only transnational jihadist organization to face internal challenges. Before losing its Syria/Iraq territorial stronghold, ISIL operated in a highly centralized fashion, similar to al-Qaeda in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. The evidence about ISIL’s relations with its affiliates across the globe is less robust than the information about how it governed in its caliphate territory. But it is clear that the organization possessed the means to wield some coercive power over those groups, including the ability to provide or withhold funding, and to authorize or withdraw the right of these affiliates to associate themselves with its soaring brand. But ISIL’s decline as a territorial entity will challenge its ability to maintain a strategically coherent organization. This raises two key questions when it comes to the relevance of ISIL’s core leadership. First, have the group’s leaders taken the necessary preparations to ensure that affiliates fit into their strategic plans, even as the caliphate itself drastically declines? Second, will key affiliates defect from the organization, risking a spiral of defections and weakening ISIL Core’s ability to maintain control? It remains to be seen what will come of the organizational challenges that both al-Qaeda and ISIL currently confront. Yet the current difficulties that confront both groups do not change the fact that the discernible trend within the jihadist movement over the past 20 years has been toward centralization rather than decentralization. Many jihadist groups fighting in conflicts in Chechnya, Nigeria, the Philippines, Somalia, and elsewhere were previously only loosely connected to transnational jihadism as an organizational matter. Today, these regional groups are overtly aligned with transnational ones. Conversely, there are no jihadist theaters where local, independent groups have supplanted transnational jihadists militarily. As previously alluded to, new communications technologies have accelerated the trend toward centralization by allowing greater interconnectedness. Conversely, new communications platforms also allow a multiplicity of voices to be heard where once messaging could be more tightly controlled. Global vs. National Focus A second fault line runs between globally focused jihadist movements and nationalist jihadist movements. Global and local agendas and strategies have existed simultaneously within the jihadist movement for years, sometimes clashing with one another. Yet, if we zoom out of the particulars of current controversies and instead examine the broad sweep of the movement, we can see an overall trend toward globalism rather than nationalism among jihadist groups, just as we see a trend toward centralization. For example, an increasing number of jihadist groups act in accordance with their professed transnational vision when the opportunity arises, by aiding jihadists whose primary focus is outside their own theater. This has been true in the relationship among Boko Haram, AQIM, and al-Shabaab. It can also be seen in the jihadist foreign fighters who leave their homes for far-flung theaters where they lack any real connection to local dynamics. A “global focus” should not be conflated, as is sometimes the case, with whether a given group is trying to attack Western countries at the moment. Rather, when determining whether a group is globally focused, it is more relevant to look for the combination of a transnational vision and transnational activities, rather than simply gauging whether it prioritizes Western targets. When al-Qaeda embraced a “far-enemy” focused military strategy in the 1990s, it was motivated by the assessment that Islamists could only topple local regimes and establish Islamic emirates if they first crippled the West, or forced Western disengagement from the Middle East and North Africa. Otherwise, al-Qaeda strategists thought, Western states would step in, provide military, economic, and intelligence support, and prevent these “near enemy” regimes from falling. The far-enemy strategy was thus a means to an end, rather than an unalterable commitment to prioritizing attacks against the West. Furthermore, there is zero evidence that since adding affiliates, al-Qaeda’s senior leadership disapproved of the local objectives of AQIM, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. Indeed, for any transnational jihadist group’s senior leadership, it is vital that local branches are tailored to concerns, grievances, and aspirations that resonate in that theater, even as their activities fit into the mother group’s broader ambitions. The events of the Arab Spring shifted jihadists’ calculus, as it demonstrated that Western states would not necessarily step in to save autocratic regimes. Indeed, in the case of Libya, Western governments actually intervened to topple Qaddafi. ISIL’s ability to control significant territory for years despite foolishly making enemies at every turn further underscored new opportunities for jihadists in the region.[70] It would be in the United States’ interest if regional groups eschewed all aspects of a global jihadist agenda and instead focused on local conflicts in places like Yemen or Somalia. But we should not overestimate our ability to bring this about, nor should we assume that jihadist groups, left to their own devises, will naturally choose to focus exclusively on local agendas. The increasingly globalized world we inhabit outside the jihadist context, the diffusion of secure communications technology, and greater adoption of a pan-Islamic identity across multiple regions all support the trend toward a global focus, even as regional groups also tailor their strategies and activities to local preferences. Writing about the “ideological hybridization” of jihadist organizations in 2009, Thomas Hegghammer observed that “the distinction between near enemy and far enemy groups seems less and less relevant.” The process of ideological hybridization, Hegghammer concluded, had “the result that the enemy hierarchies of many jihadist groups are becoming more unclear or heterogeneous than they used to be.”[71] Hegghammer’s hybridization thesis still has significant explanatory power today. Conclusion The collapse of ISIL’s caliphate was an important achievement for numerous reasons. ISIL was using the territory it controlled to plan large-scale terrorist attacks across the world, was brutalizing the population under its yoke, openly boasted of how it had instituted sex slavery, and adopted genocidal policies toward the Yazidis and other religious minorities. The fact that it no longer controls its own state is a positive development. Yet ISIL Core, although still an important player, does not represent the jihadist movement as a whole. At key inflection points like this one, the majority of analysts have sometimes misread the movement’s future direction.[72] When the Arab Spring began, many assessed that the revolutions would likely harm the jihadist movement. Likewise, analysts overestimated the likelihood that ISIL, once it split from al-Qaeda, would attract major al-Qaeda branches into its orbit. Today, ISIL’s precipitous decline should be understood in the context of a larger movement that remains dynamic, adaptable, and dangerous, and that has significantly grown in strength since the Arab Spring revolutions. If Western countries are to turn ISIL’s territorial defeat into a lasting strategic success, their leaders must correctly interpret where the movement goes from here. Three factors are helping to define its future and enable its resiliency and lethality: a geopolitical environment favorable to jihadist groups, technological advances they can leverage, and a trend toward centralization and a global focus. Together, these factors help to explain why, almost 17 years after the 9/11 attacks, “victory” in the War on Terror — or even a path to or concept of victory — remains elusive.   Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Chief Executive Officer of the private firm Valens Global. Previous positions that Gartenstein-Ross has held include Senior Advisor to the Director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Community Partnerships, Fellow at Google’s think tank Jigsaw, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. The author or volume editor of twenty-three books and monographs, Gartenstein-Ross holds a Ph.D. in World Politics from The Catholic University of America and a J.D. from the New York University School of Law.

4. ISIL, al-Qaeda, and What Goes Viral Next: Why Tomorrow’s Jihadist Movement Might Not Look so Different from Today’s

By Joshua Geltzer Since the summer of 2014, when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) swept across Syria and into Iraq, the group’s core, with its expansive territorial safe haven and legions of fighters, has generally been considered the world’s preeminent jihadist terrorist threat.[73] This remained the case even as longer-simmering jihadist threats — such as those posed by al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and by al-Shabaab in East Africa — persisted and evolved, and as the global jihadist movement grew more complex and varied.[74] It is too soon to declare the threat posed by ISIL’s core a thing of the past.[75] But the group has lost and continues to lose much of the territory that it once controlled in Syria and Iraq.[76]  That territorial control not only provided time and space for plotting terrorist attacks in the region and beyond,[77] but also fueled the group’s global messaging, which in turn filled its ranks with foreign fighters and incited violence by those who never travelled to Syria or Iraq and instead opted to remain at home, attacking those whom the group deemed its enemies. With the core of ISIL increasingly squeezed in Syria and Iraq and debates rising about whether al-Qaeda can leverage this opportunity to retake market share, what lies ahead for the various strands of the jihadist movement and the threats they pose? Geographically, Syria is likely to remain a major focus: ISIL is still a threat there, and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate has sown the seeds of a long-term threat with which the West has yet to grapple sufficiently.  Organizationally, ISIL and al-Qaeda appear poised to remain key players, even if their affiliates — for ISIL, in places like Libya and Egypt; for al-Qaeda, in locations like Syria and Yemen — may prove better situated to continue the fight than either organization’s embattled core. On the technological front, ISIL has shown the way for other jihadists who might rise to present their own global threats via the Internet. Mission Still Not Accomplished: ISIL’s Core Isn’t Defeated Yet As tempting as it may be to treat ISIL’s core as defeated and focus instead on other terrorist threats, it is simply too soon to declare “mission accomplished” in Iraq and Syria. To be sure, ISIL is losing geography, fighters, and resources as the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign against it continues and even appears to be accelerating.[78] But, as I recently suggested elsewhere, the last mile of defeating a terrorist group can be the hardest one, a lesson the United States learned all too well from the lingering remnants of ISIL’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq.[79] ISIL is down but not out, especially in Syria where it remains a more robust fighting force than in Iraq. The group is estimated to retain thousands of fighters, and the area in which those fighters appear to be making their next stand — the Euphrates River Valley — will likely challenge the reach of the Counter-ISIL Coalition, given the lack of a previous ground presence there, the possibility of greater sympathy and even support for ISIL among the local population, and the continuing complexities of the overall dynamic in Syria, including rising tensions between Turkey and the Kurds.[80] This dynamic includes a number of dissonant elements: an Assad regime that has an opportunity to reassert control over an increasing swath of the country, a patron regime in Moscow that wants to see a return on the investment it made by backing the Assad regime, a government in Tehran that seeks to be more assertive regionally while also coping with increasingly vocal discontent at home, and subnational Syrian actors, like the Kurds, who are aiming for at least a greater degree of autonomy in Syria when it emerges from the devastating conflict that continues there. In addition, Washington’s own approach to these and other key actors (like Baghdad and Erbil) has involved the deliberate perpetuation of strategic ambiguities that have enabled crucial progress in the fight against ISIL but are ultimately unsustainable.[81] Truly defeating a terrorist group is hard enough under the best of circumstances. In this tremendously challenging scenario, it is all the more difficult. So, for the moment, ISIL’s core remains a formidable piece of the overall jihadist picture, and one unlikely to be eradicated imminently given the enduring complexities surrounding counterterrorism efforts against the group. The challenges presented by ISIL extend beyond the shrinking but persistent and still formidable remnants of its core in Syria and Iraq. The group lays claim to officially recognized affiliates as well as less formally acknowledged networks worldwide.[82] ISIL-Libya, which once exerted such control over the coastal city of Sirte that it could hold flag-waving parades down its major boulevards, is among its most lethal affiliates.[83] Another is ISIL-Sinai, which is believed responsible for bringing down Metrojet Flight 9268 in October 2015, killing 224 in the deadliest bombing of a civil airliner since Pan Am Flight 103 exploded above Lockerbie in 1988.[84] It is simply too soon to project reliably the trajectories of these and other ISIL affiliates. ISIL-Libya, for example, appears largely cleared from Sirte, thanks in part to U.S. air power, but the group is assessed to retain hundreds of fighters elsewhere in the country.[85] Meanwhile, ISIL-Sinai is thought to be responsible for killing more than 300 worshippers at a mosque in November 2017 in the affiliate’s deadliest attack yet.[86] Whether these particular ISIL affiliates are waxing or waning depends in part on the counterterrorism pressure that they will face in coming months and years.  Regardless, neither affiliate appears likely to recede swiftly, and each might well prove to remain on the rise. Overall, while ISIL has attempted to provide some coherence to its global organization, it seems unlikely that the fates of the group’s affiliates will entirely stand or fall with ISIL’s trajectory in Syria and Iraq. From West Africa to Southeast Asia, ISIL affiliates have worked assiduously to build redundancies into the group’s overall system, such that many individual affiliates have their own local leadership, recruiting pipeline, and operational networks.[87] Success has been uneven. But at least some of ISIL’s affiliates will continue, for the foreseeable future, to pose a threat to carry out attacks, galvanize followers, and even seize new territory no matter how the group’s core is faring. Indeed, the prominence of these affiliates may be set to rise, as the organization as a whole attempts to compensate for setbacks in Syria and Iraq by boosting the prominence of ISIL’s presence elsewhere. That may mean not only augmented messaging focused on ISIL outside Syria and Iraq but also increased violence, as those outposts attempt to sustain the group’s relevance through terrorist attacks and potentially through the establishment of new safe havens. It is also possible that, as ISIL’s core loses territorial control, certain ISIL affiliates will distance themselves from the central organization. This may be particularly appealing for the affiliates whose existence predated ISIL’s formation, such as the portion of Boko Haram that became ISIL’s West African affiliate.[88] For such affiliates to splinter from the global ISIL organization could weaken them or at least create opportunities for counterterrorism forces to make gains against them, thanks to reduced financing, renunciations by discontented members, and general strategic and tactical drift. At the same time, for those affiliates that can turn to regionally focused grievances and exploit them effectively, there is the possibility of gaining traction and strength. It is further possible that Washington would no longer see them as a Western problem, thus leading the United States to lose focus on the threat that they pose — a seriously shortsighted and potentially dangerous miscalculation.[89] One can also imagine, with its territory in Syria and Iraq shrinking, ISIL becoming even less centralized of an organization than it already is. Characterizing a terrorist group’s level of centralization is susceptible to oversimplification. For example, while ISIL’s Internet-based messaging has certain central themes that are repeated in languages worldwide, its operational direction over the tactics of specific terrorist attacks is famously decentralized.  That said, overall one might expect ISIL’s core in Syria and Iraq to become increasingly focused on simply surviving and thus decreasingly able to align global messaging, seed leaders for new affiliates and networks, and otherwise provide general direction to the group’s far-flung pockets of fighters. That, in turn, may lead ISIL affiliates to experiment with new attack tactics, new ways of interacting with local populations, and new messaging themes — perhaps even finding success that is then ripe for emulation and replication across ISIL’s other affiliates. Al-Qaeda: Laying the Foundations for a Resurgent Threat ISIL is not the only serious terrorist threat emanating from Syria today. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria — now calling itself Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) — may continue to rebrand itself periodically and to spar publicly with al-Qaeda’s overall leader Ayman al-Zawahiri,[90] but its essence remains unchanging:[91] It is a jihadist terrorist organization committed to using violence to pursue “a transnational jihadi project.”[92] HTS — which, to reiterate, should be understood at its core as “al-Qaeda in Syria,” regardless of what its relationship to al-Zawahiri happens to be at the moment — is increasingly marked by more than just its violent ambition. The group has consolidated control in Idlib Province and swelled its ranks.[93] Meanwhile, the continuing multisided violence, humanitarian catastrophe, and lack of governance in huge swaths of Syria have limited the counterterrorism pressure being applied on the group. This combination of enjoying a physical safe haven, boasting sizable numbers, and facing minimal governmental pressure have produced for HTS a literal “Qaeda” or “base” of the type that Osama bin Laden once worked assiduously to establish in Afghanistan, only to see it lost to the United States-led military campaign launched in the wake of 9/11. HTS appears to be exhibiting both greater strategic patience and greater tactical patience than bin Laden. Strategically, it is insinuating itself for the long haul in the Syrian population and local power structures. Tactically, the group appears to be looking toward large-scale terrorist attacks in the West once those become feasible — when that would be remains uncertain and deeply worrisome — rather than prioritizing smaller-scale operations, like ISIL has done, that are more readily achievable. But, if HTS is not yet the preeminent global terrorist threat today, then it might well be tomorrow. With ISIL losing literal and figurative ground in Syria, HTS may be poised to gain ground elsewhere in the country and to take advantage of having a safe haven essentially on the shores of the Mediterranean to pose a terrorist threat stretching into Europe and beyond. While HTS’s fundamental commitment to the basic jihadist agenda is clear, the precise balance among the group’s long-term priorities is less so. For example, it is unclear how the group’s aims within Syria will be prioritized in relation to its objectives in the broader region as well as globally. How HTS strikes that balance is likely to determine how quickly the group uses — and thus risks — the base that it has built in Syria in service of pursuing terrorist attacks elsewhere. It may also affect its role within the broader al-Qaeda organization. If HTS seeks to exercise leadership over that global organization, then it may need to find ways to reverse its recent acrimony with al-Zawahiri.[94] In contrast, if the group is satisfied with a near-term focus on Syria, then there may be little urgency in reestablishing harmony across al-Qaeda’s various franchises. Either way, policymakers in the United States and elsewhere would be wise to regard the threat posed by HTS — with its safe haven and potentially widespread global credibility among jihadists — as urgent. Outside of Syria, al-Qaeda’s affiliates continue to pose serious threats, especially those in areas rife with ongoing conflict and lacking in credible governance. That is especially true of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). As outgoing National Counterterrorism Center Director Nick Rasmussen recently commented, Yemen “continues to be one of the most frustrating theaters in our work right now.”[95] Much as for HTS in Syria, the continuing violence and lack of effective governance in Yemen allow AQAP physical and political space to plot attacks, recruit fighters, and stockpile resources.[96] Making things even more complicated, nowhere are the lines between allegiance to al-Qaeda and allegiance to ISIL more blurred than in Yemen,[97] suggesting that, should ISIL wane in global popularity with the loss of territory in Syria and Iraq, AQAP may stand to gain recruits from ISIL defectors.  So, too, does al-Qaeda’s affiliate in East Africa, al-Shabaab, which was reportedly behind Somalia’s worst terrorist attack ever in October 2017, which killed more than 500 people.[98]  And al-Qaeda continues to fester elsewhere as well, from Mali to India. The draw of al-Qaeda to jihadists never fully waned, even as ISIL surged to prominence. And should that surge be reversed as ISIL suffers continued setbacks in the heartland of its self-declared caliphate, al-Qaeda stands to gain from those whose allegiance could easily be reversed. While al-Qaeda’s senior leadership, presumed to be in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, appears largely isolated and focused primarily on survival,[99] al-Zawahiri and other top figures retain meaningful resonance for key influencers among al-Qaeda’s global followers and therefore represent their own continuing threat.[100] Even as other al-Qaeda affiliates, such as AQAP and HTS, have moved toward slicker Internet-disseminated messaging, al-Zawahiri has tended to circulate videos generally reminiscent of those that bin Laden used to share a decade ago, with al-Zawahiri generally speaking in a monotone while gazing, unmoving, at the camera.[101] Nonetheless, the fundamental credibility that al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda figures maintain with segments of the jihadist population means that a resurgence in their prominence remains conceivable, especially if they were to adopt a fresher approach to crafting and disseminating their communications. ISIL 2.0 So far, this discussion of the global jihadist threat landscape has had a familiar ring. After all, ISIL and al-Qaeda are the household names of jihadism. It is precisely because those groups have been so successful, not just at establishing their own “brands” but also at coopting local groups from Syria to Nigeria to the Philippines, that ISIL and al-Qaeda, in rather different ways, have become the overwhelmingly dominant franchises of what, beneath the surface, is a multifaceted and complicated jihadist movement.[102] Their dominance of the jihadist marketplace has made it hard for “start-up” groups with similarly global, rather than merely local, ambition to gain comparative traction. If one such group does gain traction, it tends to get quickly targeted by the behemoths — either for cooption or for elimination. Nevertheless, ISIL’s ingenuity has demonstrated to other nascent groups where opportunity does exist to capture some of the jihadist “market share”: through the Internet. While its claim to a physical caliphate helped ISIL to grab attention and gain adherents since its 2014 surge, that message gained swift global traction because of the group’s sophisticated use of social media, file-upload sites, and other modern communications platforms to radicalize and mobilize followers worldwide. That means, on the one hand, that, despite the increasing efforts of technology companies to police their platforms,[103] ISIL will retain something of a virtual safe haven even as its physical safe haven in Syria and Iraq shrinks, allowing the group’s followers a platform to attempt to maintain relevance and exhort violence. But it also means that, because of ISIL’s online pioneering, a new jihadist group — what some have called “ISIS 2.0”[104]— would not need the distribution chain and seed capital normally required to challenge two dominant corporate giants. Instead, that distribution chain already exists in the form of the Internet, and exploiting it in the name of terrorist violence requires little seed capital, as it is available essentially free of charge. What matters more is having a compelling narrative and a leadership capable of inspiring followers based on that narrative. As my former colleague Jen Easterly and I have argued elsewhere, ISIL used the Internet to cultivate a false sense of belonging to a community centered around the group’s purported caliphate. Indeed, rather than mobilizing “lone wolves” as is often suggested, ISIL actually did the opposite: It made vulnerable and disaffected individuals feel that they were not alone because they were part of ISIL’s global community.[105] That sense of connection, initiated through deliberately accessible and even ostentatious online recruitment materials, is particularly dangerous in an era in which those who respond to it can then be shifted to communications platforms using end-to-end encryption inaccessible to governments. It is on those platforms that later stages of radicalization and even operational plotting can ensue.[106] For ISIL, a claim to a physical caliphate that could be marketed online with videos, photographs, and firsthand narratives was at the core of that sense of community with which the group energized the global jihadist movement and seized momentum within it. Generating a movement of that magnitude was no easy feat. It required first articulating an all-consuming worldview, barbaric as it was, and then making that worldview feel both real and compelling to those scattered around the world but potentially drawn to it. Still, there is no reason to think that laying claim to a physical caliphate is the only type of jihadist message that can be carefully cultivated, assiduously marketed, and, ultimately, go viral. Predicting what the next jihadist messaging campaign to go viral might be is ultimately impossible. Maybe that campaign could depend on a resurgence of familiar types of jihadist activity in the physical world, from the establishment of a new purported caliphate to a series of global terrorist attacks. Or it might instead become truly digitized by relying on offensive cyber operations to wreak havoc on computer systems or physical entities like power plants and electric grids, along the way energizing the global following needed to power ISIL 2.0.[107]  Revitalizing a new wave of jihadism through those sorts of cyberattacks, which would be relatively unprecedented for jihadists despite years of warnings,[108] presents a particularly concerning scenario, and one to which U.S. and other policymakers should be paying urgent attention. Regardless of what form it takes, somewhere a young jihadist may already be sitting in front of his or her computer screen, concocting the germ of a messaging campaign that, under the right circumstances, could gain traction. If such a campaign catches fire online, its creator will have ISIL to thank for demonstrating how to revive and refine jihadism for the digital age. Conclusion Across two administrations in Washington, one Democratic and one Republican, the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign against ISIL has featured a number of key elements:[109] a commitment to American leadership, including a major role for the U.S. Military, novel partnerships with state and sub-state actors on the ground, the involvement of a diverse set of coalition countries offering different types of capabilities to the campaign and collectively contributing to the credibility of the effort, and an attempt to minimize noncombatant casualties, even if that effort has at times fallen short in tragic ways.[110] This approach incorporated lessons learned from U.S. counterterrorism efforts since 9/11, while also adapting to the new roles that technology and the distinct features of the Syrian conflict were playing in the terrorist and counterterrorist dynamic emerging in Syria and Iraq. Tomorrow’s jihadist terrorism will not, of course, be identical to today’s. ISIL and al-Qaeda, while dominating the jihadist movement, are themselves changing, and whoever may surge next to prominence in the jihadist movement’s leadership will bring still more changes to that movement.  For policymakers charged with protecting the United States and U.S. interests against jihadist threats, the key will be to learn the right lessons from today’s counterterrorism efforts, while being prepared to adapt to tomorrow’s new challenges. That will require adapting, in particular, to the ever-changing role of technology, from social media sites where terrorist recruitment videos can be disseminated, to end-to-end encrypted platforms on which terrorist plots can be hatched without government awareness, to the next potential wave of technologically enabled terrorist activity, such as offensive cyber operations that cause damage in the physical world. The ways in which ISIL and al-Qaeda continue to evolve and the potential for new actors to use technology in novel ways for terrorist recruitment and incitement will shape the contours of jihadism in the years to come.   Joshua Geltzer is the founding Executive Director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, a Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, and an ASU Future of War Fellow in New America’s International Security program. He served in various roles on the National Security Council staff, including as Senior Director for Counterterrorism from 2015 to 2017.  Flickr: Alatele Fr [post_title] => Policy Roundtable: What Is the Future of the Jihadist Movement? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => policy-roundtable-future-jihadist-movement [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-04-24 12:20:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-04-24 16:20:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=517 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => With ISIL having lost the bulk of its territory in Iraq and Syria, we asked a group of experts what comes next for the jihadist movement. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Policy [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 155 [1] => 152 [2] => 153 [3] => 154 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Karen Parish, “Stopping flow of foreign fighters to ISIS 'will take years,' Army official says,” DoD News, April 6, 2017, https://www.army.mil/article/185550/stopping_flow_of_foreign_fighters_to_isis_will_take_years_army_official_says. [2] John Miller, “Declaration of War Against the Americans: Interview with Osama bin Laden,” ABC News, May 1998, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/interview.html. [3] Thomas Hegghammer, “The Ideological Hybridization of Jihadi Groups,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, November 18, 2009, https://www.hudson.org/research/9866-the-ideological-hybridization-of-jihadi-groups. [4] Leah Farrall, “How Al-Qaeda Works,” Foreign Affairs 90, no. 2 (March/April 2011), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/south-asia/2011-02-20/how-al-qaeda-works. [5] See for example, “Dots on the Letters, as-Sahab’s 2nd Interview with Sheikh Abu Yahya at-Libi, Two Years After His Deliverance from Bagram Prison,” as-Sahab, September 9, 2007, https://scholarship.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/bitstream/handle/10066/5138/AYL20070909.pdf?sequence=3. [6] The NATO-led intervention in Libya also showed that the West would intervene to protect Muslim civilians. [7] William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State (Kindle Edition: St. Martin's Press, 2015), 85. [8] Cole Bunzel, From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2014). [9] Abū Bakr al-Baghdādī, “Wa-bashshir al-mu’minīn,” via Jihadology, April 9, 2013, http://jihadology.net/2013/04/09/al-furqan-media-presents-a-new-audio-message-from-the-islamic-state-of-iraqs-shaykh-abu-bakr-al-%E1%B8%A5ussayni-al-qurayshi-al-baghdadi-announcement-of-the-islamic-state-of-iraq-an/. [10] “20,000 Foreign Fighters Flock to Syria, Iraq to Join Terrorists,” CBS News, Feb. 10, 2015, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ap-20000-foreign-fighters-flock-to-syria-iraq-to-join-terrorists/. [11] “Sunni Rebels Declare New Islamic Caliphate,” Al Jazeera, June 30, 2014, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/isil-declares-new-islamic-caliphate-201462917326669749.html. [12] Quentin Sommerville and Riam Dalati, “Raqqa’s Dirty Secret,” BBC News, Nov. 13, 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/raqqas_dirty_secret. [13] Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman eds., Fault Lines in Global Jihad: Organizational, Strategic, and Ideological Fissures (London and New York: Routledge, 2011). [14] William McCants, The Believer: How an Introvert with a Passion for Religion and Soccer Became Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Leader of the Islamic State (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2015). [15] Author interviews, Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM), Ankara, Turkey, January 2018. See also R. Kim Cragin, “Foreign Fighter ‘Hot Potato,’” Lawfare, Nov. 26, 2017, https://lawfareblog.com/foreign-fighter-hot-potato. [16] Lia Brynjar, Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of al-Qa’ida Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). [17] Brynjar, Architect of Global Jihad, 2008. [18] R. Kim Cragin, “Metastases: Exploring the Impact of Foreign Fighters in Conflicts Abroad,” Journal of Strategic Studies Vol. 1, no. 2 (November 2017). [19] Naji Abu Bakr, Management of Savagery: The Most Critical State Through Which the Ummah will Pass, trans. William McCants, unpublished manuscript, 2004. [20] As of December 2017, ISIL had declared 25 provinces in at least 13 countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, and Cameroon. (Some dispute exists as to whether or not the southern Philippines and Bangladesh also constitute official ISIL provinces.) It should be noted that ISIL affiliates have not been able to claim and/or hold territory in all 13 of these countries. [21] Jytte Klausen, “Tweeting the Jihad: Social Media Networks of Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism Vol. 38, no. 1 (2015): 1, doi:10.1080/1057610X.2014.974948. [22] These messages began to emerge via ISIL fighters and media personalities as early as the fall of 2015, but it became prominent in official ISIL statements in the summer of 2016. For more information see R. Kim Cragin, “The November 2015 Paris Attacks: The Impact of Foreign Fighter Returnees,” Orbis Vol. 61, no. 2 (Spring 2017), https://www.fpri.org/article/2017/03/november-2015-paris-attacks-impact-foreign-fighter-returnees/. [23] Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, “That they Live by Proof,” Statement by ISIL Spokesman, translated and released by al-Hayat Media Center, May 22, 2016. [24] These numbers come from a database of ISIL external operations, attacks inside ISIL provinces, and foreign terrorist fighters maintained by the author at the National Defense University. [25] Quentin Sommerville and Riam Dalati, “Raqqa’s Dirty Secret,” BBC News, Nov. 13, 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/raqqas_dirty_secret. [26] These numbers come from a database of ISIL external operations, attacks inside ISIL provinces, and foreign terrorist fighters maintained by the author at the National Defense University. For more information on trends in ISIL’s external operations, see R. Kim Cragin and Ari Weil, “’Virtual Planners’ in the Arsenal of Islamic State External Operations,” Orbis (forthcoming Spring 2018). [27] Ayman al-Zawahiri, “The Islamic Spring,” issued Sept. 12, 2015, translated and reposted by the SITE Intelligence Group under the title “Zawahiri Incites Lone Wolf Attacks in the U.S. and West, Urges Fighters in Syria, Iraq, to Cooperate with IS Against Enemy Alliance,” Sept. 12, 2015. [28] al-Zawahiri, “The Islamic Spring,” 2015. [29] Thomas Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters” International Security Vol. 35, no. 3 (Winter 2010/11): 53-94; Evan F. Kohlmann, Al-Qa’ida’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network (Oxford: Berg, 2004). [30] R. Kim Cragin, “The Challenge of Foreign Fighter Returnees,” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice Vol. 33, no. 3 (July 2017). [31] Cragin, “The Challenge of Foreign Fighter Returnees,” 2017; see also Cragin, “Metastases,” 2017. [32] Cragin, “Metasteses,” 2017; see also Thomas Hegghammer, Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism since 1979 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Jean-Pierre Filiu, “The Local and the Global Jihad of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghrib,” The Middle East Journal Vol. 63, no. 2 (Spring 2009): 213-226. [33] Author interviews in Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey, and Jordan with security officials responsible for countering foreign fighter flows, 2016-2017; see also Cragin, “Metastases,” 2017. [34] Karen Parish, “Stopping flow of foreign fighters to ISIS 'will take years,' Army official says,” DoD News, April 6, 2017, https://www.army.mil/article/185550/stopping_flow_of_foreign_fighters_to_isis_will_take_years_army_official_says. [35] Cragin, “Foreign Fighter ‘Hot Potato,’” 2017. [36] These numbers come from a database of ISIL external operations, attacks inside ISIL provinces, and foreign terrorist fighters maintained by the author at the National Defense University. The information comes from official estimates released by foreign fighters’ countries-of-origin, as well as fieldwork in the respective countries. [37] Cragin, “Foreign Fighter ‘Hot Potato,’” 2017. [38] Author interviews in Tunisia with security officials, September 2017. [39] Mohamed Benahmd, “Daqis and AQIM vie with Killings,” El Khabar, Jan. 22, 2016. [40] Author interviews with Egyptian officials in Washington, D.C., July 2017. [41]  Bart Schuurman and Liesbeth van der Heide, Foreign fighter returnees & the reintegration challenge (Radicalization Awareness Network, 2016). [42] Interpol, “Foreign Terrorist Fighters,” https://www.interpol.int/Crime-areas/Terrorism/Foreign-terrorist-fighters. [43] Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts, United National Security Council Resolution 2396, Dec. 21, 2017. [44] William Marcellino, Kim Cragin, Joshua Mendelsohn et al., “Measuring the Popular Resonance of Daesh’s Propaganda,” Journal of Strategic Security Vol 10, no. 1 (March 2017), http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/jss/vol10/iss1/4. [45] This definition was formulated during a discussion with analyst Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, who suggested the basic components of how global jihadism can be defined. [46] See Patrick Cockburn, “Inside Syria: With Its Enemies Diverted or Fighting Each Other, Isis is Making a Swift and Deadly Comeback,” The Independent (London), March 4, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-comeback-syria-ypg-raqqa-kurdish-war-fighting-islamic-state-a8239316.html. [47] See discussion in Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb Backs Jihadists Fighting Islamic State in Derna, Libya,” Long War Journal, July 9, 2015, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/07/al-qaeda-in-the-islamic-maghreb-backs-jihadists-fighting-islamic-state-in-derna-libya.php. [48] Eric Schmitt and Saeed al-Batati, “The U.S. Has Pummeled Al Qaeda in Yemen. But the Threat is Barely Dented,” The New York Times, Dec. 30, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/30/world/middleeast/yemen-al-qaeda-us-terrorism.html. [49] See Dan Lamothe, “‘Probably the Largest’ al-Qaeda Training Camp Ever Destroyed in Afghanistan,” The Washington Post, Oct. 30, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/30/world/middleeast/yemen-al-qaeda-us-terrorism.html. [50] See discussion in, for example, Krishnadev Calamur, “ISIS in Afghanistan is Like a Balloon that Won’t Pop,” The Atlantic, Dec. 28, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/12/afghanistan-isis/549311/. [51] Joby Warrick, “Double Game? Even as it Battles ISIS, Turkey Gives Other Extremists Shelter,” The Washington Post, July 10, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/double-game-even-as-it-battles-isis-turkey-gives-other-extremists-shelter/2016/07/10/8d6ce040-4053-11e6-a66f-aa6c1883b6b1_story.html?utm_term=.53e6be64a1f6. [52] See discussion in Hassanein Tawfik Ibrahim, “The Rise and Fall of Militant Islamic Groups in Egypt,” in Klejda Mulaj ed., Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010). [53] Declan Walsh and Nour Youssef, “Militants Kill 305 at Sufi Mosque in Egypt’s Deadliest Terrorist Attack,” The New York Times, Nov. 24, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/24/world/middleeast/mosque-attack-egypt.html. [54] One of the most important studies on this issue, by political scientists Jacob Shapiro and Nils Weidmann, used micro-level data from Iraq to compare trends in cellphone network penetration with insurgent violence. The trends in declining violence that Shapiro and Weidmann found suggested to them “that cellphone coverage reduces insurgent violence largely because it enhances voluntary information flow from noncombatants to counterinsurgents by reducing the risks of informing.” Jacob N. Shapiro and Nils B. Weidmann, “Is the Phone Mightier Than the Sword?: Cellphones and Insurgent Violence in Iraq,” International Organization 69:2 (March 2015), 271. [55] See discussion in J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan, The ISIS Twitter Census: Defining and Describing the Population of ISIS Supporters on Twitter (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2015), https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/isis_twitter_census_berger_morgan.pdf. [56] J.M. Berger and Heather Perez, The Islamic State’s Diminishing Returns on Twitter: How Suspensions Are Limiting the Social Networks of English-Speaking ISIS Supporters (Washington, DC: George Washington University, 2016), https://cchs.gwu.edu/sites/cchs.gwu.edu/files/downloads/Berger_Occasional Paper.pdf. [57] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Madeleine Blackman, “ISIL’s Virtual Planners: A Critical Terrorist Innovation,” War on the Rocks, Jan. 4, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/01/isils-virtual-planners-a-critical-terrorist-innovation/. [58] Thomas Joscelyn, “Terror Plots in Germany, France Were ‘Remote-Controlled’ by Islamic State Operatives,” Long War Journal, Sep. 24, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/09/terror-plots-in-germany-france-were-remote-controlled-by-islamic-state-operatives.php. [59] For a good synopsis of the ineffectiveness of DIY terrorism a decade ago, see Emily Hunt, “Virtual Incompetence,” Weekly Standard, Aug. 17, 2006, http://www.weeklystandard.com/virtual-incompetence/article/13724. [60] Don Rassler, Muhammad al-‘Ubaydi and Vera Mironovo, “The Islamic State’s Drone Documents: Management, Acquisitions, and DIY Tradecraft,” CTC Sentinel, Jan. 31, 2017, https://www.scribd.com/document/341828738/CTC-Perspectives-The-Islamic-States-Drone-Documents-Management-Acquisitions-and-DIY-Tradecraft-ctc-usma-Edu. [61] Mike Giglio, “Inside the Fight for Mosul,” Buzzfeed, June 3, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/mikegiglio/on-the-front-lines-of-the-fight-with-isis?utm_term=.jiawaM5Dgk - .yjVGB82YM6. [62] Peter Dockrill, “First-Ever Drone Swarm Attack Has Struck Russian Military Bases, Sources Claim,” Science Alert, Jan. 11, 2018, https://www.sciencealert.com/swarm-home-made-drones-strike-military-base-first-attack-kind-russia-uavs. [63] For an earlier treatment of this topic, see Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman eds., Fault Lines in Global Jihad: Organizational, Strategic, and Ideological Fissures (London and New York: Routledge, 2011). [64] See, for example, the discussion in Bruce Hoffman, “Al Qaeda’s Uncertain Future,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 36 (2013), 635-38, in which Hoffman documents at length what can only be described as a kneejerk analytic tendency to see al-Qaeda’s senior leadership as marginalized and irrelevant. [65] For a perceptive account of al-Qaeda’s organizational structure, and how the innovation process for terrorist attacks relates to both top-down and bottom-up organizational dynamics, see Assaf Moghadam, “How Al Qaeda Innovates,” Security Studies 22 (2013), 466-97. [66] See Hoffman, “Al Qaeda’s Uncertain Future,” 638-40. Hoffman dissects a prominent report published by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), which accompanied the U.S. government’s release of the first 17 documents taken from Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Nelly Lahoud et al., Letters from Abbottabad: Bin Laden Sidelined? (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2012), https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB410/docs/UBLDocument16.pdf. Hoffman notes that not only were CTC’s full-throated proclamations that bin Laden was of marginal relevance to al-Qaeda affiliates based on only a thin slice of the full Abbottabad cache of materials, but worse, it contradicted previous assessments of the materials, and other available evidence. [67] Bruce Hoffman, “Rethinking Terrorism and Counterterrorism Since 9/11,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 25 (Sep.-Oct. 2002),  309. [68] See Peter Bergen, The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader (New York: Free Press, 2006), 253 (quoting Nasser al-Bahri); Khalid al-Hammadi, “The Inside Story of al-Qaeda, Part 4,” Al-Quds al-Arabi, March 22, 2005. [69] “The Frightening Evolution of al-Qaida,” Dateline NBC, June 24, 2005, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/8307333/ns/dateline_nbc/t/frightening-evolution-al-qaida/ - .WrAlF63MxTY. [70] See my discussion of ISIL’s over-eagerness to make enemies in Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “The Islamic State’s Vulnerability,” War on the Rocks, Sep. 17, 2014, https://warontherocks.com/2014/09/the-islamic-states-vulnerability/. [71] Thomas Hegghammer, “The Ideological Hybridization of Jihadi Groups,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, Nov. 18, 2009, https://www.hudson.org/research/9866-the-ideological-hybridization-of-jihadi-groups. [72] See discussion in Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Interpreting Al Qaeda,” Foreign Policy, Jan. 6, 2014, http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/01/06/interpreting-al-qaeda/. [73] See, for example, Nick Rasmussen, “Opening Remarks,” May, 3, 2017, Center for a New American Security, New Terrorism Threats and Counterterrorism Strategies Conference, https://www.dni.gov/files/NCTC/documents/news_documents/CNASopeningremarks.pdf. [74] See United States Institute of Peace, “The Jihadi Threat: ISIS, Al Qaeda and Beyond,” Dec. 12, 2016, https://www.usip.org/publications/2016/12/jihadi-threat-isis-al-qaeda-and-beyond. [75] See Joshua A. Geltzer, “The Perils of a Post-ISIS Middle East,” The Atlantic, Dec. 27, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/12/middle-east-isis-syria-kurds-iran-iraq-turkey-trump/549227/ [76] Associated Press, “A Caliphate No More—All the Land ISIS Has Lost in the Past Year,” Nov. 9, 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-is-on-the-run-caliphate-land-lost-2017-11. [77] See Rukmini Callimachi, “Not ‘Lone Wolves’ After All: How ISIS Guides World’s Terror Plots From Afar,” New York Times, Feb. 4, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/04/world/asia/isis-messaging-app-terror-plot.html. [78] See Andrew Exum, “What Trump Got Right in Foreign Policy in 2017,” The Atlantic, Jan. 4, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/01/trump-foreign-policy/549671/. [79] Geltzer, “Perils.” [80] See Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, “Officials Eye Euphrates River Valley as Last Stand for ISIS,” New York Times, Aug. 31, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/31/us/politics/isis-military-us-iraq-syria-euphrates.html. [81] Geltzer, “Perils.” [82] See Bardia Rahmani and Andrea Tanco, “ISIS’s Growing Caliphate: Profiles of Affiliates,” The Wilson Center, Feb. 19, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/isiss-growing-caliphate-profiles-affiliates. [83] “ISIS Militants Parade Through Sirte, Libya,” ABC News, Feb. 18, 2015, http://abcnews.go.com/International/photos/photo-isis-militants-parade-sirte-libya-photos-released-29079454. [84] See Bethan McKernan, “ISIS in Egypt: What Is Their Presence in Sinai and Have They Previously Claimed Terror Attacks in the Region?,” Independent, Nov. 24, 2017, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-egypt-sinai-terror-attack-presence-claim-map-insurgency-explained-who-are-they-a8073866.html. [85] Eric Schmitt, “17 ISIS Fighters Reported Killed as U.S. Ends Lull in Libya Airstrikes,” New York Times, Sep. 24, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/24/us/politics/libya-military-strike-isis.html. [86] Tim Lister, “Why the Massacre of Muslims in Sinai Was Too Extreme for al Qaeda,” CNN, Nov. 27, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/27/middleeast/egypt-sinai-attack-isis-al-qaeda/index.html. [87] See, for example, Rukmini Callimachi and Eric Schmitt, “Manchester Bomber Met With ISIS Unit in Libya, Officials Say,” New York Times, June 3, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/03/world/middleeast/manchester-bombing-salman-abedi-islamic-state-libya.html. [88] See Phil Stewart, “Boko Haram Fracturing Over Islamic State Ties, U.S. General Warns,” Reuters, June 21, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-nigeria-boko-haram/boko-haram-fracturing-over-islamic-state-ties-u-s-general-warns-idUSKCN0Z72WT. [89] See generally Jennie M. Easterly and Joshua A. Geltzer, “More Die in Bathtubs than in Terrorism. It’s Still Worth Spending Billions to Fight it,” CNN, May 21, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/21/opinions/deadly-bathtub-compared-to-terrorism-opinion-geltzer-easterly/index.html. [90] See Daniel L. Byman, “An al-Qaeda Setback in Syria?,” Lawfare, Dec. 6, 2017, https://www.lawfareblog.com/al-qaeda-setback-syria. [91] Colin P. Clarke, “Al Qaeda in Syria Can Change Its Name, But Not Its Stripes,” The Cipher Brief, March 23, 2017, https://www.rand.org/blog/2017/03/al-qaeda-in-syria-can-change-its-name-but-not-its-stripes.html. [92] Charles Lister, “Al Qaeda Is Starting to Swallow the Syrian Opposition,” Foreign Policy, March 15, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/15/al-qaeda-is-swallowing-the-syrian-opposition/. [93] See, for example, Suleiman Al-Khalidi, “Jihadist Group Cements Control of Syria’s Idlib Province: Rebels,” Reuters, July 23, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-rebels-idlib/jihadist-group-cements-control-of-syrias-idlib-province-rebels-idUSKBN1A80T1. [94] See Byman, “Setback.” [95] Eric Schmitt and Saeed al-Batati, “The U.S. Has Pummeled Al Qaeda in Yemen. But the Threat Is Barely Dented,” New York Times, Dec. 30, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/30/world/middleeast/yemen-al-qaeda-us-terrorism.html. [96] See Yara Bayoumy et al., “How Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen Has Made Al Qaeda Stronger—and Richer,” Reuters, Apr. 8, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/yemen-aqap/. [97] See Matthew Levitt, “Terrorist ‘Frenemies,’” Politico, Jan. 16, 2015, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/01/isil-terrorist-frenemies-114342. [98] Jason Burke, “Mogadishu Truck Bomb: 500 Casualties in Somalia’s Worst Terrorist Attack,” The Guardian, Oct. 16, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/15/truck-bomb-mogadishu-kills-people-somalia. [99] See Robert Windrem and William M. Arkin, “Why Hasn’t the U.S. Killed Bin Laden’s Wingman Ayman al-Zawahiri,” NBC News, May 17, 2016, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/why-hasn-t-u-s-kill-bin-laden-s-wingman-n574986. [100] See Thomas Joscelyn, “Ayman al Zawahiri Argues Jihadists Can’t Deceive America,” Long War Journal, Oct. 5, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/10/analysis-ayman-al-zawahiri-argues-jihadists-cant-deceive-america.php. [101] See, for example, Thomas Joscelyn, “Ayman al Zawahiri Honors 2 Slain Jihadis in New Video,” Long War Journal, Jan. 17, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/01/ayman-al-zawahiri-honors-2-slain-jihadis-in-new-video.php. [102] There is the intriguing possibility that these two jihadist behemoths might in coming years seek to merge, or more accurately to re-merge, perhaps beginning in a location such as Yemen where the line between them is porous or Syria where the pressure against ISIL has been fierce and sustained.  See Bruce Hoffman, “The Coming ISIS-al Qaeda Merger,” Foreign Affairs, March 29, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-03-29/coming-isis-al-qaeda-merger. [103] See John Mannes, “Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube, and Twitter Form Global Internet Forum To Counter Terrorism,” TechCrunch, June 26, 2017, https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/26/facebook-microsoft-youtube-and-twitter-form-global-internet-forum-to-counter-terrorism/. [104] See, for example, Michael E. O’Hanlon and Sara Allawi, “How To Avoid an ISIS 2.0 in Iraq,” The National Interest, Nov. 18, 2017, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/how-avoid-isis-20-iraq-23259. [105] Jen Easterly and Joshua A. Geltzer, “The Islamic State and the End of Lone-Wolf Terrorism,” Foreign Policy, May 23, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/05/23/the-islamic-state-and-the-end-of-lone-wolf-terrorism/. [106] See Callimachi, “Not ‘Lone Wolves.’”. [107] Levi Maxey, “When Terrorists Learn How to Hack,” The Cipher Brief, Dec. 3, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/05/23/the-islamic-state-and-the-end-of-lone-wolf-terrorism/. [108] See, for example, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, “Today’s Rising Terrorist Threat and the Danger to the United States: Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of The 9/11 Commission Report,” The Bipartisan Policy Center, July 23, 2014, http://bipartisanpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/default/files/files/ BPC 9-11 Commission.pdf. [109] Brian McKeon, “Trump’s ‘Secret Plan’ to Defeat ISIS Looks a Lot Like Obama’s,” Foreign Policy, May 31, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/05/31/trumps-secret-plan-to-defeat-isis-looks-a-lot-like-obamas/. [110] See Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal, “The Uncounted,” The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 16, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/16/magazine/uncounted-civilian-casualties-iraq-airstrikes.html. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => Contents [contents] => 1. Introduction, by Stephen Tankel 2. The Riptide: How Foreign Fighter Returnees Could Shape the Jihadist Movement, by R. Kim Cragin 3. We Squeezed the Balloon: As ISIL Collapses, Jihadism Remains in a Growth Phase, by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross 4. ISIL, al-Qaeda, and What Goes Viral Next: Why Tomorrow's Jihadist Movement Might Not Look so Different from Today's, by Joshua Geltzer ) ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 414 [post_author] => 100 [post_date] => 2018-01-31 04:00:19 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-31 09:00:19 [post_content] => When scholars discuss the contemporary international order, they tend to do so in abstract terms. Older forms of international order — the balance of power between great states and shifts in that balance — could be measured in concrete terms by counting men under arms, factories, artillery pieces, and so on. Today, however, the composition of the U.S.-led liberal international order is more difficult to articulate. Richard Fontaine has characterized today’s world order as a “web of norms, institutions, rules, and relationships”[1] that “range from maritime rules and trade regimes to norms against forcible conquest and in support of state sovereignty” and “institutions like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, as well as a variety of key alliances and arrangements.”[2] In a similar vein, Robin Niblett has defined the liberal international order in terms of principles — “open markets, democracy, and individual human rights” — undergirded by institutions such as those forged at Bretton Woods in 1944.[3] Such descriptions make the liberal international order sound profoundly important, which is not surprising since they are generally provided as predicates for arguments that this order is fraying and in need of reinvigoration or repair.[4] Yet the descriptions of what, precisely, the international order is — and, for that matter, the laments over its uncertain state — are also undeniably amorphous. That vagueness has fueled accusations by newly resurgent nationalists that the liberal international order is at best a fanciful notion or, more sinister, a scheme perpetrated by a “globalist” elite to advance parochial interests at the expense of the national interest.[5] This charge has in turn been rebutted by scholars such as John Bew, who observes that notions of world order, far from a latter-day globalist innovation, have preoccupied policymakers from across the ideological spectrum for more than a century.[6] Yet another objection to notions of international order could be posed: that however noble such ideas may be, they are of little practical use to the policymaker engaged in the daily business of international relations. Indeed, even some defenders of the international order characterize it as “a work of abstract art”[7] and note that “the link between the pursuit of world order and American security and prosperity has always been “hard to sustain when subjected to s[k]eptical questioning.”[8] A complete argument in defense of the liberal international order requires demonstrating that this order is not merely abstract or vaguely laudable but of concrete value to the national security of the United States and its allies. This essay seeks to make that case by examining American policy toward Iran as an example of the international order in action. The essay draws upon my experience as director for Iran at the National Security Council from 2006 to 2007 and as the council’s senior director for the Middle East from 2007 to 2008. At its best, U.S. policy toward Iran melded the unilateral exercise of American power with utilization of the norms, institutions, and relationships that make up the international order to advance a vital national security interest — namely, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Yet an examination of American policy toward Iran also sheds light on practical problems the international order faces and how those problems might be addressed. That Iran should provide a case study in how the international order works to advance American security is no doubt ironic given that it is a classic revisionist state, railing against and seeking to undermine that very order, skillfully and not without some success.

Iran Policy Under George W. Bush

Iran’s nuclear activities were a preoccupation of the George W. Bush administration nearly from its outset. This was most memorably illustrated by the 2002 State of the Union address, in which the president decried Iran’s support for terrorism, its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and its domestic repression. He famously described Iran as part of an “axis of evil.”[9] Within the Bush administration, however, Iran’s nuclear program came to be seen as a subset of the broader array of threats posed by Tehran, which included terrorism and attempts to stymie American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush administration internally debated different approaches for dealing with these various dangers, from regime change to sanctions to diplomacy.[10] What ultimately became U.S. policy for addressing Iran’s nuclear program — leading directly, if distantly, to the conclusion of a nuclear agreement in 2015 — was less the product of U.S. initiative than a reaction to external developments. Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities were publicly exposed in 2002 by the National Council of Resistance of Iran and shortly thereafter acknowledged by Iran.[11] Threatened with referral to the U.N. Security Council over having violated its 1974 nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran had entered into negotiations with the “EU-3” — the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Those talks, likely reinforced by Iranian worries of U.S. military action in the wake of Washington’s interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, produced two successive agreements: the Tehran Statement in 2003 and the Paris Agreement of 2004. Neither deal stuck, however. The EU-3’s efforts to negotiate a long-term replacement foundered in August 2005 when, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president, Tehran rejected the EU-3’s latest proposal and removed U.N. seals from its uranium conversion equipment. The IAEA Board of Governors, in turn, condemned Iran’s violations of its safeguards agreement and referred it to the U.N. Security Council in February 2006. While by no means the starting point for the Bush administration’s Iran policy, this was a meaningful turning point. Events of 2005 and 2006 inaugurated a prolonged, steady escalation in Iran’s nuclear activities, and they marked the beginning of an American strategy of looking to the international order to address the threat posed by those activities. Institutions both formal and informal, political and economic, were at the heart of this effort. The first component of the new strategy consisted of an attempt to secure U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Iran and imposing international sanctions. From 2006 to 2008, five were adopted: Resolutions 1696, 1737, 1747, 1803, and 1835. All but two of these resolutions passed unanimously; Qatar cast the sole vote against Resolution 1696, and Indonesia abstained from voting on Resolution 1803.[12] [quote id="1"] The strategy’s second component consisted of a U.S.-led effort to isolate Iran’s financial system; this was later expanded to target other sectors of the Iranian economy. Unlike the first leg of the strategy, this one relied on international arrangements that had a lower profile than the U.N. Security Council and, in some cases, were outright ad hoc. Utilizing extraterritorial sanctions adopted by Congress and executive orders promulgated by President Bush, American officials were able to threaten overseas banks with exclusion from the U.S. financial system — and, later, the ability even to utilize U.S. dollars — should they continue their relationships with Iranian banks designated under American or U.N. sanctions. The resulting economic pressure on Iran was possible only because of American dominance of the international financial system — and the related preeminence of the U.S. dollar — and the degree to which that system had, over the course of decades, become integrated across national boundaries.[13] It would be tempting to see the latter effort’s success as evidence of the efficacy of the unilateral exercise of American power.[14] In reality, however, the two policy initiatives depended on each other for success. The U.N. sanctions, while impressive on paper, were unlikely on their own to have made a significant impact on Iran’s economy or that government’s decision-making. The ad hoc financial sanctions, in turn, would not have succeeded without the U.N. resolutions to undergird them. Those resolutions provided international legitimacy to what was otherwise the naked exercise of unilateral power by Washington, an important consideration in the wake of the ongoing war in Iraq. U.S. allies in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere could argue with American tactics (and did so vociferously) but not with the objective or even the broader strategy, both of which were tacitly endorsed by the Security Council. The resolutions also laid a foundation for likeminded states to impose their own sanctions on Iran, by providing both political cover and a legal basis for doing so — which was a necessity for some states. This strategy was not without costs and compromise. The decision to work around allied governments and directly warn their financial and commercial communities caused frictions that Iran sought to exploit. The need to secure Russian and Chinese agreement, along with that of various other reluctant states in the European Union and elsewhere, meant that U.N. resolutions were frequently delayed and diluted. It also required the United States to participate in the sort of nuclear diplomacy with Iran that Washington had previously resisted. The first U.N. resolution on Iran, Resolution 1696, was preceded by the first offer to Tehran by the “P5+1” (the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members, plus Germany), in the form of an “incentives package” delivered on the group’s behalf by the EU’s foreign policy chief — then Javier Solana — in June 2006. (This was subsequently revised and presented again in mid-2008.) Furthermore, what was primarily a multilateral strategy nevertheless depended on the threat or actual use of unilateral American power to succeed. For Iran, refusal to comply with the U.N. resolutions carried the risk of further sanctions or even a U.S.-led military attack, of which the Bush administration explicitly and repeatedly warned. This threat likely also explained, in part, Moscow and Beijing’s willingness to endorse U.N. sanctions, though both pointedly refused to accept American secondary sanctions, even as they quietly took steps to comply with them. While this sort of unilateral warning enjoyed no international endorsement, it was nevertheless employed in support of what was essentially a multilateral effort. That also probably dampened other states’ anger at the U.S. use of extraterritorial sanctions, which are often seen as violating state sovereignty, a key international norm.[15] The Bush administration’s success in bringing international pressure to bear against Iran’s nuclear program was largely the product of two major factors. The first was a perceived threat — shared by the United States and allies in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere — stemming from Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities. This view was sharpened by Iran’s behavior on the nuclear front — keeping its facilities secret and reportedly engaging in research related to nuclear weapons[16] — and beyond, such as its threats toward Israel.[17] The second factor was Washington’s ability to leverage the web of norms, institutions, and relationships that make up the international order. This also helps to explain why the United States has been far less successful in rallying international support to confront other issues emanating from Iran. U.S. allies in Europe and Asia simply do not share the American assessment of the gravity of the risks posed by Iran’s non-nuclear activities, and the international norms and institutions that deal with those matters are far less developed than those that exist to address proliferation. In the Middle East, where U.S. allies tend to strongly share Washington’s estimation of Iran, there was little in the way of a “regional order” — even an informal one — upon which to fall back in the absence of international action. By the time of the 2008 presidential election, U.S. strategy toward Iran had lost its momentum. Security Council Resolution 1835, adopted in September 2008 in response to IAEA reports of continued Iranian obstructionism, was the weakest of the U.N. resolutions regarding Iran adopted to that point; it imposed no new sanctions. This faltering in the pressure campaign is often attributed to the publication of a National Intelligence Estimate[18] in 2007 that asserted Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons programs in 2003 and had not restarted them as of 2007.[19] The document was widely interpreted as contradicting Bush administration assertions that Iran harbored ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons, even though the suspension it referred to related only to “weaponization” work, not to Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, which were ongoing. As Bush administration National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley later noted, the National Intelligence Estimate “was misinterpreted as an all-clear when it wasn’t that at all.”[20] [quote id="2"] While the estimate was undoubtedly a hindrance to U.S. diplomacy — and a political millstone around the necks of European leaders facing constituencies skeptical of sanctions against Iran — the document’s role has been exaggerated. Even if Iran had suspended its weaponization efforts, as the document asserted, that did not make the expansion of its nuclear infrastructure, nor its record of proliferation and of threatening neighbors, less concerning to the U.S. and allied governments, whatever the consequences for public messaging. What’s more, U.S. allies largely did not accept the NIE’s conclusions.[21] Instead, the loss of diplomatic momentum has two other roots. The first was that the strategy had simply failed to achieve its intended result. Iran continued to expand its nuclear activities despite the mounting sanctions. Second, and perhaps more important, the international context was especially inauspicious. The United States and Russia were in a tense standoff over Moscow’s military campaign in Georgia. Opposition to the Iraq War, then in its sixth year, was pronounced abroad and increasingly bitter in the United States itself amid the presidential campaign. The global financial crisis, meanwhile, dampened enthusiasm for further use of economic weapons against Iran, which was in turn buoyed by sky-high oil prices.

Iran Policy Under the Obama Administration

This was the context in which Barack Obama inherited the unresolved Iran nuclear file. Yet for all of the divisiveness of the 2008 presidential campaign on matters of foreign policy, the Obama administration largely kept in place the strategy pursued by the Bush administration. Engagement with Iran was a centerpiece of Obama’s campaign, but some of Obama’s efforts continued initiatives begun during the Bush administration. For example, the Bush administration dispatched Undersecretary of State Bill Burns to participate in a P5+1 meeting with Iran for the first time in August 2008.[22] There were also discontinuities: Obama and other U.S. officials engaged in repeated, direct outreach to Iranian officials.[23] Indeed, European officials worried in the summer of 2008 that Obama’s seeming readiness to engage directly with Iran without preconditions would undermine the P5+1’s approach on the nuclear issue.[24] In addition, the Obama administration is widely perceived to have deemphasized efforts to counter Iran’s non-nuclear activities in the Middle East. Obama was skeptical of U.S. military commitments in the region, emphasizing, for example, the need to withdraw combat forces from Iraq and shift resources to Afghanistan.[25] The precise impact of all of these changes is unclear. Obama and his aides often argued that American outreach to Iran was vital to securing support for subsequent sanctions.[26] Others have observed that these sanctions built incrementally on those adopted during the Bush presidency.[27] Likewise, Obama viewed his restraint in the Middle East as serving U.S. interests,[28] whereas critics saw his focus on the nuclear issue to the exclusion of Iran’s regional behavior as undermining American leverage.[29] Whatever one’s view of events, some external developments were consequential. One such development was the discovery in September 2009 that Iran was building yet another clandestine uranium enrichment facility, at Fordow. This news undermined the narrative that Iran had abandoned its nuclear ambitions and showed that it was not acting in good faith on its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as Tehran had consistently claimed. Another external development that proved critical came in February 2010, when Iran commenced production of more highly enriched uranium.[30] This followed the failure in October 2009 of the “fuel swap” proposal, under which Iran would have exported its low-enriched uranium to a third country to be further enriched and fabricated into fuel rods for its Tehran Research Reactor.[31] The unsuccessful fuel-swap proposal had not sought to enforce existing U.N. resolutions, as it did not require Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium, but neither did it contradict them, as it offered no sanctions relief. More nettlesome to international diplomacy was the Obama administration’s apparent encouragement of a last-ditch effort by Turkey and Brazil to revive the proposal, an ad hoc initiative that ran contrary to Washington’s parallel pursuit, via the P5+1, of a new U.N. sanctions resolution against Iran.[32] These events were the basis for passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, the last of the six resolutions the council adopted regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, the Obama administration, with increasingly vigorous prodding from Congress, continued to expand the campaign of ad hoc financial sanctions against Iran.[33] Once again, these sanctions leaned heavily on institutions of the international order, such as the U.S. dollar’s role in oil transactions, the relative concentration of the international shipping insurance industry, and the tight integration of global financial transaction networks, the latter of which were instrumental to the “SWIFT” sanctions.[34] The United States was joined in these efforts by the European Union, which in July 2010 adopted a wide-ranging package of sanctions against Iran.[35] In January 2012 an oil embargo followed.[36] Like the U.S. sanctions, these powerful EU measures capitalized on the integrated nature of the global economy. In 2012, however, the United States abruptly shifted its diplomatic strategy, pivoting from the multilateral process that had dominated from 2006 to 2011 to one that was, in essence, unilateral. The Obama administration had developed a channel to Iran via Oman that it used to secure the release of three American hikers detained by Iranian authorities.[37] It then utilized that channel to begin a bilateral nuclear negotiating track with Tehran without informing other members of the P5+1.[38] It was these negotiations, rather than the P5+1 talks that continued in parallel, that ultimately produced, in November 2013, what became known as the “Joint Plan of Action.” (JPOA)[39] This interim accord was the blueprint for the document — formally the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) — endorsed by the U.N. Security Council in Resolution 2231 in July 2015.[40] Negotiating an accord bilaterally with Iran in this manner was expedient. Whether it was effective is debatable. The United States made major concessions in the bilateral talks, foremost among them dropping any insistence that Iran permanently suspend its enrichment and reprocessing-related activities. Had these concessions been offered in the P5+1 talks, it is not clear that the channel would have made a difference to Iran’s willingness to reach a deal. To the extent that the more restricted channel did have an effect on the talks, it was most likely in providing a level of secrecy that made the parties more comfortable discussing their negotiating positions without fear that they would be publicly exposed. Even this is debatable, however, as the talks that led from the JPOA to the JCPOA were conducted in the P5+1 format without significant leaks. What’s more, the shift in U.S. strategy carried costs. The revelation of the secret bilateral channel roiled the P5+1, creating friction between the United States and France and pushing Britain and Germany to “the sidelines,” according to then-French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.[41] The agreement reached between the United States and Iran did not comply with the six earlier U.N. resolutions, for which Washington had previously invested significant time and effort to secure Russian and Chinese backing. Instead, Washington unilaterally changed the terms offered to Iran by the international community. The shift in negotiating format, together with skillful Iranian diplomacy, affected the discussion itself; instead of grappling over what Iran had to do to meet its international obligations and be re-integrated into the global order, the talks became about what infringement of purported Iranian “rights” could be imposed by the United States and, in turn, what level of nuclear activity the United States could tolerate in Iran. [quote id="4"] Security Council Resolution 2231 not only departed significantly from the terms of previous U.N. resolutions on Iran but also represented a fait accompli in Washington. Congress was generally wary of Iran and had played a key role in pushing some of the most powerful sanctions against that country. It had adopted legislation requiring the Obama administration to submit any nuclear agreement for congressional review. By first securing Security Council endorsement of the JCPOA, however, the administration effectively rendered congressional review moot. The Obama administration’s argument — that because the agreement had already been codified by the Security Council, it could not be unilaterally changed by the United States — presented the broader U.S. government with a binary option to accept the deal as it was or reject altogether a diplomatic resolution to the crisis and consider other options, such as a military operation. The irony was that the agreement had, in broad strokes, not been the product of an international negotiation but of bilateral discussions between the United States and Iran, regarding which Congress had been kept in the dark. Ultimately, congressional opponents were unable to muster the votes needed to overturn the agreement, and it moved ahead.[42] At first blush, the JCPOA is a victory for multilateralism. Indeed, even Fabius praised the agreement as a “historic success” for all parties involved and said it demonstrated that “diplomatic action can yield spectacular results.”[43] But that perception of success obscures how the international order was damaged by the methods used to reach the agreement. First, the United States unilaterally put aside six U.N. resolutions on Iran, all measures it had negotiated, without first coordinating with its allies — just as those allies had worried Washington might do in 2008.[44] This arguably weakened the authority of the U.N. Security Council and risked lending credence to arguments that the Security Council is merely an instrument of American power. That no doubt pleased the Iranian government, which had long decried the resolutions as “illegal.”[45] Second, by using Security Council endorsement against domestic opponents, the Obama administration risked further delegitimizing the United Nations specifically and internationalism in general among already-skeptical American conservatives. Pew Research Center has found a growing partisan gap in U.S. perceptions of the United Nations in recent decades. In 1990, Pew polling found, 68 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats viewed the United Nations favorably. By 2016, Democratic support for the United Nations had climbed to 80 percent while Republican support had dropped to 43 percent.[46] The perception that the United Nations can be used to circumvent conservative political views at home further erodes internationalist sentiments among Republicans. And neglecting to build a domestic consensus, however expedient it may have been to reach agreement, meant that the nuclear deal was not placed on a footing that would weather political changes in the United States.

Iran Policy Under the Trump Administration

Few Republicans criticized the Iran deal — or internationalism, for that matter — as harshly as Donald Trump. As a candidate and in the early days of his presidency, Trump swore at times that he would “dismantle” the agreement.[47] At other times he adopted a milder line, arguing that it should be rigorously enforced despite its flaws.[48] Ultimately, the Iran policy that his administration announced after several months of review reflected a compromise between these positions. He asserted in October 2017 that he sought to nest the JCPOA in a strengthened, comprehensive Iran strategy. But he also said that he would walk away from the agreement if an understanding could not be reached with allies on addressing what he perceived as its shortcomings and if Congress did not adopt new legislation overseeing implementation.[49] Trump’s decision not to unilaterally withdraw was well-founded, whatever his concerns about the deal’s substance. American withdrawal, especially if followed by an effort to reimpose secondary sanctions punishing European and other international firms for business dealings with Iran, would have been galling to U.S. partners in Europe and Asia. Whatever their concerns about the agreement’s negotiation, those allies by and large support the deal and perceive it as serving not only their commercial interests but also their national security interests by forestalling Iran’s nuclear progress as well as potential military conflict. Precisely because of their concerns about the deal’s negotiation, they would find a U.S. effort to force their hands through punitive sanctions especially unfair — it would amount to Washington punishing its allies for adhering to an agreement that the United States and Iran had negotiated bilaterally. Nor should it be presumed, however, that U.S. allies are naïve. Congressional debate over the JCPOA in 2015 played out in public view; few predictions about U.S. foreign policy during the 2016 election campaign were surer bets than the presumption that a Republican administration would be unenthusiastic about the deal. Furthermore, the historical record does not support the notion that diplomatic agreements are sacrosanct. Indeed, they often face pressure or dissolve when circumstances or governments change. While abrupt swings are far from the norm in U.S. foreign policy, neither are they rare. After Obama took office, his administration quickly repudiated the Bush administration’s plans for missile defenses in Europe, angering Poland but pleasing Russia.[50] Obama also abandoned the Bush administration’s understandings[51] with the Israeli government regarding settlements.[52] U.S. officials denied that any “enforceable agreements” existed[53] and moved ahead with a new policy.[54] Reactions to these decisions appeared to be rooted more in whether a person agreed or disagreed with them than in principled beliefs that administrations should honor their predecessors’ commitments. American credibility is not, of course, irrelevant. But U.S. policymakers are unlikely to advocate adhering to policies they consider bad simply to sustain credibility. Preserving this sort of credibility internationally requires more concerted efforts to build domestic coalitions that will sustain policies beyond an administration’s term. Whatever one’s opinion of the JCPOA’s merits and flaws, there is good reason to think that U.S. withdrawal from the agreement would chiefly benefit Iran. Such a step would open a rift between the United States and its allies in Europe and Asia. If the agreement survived America’s pullout, enforcement would likely be weaker without U.S. oversight. Whatever pressure Washington managed to generate through renewed sanctions enforcement would be impaired by resistance from Iran and from European and Asian states, which would be its proximate targets. The U.S.-led campaign for secondary sanctions against Iran in the mid-2000s demonstrates that such measures can be effective despite allies’ objections if there is strategic convergence among allies and if the measures are undergirded, at least in theory, by U.N. action. But when there is strategic divergence and no effort at the United Nations, any economic effect of such measures is difficult to sustain and must be weighed against serious diplomatic costs; the Clinton administration’s experience seeking to enforce the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act in the 1990s demonstrates this.[55] [quote id="3"] For all of these reasons, the Trump administration’s decision appears sound — namely, to leverage other states’ desire for the United States to remain within the JCPOA to win those states’ cooperation with strict enforcement and a broader effort to challenge Iran. Such bargaining is not incompatible with the ideas of internationalism and global order; that interests are shared does not imply that states will not seek to shift the burden of securing them on to the United States, and American policymakers are right to resist. What is vital, however, is that Washington’s diplomacy not only advances U.S. interests but also preserves and strengthens the international system, lest short-term gains be outweighed by long-term costs. To be successful, the United States must not only articulate a clear policy toward Iran but also explain how it serves U.S. and partners’ interests and rally allies in support. This strategy should be implemented across multiple policy tools — economic, diplomatic, and military — not in sequence but as a single, concerted campaign. The history of U.S. policy toward Iran suggests that this will require patience and compromise but may ultimately be rewarding. A united international front has the twin benefits of spreading a policy’s costs and amplifying its effectiveness.

Conclusion

The international order may be a web of norms, institutions, and relationships, but an understanding lies at its core. American leadership of the international order is largely embraced by allies, giving the United States tremendous global influence. But U.S. allies do not subordinate their interests any more than the United States does. Rather, this enduring dynamic reflects confidence that the United States will advance shared interests, even if it ultimately does so to serve its own. And it reflects a mutual agreement that the international order generates outcomes that serve shared interests better than purely transactional relationships could, and that these outcomes justify the compromises required to maintain that order. The recent history of U.S. policy toward Iran demonstrates how the international order works in action and how it can provide Washington with tremendous leverage to accomplish policy goals, especially when utilized in concert with other instruments of American power. That history also demonstrates the mutual dependence at the heart of the international order. After all, European powers made little headway against Iran in the early 2000s absent American involvement, just as the United States could not have imposed the pressure it brought to bear against Iran without the (sometimes reluctant) support of allies and the use of international institutions. Yet that history also illustrates a temptation for U.S. officials, confronted with a preeminent role and outsize influence, to use these resources not as assets to be assiduously preserved and nurtured but as mere tools of U.S. foreign policy — or domestic politics — like any others. As the American appetite for global leadership and internationalist spirit have waned in the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the global financial crisis, this tendency seems to have grown. It was on display when the Obama administration pivoted from the P5+1 process to a bilateral one and used the U.N. Security Council as a domestic political cudgel. It was similarly exhibited by those who wish to use international sanctions to coerce allies absent any effort to bridge diverging aims and strategies with respect to Iran. Treating the international order in this manner risks eroding it. Every state acts out of self-interest. If a state perceives that its economic or political dependence on the United States is a liability rather than the price of an international order that ultimately advances its security and prosperity, that state will inevitably develop workarounds and hedging strategies. The international order is not fixed or predictable like a domestic legal system. Rather, it is dynamic and relies on the balance of self-interest among allies. Iran and its fellow revisionists take gratification from friction between the United States and its allies, and they share the overarching goal of diminishing U.S. influence in global affairs. Should the United States and allied policymakers fail to defend the international order, they will discover to their dismay that the loss is not at all abstract but has concrete consequences for their states’ prosperity and security.   Michael Singh is Managing Director and Lane-Swig Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and former senior director for Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration. ISSN (Print): 2576-1021 ISSN(Online): 2576-1153 Image: Obama White House [post_title] => The International Order and Nuclear Negotiations with Iran [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => international-order-nuclear-negotiations-iran [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-04-26 05:47:22 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-04-26 09:47:22 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=414 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => The international order is not just an abstract concept, but rather is of concrete value to U.S. national security, as exemplified by America's policy toward Iran. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Issue 2 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => That Iran should provide a case study in how the international order works to advance American security is no doubt ironic. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => By the time of the 2008 presidential election, U.S. strategy toward Iran had lost its momentum. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Whatever one’s opinion of the JCPOA’s merits and flaws, there is good reason to think that U.S. withdrawal from the agreement would chiefly benefit Iran. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => At first blush, the JCPOA is a victory for multilateralism. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 556 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 100 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Richard Fontaine, “Salvaging Global Order,” National Interest online, March 10, 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/salvaging-the-global-order-12390. [2] Richard Fontaine, “The U.S. Response to Today’s Global Order and Tomorrow’s Threats,” Journal of International Affairs online, March 15, 2017, https://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/us-response-global-order. [3] Robin Niblett, “Liberalism in Retreat,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-12-12/liberalism-retreat. [4] See, for example, Richard N. Haass, “World Order 2.0,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-12-12/world-order-20. [5] See Michael Anton, “America and the Liberal International Order,” American Affairs, no. 1 (Spring 2017), https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/02/america-liberal-international-order/. [6] John Bew, “World Order: Many-Headed Monster or Noble Pursuit?” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 1 (October 2017): 14–35. [7] Bew, “World Order.” [8] John A. Thompson as quoted by Bew in “World Order.” [9] George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, Washington DC, Jan. 29, 2002, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020129-11.html. [10] For further detail, see David Crist, Twilight War (New York: Penguin Books, 2012), 442–460. [11] Paul Kerr, “IAEA to Visit Two ‘Secret’ Nuclear Sites in Iran,” Arms Control Today, Jan. 1, 2003, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_01-02/irannuclear_janfeb03. [12] The texts and voting tallies for all of these resolutions can be accessed at http://www.un.org/en/sc/documents/. [13] See Juan Zarate, Treasury’s War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare (New York: PublicAffairs, 2013). [14] See, for example, Jana Winter and Dan De Luce, “Iran Nuclear Deal Critics Push Plan for ‘Global Economic Embargo,’” Foreign Policy, Sept. 14, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/09/14/iran-sanctions-memo/. [15] This view was enshrined in the European Union’s “blocking statute” of Nov. 22, 1996, adopted in response to the first U.S. extraterritorial sanctions on Iran. Text of the statute can be found at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31996R2271:EN:HTML. [16] For more information, see the annex to the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency Director General, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” International Atomic Energy Agency, November 18, 2011, https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/gov2011-65.pdf. [17] Louis Charbonneau, “In New York, Defiant Ahmadinejad says Israel will be ‘Eliminated,’” Reuters, Sept. 24, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-assembly-ahmadinejad/in-new-york-defiant-ahmadinejad-says-israel-will-be-eliminated-idUSBRE88N0HF20120924. [18] “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” National Intelligence Estimate (Washington: National Intelligence Council, November 2007), https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Press Releases/2007 Press Releases/20071203_release.pdf. [19] George W. Bush, Decision Points (New York: Random House, 2010), 419. [20] Stephen Hadley as quoted in Tabassum Zakaria and Mark Hosenball, “Special Report: Intel Shows Iran Nuclear Threat Not Imminent,” Reuters, March 23, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-usa-nuclear/special-report-intel-shows-iran-nuclear-threat-not-imminent-idUSBRE82M0G020120323. [21] Condoleezza Rice, No Higher Honor (New York: Random House, 2011), 618. [22] “U.S. Reverses Course, Will Send Envoy to Talks with Iran,” CNN, July 16, 2008, http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/07/16/us.iran/index.html. [23] Trita Parsi, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy (Yale University Press: 2017). [24] Glenn Kessler, “Europe Fears Obama Might Undercut Progress With Iran,” Washington Post, June 22, 2008,  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/21/AR2008062101658.html. [25] Barack Obama, interview by Michael Gordon and Jeff Zeleny, New York Times, Nov. 1, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/01/us/politics/02obama-transcript.html. [26] Remarks by the President at the United States Military Academy Commencement Ceremony, West Point, NY, May 28, 2014, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2014/05/28/remarks-president-united-states-military-academy-commencement-ceremony. [27] Glenn Kessler, “Fact Checker: Obama’s Claim That His Administration ‘Built a Coalition That Imposed Sanctions on the Iranian Economy,” Washington Post, June 2, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2014/06/02/obamas-claim-that-his-administration-built-a-coalition-that-imposed-sanctions-on-the-iranian-economy/. [28] David Samuels, “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru,” New York Times, May 5, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/magazine/the-aspiring-novelist-who-became-obamas-foreign-policy-guru.html. [29] Michael Doran, “Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy,” Mosaic, Feb. 2, 2015, https://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2015/02/obamas-secret-iran-strategy/. [30] International Atomic Energy Agency Director General, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008) and 1835 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” International Atomic Energy Agency, Feb. 18, 2010, http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/IAEA_Report_Iran_18Feb2010.pdf. [31] “Official Proposals on the Iranian Nuclear Issue, 2003-2013,” Arms Control Association, July 2015,  https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Iran_Nuclear_Proposals. [32] Laura Rozen, “W.H. Pushes Back on Letter Leak,” Politico, May 28, 2010, https://www.politico.com/story/2010/05/wh-pushes-back-on-letter-leak-037938. [33] Jay Solomon, The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East (New York: Random House, 2016), 142-67. [34] Solomon, Iran Wars, 202-04. [35] “Council Decision of 26 July 2010 Concerning Restrictive Measures Against Iran and Repealing Common Position 2007/140/CFSP,” Official Journal of the European Union 53 (July 27, 2010): 25, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv:OJ.L_.2010.195.01.0025.01.ENG&toc=OJ:L:2010:195:TOC. [36] “Council Decision 2012/35/CFSP of 23 January 2012 Amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP Concerning Restrictive Measures Against Iran,” Official Journal of the European Union 55 (Jan. 24, 2012): 22, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv:OJ.L_.2012.019.01.0022.01.ENG&toc=OJ:L:2012:019:TOC. [37] Parsi, Losing an Enemy, 217. [38] Laurent Fabius, “Inside the Iran Deal: A French Perspective,” Washington Quarterly 39, no. 3 (Fall 2016): 7-38, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2016.1232630. [39] “The Iran Nuclear Deal: Full Text,” CNN, Nov. 24, 2013, http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/24/world/meast/iran-deal-text/index.html. [40] United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 2231 (2015),” S/Res/2231, July 20, 2015,  https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/unsc_resolution2231-2015.pdf. [41] Fabius, “Inside the Iran Deal.” [42] Jennifer Steinhauer, “Democrats Hand Victory to Obama on Iran Nuclear Deal,” New York Times, Sept. 10, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/11/us/politics/iran-nuclear-deal-senate.html. [43] Fabius, “Inside the Iran Deal.” [44] Glenn Kesssler, “Europe Fears Obama Might Undercut Progress with Iran,” Washington Post, June 22, 2008, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/21/AR2008062101658.html. [45] “Iran Calls New UNSC Resolution Illegal and Unfortunate,” Payvand News, Sept. 28, 2008, http://www.payvand.com/news/08/sep/1311.html. [46] “Favorable Views of the UN Prevail in Europe, Asia, and U.S.,” Pew Research Center, Sept. 20, 2016, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/09/20/favorable-views-of-the-un-prevail-in-europe-asia-and-u-s/. [47] Transcript of Donald Trump’s Speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Washington DC, March 22, 2016, http://www.timesofisrael.com/donald-trumps-full-speech-to-aipac/. [48] Eric Cortellessa, “In Call With Riyadh, Trump Vows to ‘Rigorously Enforce’ Iran Deal,” Times of Israel, Jan. 30, 2017, https://www.timesofisrael.com/in-call-with-riyadh-trump-commits-to-rigorously-enforce-iran-deal/. [49] Remarks by President Trump on Iran Strategy, Washington DC, Oct. 13, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/10/13/remarks-president-trump-iran-strategy. [50] Peter Baker, “White House Scraps Bush’s Approach to Missile Shield,” New York Times, Sept. 17, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/18/world/europe/18shield.html. [51] Elliott Abrams, “Hillary Is Wrong About the Settlements,” Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2009, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB124588743827950599. [52] Letter From President Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, April 14, 2004, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2004/04/20040414-3.html. [53] Hillary Clinton, “Remarks With Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman,” State Department, June 17, 2009, https://2009-2017.state.gov/secretary/20092013clinton/rm/2009a/06/125044.htm. [54] Daniel Dombey, “Clinton Clashes With Israelis Over Settlers,” Financial Times, June 17, 2009, https://www.ft.com/content/614c98a4-5b98-11de-be3f-00144feabdc0. [55] Kenneth M. Pollack, The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America, (Random House, 2005), 286-89. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [post_count] => 3 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 573 [post_author] => 56 [post_date] => 2018-05-08 05:00:11 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-08 09:00:11 [post_content] => Insurgencies are famously difficult to defeat, yet the Afghan Taliban have proven especially so. Accounts of Taliban resilience have focused on both the deficiencies of Western efforts and the Afghan state and on Pakistani support for the Taliban. These accounts fail, however, to reveal the full picture of how the Taliban have been able to survive. Drawing on original field research, this article explores how the Taliban’s success has been shaped by factors internal to the insurgency, namely, the social resources that sustain it and the group’s ability to adapt militarily. The fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was swift and brutal. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States went to war against al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in Afghanistan. Taliban forces were obliterated in a lightning war prosecuted by American special operations forces and their Afghan allies, supported by an armada of warplanes. U.S. air forces did most of the killing. The U.S. Air Force and Navy dropped 18,000 bombs in the air campaign, 10,000 of which were precision munitions. The exact number of Taliban fighters killed is unknown, but according to one estimate the death toll was 8,000 to 12,000.[1] By early 2002, the Taliban emirate had ceased to exist as a physical entity, and its leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had fled to Pakistan. Within five years, however, the Taliban had regrouped and returned in large numbers to southern and eastern Afghanistan. In the decade that followed, the new Afghan state and its Western backers were unable to stop a Taliban insurgency from steadily gaining more ground across the country. In 2016, the Taliban seized Kunduz city in northern Afghanistan for a second time, having done so the year before as well.[2] The Taliban had also come close to capturing the provincial capitals of Helmand and Uruzgan in the south and Farah in the west. In May 2016, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan command reported that only 65 percent of the country’s 407 districts were under government control.[3] This highlights the question of how the Taliban was able to come back so successfully from utter defeat. Between 2001 and 2016, the United States spent around $800 billion on war in Afghanistan. The international community spent an additional £240 billion building up Afghan security forces. In 2010, at the height of the international military effort in Afghanistan, just over 100,000 U.S. troops and around 40,000 troops from fifty other nations were deployed there. Despite all this military might and international largesse, the Taliban were not defeated. How can this be explained? To date, studies on the war have mostly focused on deficiencies in the international military effort and problems with the Afghan state. Lack of success in defeating the Taliban has been blamed on the failings of Western leadership and strategy, on the hubris and incoherence of the international effort, and on flaws in counterinsurgency tactics and operations.[4] Equally important has been the scale of corruption in Afghanistan, fueled by the massive influx of international aid, which has undermined both the legitimacy and the effectiveness of the Afghan government and security forces.[5] In explaining the persistence and success of the Afghan Taliban, many commentators have highlighted the support the group received from Pakistan. The long, porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (across which men, material, and money move with relative ease), the use of refugee camps in Pakistan as secure rear bases, and significant military assistance from the Pakistani Army have unquestionably been important to sustaining the insurgency in Afghanistan.[6] The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of the Pakistani Army has been central in this. The ISI has largely succeeded in hiding its involvement in the Afghan conflict, working through undercover agents, civilian sympathizers, contractors, and retired officers. Taliban interviewees are also cautious about commenting on Pakistan’s role in their struggle. Thus, outside the world of secret intelligence, it is possible to get only glimpses of the ISI’s assistance to the Taliban. While the group receives significant financial support from Gulf Cooperation Council states (and from various sources within GCC states), and some military assistance from Iran and possibly Russia, Pakistan has been the Taliban’s most important source of funds, training, and military supplies.[7] According to the journalist Steve Coll, by 2008 it had become apparent to the U.S. military that the Pakistan Army was supporting the whole deployment cycle of Taliban forces, from their training in Pakistan to their deployment in Afghanistan to their return to Pakistan for rest and recuperation. Coll even notes that “Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps troops along the Pakistan border were firing on American border posts to provide covering fire for the Taliban to infiltrate into Afghanistan and return.”[8] Less studied, however, is how the Taliban have been the makers of their own success. To be sure, the literature on the Taliban is sizeable and includes important books on the group’s origins, politics, culture, and war making before 2002.[9] Antonio Giustozzi has produced a number of studies on the organization, governance, and fighting tactics of the post-2002 Taliban insurgency.[10] Still missing, though, is a comprehensive explanation for the Afghan Taliban’s remarkable resilience. How is it that the Taliban managed to survive onslaught by the most powerful military alliance in the world? In this article, I draw on two bodies of theory from the field of security studies, one on the roots of insurgency and the other on military adaptation. The former identifies the critical nature of social resources that give resilience to insurgencies — in particular, the strength of horizontal networks within the insurgency and vertical links into host communities. The latter identifies those factors that make it more likely for militaries to adapt to evolving challenges in war. When applied to the Afghan Taliban, what’s revealed is an insurgency that has a deep well of social resources and that has, over time, improved its ability to innovate and adapt. Taken together, these factors point to an insurgency that is highly resilient and one that is unbeatable by military means alone. This finding has vital implications for the Trump administration’s strategy, which revolves around intensifying the military effort against the Taliban. In addition to presenting new insights informed by theory-driven inquiry, this article draws on a large number of original interviews with Afghan Taliban leaders, officials, and field commanders. Careful protocols were followed to ensure the fidelity of the interview data.[11] Of course, the reliability of what Taliban members say is inevitably open to question. On some matters, Taliban interviewees were inclined to exaggerate (e.g., the level of public support the group enjoys) or to be less than forthcoming (e.g., the role that Pakistani intelligence plays in providing support for the group). To minimize the risk of corrupt data undermining the analysis, the main findings are developed from multiple interviews and, where appropriate, are related to published scholarship on the Taliban. This article proceeds with a review of the literature on the social roots of insurgency, applying those insights to the Afghan Taliban, as well as a review of the literature on adaptation in war, likewise applying insights to the Taliban case. It concludes with a look at the implications of these findings for the new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan.

Social Sources and Insurgency

Even in situations that are ripe for rebellion, organizing an insurgency is far from easy. As political scientist Jeremy Weinstein notes, insurgent leaders face multiple challenges, chief among them maintaining control, especially as the insurgency grows, and extracting resources (e.g., funds, supplies, and recruits) without alienating local populations.[12] Some insurgent groups rely on terror to impose discipline within their ranks and to keep local populations subdued. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is a prominent practitioner of this tactic.[13] Even more savage was the Revolutionary United Front, whose atrocities in Sierra Leone in the 1990s included abducting children and turning them into sadistic killers, and hacking off the limbs of countless thousands of civilians.[14] One problem with wielding terror as a tactic is that it “can stifle opposition but cannot engender loyalty and support from the civilian population.” For insurgent groups seeking to hold territory, this creates the ever-present risk of civilian defection to the opposing side.[15] For many insurgencies, consent is as important as coercion in maintaining both internal control and external local support. Weinstein points to the importance of “social endowments” in mobilizing people to join or support an insurgent movement. Social endowments include preexisting networks, common identities, shared beliefs, and norms of reciprocity, all of which facilitate cooperation and collective action, especially in situations with short-term costs and only the promise of long-term gains.[16] In his major study on the cohesion of insurgent organizations, Paul Staniland also highlights the role of prewar social networks, noting that insurgent leaders often “‘socially appropriate’ existing structures of collective action for new functions.” Staniland distinguishes between two types of structures: horizontal networks and vertical ties.[17] Horizontal networks link people who may be dispersed geographically through common ideological beliefs or professional identities. Political parties are a prime example. Insurgent movements often originate from or incorporate political parties. One example is the peasant insurgency in Nepal from 1996 to 2006, which sprang from the Maoist wing of the Communist Party of Nepal.[18] Vertical ties, on the other hand, are preexisting linkages between insurgent groups and local people, often based on common ethnic, tribal, or familial networks. These make it possible for insurgent groups to bind local communities to their cause and to extract resources from and exert control over them. Thus, “bonds of family and kinship” were crucial to the success of the Naxalites in mobilizing peasant support for their Maoist insurgency in eastern India.[19] Staniland argues that variance in the cohesion and resilience of insurgencies may be explained by the degree to which they are founded on, and are able to exploit, both horizontal networks and vertical ties. Over time, many insurgencies develop governance processes and structures to provide services for civilians in the territory they control. This requires insurgent groups to divert resources that could otherwise be devoted to their armed struggle. It may also require insurgent groups to take civilian preferences into account, even when they differ from the interests and preferences of the insurgency.[20] In the case of secessionist insurgencies, the impulse to govern is obvious since the struggle is focused on achieving independent statehood. In other cases (especially with Maoist insurgencies), insurgent groups are ideologically predisposed to govern the areas and populations over which they have control.[21] For most insurgent governments, establishing the means to police the population and regulate disputes is the first order of business. The provision of other public services, such as education and health care, is usually a secondary concern.[22] Nonetheless, providing some governance is important in the long term for insurgencies to sustain public support. This can, in turn, lead to the moderation of ideologically driven insurgent governments, if only for pragmatic reasons.[23] Regardless of the extent and effectiveness of their governance, insurgencies will often take on the symbolic trappings of statehood, and “perform” like a state. As Zachariah Mampilly notes, "[b]y mimicking the behavior of the modern state, rebels seek to discursively construct a political authority imbued with a comparable legitimacy enjoyed by national governments."[24] Such behavior can be important in sustaining the political claims of an insurgency group. When it comes to the Taliban, this discussion raises two questions. First, what role did horizontal networks and vertical ties play in the development of the post-2002 insurgency? Second, how successful have the Taliban been in creating state-like structures and public services since 2002?

The Social Roots of Taliban Resurgence

At the core of the Taliban movement is a horizontal network, based on common religious schooling and shared military experience, that endows the group with a powerful, unifying ideology and worldview. The Taliban movement was founded on a network of Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan within which the group’s leadership and cadre were educated. Thousands of young men were mobilized from these madrassas to fight against the Soviets in the mujahedeen war in the 1980s. Mujahedeen fighting groups organized themselves into larger networks, called “fronts,” or mahaz, each led by a great leader who was able to disburse military supplies from foreign donors across his front to field commanders.[25] According to one major study on the origins of the Taliban, “In greater Kandahar, there were literally hundreds of Taliban commanders and dozens of Taliban fronts. … The Taliban sought to distinguish themselves from other mujahedeen groups by offering a more ostentatiously religious jihad to those who fought with them.”[26] Young Taliban fighters formed strong bonds with the movement and with each other through the rigors and hardships of the mujahedeen war.[27] The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, and the fall of the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul three years later, removed the common cause that had held different mujahedeen parties together, and civil war promptly ensued. In southern Afghanistan, local warlords had free rein to prey on civilians, imposing arbitrary fines, stealing land, and kidnapping people for ransom and sexual abuse. In Kandahar, the Taliban returned to arms in 1994, under the leadership of Mullah Omar, to bring security and justice to the Pashtun population. Within four years, Taliban fighters had swept across the country, defeating or buying off rivals who stood in their path. By 1998, only a few pockets of resistance remained, most notably the Tajik Northern Alliance, which was holed up in its mountain retreats in the northeast. Upon seizing control of the country, the Taliban established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Chronically underfunded (with an annual budget of around $80 million) and untrained in public administration, the Taliban were unable to reestablish basic public services across the country. Moreover, the group imposed myriad fundamentalist strictures on the population, most notably preventing women from going to work and girls from going to school.[28] Accordingly, the downfall of the Taliban in late 2001 and early 2002 was welcomed by a great many Afghans. [quote id="1"] The major challenge for the interim Afghan administration of Hamid Karzai in 2002 was asserting government rule beyond Kabul and preventing a return to civil war. Karzai did this primarily by coopting various warlords into the new Afghan government. In this way, the corrupt warlords who had been pushed out of power by the Taliban in the 1990s returned as local governors and police chiefs. Under the guise of officialdom, these reincarnated figures once again stole from and abused the population. This, in turn, provided fertile ground for the gradual return of the Taliban into southern and eastern Afghanistan beginning in 2004. As one local elder from Helmand province noted, “day by day people got fed up with this Afghan government and welcomed the Taliban back into their districts.”[29] The United States ruled out peace talks with the Taliban in 2001 and 2002, and Karzai did not respond to a number of Taliban overtures during this period. Instead, U.S. special operations forces hunted down Taliban “terrorists,” who were rendered to detention facilities in Bagram, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. Many “common people,” as the Taliban call non-Taliban locals, also were caught up in the net thrown by U.S. special operations. As Mike Martin notes, the Americans “failed to understand how offering a bounty would cause people to denounce anyone they were having a feud with, or even innocent people, in order to collect the money.”[30] The injustice of U.S. counterterrorism operations, combined with the return of abusive warlords, drove the Taliban to remobilize. Echoing the views of several Taliban interviewees, one noted: “When Karzai became president, Taliban were not fighting, they were in their houses. … But when the Americans and Afghan governments were disturbing and attacking on the families of all those Taliban … this is the reason that Taliban started fighting again.”[31] In late 2002 and 2003, groups of Taliban began to operate in the southern provinces of Uruzgan, Helmand, and Kandahar and the eastern provinces of Paktia and Khost. Senior Taliban figures also began to remobilize in Pakistan, leading in March 2003 to the formation of a Taliban leadership council in the city of Quetta. Called the Rahbari Shura by the Taliban, it is more commonly known in the West as the Quetta Shura. In the years that followed, the Taliban effectively reestablished a government in exile. Mullah Omar remained in hiding so his deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, chaired the Quetta Shura. Provincial and district governors were appointed, starting in Kandahar and Helmand in 2003 and 2004 with other provinces in southern and eastern Afghanistan following in 2005. Twelve national commissions were established in Pakistan (military, politics, finance, culture, health, etc.) that effectively operated as shadow Taliban government departments.[32] From 2004 on, the Taliban returned in a more concerted way to southern Afghanistan. Taliban infiltration of rural districts followed a pattern. In most cases, it began with small groups of Taliban visiting villages to make contact with sympathizers, foment rebellion, and intimidate or kill pro-government elders and clerics. As they became more confident, these Taliban emissaries held open meetings to call on people to wage jihad on the “cruel government” and “foreign invaders.” Taliban mullahs were also dispatched to preach jihad to villages. As leading expert on the Taliban, Antonio Giustozzi, notes, “The strategic task of these ‘vanguard’ teams was to prepare the ground for a later escalation in the insurgency.”[33] In Musa Qala district in northern Helmand in 2004, the Taliban “secretly entered the district and talked to some villages and elders … they told the people that they were coming back to the district to fight against the government.”[34] In 2005, the Taliban returned in force to Musa Qala and “within two to three months they had captured all the villages,” leaving only the district center under government control.[35] In eastern Afghanistan, significant Taliban mobilization predated the formation of the Quetta Shura. In mid-2002, the former Taliban minister of tribal affairs, Jalaluddin Haqqani, began to remobilize his front, and later that year Haqqani fighting groups were operating in Paktia and Khost.[36] Indicative of a powerful horizontal network, mobilizing Taliban fronts in southern Afghanistan reunited under the Quetta Shura. Invariably, rivalries emerged between some senior Taliban figures and the fronts they led. The rivalry between Mullah Baradar and Mullah Dadullah was especially pronounced. The eastern Taliban also resented the dominance of the Kandahari clique within the movement, and in time this led to the emergence of two additional leadership shuras that rivaled the Quetta Shura. The first was Miran Shah Shura, based on the Haqqani network, which declared autonomy from the Quetta Shura in August 2007.[37] The second was the Peshawar Shura, which declared autonomy from the Quetta Shura in 2009.[38] Both shuras took direct control of the fronts and fighting groups in their networks. Yet neither openly challenged the primacy of the Quetta Shura. This was both symbolically important and consistent with Taliban ideology, which emphasizes the centrality of obedience to the emir. It also ensured that most Taliban members, regardless of what front they were in, retained and evoked a residual loyalty to Mullah Omar.[39] Vertical links were equally important to the establishment of the Taliban insurgency. A closed political system developed under Karzai whereby government resources flowed primarily to the familial and patronage networks of the warlords appointed to office.[40] Many disenfranchised communities ended up siding with the Taliban out of disgust at the inequitable distribution of those resources and the corruption of the new warlord-officials.[41] Downtrodden communities also aligned with the Taliban to gain protection from abusive pro-government militias. In some cases, the Taliban expertly exploited local dissatisfaction by supporting local elders and mullahs who called for rebellion and silencing those who were opposed.[42] The Taliban also stoked popular opposition to the presence of armed foreigners. This was not difficult given the growing Afghan anger toward U.S. night raids on homes as well as civilian casualties caused by U.S. airstrikes. Expressing a view typical of many interviewees, one local elder in Ghanzi noted that he “was happy for return of Taliban in our district because of the cruelties of the Americans.”[43] Clumsily executed British operations in Helmand — and the widespread perception that these were targeting the poppy crop, the main livelihood for most locals — caused a popular revolt in the province in 2007.[44] One group of local elders later recalled, “We thought the British were trying to kill us with hunger — they destroyed our opium but didn’t give us one Afghani [the Afghan currency]. That is why people decided to join the Taliban; they needed someone to defend them.”[45] In fact, the British did provide compensation for the destruction of poppy crops, but farmers got nothing as this scheme was administered by corrupt local officials.[46] In many places, rebellion mapped onto existing tribal rivalries. A noted example is the Ishaqzai community within Sangin district in Helmand. For generations, the Alizais and Alikozais of northern Helmand had been in competition with the Ishaqzai. Under the Taliban state, Ishaqzais held a number of key government posts in the province, including the governorship. The tables turned when Karzai appointed an Alizai warlord as provincial governor and an Alikozai warlord as head of the provincial secret police. As Martin notes, warlords in both positions “used the cover of their government positions to tax, harass and steal from the Ishaqzai.”[47] One Alikozai admitted in 2007 that “The Ishaqzai had no choice but to fight back.”[48] As they gained control of sizable portions of territory, the Taliban set about trying to reestablish an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan. To achieve this goal, Taliban provincial governors were provided with a modest budget.[49] The Taliban lacked the resources and expertise, however, to replicate the state. For many Afghan locals and Taliban commanders in Helmand, establishing a shadow government was not seen as a major part of the Taliban war effort.[50] The only area in which the Taliban were able to provide alternative government services was in the administration of justice. There was high demand for Taliban services given the frequency of rural disputes over land, trade, and family matters. Initially, the Quetta Shura sought to replicate the court system of the Islamic emirate of the 1990s, with standing lower and higher courts. In Helmand, the Taliban were able to reestablish the emirate court system for a time. But in most places, justice was administered by shadow governors, Taliban mullahs, and military commanders. According to Thomas Johnson and Matthew DuPee, “The Taliban shadow justice system is easily one of the most popular and respected elements of the Taliban insurgency by local communities, especially in southern Afghanistan.”[51] Under growing pressure from operations of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the Taliban switched in 2009 from standing to mobile courts in Helmand. As one elder noted, “Judges are hiding; sometimes they meet in people’s houses, sometimes in the mountains, sometimes in the mosques.”[52] Nonetheless, Taliban courts remained widely used because, compared with the official Afghan courts, they offered accessible, quick, and corruption-free justice. As one elder observed, “In two or three hours, [the Taliban] could solve disputes with someone over one jerib of land. Now in Lashkar Gah, if you have a dispute with someone over one jerib of land, you have to sell twenty jeribs to pay the courts.”[53] In the end, the Taliban never fully invested in reconstituting their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Instead, the military campaign took precedence. The 2010 edition of the Taliban rulebook (the layeha) specifies the structure of the Taliban shadow government at provincial and district levels and even provides for the appointment of suitably skilled non-Taliban officials. In reality, in many cases the local Taliban commander de facto acted as the shadow governor. [54] As one local elder from Musa Qala noted, “There was a [Taliban] district chief, but he didn’t have much influence. Most of the power was with commanders who had lots of fighters in the district.”[55] U.S. and international forces intensified their campaign targeting Taliban leadership, which led many shadow governors to flee to Pakistan, where they would issue instructions by mobile phone.[56] This gave local commanders even more authority in matters of governance. A local elder from central Helmand described the status quo this way in 2011: “When people have an issue, they will approach the local [Taliban] commander. They don’t know who the district chief is.”[57] The Taliban focus on the military campaign meant that, with the exception of administering justice, the Taliban were not able to provide public services to people in areas under their control. This, combined with the conflict’s growing intensity, led support for the Taliban to decline over time in many parts of Afghanistan. Aside from those villages and sub-tribal groups that had allied with the Taliban, many farmers just wanted to get on with their lives in peace. In eastern Afghanistan, Taliban restrictions on the movement of civilians, and interrogation of locals suspected of spying, became further sources of friction.[58] The Quetta Shura did regulate the shadow governors to ensure that they took measures to win over communities, such as banning arbitrary executions and limiting attacks on teachers and health officials. The 2007 and 2010 editions of the layeha outlined processes for communities to complain to the Quetta Shura if a provincial or district governor was too repressive or corrupt. Two district governors were replaced in Sangin in 2009, one for allowing Taliban fighters to attack local farmers who had received government agricultural aid and the other for his overly draconian administration of justice.[59] The Taliban also took measures to strengthen the military chain of command to improve adherence by field commanders to directives from Quetta (This is discussed further in the next section). While attacks on schools and extrajudicial killings declined in 2010 and 2011, they did not disappear altogether.[60] [quote id="2"] The Taliban benefited from extensive social resources in establishing the post-2002 insurgency. Shared education, ideology, and military experience all endowed a powerful horizontal network that helped the Taliban mobilize its fighting groups and maintain the coherence of a movement that contained many rival fronts and shuras. The Taliban were also able to develop and exploit vertical links with disgruntled villages and disenfranchised sub-tribal communities, which helped the group to seize control of rural areas from pro-government warlords. The situation is more mixed with regard to the Taliban’s success in developing legitimacy by establishing state-like structures and services. The Taliban sought to reestablish the Islamic emirate in the areas they controlled and took care to listen to the concerns of locals. But the group’s ability to govern was severely hampered by the conflict. Only in the administration of justice were the Taliban able to provide a public service that was valued by local Afghans. Shoring up insurgent morale and public support was an extensive Taliban propaganda campaign that utilized many forms of media — including jihadi magazines, radio, night letters, and sophisticated uses of social media — and contained narratives tailored for local Afghans and Pakistanis as well as global audiences.[61]

Military Adaptation in War

War involves a dynamic struggle between two or more armed parties, each trying to outwit and outfight the other.[62] By its nature, war demands that those engaged in this bloody struggle be prepared to adapt both to their environment and to the other side’s strategy and tactics. Military history is replete with examples of how fighting forces have adapted under battlefield pressure,[63] as well as how they have taken advantage of newly available technologies.[64] Those militaries that fail to adapt quickly or extensively enough are at greater risk of defeat and find that, even if they do end up winning the war, the price of victory was higher than necessary.[65] Notwithstanding these realities about adaptation, military organizations can nevertheless be slow to change. That is in part because, through training, planning, and equipment, militaries invest heavily in excelling at particular methods of waging war. This, in turn, creates a “competency trap,” whereby it becomes difficult to abandon existing ways of doing things.[66] So, how and when do militaries adapt? The literature on military change identifies the shock of defeat as a key driver.[67] Although militaries have powerful incentives to adapt based on their battlefield setbacks, higher-ups sometimes fail to appreciate and act upon lessons learned on the ground. This points to another key factor in military adaptation identified in the literature: namely, effective organizational leadership. When the innovations originate from below, i.e., on the battlefield, all that is required are senior leaders who are prepared to support the necessary changes throughout the organization.[68] In some cases, innovations will flow from the top, for example, when senior leaders champion organizational change in order to harness new technology, incorporate foreign military lessons, or respond to new political direction.[69] In a study published in 2010 on British military operations in Afghanistan, I identified two key enablers of military adaptation. One is the degree of centralization within an organization. Here it is about getting the balance right. Military adaptation requires sufficient delegation of authority so that battlefield commanders have the latitude to try out new tactics when the old ones prove ineffective.[70] It also requires sufficient centralized direction to ensure that organization resources are committed to developing and rolling out new tactics and to acquiring the equipment necessary to operate in new ways. A second key enabler is personnel turnover: Fresh ideas can travel into organizations with people. This is well understood in business, in what has become, in many sectors, a global hunt for talent. It applies in the military context with changes of command and the rotation of units into and out of theatres of operation.[71] In an important correction to my model, Kristen Harkness and Michael Hunzeker identified political considerations as a further factor critical in enabling military adaptation. In a study of the failure to adapt in the British counterinsurgency campaign in Southern Cameroons in 1960–61, they found that “British politicians chose to sacrifice military effectiveness for broader strategic and political interests, thus subverting bottom-up adaptation.” Their research highlights the importance of political leadership in setting overarching objectives for military campaigns, putting in place any high-level operational constraints, and allocating the resources necessary for adaptation.[72] Until now, scholarship on military adaptation has focused on the armed forces of states — that is, organizations with centralized authority exercised through a formal hierarchy and structured into functionally based subunits.[73] Indeed, through a process of transnational emulation of professional norms and practices, state-based militaries around the world have come to adopt remarkably similar organizational structures since the 19th century.[74] However, non-state military actors are more heterogeneous. Some emulate the hierarchies, units, and uniforms of state-based militaries, to varying degrees of fidelity. Others have a hybrid structure, with subunit formation reflecting local circumstances, and a less centralized and more informal hierarchy in which authority is often exercised through patronage networks. This variation can be seen in the military forces of Afghanistan’s foremost warlords during the late 1990s, specifically the more hierarchical and formally structured army of Ismail Khan and the patrimonial and semi-regular forces of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostrum.[75] In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military commanders perceived themselves to be at a disadvantage when it came to military adaptation, believing that, with their flatter hierarchies and networked structures, insurgent groups found it easier to adapt.[76] Certainly, the less regimented culture and informal hierarchies of insurgent groups reduce the social and organizational barriers to experimentation. At the same time, as noted above, military adaptation requires sufficient organizational capacity to identify operational problems and develop tactical and technological solutions.[77] Modern militaries devote considerable resources to developing such capacities whereas insurgencies are less able to do so, suggesting that insurgencies may find it more difficult to ensure wider adoption of new tactics and integration of new technologies. The literature on military adaptation thus leads to the following questions when considering the Taliban. First, how did the Taliban adapt to battlefield setbacks? Second, what role did Taliban leadership — military and political — play in enabling that adaptation? Third, how centralized is the Taliban, and how has the group’s organizational structure affected military adaptation? And, finally, as the insurgency grew, is there evidence that new ideas about military matters had a significant impact on the Taliban?

Military Adaptation and Taliban Resilience

The Taliban have proven to be highly adaptive adversaries. During the war with the Soviets, the Afghan mujahedeen developed a pretty standard repertoire of guerrilla tactics. In particular, these involved planting mines in roads, ambushing convoys, and conducting raids against military bases.[78] Experience gained in this conflict shaped Taliban thinking about how they should fight. However, this did not stop the Taliban from adapting after the fall of the Islamic emirate. As noted above, the deployment of Western combat forces into southern and eastern Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007 increased pressure on the Taliban insurgency. The group responded with a number of adaptations to improve its ability to mass and control its forces in the field. The Taliban also adapted tactics to take advantage of bomb technology and to reduce exposure to Western firepower. The Taliban’s loose organizational structure, based primarily on a large number of semi-autonomous fronts linked to various shuras, presented a fundamental problem for the Quetta Shura in terms of managing the war effort. Initially, the Quetta Shura tried to get fronts to cooperate by offering financial incentives. The Taliban also tried to mass forces by moving experienced fighting groups across provinces, usually within the same mahaz network. By 2008, the Taliban leadership realized that this attempt to reform the mahaz system was not working. Anecdotal evidence from Helmand province illustrates the problem. In Kajaki, an Afghan interpreter hired by the British to listen to Taliban communications “described almost comical attempts by different commanders to shirk combat and foist the responsibility on other commanders.”[79] Around this time the Peshawar Shura began to develop a more centralized command system for Taliban fighters in the east and northeast. This new system involved the creation of provincial military commissions to plan large-scale operations, manage logistics, and deal with disputes between front commanders, as well as the appointment of district military commissioners (Nizami Massuleen) to ensure that field commanders complied with direction from the Peshawar Shura. This type of centralized system was alien to Taliban culture. So where did it come from? The Pakistani military’s extensive support for the Taliban, including providing military advisers, no doubt contributed to the creation and functioning of this more centralized system. But recent work by Claudio Franco and Antonio Guistozzi suggests that the Taliban’s organizational innovations originated in the more regimented structure of Hezb-i Islami, a rival mujahedeen party during the Soviet war. The Peshawar Shura was formed partly out of a breakaway faction from Hezb-i Islami in 2006. In this way, Hezb-i Islami’s ideas about how to organize the insurgency came into the Taliban. This more centralized system was subsequently adopted, with some reluctance, by the southern Taliban when Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir was appointed to head the Quetta Military Commission in 2009. There is a complicated but important backstory here: Zakir, a prominent Taliban commander from northern Helmand, had fallen out with his erstwhile patron, Mullah Baradar, and so he aligned instead with the Peshawar Shura. It was only under pressure from Peshawar that Baradar appointed Zakir to oversee the Quetta Military Commission. From this position, which he occupied until 2014, Zakir was able to ensure that the new centralized system rolled out across the south.[80] In addition, from 2008 on, foreign aid flowing through Pakistan was increasingly directed toward the Peshawar Shura, which allowed them to progressively outspend the Quetta Shura in funding the war.[81] This, in turn, enabled Peshawar to push its professionalization effort on Taliban fronts in the south as well as the east.[82] The result was a somewhat cumbersome double chain of command, in which Taliban units belonging to a particular front would respond to both their parent networks and the Peshawar or Quetta military commissions (whichever had given direction).[83] As one field commander noted in 2011, “If we see an ISAF convoy or police or army, we have orders to attack them. But if we make a plan to attack someplace, I ask Haji Mullah [his mahaz chief]. Sometimes we get orders from the nizami commission as well.”[84] Taliban interviewees also confirmed that the military commissions took over the task of resolving problems among commanders: “When some small problems come between to Taliban commanders, they are solved by the nizami commission in a very short time.”[85] Where necessary, a mediator figure — “a Pakistani mullah,” sent from Quetta — would be dispatched to sort out conflict between commanders when the district military commissioners were unable to cope on their own.[86] Thus, while it enabled more coordination between fronts and fighting groups, the Taliban’s new centralized system did not foster state-like command and control. The Taliban also adapted tactics in response to battlefield pressures. In Helmand, for instance, the group made wide use of fairly conventional infantry assaults in 2006 and 2007 in an attempt to overrun British outposts. The exact number of Taliban fighters killed in action over this period is unknown, but British defense intelligence estimated it to be in the thousands.[87] In response to these growing losses, Taliban field units adapted by moving toward greater use of asymmetric tactics. Taliban commanders interviewed across nine districts in Helmand reported this change. Three of these interviewees confirmed that the imperative to reduce Taliban battlefield casualties drove the shift in tactics.[88] Nevertheless, the Taliban still engaged in occasional large-scale attacks and paid a heavy price when they did so. This included, most spectacularly, an assault on Lashkar Gah in October 2008 by a 300-strong force, with the objective of decapitating the provincial government and discrediting the British mission. This attack was repulsed by airpower, leaving around 150 Taliban dead.[89] Perhaps having learned from such setbacks, in 2010 the Quetta Military Commission issued a general order instructing field units to avoid direct combat and to make greater use of guerrilla tactics.[90] [quote id="3"] Based on extensive interviews with Taliban commanders and officials, Giustozzi shows how alongside the new tactics came a number of “technological innovations,” including the introduction of anti-aircraft heavy machine guns, heavy mortars, advanced anti-armor weapons, and large-scale use of sniper rifles and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).[91] Taliban interviewees admit to having received military equipment from Iran, and some said they had received military supplies from Russia.[92] Interviewees are far more careful in discussing support the Taliban received from the Pakistani Army. It is very likely, however, that these Taliban technological innovations were facilitated by equipment and training provided by Pakistan. The Taliban’s most significant technology-enabled military adaptation was the move to industrial-scale use of IEDs. In Quetta and Peshawar, the Taliban established Mine Commissions to lead this effort. In 2006, around 30 percent of all coalition fatalities were caused by IEDs. The next year, the share rose to almost 40 percent. From 2008 to 2010, IEDs were responsible for more than half of all coalition troop deaths.[93] By late 2008, use of IEDs had quadrupled in Helmand from the previous year. The number of such devices detected in Helmand jumped from around 100 per month in late 2008 to more than 450 per month in the summer of 2009 (they caused 80 percent of British fatalities that summer). This number continued to rise in 2010, to more than 600 in February and 700 in March.[94] Initially, most improvised explosive devices were made using recycled Soviet mines and unexploded ISAF ordnance. To meet demand, however, the Taliban had to switch to large-scale production of explosives using fertilizers from Pakistan.[95] By 2009, 80 percent of IEDs used these types of homemade explosives.[96] Western forces responded to the threat by deploying far more capable armored vehicles. The Taliban’s homemade explosives were about twenty times less powerful than military explosives, so it was difficult for the group to produce IEDs large enough to destroy such vehicles. U.S. and British forces also invested more heavily in IED detection capabilities. The Taliban responded by reducing the metal content in the devices to make them harder to detect. By 2011, the Taliban were producing IEDs on an industrial scale in Helmand, Kandahar, and Khost.[97] Hunting down IED makers became a priority for U.S. and coalition intelligence and special operations forces. One Taliban source gives insight into the impact of this counter-IED campaign on the Haqqani network: It lost almost 100 IED makers in 2013 and around 75 in 2014.[98] According to Taliban sources, the Iranians began to provide remotely triggered mines capable of penetrating Western armored vehicles in 2010 and increased the supply in 2011 and 2012.[99] Such extensive use of IEDs made it increasingly difficult for U.S. and coalition forces to move around. In 2006–07, the British had only two IED disposal teams for the whole of Helmand. There were six teams by late 2008 and fourteen by late 2009, but this was still not nearly enough. A British military review of the IED threat concluded that it had created “a defensive mindset” in British forces, who were increasingly focused on simply not getting blown up. The situation gradually improved for U.S. and international forces with the deployment of new armored vehicles, better training and equipment for detecting IEDs, and the targeting of IED production. By 2011, the proportion of coalition troops killed by IEDs fell below 50 percent. It dropped further, to around 30 percent, in 2012.[100] Since the coalition mission ended in December 2014, bringing with it the withdrawal of Western combat forces, the burden of fighting the Taliban has fallen on the Afghan National Security Forces, whose unarmored trucks and lack of counter-IED capabilities leave them highly vulnerable to such devices. Professionalization of the war effort by the Peshawar Shura, including adoption of military commissions by the Quetta Shura, was critical to the Taliban’s ability to adapt militarily. With a shift in tactics came a new military training regime, reinforced by directives from Quetta and Peshawar compelling the tactical commanders to undergo training and receive regular advice on guerrilla tactics. One Taliban commander in Helmand noted in early 2012 that “now we are all focused a lot on getting training of IEDs, making of Fedayeen vests, getting ready of Fedayeen bombers and guerrilla fighting.”[101] According to another commander, Taliban units undergo “15 or 20” days of training every four months.[102] One interviewee from Sangin said that the Taliban “decided to open new training centers for mujahedeen.”[103] Yet another offered a contradictory and altogether more convincing view, given U.S. and British military operations: “We don’t have a secure place for our training. One day we get training in one area and the other day we get training in another area.”[104] Many Taliban interviewees from Helmand reported “foreign Taliban” (in this case meaning fighters from Pakistan) entering their districts for a week or two to provide military training. These men are most likely members of mobile training teams dispatched from Quetta or Peshawar that move from village to village.[105] Pakistani and Iranian military advisers appear to have provided significant support to the Taliban training effort.[106] This centrally directed and resourced training regime greatly increased the Taliban’s capacity to absorb new weapons and bomb-making technology into general use by field forces.[107] The ability to adapt has been key to the success of the Taliban insurgency. Early tactics learned during the Soviet war — ambushing military convoys and raiding enemy bases — proved suicidal in the face of Western artillery and airpower. The loose structure of the Taliban, based on the mahaz system, also greatly limited the group’s ability to mass force and achieve decisive outcomes on the battlefield. The Taliban adapted in two major ways: first, by introducing some degree of centralized command of fighting groups through a system of provincial military commissions and district military commissioners; and, second, by shifting to guerrilla warfare tactics and avoiding direct engagement with enemy forces. The latter adaptation involved a massive increase in the use and sophistication of IEDs, significantly hindering freedom of movement by international and Afghan security forces. The typical drivers of military adaptation are present in the case of the Taliban. Growing battlefield losses drove the Taliban to find new ways to fight and organize. This effort accelerated when Mullah Zakir assumed leadership of the Quetta Military Commission in 2009. The Taliban’s political leadership, in the form of the Quetta Shura old guard, was not keen on Zakir and his organizational reforms, but pressure from the Peshawar Shura backed by Pakistani funds swept aside these concerns. The decentralized structure of the Taliban had given local commanders too much latitude to fight when and how they liked. Under Zakir, some semblance of centralized command was superimposed on the mahaz system. This, over time, enabled the rolling out of new tactics, training, and bomb technologies. Finally, new ideas travelled with people into the Taliban: Organizational and tactical innovations came not only from the Pakistani ISI (as previously believed) but were also adopted when a breakaway faction of Hezb-i Islami was absorbed into the Taliban movement, forming the Peshawar Shura.

Conclusion: The Problem with U.S. Strategy

The resilience of an insurgency is substantially shaped by its social resources and its ability to adapt. The importance of these factors is identified in the relevant theoretical literature and is furthermore evident in the case of the Afghan Taliban. The group was founded on a powerful horizontal network. In establishing a post-2002 insurgency, however, the Taliban were able to exploit vertical links into host communities as well. The group was less successful in its efforts to rebuild the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan but garnered some legitimacy from the efficiency of Taliban courts. The Taliban also adapted militarily, in terms of tactics and supporting technologies, as well as in the command of insurgent fighting groups. The latter improvements to the Taliban’s chain of command, and the overall professionalization of the insurgent war effort led by the eastern Taliban, also increased the group’s capacity to adapt tactically. Previous studies have further highlighted the importance of foreign support for the Taliban and of their ability to operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan. The combination of the group’s social resources, ability to adapt, and trans-border support make the Taliban’s resurgence from what had looked like utter defeat not all that surprising. Ultimately, insurgencies win by not losing, especially when facing off against a foreign great power. Essentially, the insurgents need only outwait the foreign interloper. This has been the Taliban’s basic strategy. Under President Trump, the United States has decided to double down in Afghanistan. One element of the “new” Trump strategy involves getting tough with Pakistan for failing to crack down on the Taliban. On Jan. 1, 2018, the president tweeted that Pakistan was playing the United States for “fools” by giving “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”[108] His comments triggered an immediate suspension of U.S. military assistance to Pakistan.[109] The Trump administration is gambling hugely by cracking down on Pakistan given Islamabad’s capacity to make things far worse both by interfering with the U.S. logistical routes through Pakistan, and by increasing support to the Taliban.[110] Even in the unlikely event that the Pakistan Army withdraws its support for the Afghan Taliban, the United States would still have to contend with an adaptive insurgency that has strong social roots. This is where the other element of the Trump strategy to intensify the relatively modest U.S. military effort in Afghanistan becomes problematic. Around 11,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan, 8,400 of whom are committed to supporting NATO’s Resolute Support mission to “train, advise and assist” the Afghan security forces. In August 2017, Trump approved the deployment of an additional 3,900 troops to Afghanistan. Gen. Joseph Vogel, head of U.S. Central Command, declared that in 2018 U.S. forces would “focus on offensive operations and ... look for a major effort to gain the initiative very quickly as we enter into the fighting season.”[111] It is hard to see how such a modest increase in U.S. ground forces could have a decisive effect. The U.S. military’s last attempt to turn the tables on the Taliban came in late 2009 and early 2010, when there were around 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and about 40,000 troops from coalition partners.[112] Afghan capabilities, insofar as they have grown since 2010, can hardly make up for the withdrawal of Western combat forces.[113] Indeed, the Afghan security forces have steadily lost ground across the country since 2014, with major Taliban gains that year in the south (Helmand and Uruzgan provinces), east (Ghanzi, Wardak, Kapisa, and Logar provinces) and north (Kunduz province).[114] According to the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, only around 70 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts were under government control in late 2015. Two years later, that share was down to just over half of the districts.[115] History is instructive here: When the United States got bogged down in drawn-out wars against peasant armies in Korea and Vietnam, it resorted to major bombing campaigns to break the stalemate. This failed to work in both of those wars.[116] In Afghanistan, history is repeating itself. In December 2017, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, revealed that a major campaign by U.S. air forces was targeting some 500 Taliban drug laboratories in southern areas, bringing the number of airstrikes in 2017 to three times more than had occurred in 2016.[117] Afghan civilians have borne the brunt of this bombing campaign: The United Nations reported a 52 percent increase in civilian deaths caused by airstrikes in 2017 in comparison to the year before.[118] Civilian casualties notwithstanding, the United States is pursuing a targeted bombing campaign. Noting that the Taliban earn around $200 million a year through its taxation of the opium trade, Nicholson declared, “We’re hitting the Taliban where it hurts, which is their finances.” He added: “The Taliban have three choices: reconcile, face irrelevance or die.”[119] According to the leading analyst on the Afghan opium trade, David Mansfeld, the U.S. military is grossly overestimating both the Taliban’s ability to collect taxes and the amount of poppy being destroyed in the bombings. Mansfeld finds accordingly that the bombing campaign is having far less impact on Taliban revenue than is claimed by U.S. military commanders.[120] [quote id="4"] In a January 2018 Foreign Affairs article titled “Why the Taliban Isn’t Winning in Afghanistan,” Seth G. Jones argues that “Although the Taliban has demonstrated a surprising ability to survive and conduct high-profile attacks in cities like Kabul, it is weaker today than most recognize.”[121] Jones is only partly right. Citing various Afghan opinion polls, Jones argues that public support for the Taliban has plummeted thanks to its extremist ideology, brutal tactics, and reliance on both the drug trade and support from Pakistan. He fails to note, however, that polling in Afghanistan is famously unreliable and that public views of the Taliban are especially difficult to gauge in areas under Taliban control. He is on safer ground in noting that few non-Pashtun Afghans recognize the legitimacy of the Pashtun-dominated Taliban and that Afghanistan’s growing urban population abhors the socially regressive ideology of the Taliban. Some in the Taliban leadership have long understood these realities and foresee the Taliban entering government only through a power-sharing arrangement.[122] These days the Taliban’s main problem is not the group’s decline in popularity but its waning cohesiveness. In November 2016, Michael Semple and I spent a week conducting interviews with seven senior Taliban figures. Our subjects included two former deputy ministers, a former provincial governor, and two former senior military commanders. What we discovered surprised us. We had expected Taliban confidence to have been boosted by recent battlefield success. Instead, those we interviewed reported widespread disillusion within the movement, with the state of Taliban leadership, and with a seemingly endless war. Multiple interviewees told us that many Taliban members feel that the war lost direction and purpose after the withdrawal of foreign combat forces. The Taliban’s current leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, is widely seen as ineffective and lacking the moral authority of the group’s founder, Mullah Omar. This is undermining the ideological cornerstone of the Taliban, namely obedience to the emir. Several factions are vying for power within the movement, most notably the Ishaqzai-dominated Mansour network based in northern Helmand (led by Mullah Rahim, the Taliban governor of Helmand).[123] Thus, while the Taliban maintains strong vertical ties with rural communities, which have supported the group’s battlefield gains since 2014, the horizontal network holding the insurgency together is weakening.[124] Sending more U.S. troops into Afghanistan and pushing them out into the field is likely to provide some short-term gains. Importantly, the presence of a Marine battalion in Helmand helps prevent the provincial capital from falling to the Taliban. Yet this marginal increase in combat-force levels will not break the strategic stalemate in Afghanistan when massive U.S. military power failed to do so in 2010. Rather, sending in more troops and conducting more airstrikes may well make the Taliban stronger. Meanwhile, destroying drug processing and production facilities will hurt not only the Taliban but also anybody involved in opium farming, which is just about every farmer in Helmand. It stands to once again drive them into the arms of the insurgents. And just as before, public patience is likely to wear thin at apparent U.S. military carelessness and mounting civilian casualties.[125] In the end, ramping up the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan risks reenergizing the Taliban’s sense of purpose and uniting a movement that may be beginning to unravel. If the United States is not careful, it could end up bombing its way to defeat in Afghanistan.   The author would like to acknowledge the generous funding of this project by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC Grant ES/L008041/1, “The Taliban's War: The Other Side of the Taliban Conflict, 20012015”).   Theo Farrell is professor and executive dean of law, humanities, and the arts at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He was previously professor of war in the modern world and head of the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. He is a fellow of the U.K. Academy of Social Sciences and former president of the British International Studies Association. Professor Farrell is the author of Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan, 2001–2014 (Penguin Random House, 2017), which was shortlisted for the RUSI Duke of Wellington Medal for Military History and the British Army Military Book of the Year. It was also named as a book of the year in the Times and the Evening Standard. Image: isafmedia [post_title] => Unbeatable: Social Resources, Military Adaptation, and the Afghan Taliban [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => unbeatable-social-resources-military-adaptation-and-the-afghan-taliban [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-06-06 11:40:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-06 15:40:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=573 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => Following the 9/11 attacks, the Afghan Taliban were obliterated in a lightning war prosecuted by the United States. Their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan ceased to exist as a physical entity, and the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, fled to Pakistan. Within five years, however, the Taliban had regrouped and returned in large numbers to southern and eastern Afghanistan. By 2016, they had overrun at least a third of the country. How did the Taliban come back so successfully from utter defeat? This article draws on the literatures on civil wars and on military adaptation to identify and unpack two sets of factors that explain the relative success of insurgencies: the availability of social resources and the elements that drive and enable military adaptation. Drawing on a large number of original interviews with Taliban leaders, cadre, and field commanders, I demonstrate how these factors combined to make the Taliban essentially unbeatable. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Less studied is how the Taliban have been the makers of their own success. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => In the end, the Taliban never fully invested in reconstituting their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Instead, the military campaign took precedence. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => [H]ow centralized is the Taliban, and how has the group’s organizational structure affected military adaptation? ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Professionalization of the war effort by the Peshawar Shura, including adoption of military commissions by the Quetta Shura, was critical to the Taliban’s ability to adapt militarily. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 56 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Michael E. O’Hanlon, “A Flawed Masterpiece,” Foreign Affairs 81 (May/June 2002): 48, 55, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2002-05-01/flawed-masterpiece. [2] Mujib Mashal and Najim Rahim, “Afghan Forces Push Taliban Out of Kunduz Center, Officials Say,” New York Times, Oct. 4, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/05/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-kunduz.html. [3] Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, July 30, 2016, 86, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2016-07-30qr.pdf. [4] Theo Farrell, Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan, 20012014 (London: The Bodley Head, 2017); Jack Fairweather, The Good War: The Battle for Afghanistan, 200614 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2014); Daniel P. Bolger, Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014); David H. Ucko and Robert Egnell, Counterinsurgency in Crisis: Britain and the Challenges of Modern Warfare (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013); Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (London: Bloomsbury, 2012); Sten Rynning, NATO in Afghanistan: The Liberal Disconnect (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012); David P. Auerswald and Stephen M. Saideman, NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014); Sherard Cowper-Coles, Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign (London: Harper Press, 2011); Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011); Tim Bird and Alex Marshall, Afghanistan: How the West Lost Its Way (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011); M.J. Williams, The Good War: NATO and the Liberal Conscience in Afghanistan (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); Seth G. Jones, In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009). [5] Chris Kolenda, “Endgame: Why American Interventions Become Quagmires,” PhD thesis, King’s College London, 2017; Sarah Chayes, Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security (New York: W.W. Norton, 2016); Antonio Giustozzi, The Army of Afghanistan: A Political History of a Fragile Institution (London: Hurst, 2015); Astri Suhrke, When More Is Less: The International Project in Afghanistan (London: Hurst, 2011); Peter Marsden, Afghanistan: Aid, Armies and Empires (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009). [6] Peter Bergen with Katherine Tiedemann, ed., Talibanistan: Negotiating the Borders Between Terror, Politics, and Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Vahid Brown and Don Rassler, Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 19732012 (London: Hurst, 2013); Carlotta Gall, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 20012014 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). [7] Carlotta Gall, “Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/world/asia/saudi-arabia-afghanistan.html; Ahmad Majidyar, “Afghan Intelligence Chief Warns Iran and Russia Against Aiding Taliban,” The Middle East Institute, Feb. 5, 2018, http://www.mei.edu/content/io/afghan-intelligence-chief-warns-iran-and-russia-against-aiding-taliban; Justin Rowlatt, “Russia ‘Arming the Afghan Taliban’, Says US,” BBC News, Mar. 23, 2018, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-43500299. The extent of Pakistan support to the Taliban is documented in Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 20012016 (London: Allen Lane, 2018); and Gall, The Wrong Enemy. [8] Coll, Directorate S, 329-340. [9] Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: The Story of the Afghan Warlords (London: Pan Macmillan, 2001); Gilles Dorronsoro, Revolution Unending: Afghanistan, 1979 to the Present (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005); Kamal Matinuddin, The Taliban Phenomenon: Afghanistan, 19941997 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 19702010 (London: Hurst, 2012); Rob Johnson, The Afghan Way of War: Culture and Pragmatism: A Critical History (London: Hurst, 2011). [10] Antonio Giustozzi, Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan (London: Hurst, 2007); Antonio Giustozzi, ed., Decoding the New Taliban: Insights from the Afghan Field (London: Hurst, 2009). [11] In total, 282 interviews with Taliban and 138 interviews with non-Taliban Afghan locals were conducted by Afghan researchers over two periods, from 2011–12 and 2014–15. Those interviewed were not paid for their interviews. Interviews were recorded in field notes and transcribed into English. The research project was led by myself, and the field research was supervised by Dr. Antonio Giustozzi. In conformity with the project protocols, I do not reveal the precise location and date of the interviews in order to protect the anonymity of the interviewees. The findings from the 2011–12 pilot project were published as Theo Farrell and Antonio Giustozzi, “The Taliban at War: Inside the Helmand Insurgency, 2004–2011,” International Affairs 89 (2013): 845-71. The overall findings of the main project will be published as Antonio Giustozzi, The Taliban at War (London: Hurst, forthcoming). [12] Jeremy M. Weinstein, Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 43-44. [13] Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror (London: William Collins, 2015). [14] Kieran Mitton, Rebels in a Rotten State: Understanding Atrocity in the Sierra Leone Civil War (London: Hurst, 2015). [15] Zachariah Cherian Mampilly, Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life During War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011), 52-55. [16] Weinstein, Inside Rebellion, 48-49. [17] Paul Staniland, Networks of Rebellion: Explaining Insurgent Cohesion and Collapse (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014). [18] Madhav Joshi and T. David Mason, “Between Democracy and Revolution: Peasant Support for Insurgency Versus Democracy in Nepal,” Journal of Peace Research 45 (2008): 765-82, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27640768. [19] Alpa Shah, “The Intimacy of Insurgency: Beyond Coercion, Greed or Grievance in Maoist India,” Economy and Society 42 (2013): 480-506. [20] Nelson Kasfir, “Rebel Governance — Constructing a Field of Inquiry: Definitions, Scope, Patterns, Order, Causes,” in Rebel Governance in Civil War, ed. Ana Arjona, Nelson Kasfir, and Zachariah Mampilly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 22-23. [21] Bert Suykens, “Comparing Rebel Rule Through Revolution and Naturalization: Ideologies of Governance in Naxalite and Naga India,” in Rebel Governance in Civil War, ed. Arjona et al., 138-57. [22] Mampilly, Rebel Rulers, 63-64. [23] Till Forster, “Dialogue Direct: Rebel Governance and Civil Order in Northern Cote d’Ivoire,” in Rebel Governance in Civil War, ed. Arjona et al., 203-25; and Suykens, “Comparing Rebel Rule Through Revolution and Naturalization.” [24] Zachariah Mampilly, “Performing the Nation-State: Rebel Governance and Symbolic Processes,” in Rebel Governance in Civil War, ed. Arjona et al., 77-78. [25] Johnson, The Afghan Way of War, 217-39. [26] Van Linschoten and Kuehn, An Enemy We Created, 45. Initially, it was believed that the Taliban originated in Kandahar in 1994 as a religious militant group that sought to bring law and order to southern Afghanistan and stop local warlords from abusing the area population. This view was most notably advanced in Rashid’s Taliban: The Story of the Afghan Warlords. However, van Linschoten and Kuehn have subsequently proven that the Taliban predated the 1990s and indeed fought in the mujahedeen war. This is also recounted in the published memoir of a former senior Taliban. See Abdul Salam Zaeff, My Life With the Taliban (London: Hurst, 2010). [27] On the mujahedeen as “brothers-in-arms” communities forged in war, see David B. Edwards, Caravan of Martyrs: Sacrifice and Suicide Bombing in Afghanistan (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017). [28] Christina Lamb, The Sowing Circles of Herat (London: HarperCollins, 2004). [29] Interview with local elder no. 7, Nad-e Ali district, Helmand, March 2012. [30] Mike Martin, An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict (London: Hurst, 2014), 125. [31] Interview with mahaz commander no. 2, Nangarhar, 2015. [32] Interview with national commission member, 2014; interview with former member of Rahbari Shura, 2014. [33] Giustozzi, Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop, 101. [34] Interview with local elder no. 3, Musa Qala, Helmand, 2012. [35] Interview with local elder no. 4, Musa Qala, Helmand, 2012. [36] Interview with Taliban cadre no. 10, Peshawar, 2015. A number of Taliban fronts also reactivated in Nangarhar in 2004–05, each with many hundreds of fighters. Interview with mahaz commander no. 1, Nangarhar, 2015; interview with mahaz commander no. 2, Nangarhar, 2015. [37] Interviews with two cadre, Miran Shah Shura, 2015. [38] Interviews with four Taliban leaders, Nangarhar, 2015. [39] See, for example, Graeme Smith, “What Kandahar’s Taliban Say,” in Decoding the New Taliban, 191-210. [40] On closed versus open political orders, see Douglas C. North, John Joseph Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast, Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). [41] Interview with local elder no. 4, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. [42] Carter Malkasian, Jerry Meyerle, and Megan Katt, “The War in Southern Afghanistan, 2001–2008,” unclassified report (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analysis, July 2009): 11, 14, https://info.publicintelligence.net/CNA-WarSouthernAfghanistan.pdf. [43] Interview with local elder no. 3, Qarabagh, Ghanzi, 2014. [44] Farrell, Unwinnable, 226-28. [45] Interview with group of local elders no. 9, Nad-e Ali district, 2012. [46] Interview with elder no. 3, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. [47] Martin, Brief History, 49. [48] Cited in Tom Coghlan, “The Taliban in Helmand: An Oral History,” in Decoding the New Taliban, 139. The British Army provided limited and reluctant support to the Afghan government’s poppy eradication program. Britain was the lead nation for the international counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan; however, the British Army quickly realized that it risked losing local support in Helmand if its forces were too closely associated with the destruction of the poppy crop. The British got blamed for it anyway. See Farrell, Unwinnable, 227-28. [49] Interview with Taliban leader no. 14, Quetta, 2015. [50] Interview with local elder no. 3, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011; Taliban commander no. 2, Nad-e Ali, 2012; and Taliban commander no. 1, Marjah, 2011. [51] Thomas H. Johnson and Matthew C. DuPee, “Analysing the New Taliban Code of Conduct (Layeha): An Assessment of Changing Perspectives and Strategies of the Afghan Taliban,” Central Asian Survey 31 (2002): 84, https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2012.647844; see also Coghlan, “The Taliban in Helmand,” 148-49. [52] Interview with local elder no. 5, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. Also confirmed by interviews with elder no. 1, Now Zad, 2011; elder no 6, Nad-e Ali, 2011; and elder no. 2, Garmsir, 2011. [53] Interview with local elder no. 7, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011; similar view was offered in interview with elder no. 5, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. [54] Johnson and DuPee, “Analysing the New Taliban Code,” 85-86. [55] Interview with elder no. 3, Musa Qala, 2011. [56] Interviews with elder no. 4, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011; and elder no. 3, Musa Qala, 2011. [57] Interview with elder no. 4, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. [58] Interview with local elder no. 1, Logar, February 2015; interview with local elder no. 2, Logar, February 2015; interview with local elder no. 10, Nangarhar, March 2015. [59] Phil Weatherill, “Targeting the Centre of Gravity: Adapting Stabilisation in Sangin,” RUSI Journal 156 (2011): 98, 22n, https://doi.org/10.1080/03071847.2011.606655. [60] Antonio Guistozzi and Claudio Franco, The Battle for the Schools: The Taleban and State Education (Berlin: Afghan Analysts Network, 2011), http://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/10/2011TalebanEducation.pdf. [61] Thomas H. Johnson, Taliban Narratives: The Use and Power of Stories in the Afghanistan Conflict (London: Hurst, 2017). [62] The dynamic competition at the heart of war is captured by Carl von Clausewitz’s description of it as “a duel on an extensive scale.” Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Middlesex: Penguin, 1987), 101. [63] Williamson Murray, Military Adaptation in War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). [64] Theo Farrell, “Introduction: Military Adaptation in War,” in Military Adaptation in Afghanistan, ed. Theo Farrell, Frans Osinga, and James A. Russell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), 9-10. [65] The classic study is by Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch, Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War (New York: Free Press, 1990). [66] James G. March and Barbara Levitt, “Organizational Learning,” in The Pursuit of Organizational Intelligence, ed. J.G. March (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 78-79. [67] Barry R. Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); Stephen Peter Rosen, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991). [68] Philipp Rotmann, David Tohn, and Jaron Wharton, “Learning Under Fire: Progress and Dissent in the US Military,” Survival 51, no. 4 (August 2009): 31-48, https://doi.org/10.1080/00396330903168824. Thus, nonresponsive senior leaders within the military or the government can block necessary military adaptation. See Adam M. Jungdahl and Julia M. Macdonald, “Innovation Inhibitors in War: Overcoming Obstacles in the Pursuit of Military Effectiveness,” Journal of Strategic Studies 38 (2015): 467-99, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2014.917628. [69] The importance of senior leaders with the vision and organizational standing to lead military innovation is explored in Rosen’s Winning the Next War. See also Theo Farrell, Sten Rynning, and Terry Terriff, Transforming Military Power Since the End of the Cold War: Britain, France and the United States, 1991-2012 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). [70] The importance of sufficient “force autonomy” to enable military adaptation is also identified in Torunn Laugen Haaland, “The Limits to Learning in Military Operations: Bottom-Up Adaptation in the Norwegian Army in Northern Afghanistan, 2007–2012,” Journal of Strategic Studies 39, no. 7 (2016): 999-1022, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2016.1202823. [71] I also identified a third enabling factor, poor organizational memory, that is not relevant for the Taliban case. Theo Farrell, “Improving in War: Military Adaptation and the British in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2006–2009,” Journal of Strategic Studies 33, no. 4 (2010): 567-94, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2010.489712. [72] Kristen A. Harkness and Michael Hunzeker, “Military Maladaptation: Counterinsurgency and the Politics of Failure,” Journal of Strategic Studies 38, no. 6 (2015): 777-800, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2014.960078. (Quote is from p. 778-79.) [73] James A. Russell, Innovation, Transformation, and War: Counterinsurgency Operations in Anbar and Ninewa Provinces, Iraq, 2005–2007 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011); Chad C. Serena, A Revolution in Military Adaptation: The US Army in the Iraq War (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011); Farrell et al., ed., Military Adaptation in Afghanistan; Stephen M. Saideman, Adapting in the Dust: Lessons Learned from Canada’s War in Afghanistan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016). [74] Theo Farrell, “Transnational Norms and Military Development: Constructing Ireland’s Professional Army,” European Journal of International Relations 7 (2001): 309-26. [75] Antonio Giustozzi, Empires of Mud: War and Warlords in Afghanistan (London: Hurst, 2009). [76] Stanley McChrystal, My Share of the Task: A Memoir (London: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013), chap. 7–10. For a stinging critique of the U.S. military’s failure to adapt in Iraq, see Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (London: Allen Lane, 2006). [77] Francis G. Hoffman, “Learning Under Fire: Military Change in Wartime,” PhD thesis, King’s College London, 2015. [78] Ali Ahmad Jalali and Lester W. Grau, Afghan Guerrilla Warfare: In the Words of the Mujahideen Fighters (Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2001); Russian General Staff, The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost, trans. and ed. Lester W. Gru and Michael A. Gress (University of Kansas Press, 2002), 62-72. [79] Coghlan, “The Taliban in Helmand,” 145. [80] Claudio Franco and Antonio Giustozzi, “Revolution in the Counter-Revolution: Efforts to Centralize the Taliban’s Military Leadership,” Central Asian Affairs 3, no. 3 (2016): 272-75, https://doi.org/10.1163/22142290-00303003. [81] On the rise of the Peshawar Shura, see Franco and Giustozzi, “Revolution in the Counter-Revolution,” 249-86. [82] On the importance of “resource control” to the leadership of insurgent groups, see Alec Worsnop, “Who Can Keep the Peace? Insurgent Organizational Control of Collective Violence,” Security Studies 26, no. 3 (2017): 482-516, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1306397. [83] Interview with Taliban commander no. 2, Nad-e Ali, 2012. This procedure is confirmed in interviews with Taliban commanders from other provinces (Baghlan, Kunduz, Wardak) conducted in 2011–12 as part of a project run by one of the authors. [84] Interview with Taliban commander no. 1, Marjah, 2011. [85] Interview with Taliban commander no. 1, Now Zad, 2011; also confirmed by interviews with Taliban commander no. 4, Garmsir, 2011; Taliban commander no. 4, Marjah, 2011; Taliban commander no. 2, 2011, Now Zad; and Taliban commander no. 4, Kajaki, 2011. [86] Interview with Taliban commander no. 5, Sangin, 2011. See also Antonio Giustozzi and Adam Baczko, “The Politics of the Taliban’s Shadow Judiciary, 2003–2013,” Central Asian Affairs 1 (2014): 199-224, https://doi.org/10.1163/22142290-00102003. [87] Interview with staff officer, Defense Intelligence, Ministry of Defense, London, November 2008. Tom Coghlan reports that “British commanders estimated that approximately 1,000 Taliban died during 2006.” He places less credence in newspaper reports of many thousands of Taliban dead. Coghlan, “The Taliban in Helmand,” 130. [88] Interviews with Taliban commander no. 8, Garsmir, 2011; Taliban commander no. 3, Kajaki, 2011; and Taliban commander no. 3, Marjah, 2011. [89] Interview with senior staff officer, 3 Commando Brigade, Ministry of Defense, London, July 1, 2010. For a dramatic account of the Taliban attack, see Ewen Southby-Tailyour, 3 Commando Brigade: Helmand Assault (London: Ebury Press, 2010), 55-66. [90] Interview with Taliban commander no. 3, Sangin. This is confirmed by 12 interviewees, with a number referring specifically to a “general order” from the Quetta Shura. [91] Antonio Giustozzi, The Taliban at War (London: Hurst, forthcoming), chap. 4. [92] Interview with former Taliban front commander, November 2016; interview with former Taliban provincial governor, November 2016. [93] Ian S. Livingston and Michael E. O’Hanlon, Afghanistan Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction and Security in Post-9/11 Afghanistan (Washington: Brookings Institution, May 2014), 11, figure 1.17, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/index20140514.pdf. [94] Directorate Land Warfare, Lessons Exploitation Centre, Operation Herrick Campaign Study, March 2015 [redacted and publicly released version], Annex A to Annex E, chap. 3-6, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/492757/20160107115638.pdf; also Olivier Grouville, “Bird and Fairweather in Context: Assessing the IED Threat,” RUSI Journal 154 (2009): 40, https://doi.org/10.1080/03071840903255252. [95] Fertilizers containing ammonium nitrate are banned in Afghanistan. [96] Antonio Giustozzi, “Military Adaptation by the Taliban, 2002–11,” in Military Adaptation in Afghanistan, ed. Theo Farrell et al. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), 251. [97] Giustozzi, The Taliban at War, chap. 6. [98] Interview with Taliban leader, Miran Shah Shura, 2015. [99] Interview with several Taliban commanders, Faryab, 2014; interview with Taliban commander, Kandahar, 2014; interview with Taliban leader, Miran Shah Shura, 2015. [100] Farrell, Unwinnable, 242-44. [101] Interview with Taliban commander no. 3, Marjah, 2011. [102] Interview with Taliban commander no. 4, Garmsir, 2011. [103] Interview with Taliban commander no. 6, Sangin, 2011. [104] Interview with Taliban commander no. 5, Marjah, 2011. [105] Interview with Taliban commander no. 3, Sangin, 2011. [106] Interviews with Taliban commander, Kandahar, 2014; and with Taliban cadre, Nangarhar, 2015. [107] On the importance of organizational capacity to “absorb” new military technologies, see Michael C. Horowitz, The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010). [108] Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter post, Jan. 1, 2018, 4:12 a.m., https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/947802588174577664. [109] Haroon Janjua, “‘Nothing but Lies and Deceit’: Trump Launches Twitter Attack on Pakistan,” Guardian, Jan. 2, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/01/lies-and-deceit-trump-launches-attack-on-pakistan-tweet. [110] Mujib Mashal and Salman Masood, “Cutting Off Pakistan, U.S. Takes Gamble in Complex War,” New York Times, Jan. 5, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/05/world/asia/pakistan-aid-afghan-war.html. [111] Carlo Muñoz, “U.S. Forces to Go on the Offensive in Afghanistan, Says Top Commander,” Washington Times, Jan. 2, 2018, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/jan/2/top-commander-us-forces-go-offensive-afghanistan/. [112] Farrell, Unwinnable, 292-324. [113] In a less-than-encouraging development, the U.S. Department of Defense for the first time in eight years classified the data on Afghan security forces’ operational readiness. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, Oct. 30, 2017, 99-100, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2017-10-30qr.pdf. [114] Lauren McNally and Paul Bucala, “The Taliban Resurgent: Threats to Afghanistan’s Security,” Afghanistan Report no. 11 (Washington: Institute for the Study of War, March 2015): 13-17, 19-20, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/AFGH Report.pdf. [115] Of the 407 districts in Afghanistan, 7% were under insurgent control or influence, 21% were contested, and 72% were under government control in November 2015. By October 2017, these ratios had shifted to 14% under insurgent control or influence, 30% contested, and 56% under government control. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Addendum to SIGAR’s January 2018 Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, Jan. 30, 2018, 1, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/Addendum_2018-01-30qr.pdf. [116] On Korea, Robert A. Pape finds that U.S. bombing was unable to have a significant impact on the enemy war effort or the civilian economy, hence he concludes that no coercive leverage was produced. On Vietnam, he argues that the U.S. bombing campaign “succeeded in 1972 where it had failed from 1965 to 1968 because in the interim Hanoi had changed from a guerrilla strategy, which was essentially immune to air power, to a conventional offensive strategy, which was highly vulnerable to air interdiction.” Robert A. Pape, Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), chap. 5 and 6 (Quote is from p. 209). [117] Eric Schmitt, “Hunting Taliban and Islamic State Fighters, From 20,000 Feet,” New York Times, Dec. 11, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/11/world/asia/taliban-isis-afghanistan-drugs-b52s.html. [118] U.N. figures comparing civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes in the first nine months of 2016 and 2017. Shashank Bengali, “U.S. Airstrikes Rise Sharply in Afghanistan — and So Do Civilian Deaths,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 4, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-afghanistan-us-airstrikes-20171204-htmlstory.html. [119] Schmitt, “Hunting Taliban.” [120] Andrew Cockburn, “Mobbed Up: How America Boosts the Afghan Opium Trade,” Harper’s Magazine, April 2018, https://harpers.org/archive/2018/04/mobbed-up/. [121] Seth G. Jones, “Why the Taliban Isn’t Winning in Afghanistan: Too Weak for Victory, Too Strong for Defeat,” Foreign Affairs, January 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2018-01-03/why-taliban-isnt-winning-afghanistan. [122] Michael Semple, Theo Farrell, Anatol Lieven, and Rudra Chaudhuri, Taliban Perspectives on Reconciliation (London: Royal United Services Institute, September 2012), https://rusi.org/sites/default/files/taliban_perspectives_on_reconciliation.pdf. [123] Theo Farrell and Michael Semple, Ready for Peace? The Afghan Taliban After a Decade of War (London: Royal United Services Institute, January 2017), https://rusi.org/sites/default/files/201701_bp_ready_for_peace.pdf. [124] For more recent analysis supporting this view, see Antonio Giustozzi, “Do the Taliban Have Any Appetite for Reconciliation in Kabul?” Center for Research and Policy Analysis, Mar. 19, 2018, https://www.af-crpa.org/single-post/2018/03/20/Do-the-Taliban-Have-any-Appetite-for-Reconciliation-with-Kabul-Antonio-Giustozzi. [125] Sune Engel Rasmussen, “Afghan Civilians Count Cost of Renewed US Air Campaign,” Guardian, Sept. 5, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/05/afghan-civilians-count-cost-of-renewed-us-air-campaign. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [comment_count] => 0 [current_comment] => -1 [found_posts] => 3 [max_num_pages] => 1 [max_num_comment_pages] => 0 [is_single] => [is_preview] => [is_page] => [is_archive] => 1 [is_date] => [is_year] => [is_month] => [is_day] => [is_time] => [is_author] => [is_category] => [is_tag] => [is_tax] => 1 [is_search] => [is_feed] => [is_comment_feed] => [is_trackback] => [is_home] => [is_404] => [is_embed] => [is_paged] => [is_admin] => [is_attachment] => [is_singular] => [is_robots] => [is_posts_page] => [is_post_type_archive] => [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => 60dfe941ad3bd14613a8f53fd878ad5a [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => [thumbnails_cached] => [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => [compat_fields:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => query_vars_hash [1] => query_vars_changed ) [compat_methods:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => init_query_flags [1] => parse_tax_query ) )