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What I’m Reading: Irregular Warfare Mixtape


Here are a few links that I wanted to share together, independent of my monthly list of links. Consider this a blog mixtape between official monthly releases.

These all discuss modern conflict.

Why jihadist insurgencies persist –, 5/23/2018

Very interesting article that takes an economic approach to insurgency dilemmas. According to author Aisha Ahmad, once international aid arrives, the incentive is for local partners to act poorly to receive more aid. They don’t want stability, because then the gravy train stops. Meanwhile, their corruption keeps alive opposition groups such as the Taliban or other ideologically-based organizations. At the end of the article, Ahmad lists a few solutions such as creating alternative economic options, such as supporting small businesses. She also encourages peacekeepers to have a better strategy on picking partners when entering a conflict.

Unbeatable: Social Resources, Military Adaptation, and the Afghan Taliban – Texas National Security Review, 5/8/2018

This lengthy well-researched article details how the Taliban have been able to continue operating in Afghanistan. Although many attribute their resilience to funding from Pakistan, author Theo Farrell states that this assumption is not entirely correct. He writes that their resiliency has much to do with innovation and adapatability. Farrell notes the Taliban’s social cache (horizontal and vertical networks), their more accessible social services, and their shared overarching value system.

Farrell also details the Taliban’s military adaption. He writes that they were aided by a central organization among disparate units, IED and other tech advancements, and increased standard training. He concludes his essay with observations on the Taliban’s current capacity and recommendations and warnings for US policy.

Do Terrorist Groups Really Die? A Warning – The RAND Blog, 4/9/2018

An interesting article by Antonia Ward of the RAND Group. She explores the resilience of Al Qaeda and ISIS and posits because of their organizational structure and fluidity, they are very difficult to completely eradicate. I would have liked to see her compare them to other longer lasting groups, but this is a good warning. Counterterrorism organizations have to fight until their targets are below the threshold of acceptable risk, which in the case of ISIS and Al Qaeda, could be for generations.

Assessment of Al-Qaeda’s Enduring Threat Seven Years After Osama bin Laden’s Death – Divergent Options, 6/25/2018

A quick look at Al Qaeda’s messaging and how it has not changed since the days of Osama Bin Laden. The organization, now led by Bin Laden’s son, still advocates the same goals. That provides consistency and aids their continuity.

Fighting AI Surveillance with Scarves and Face Paint –, 6/13/2018

As Artificial Intelligence and facial recognition grow, so too do ways to trick the algorithms. This article discusses both the social impact of misused tech and how scientists are tinkering with options to deter facial recognition. Some of these masks are downright scary, but may be necessary as those with recognition tech become more controlling and authoritarian. On the other side of the spectrum, don’t be surprised to see terrorists and other evil doers employ these ideas soon.

The Digital Vigilantes Who Hack Back – New Yorker Magazine, 5/7/2018

This is a fantastic look at how companies and other organizations are protecting themselves against hackers. Many are employing their own hacking services – White Hat Hackers – who come from the ranks of the NSA and other cybersecurity agencies. These private firms are doing what the US government is unable to do: hack back. However, the article warns that more cyber “guns on the street” does not necessarily mean a safer world. Companies may think they are chasing lone hackers, but actually get entangled in something far worse, perhaps geopolitical or organized crime.

Pioneers of Deception: Lessons from the Ghost Army – War On The Rocks, 5/8/2018

Deception is one of the biggest arrows in the quill of irregular warfare. The notion of making your enemy think you are somewhere you aren’t is a huge, underutilized asset. This article discusses how US Forces used deception during World War II and how modern conflict could use these tactics in military, media, cyber, and electronic conflict.