A Jihadi Course in Military Mapping Symbols

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 4

Khattab's course. Symbols depict the type of military unit.

The Mawsu’at al-I’dad (“Encyclopedia of Preparation”) stands out as a prime example of an illustration of the “data mining” capability that the internet provides. As earlier indicated in Terrorism Focus, this work is unique in its form since it constitutes an ever-expanding e-compendium made up of a multitude of data links (Terrorism Focus, Volume II, Issue 7).

Among the titles in the work is a course on codes and ciphers. The Dawrat al-Shahid al-Qa’id al-Maidani Khattab (“The Martyr Field Commander Khattab’s Course”) is more precisely an exhaustive treatment on the use of symbols in the planning of military operations, specifically with reference to mapping in the field. It is part of a series on military terminology, planning and mapping signals prepared for the web by Abu al-Darda, “the Salafist,” and published by al-Markaz al-Islami al-I’lami (“the Islamic Information Center”). There is no indication as to who Khattab is in the title. Nor is any date given, but it is likely that the work ultimately derives from the Afghanistan period when training for open military conflict had more significance. In more up-to-date works, the emphasis is on urban and guerrilla warfare and activities related to covert operations and intelligence gathering.

After presenting the basics on the employment of military symbols, the author illustrates how, from a simple figure, minor additions and adaptations can be made under certain pre-agreed conditions to produce economically drawn symbols to express precise information. “The symbols have to be kept simple and clear,” the author states, “since densely packed marks on documents, or an [overly] complicated single sign (such as a combination of symbols and numbers not previously agreed) will prejudice the clarity of the required representation, and possibly cause doubt [as to interpretation].”

The construction of intelligence symbols is presented in a logical progression, and the use of adaptations (size, thickness and type of line) to denote information such as the number or group of numbers (indicating the function or identity of a unit and its affiliation, date, time, caliber of weapons), the size or importance of the unit, its level of readiness, its verified presence, whether the located point is under surveillance, or whether there are doubts as to the quality of the information available. The use of color is categorized to indicate: friendly forces (units, bases, tactical conditions, preparedness), enemy forces (units, bases, tactical conditions, preparedness), areas contaminated by enemy or friendly activity, zones of destruction, minefields or artificial barriers and lines marking off friendly units and zones of artillery fire.

Over the course of the 76-page document, the author carefully tabulates intelligence marks for agreed symbols to denote sizes of military units, from small bands up to detachments, battalions, divisions, corps and brigades. Then he lists symbols denoting the configuration of the military units, marks for weaponry, and marks corresponding to detailed specifications of this weaponry or concentrations of armaments at one point. Following are symbols for communication points and communication methods, barriers and obstacles, crossing points and lines of fire.

The author illustrates, by way of example, the symbols employed for units of the Lebanese army. Yet, it is the section on FEBAs (Forward Edge of the Battle Area) that gives some indication of the ultimate origin of the work or its indebtedness to Western military manuals, since the Arabic terminology used in this section is consistently related to its English-language equivalent. The inclusion of Khattab’s course in the Encyclopedia of Preparation is clearly intended as part of an overall course in military training—part of the “Virtual Afghanistan” imperative provided for the internet, and which saw the production of the Mu’askar al-Battar (“Al-Battar Training Camp”) periodical that ran for 22 issues until its closure late in 2004.