New Online Book Lays out al-Qaeda’s New Military Strategy
Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 6
An interesting new publication to hit the web gives insight into the thinking of an al-Qaeda strategist on the next stages of the struggle. Posted on the al-Ikhlas jihadi forum [https://ekhlas.com/forum] the work is entitled Idarat al-Tawahhush, “The Management of Barbarism,” further defined as “the phase of transition to the Islamic state.” Due to the strategic importance of the document, Terrorism Focus has undertaken an in-depth examination of the Arabic text.
Published by the Center of Islamic Studies and Research (an al-Qaeda affiliate), the 113-page work ‘Management of Barbarism’ aims to map out the progressive stages of establishing an Islamic state, from early beginnings in defined areas in the Arabian Peninsula, or Nigeria, Jordan, the Maghreb, Pakistan or Yemen, and its subsequent global expansion. The author is Abu Bakr Naji, a name familiar from his contributions to the Sawt al-Jihad online magazine (which are republished at the end of this book).
By “Management of Barbarism” the author refers to the period just after the collapse of a superpower, the period of “savage chaos”. It appears pointedly to be a method of not repeating the experience of Afghanistan prior to the rule of the Taliban, and of improving controls over the periods experienced, for instance, in Somalia after the fall of Siad Barre.
After ample prolegomena on Middle East history and the causes of the rise and fall of superpowers, the book substantially falls into five broad themes:
1) Definition of ‘Management of Barbarism’
2) The Path of Empowerment
3) The Most Important Principles and Policies
4) The Most Pressing Difficulties and Obstacles
5) Conclusion – demonstrating jihad as the ideal solution
The ‘Path of Empowerment’ theme constitutes the strategy of the mujahideen. In this the author further sub-divides into three distinct phases:
1) The Disruption and Exhaustion phase
2) The Management of Barbarism phase
3) The Empowerment phase
In the first “Disruption and Exhaustion” phase, the mujahideen are to a) exhaust the enemy’s forces by stretching them through dispersal of targets and b) “attract the youth through exemplary targeting such as occurred at Bali, Al-Muhayya and Djerba.”
At the “Management of Barbarism phase”, the mujahideen are to “establish internal security, ensure food and medical supplies, defend the zone from external attack, establish Shari’ah justice, an armed force, an intelligence service, provide economic sufficiency, defend against [public] hypocrisy and deviant opinions and ensure obedience, and the establishment of alliances with neighboring elements that are yet to give total conformity to the Management, and improve management structures.”
The “Empowerment” phase is an extension of the above. The policy is to continue Disruption and Exhaustion activities, at the same time establishing logistic links with the various Management zones. A conspicuous example of this phase is the series of events leading up to the September 11 attacks on the United States, which “destroyed the peoples’ awe of America and of the lesser ranking Apostate armies.” The fall of Afghanistan, the author explains, was either planned to happen, or was due to happen even without the September 11 events, and had as the result the multiplication of jihadi groups bent on revenge.
As for future targeting, this should be variegated “in all parts of the Islamic world and beyond it. For instance, in striking at tourist resorts frequented by Crusaders, all tourist resorts will have to be secured,” with all the dispersal of energy and costs this involves. The same goes for Crusader banks in Turkey employing interest, or petrol installations near Aden, which will subsequently oblige security hikes for refineries, pipelines and shipping. “If two apostate authors are simultaneously liquidated in two different countries, it will require the security for thousands of writers in the Islamic world.”
An important feature of this phase is the attention to be given to media and propaganda strategy, both for winning support and recruitment, and for deterring opposition. The media strategy should ‘target in depth middle ranking officers in the armed forces [of Muslim nations] to push them to join the jihad.’ It should ‘aim at every stage to justify operations to the populous legally and intellectually … given that, assuming that our long struggle will require half a million mujahideen, getting such a number from a nation of millions is easier than from the ranks of the Islamic movement.’
The third theme, “The Most Important Principles and Policies,” gives details on tactics. After discussing the necessity of establishing a proper chain of command, in both the doctrinal and military fields, the author outlines important military principles (“striking with the heaviest force at the weakest point; a superior enemy is defeated by economic and military attrition”). He further suggests four major reference sources: “The Encyclopedia of Jihad (prepared by the mujahideen in Afghanistan); the al-Battar magazine; the writings of Abu Ubayd al-Qurashi in the al-Ansar magazine, along with other works on the al-Uswa website; general works on military science, particularly on guerrilla warfare, provided the student rectifies the errors in them respective to Islamic law.”
In the sub-section “The Application of Vehemence” subtitled “The Policy of Paying the Price,” Abu Bakr Naji warns against the dangers of anything other than maximum violence as a deterrent, or as a response, even if the response should take years. The response, the author states, “is best done by other groups and in other countries than those suffering the act of enmity … to give the enemy the sense of being surrounded and his interests exposed … and to confuse him.” An example of this method would be, say, in response to the Egyptians’ imprisonment of mujahideen, an attack by mujahideen upon an Egyptian embassy in the Arabian Peninsula or the Maghreb, or the kidnapping of Egyptian diplomats, who should be “liquidated horrifically” if the mujahideen’s demands are not met.
Stress is then laid upon the need to understand how international politics work. In the sub-section “Understanding the Rules of the Political Game” Abu Bakr Naji highlights how mujahid groups that refused to soil their hands with profane political calculations paid the price. The difficulty of reconciling Islamic legal propriety with pragmatic military interest is resolved, in the author’s eyes, by recourse to the example set by [the 14th century jurist] Ibn Qayyim, who set Prophetic precedent as a preference, but not an obligation.
An important feature of this game, Naji illustrates, is the manipulation of the international media, and ensuring that the message gets through to the target, in its widest sense, and not just to the minority elite. “We must therefore set up an association whose purpose is to ensure the communication of our demands to people, even if this should expose them to dangers akin to the perils of combat … such as the taking of a hostage. After raising the hullabaloo concerning him we demand that media correspondents publish our demands in full in return for his release … Our demand might be a statement of warning or justification for an operation.” An effective response to government media’s demonization of mujahid actions is to prepare the ground by first demonizing the target as something Islamically forbidden or serving the economic interests of the enemy. Naji then gives an imaginary scenario of an attempt to adjust oil prices in favor of the people where a deadline is issued and an oil engineer or manager or journalist is kidnapped to ensure that the demand is fully publicized.
Points of weakness
The fourth major theme in the work covers “The Most Pressing Difficulties and Obstacles” that will face the mujahideen. These are listed as the diminution in the numbers of believers as casualties in war, the lack of sufficiently trained administrators (and the relative social distance many of these have from the rank and file) and the problems caused by over-enthusiasm in the behavior of some. Naji also highlights the problems that will be faced with old loyalties to other Islamist groups impeding administration in the new Management phases, or the threat of schism.
Importance of the book
The Management of Barbarism is one of the few works of jihadi literature devoted specifically to strategy. Jihadi literature is rich in works of doctrine and exhortation on the one hand, and specific pamphlets on military technology on the other. Tactical studies tend toward providing doctrinal clearance for particular issues such as the killing of prisoners, the problem of civilian Muslim casualties or dealing with the infidel. Strategy is less well represented. Other than the papers by Yusuf al-Ayyiri on the Jihad method, the closest work to this is the Tuhfat al-Muwahhideen fi Bayan Tariq al-Tamkeen (Gift of the Monotheists on the Way to Empowerment) by the same author as this treatise, which indeed may be considered an extension of it.
The importance of this work lies in the mapping, in the eyes of a mujahid, of the stages of a strategic program towards empowerment. This process is construed with a broad enough perspective as to make of individual reverses — such as Afghanistan — of secondary importance. While Naji illustrates how, for the mujahid, matters of doctrinal propriety carry great weight, he also introduces realism to the subject in his defense of pragmatism over legal literalism in matters relating to dealings with the enemy and its politics. But perhaps the most interesting emphasis is the role of the media. As an admission of the failure of the Islamist groups to build massive support, ample space is given to methods of combating government and western media control of information delivery. The number of attacks and threats of attacks by mujahideen on media offices and individuals in Iraq, demonstrates that the value of this arm of the strategy is well understood, and indeed appears to be following the textbook.
Stephen Ulph is a Senior Fellow of The Jamestown Foundation and editor of the Terrorism Focus.