Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1235, (26 February - 4 March 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1235, (26 February - 4 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Where is the grand strategy?

Victory against the formidable challenge of Islamic militants operating region-wide will be impossible without a grand strategy that designates priorities, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

You cannot win a war without a strategy. And you cannot have a strategy for a particular theatre of operations without having a grand strategy to steer subsidiary strategies and, from there, to proceed to the tactics and stratagems pertaining to a particular battle in a comprehensive war.

For example, all the moves and manoeuvres that took place in the battle of Kobane (Ain Al-Arab) were the plays of tactics that led to the Daesh (Islamic State) retreat from its invasion of that city.

However, they did not diminish its ability to invade other parts of Iraq. Worse, they did nothing to diminish the abilities of Daesh affiliates in other theatres, such as the Sinai, Libya and Yemen, to wage various assaults or to perform the massacres and slaughters they are so adept at.

The defence of Kobane was waged as though it were a separate battle that had nothing to do with all the other battles. Indeed, the essence of the “stratagem” put into play by the coalition’s air force, the Peshmerga and the Free Syrian Army was to defend the city. It did not look beyond that to the subsequent actions to be taken after the Daesh retreat, in order to sustain the pressure on it elsewhere in the Syrian and Iraq theatres.

In like manner, in spite of the achievements scored by the Egyptian and Libyan air forces in the Sinai and, more recently, in Libya, these operations did not incorporate ways to sustain pressure on terrorist groups to reduce their ability to attack soft civilian targets and reduce their manoeuvrability and ability to marshal forces within a particular theatre of operations.

In fact, all the evidence up to now suggests that Daesh intends to expand it theatres of operation by creating bases in other countries that would give it alternatives and options that had previously not been unavailable.

In short, the war against Daesh and the assorted terrorist groups and militias allied with it is being managed as though each of its constituent battlefields is a separate war fought and assessed in accordance with the capacities of those directly involved. There is no coordination between the different theatres and no delineation of priorities within them.

I have previously referred to the war against Daesh as the “third World War.” It is the type of comprehensive war that plays out over extensive tracts of the globe and in which the operations being carried out in the different theatres of war are intertwined.

During World War II, the Allies gave priority to defeating Italy so as to advance through the soft underbelly of Europe, in spite of Russian pressures to open the second front on the French coast. But the Russian demand would eventually be met when Germany became the next target.

At that point the Allies implemented the “nutcracker” strategy whereby the Soviet Union pressed on Germany from one side and the Western alliance pressed from the opposite side, leading to that great race between Marshal Zhukov and General Eisenhower toward Berlin. The war ended in Japan when Truman, for strategic reasons, moved to bring it to an abrupt end by using the atomic bomb for the first and last time in history.

The war against terrorism is currently centred around six hotspots, the first being the old theatre that spans Afghanistan and Pakistan, where we find the base of Al-Qaeda supported by the Taliban.

The second is located around the Iraqi-Syrian border. Although Mosul, the base of the self-proclaimed “Islamic caliphate”, is at the centre of this arena, it extends into Syria where Daesh terrorism interweaves in complex ways with Al-Qaeda terrorism, the tyranny of the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Damascus, which has had no compunction against using chemical weapons against Syrian citizens, and Hizbullah from Lebanon to top this all off.

Thirdly comes Yemen, where Al-Qaeda had existed for some time and Daesh would soon sprout and spread, where the Houthis rose up and marched on the capital, and where the remnants of the Yemeni “Spring” are part of the resurgence of the southern secessionist movement.

The fourth theatre is in the Sinai, where the Egyptian state is confronting Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, which has declared its allegiance to Daesh and which, before and after this, relied directly or indirectly on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Libya is the fifth arena. If the Libyan situation is more of a tangle than the situations elsewhere, Al-Qaeda and Daesh presence is very clear there, and all the way up to the borders of Morocco. The sixth theatre has its roots in Nigeria, where Boko Haram oversees a Nigerian Daesh province that extends to Mali, Chad, Libya, southern Tunisia and Algeria.

That extensive geographical range not only makes the war against terrorism a global one, it also make it a unique one as, for the most part, the enemy is made up of groups rather than states, even if some aspire to become states. Until now, the strategic thinking that has been brought to bear in the management of this war involves three points.

The first came from the US where President Barack Obama began to revise US military doctrine so as to incorporate counterterrorism in the military structure, in terms of training and equipment. This brought a focus on operations designed to dismantle the mother organisation (Al-Qaeda) by assassinating its leaders and destroying lines of communication (the assassination of Bin Laden in Pakistan and Al-Awlaki in Yemen).

The second point also originated with Obama when he defined the aim of the war against terrorism in Iraq and Syria as “degrading and destroying” Daesh. Initially, it seemed to him as though aerial strikes would be sufficient. He then came to favour Special Forces on the ground to work with Iraqi forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga.

The third idea originated from within this region when a number of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan, joined the international coalition while Egypt grappled with terrorism in Sinai directly and cooperated with domestic forces in Libya.

The aforementioned ideas emerged as a reaction to events in the region in which the initiative was retained by the terrorists, be they Al-Qaeda, Daesh or similar groups sporting names built around “Sharia”, “Beit Al-Maqdis” and other such terms devised to attract the gullible.

However, confronting a threat of that magnitude takes more than an operation here and another there, and a coalition here and another there. The problem is too complex and dangerous and it contains too much potential for surprise and innovation given the technologies of this age, rapidity of movement and spread of weapons of mass destruction, and of failed and floundering states.

Victory against such a formidable challenge will be impossible without a grand strategy that designates priorities: priorities in terms in terms of the magnitude of the threat and in terms of action in the theatres of operations.

Perhaps this strategy might call for a blockade around some areas in order to prevent the virus from spreading. But what it must address is the need to wrest the initiative and the element of surprise from the hands of the terrorists.

There are other such crucial matters that are still not being addressed by the forces that are resisting terrorism at this time, a time in which adversity and calamity proliferate, which is why we are sounding the alarm

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