Academic journal article Military Review

The Future of Warfare against Islamic Jihadism: Engaging and Defeating Nonstate, Nonuniformed, Unlawful Enemy Combatants

Academic journal article Military Review

The Future of Warfare against Islamic Jihadism: Engaging and Defeating Nonstate, Nonuniformed, Unlawful Enemy Combatants

Article excerpt

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. f you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

--Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I remember the mandatory reading list I had as a newly commissioned Army field artillery second lieutenant. Two books on it stood out: Erwin Rommel's Infantry Attacks and Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Later, as a young captain flying from Fort Riley, Kansas, to the Middle East for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I reread The Art of War. The quote above from that book is one of my favorite quotes (along with the quote sometimes attributed to Alexander the Great, "fortune favors the bold").

The current conflagration in which our nation--actually the world--finds itself in, contending with the issue of Islamic jihadism, makes Sun Tzu's quote seem quite applicable. When we fail to recognize the global Islamic jihadist movement, we lack the ability to understand the history, goals, and objectives of this enemy who consistently articulates its designs, only to be discarded or dismissed by U.S. leadership. Though some feel that identifying the enemy is unnecessary, failing to do so puts us at a clear disadvantage in achieving victory, as Sun Tzu would postulate. Even the moniker "war on terror" is a horrible misnomer. A nation cannot fight a tactic, which is what terror is--a means to an end. It would be the same as if we referred to World War II as the "war on the blitzkrieg" or the "battle against the kamikaze."

Currently, the world is focused on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But, how does the United States face this unlawful enemy combatant on today's battlefield? The United States and its Western allies should consider ISIS their greatest threat. However, we should not discount the threat posed by other groups such as Boko Haram and al-Qaida. Let us use the quote of Sun Tzu to present a policy direction and solution to engage and defeat not just ISIS, but the global Islamic jihad.

Strategic Imperatives

In order to defeat ISIS and the global Islamic jihad movement, the United States must follow strategic imperatives which, at this time, it lacks. These imperatives are not simply tactical level tasks conducted in a strategic venue; words like degrade, defeat, and destroy have very different definitions to a tactical- or operational-level military planner.

U.S. leadership must understand that the intent of ISIS is to control territory in order to create their own nation. Unfortunately, we are repeating the terrible mistake we made in Afghanistan when we allowed the Taliban to come to power and hold territory. Their local movement allied with the global intentions of al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. The result was not just the establishment of a savage, barbaric seventh-century state but also the exportation of a vile ideology that espouses terrorist activities.

Deny the enemy sanctuary. The first strategic imperative the United States must follow to defeat our enemy is to deny them sanctuary. This simply means that we must commit to enemy-oriented rather than terrain-oriented operations. The message we must send to the enemy is that we will not be deterred from engaging them if they seek respite within another nations borders. Our greatest advantage is our strategic mobility; we must use it to take the fight to the enemy which does not reject borders and boundaries. We must attack Islamic jihadist forces in their base of operations.

We have failed to this point by focusing on nation building without simultaneously conducting strike operations. Consider the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom when our forces, combined with those of the Northern Alliance, were able to dislodge a sixty thousand-man Taliban army from Afghanistan. (1) We must not become burdened down with nation-building tasks when we have not completely denied the enemy a base of operations--allowing them to relocate. …

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