Thursday, October 30, 2014

ISIS: Understanding Asymmetry -- Now Paris

An Update -- January, 2015:
MeanMesa is re-posting this from October, 2014, due to its increased relevance to events in France last week. This decision is more than an "I told you so," because what is described in this post -- events in Canada last year -- are now becoming much more likely to be repeated in the present. The ISIL "caliphate's" edict to all supporters everywhere --"fight everywhere with whatever weapons you've got" -- is, perhaps, the ultimate in asymmetric warfare effort the world has witnessed in a very long time.

MeanMesa suggests having another look at what events have led up to the Paris attack.

Be safe.

A Confusing Paradigm
Is this an attack? Is this terrorism?
What is this?

News in the last week or so has, predictably, focused on what are frankly unusual episodes of violent attacks against military and governmental personnel in Canada and the United States. Westerners, seeing these accounts, are understandable perplexed. These attacks don't seem to have any particular military value, and they also seem to "fall flat" in terms of evoking very much terror from the greater populations.

[MeanMesa will continue to refer to the Sunni rebels in Syria and Iraq as "ISIS," presuming that the group will probably return to this name sooner or later. In the meantime, who cares?]

Three of the most recent of these unusual, isolated attacks are reported in the following news stories. Have a look at these "samples," and then we'll get down to figuring out what they mean -- or might mean.


1. New York axe attack 'terrorist act by Muslim convert'

[photo New York Police Department]
Police in New York say an axe attack on two officers was a terrorist act carried out by a radicalised Muslim convert.

Zale Thompson, 32, was shot dead after wounding the two officers, one critically, in Queens on Thursday.

Commissioner William Bratton said Thompson was not on any watch lists but had browsed al-Qaeda web sites and watched beheadings.

A bystander shot in the incident is critical but stable in hospital.


Witnesses said the man deliberately targeted the foot-patrol officers, charging them and then swinging the axe two-handed.

One officer, Kenneth Healy, 25, was hit on the head and was listed as critical but stable in hospital. The other officer was hit on the arm.

The officers fired several rounds, killing the attacker and wounding a female bystander, police said.

Canadian Parliament Building [image - CBS News]
2. 2014 shootings 
at Parliament Hill, Ottawa

A series of shootings occurred on October 22, 2014, at Parliament Hill and nearby in Ottawa, Canada. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau fatally shot Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian soldier on ceremonial guard duty at the Canadian National War Memorial. He then launched an attack in the nearby Centre Block parliament building, where members of the Parliament of Canada were attending caucuses. Zehaf-Bibeau was killed inside the building in a gunfight with parliament security personnel. Following the shootings, the downtown core of Ottawa was placed on lockdown while police searched for any potential additional threats.

[Excerpted. Read entire WIKI article here.]

3. 2014 Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu
 ramming attack
The radicalization of Martin Coutour-Roleau  1...2...3
[image MeanMesa]
The 2014 Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu ramming attack was an attack in which a car was deliberately rammed into a group of Canadian soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Canada, on October 20, 2014 at 11:30 a.m. ET. The attack was perpetrated by a radicalized Muslim convert, Martin Couture-Rouleau, who killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent before himself being killed by police following a police chase.


A 25-year-old terrorist, Martin Couture-Rouleau, a French-Canadian, rammed a car into two Canadian Armed Forces soldiers. He sat in a parking lot for over two hours before attacking the two soldiers. Couture-Rouleau was a 25-year-old with extensive police encounters who had become a Muslim convert in 2013 and was a supporter of ISIL. Couture-Rouleau used his car to run down the two soldiers before being fatally shot by police during an ensuing car chase. One of the soldiers, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, age 52, subsequently died from his injuries.

[Excerpted. Visit the original WIKI article here.]

An Abbreviated Glimpse at "Asymmetry"
Definitions might keep this post "on the tracks."

Because the "essence" of these events is based the asymmetric tactics ISIS is utilizing in pursuing the "foreign" part of its ambition to establish its caliphate, a couple of general definitions may provide visitors with a "base line understanding." This may be important, because MeanMesa suspects that we will be seeing more events similar to these in the weeks and months ahead.

Asymmetry is the absence of, or a violation of, symmetry (the property of an object being invariant to a transformation, such as reflection). Symmetry is an important property of both physical and abstract systems and it may be displayed in precise terms or in more aesthetic terms. The absence of violation of symmetry that are either expected or desired can have important consequences for a system.
[Read the WIKI article here.]

Asymmetric warfare is war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly.

Asymmetric warfare can describe a conflict in which the resources of two belligerents differ in essence and in the struggle, interact and attempt to exploit each other's characteristic weaknesses. Such struggles often involve strategies and tactics of unconventional warfare, the weaker combatants attempting to use strategy to offset deficiencies in quantity or quality. Such strategies may not necessarily be militarized. This is in contrast to symmetric warfare, where two powers have similar military power and resources and rely on tactics that are similar overall, differing only in details and execution.

The term is frequently used to describe what is also called "guerrilla warfare", "insurgency", "terrorism", "counterinsurgency", and "counter terrorism", essentially violent conflict between a formal military and an informal, less equipped and supported, undermanned but resilient opponent.
 [Read the WIKI article here.]

Bombs, Guns, Videos and Psychology
Well rounded terrorism for the 21st Century

A general theme of "asymmetric response" has run through the tactics of insurgent planning for several years, but the introduction of a more "institutional" style of military response to meet such insurgencies has provided an incentive for them to even further refine such practices. The final verdict is still out as to the long term effectiveness of selecting this "institutional" military response. There really are alternatives.
Obama Doctrine: 'Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail'

["Institutional military assets?" Even amid an almost frantic barrage of pessimistic criticism, the Obama Administration has resolutely stuck to the idea of using low exposure "institutional" military assets -- at least so far as what is offered for public consumption -- in its response to ISIS. This means jet fighter bombers, drones and ship to surface missiles. The previous "President" chose to use massively more, high exposure "institutional" military assets in campaigns in the region which included tanks and lots of combat troops and Marines.]

An insurgency such as ISIS can be considered a "hybrid" form of traditional terrorists. Unlike an organization such as Al Qaeda, ISIS has been able to muster and equip ground forces and hold territory, but all of this military activity has been specifically regional and -- so far -- very "low tech." "Institutional" military power can be defined as being comprised of assets which provide the capability of "projecting power." 
In this regard, ISIS is having difficulty even "projecting" its military power to readily accessible targets such as the nearby city of Kobane.

The "hybrid" idea comes into relevance when we consider that ISIS is a military power in its immediate vicinity, but one which must rely on more conventional psychological terrorism to "project" terrorism beyond the borders of the territory it currently holds. One side of this "projection" can be seen in the publicized video accounts of "crowd management" atrocities being committed within its territory.

However, no matter how shockingly sanguine these videos may be, none of them can imply a direct, material threat to their audience in the West. They may cause nightmares among some of those they reach, but their impact, while causing "conceptual" fear, does not evoke the type of fear one might expect from, say, the approach of an invading army or even something along the lines of the 9/11 attacks.

So, what can ISIS do to "fill this vacuum?"

For this answer we can return to the examples provided above.

An Army of Ones
"Making do" - Middle East style...

Remembering Rumsfeld: "You go to war with the Army you have -- not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

[Read the entire article Crooks and Liars - here.]
First, kindly indulge MeanMesa in a brief, "Sentimental Journey" back to 9/11.

What did bin Laden want?

By now we see that the conveniently simple "urban myth" that bin Laden was motivated to anger by US troops in Saudi Arabia was no more than a necessary fabrication to satisfy the curiosity of already geographically addled American public. Quite the contrary, Bin Laden saw an opening opportunity seldom matched even in the long string of coincidences littering modern history.
Al Qeada's leader saw incompetent, effeminate President was controlled by a cravenly ambitious "billionaire wanna be" who stood to gain literally billions if war with Sadam Hussein could be triggered by a terrorist attack. In hindsight, bin Laden probably didn't care much at all about the "purity and innocence" of the Saudi sands, Afghanistan or Iraq.

bin Laden wanted to impale the American economy. He had a good plan, and -- $6 Tn later -- his Al Qaeda operatives executed it quite well. While we can hardly blame bin Laden's efforts for all the painful aspects of the 2008 Bush Economic Disaster, the results of his work certainly didn't help and, in fact, set the stage for many of them.

The Difference Between bin Laden's Al Qaeda and the Modern ISIS

9/11 -- regardless of whom one might currently suspect of having quietly "being in charge" -- was a masterful clockwork with each component specifically tailored to take advantage of existing "weak links" in the US security apparatus. Most of those "weak links" are now gone, making an ISIS repetition of such a complex scheme incredibly more difficult.

Although ISIS has demonstrated a respectable "savvy" at issues such as appealing to recruits and public image development through social media with the dual intentions of soliciting sympathizers and terrifying everyone else, the group has yet to show much evidence of the capacity required for a major terrorist attack similar to 9/11.

Interestingly, "money" may not be what's holding ISIS back, either.
Instead, two factors are much more likely at play in the thinking of the ISIS "high command."  
First, unlike conditions facing Al Qaeda, the odds of failing are significantly greater, and a highly public failure would "throw a wrench" in the caliphate's international recruiting program. And, remember, these insurgents are not only recruiting ground troops, they are also quite interested in recruiting "sponsors" with check books and an axe to grind.

Absolutely nothing screws up fund raising of this sort as much as a gloriously expensive, highly public, poorly planned, outrageously over ambitious screw up does.
Second, unlike conditions facing Al Qaeda, ISIS is incredibly more "publicly known." Even in the "double secret" bunker below the ISIS command center, you can probably "feel the buzz" from the thousands of  spy gizmos now focused on every move the insurgents are making, discussing or even fantasizing while fast asleep in one of their delusional terrorist wet dreams.

This leaves us ready to discuss the "Army of Ones" idea.

If you are in command of ISIS, just about now you are finding more and more of your stolen equipment has been reduced to burned out wreckage all across the Anwar desert, your purloined oil wells have been reduced to stuff you can only sell to recycled metal dealers, your "Blitzkrieg" advance across the tatters of Syria seems to be "petering out" in the middle of no where and the "bright shiny object" with the strategic potential to become a glittering propaganda show piece that had so ignited your dreams, Kobane, looks like it's about to send your crack siege troops packing.

The great beheading videos which worked so well have fallen victim to the inevitable entropy of the US media's "headline cycle" and are now more like a stubborn toothache -- an annoying tid bit from "yesterday's news" that only elicits a passing "Yeah, I guess I heard something..." at US water fountains.

Then you have an idea.

Why not juice up some recruit "wanna be" where ever you can find one with the idea of narcotically righteous, random self-sacrifice in a half baked, utterly amateurish, screw ball attack on any near by "soft target." "Drive over an unsuspecting soldier in your car!" "Shoot the bored honor guard at the veterans' memorial when he's not looking!" "Empty your clip in the Parliament's hall way!"
Your dream is that these will convince the 400 million people living in the United States and Canada that it's only a matter of time until snarling, covert ISIS fighters will begin appearing everywhere -- spewing death and horror -- from Fort Yukon to Miami.

Unhappily, the same 400 million people have already invested as much of their life energy -- and media attention -- in your back woods terrorism scams as they intend to -- yawn...winter's coming, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and some of them are having an election. 

MeanMesa thinks that maybe the ISIS big shots are thinking that George W. Bush is still in the Oval Office. Sorry guys. Not all US Presidents come from gated mansions in Connecticut -- some of them come from South Chicago. Meet the black guy.

MeanMesa's compliments to the President.

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