- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat

By Richard H. Shultz Jr. and Andrea J. Dew

Columbia University Press, $29.50, 316 pages

Richard H. Shultz Jr. and Andrea J. Dew have done more than write a book on America’s new enemies. The two authors have done a public service.

Anyone interested in the current struggle against Islamic extremists would better understand the fighting after reading “Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias.” The authors are academicians, but the book is not a tedious professorial term paper. Instead, it is a plain-English, but detailed, explanation of who these Islamists are and why it is so difficult to defeat them.

The military has taken to calling its new foes “non-state actors,” but the problem is more complex. To understand the enemy, Mr. Shultz and Ms. Dew first explain the clan and tribal systems that dominate Islamic countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. They write of the tradition of Jihad (tribes fight ferociously and forever). And finally, Islam’s history of rejecting invaders, no matter how noble their cause. Historically, their tactics shun distinct battle lines and conventional formations. Instead, they rely on ambush, planted bombs and sabotage to wear the invaders down.

It is too bad “Insurgents, Terrorists and Militias” did not come out while the Bush cabinet planned war in Iraq. For whatever reason, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, et al, never took into account the possibility of a robust post-Saddam Hussein insurgency, aided by outsiders. Instead of immediately launching counter-insurgency operations and Sunni-Shiite diplomacy in 2003, the Americans went looking for weapons of mass destruction and tried to start an interim government. Unbothered, thousands of Saddam loyalists plotted the next war. And in the south, a little known cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, created an anti-American militia. We are living with those planning mistakes today.

The book reminds us of what history clearly shows: Whenever an Islamic country is pierced by invaders, two developments follow: the tribal or clan ethos of fighting; and outside actors. In Somalia, an anti-American warlord mobilized an insurgency that began ambushing and murdering United Nations troops. Al Qaeda terrorists arrived, teaching the militias new tactics for shooting down low-flying U.S. helicopters. “The form of warfare they practiced had little in common with the principles set down by the founding fathers of modern Western warfare,” the authors point out.

Their motives far less noble, the Soviets ran up against much the same tactic in Afghanistan. An estimated 50,000 Islamic fighters around the world flocked to the occupied country. Soon, Soviet supply lines got ambushed. Casualties mounted. The Soviets eventually went back home.

The point is, Somalia and Afghanistan showed these conflicts are never fought in isolation. Yet few, if any, inside the administration predicted the jihadist template for Iraq.But it happened. Rising up were homegrown insurgents built around tribal and clan leaders, and augmented by foreign jihadists and outside actors Iran and Syria.

Planners should have done research. Mr. Shultz and Ms. Dew write that the Iraqi way of fighting has its roots in the ancient tactics of Bedouins, the nomadic Arabic tribes who settled in Iraq. “Bedouin social customs and tribal structure were ideally suited for the key operational feature of irregular warfare — the raid,” the authors write. “Avoid the opponent’s strength and exploit targets of opportunity through highly mobile and unpredictable attacks.”

Mr. Shultz, who is director of the International Security Studies Program at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, is one of the country’s leading experts on terrorism and intelligence. Ms. Dew is a research associate at the school. Mr. Shultz boasts an impressive list of military students who went on to higher achievement. And he is good at convincing senior leaders to come talk to his class. In 2002, with commandos playing a huge role in the war against al Qaeda, Air Force Gen. Charles Holland, then head of U.S. Special Operations Command, was seen walking across the Tufts campus going to brief some Shultz students.

The military is now engaged in massive “lessons learned” exercises to find ways to fight non-state actors who fight by sneak attack, car-borne snipers, roadside explosives and suicide bomb. The authors add to the mix. War planners must first recognize the enemy will not fight fair, so to speak. Then they must study its cellular structure, and identify its leaders and where they operate. This was not done in Iraq early on. The insurgency’s Sunni component set up shop in areas north and west of Baghdad and operated with near-impunity for two years. And commanders must plan for foreigners, such as brutal terrorists Abu Musab Zarqawi, to descend on any West-Islamic struggle.

If only this book had come out in 2002 and been briefed inside the Pentagon. Someone needed to be reminded of the Islamists’ centuries-old methods of fighting.

Rowan Scarborough, the author of “Rumsfeld’s War,” is a reporter for The Washington Times.

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