Guide Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam

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More importantly, most have proven inept rulers. But given the conditions of extreme violence or state collapse that enable them to seize territory, communities may find them better than the alternatives or have little choice but to acquiesce. Also, some movements show signs of learning to govern in ways that avoid fully alienating those under their control. In recent history, few radical Islamist movements had held territory before The Taliban, first as it advanced north and then as the government of most of Afghanistan in the mids, initially brought some basic law and order, but its puritanical mores, economic mismanagement, sporadic attempts to curb poppy cultivation, forced conscription and war-time atrocities soon alienated many, particularly in cities and towns.

It was, in turn, mostly the failures of the new government and the U. Its courts, often mobile, dispense fast, predictable and enforced, if harsh, justice that by most accounts is reasonably popular, at least outside cities. Some villagers at first welcomed schools for Quranic education, basic medical services, reasonably predictable tolls on roads, regular, safe market days and local dispute resolution.

As an insurgency, al-Shabaab now combines unpopular violence with pragmatism and political acuity. It deals ruthlessly with potential rivals, while mediating between clans or backing weaker ones against rivals and avoiding too close an association with any.

The Master Plan

It does best amid outright rivalry between clans or where clans feel frozen out of power. Neither movement is popular. Many villages are caught between their harsh rule and violence and the predation of local government-aligned strongmen; for many, survival hinges on working with whomever holds sway locally. Both, however, deliver some basic public goods and exploit local grievances, conflicts and tribal or clan relations to win support, while playing on intra-tribal or clan tensions between traditional authorities and those marginalised, particularly younger men.

They exert their authority in captured territory through an often carefully calibrated mix of coercion and co-option. Since , more jihadists have seized territory. Its violence raises the cost of dissent, while its leaders have forged closer ties to parts of society. More importantly, in contrast to any past jihadist movement, it appears able to run a state, its recent setbacks notwithstanding. Unlike the Taliban and al-Shabaab, it inherited a largely functioning infrastructure and civil service and has co-opted parts of the local bureaucracy.

In most cities and towns, sanitation, rubbish collection, schools and clinics still work. Its law enforcement may be draconian but reportedly is not yet corrupt; its internal revenue generation is often extortive but at least so far appears sustainable. It has, like other movements, emphasised the quick and enforced resolution of often longstanding disputes.

During the revolution, it overran part of Abyan governorate, including its capital Zinjibar.

Army reinforcements took time to deploy — the army split during the revolution, some factions siding with protesters — but then ousted militants swiftly, with local support. New religious courts are viewed by many locals as fair and swift in contrast to the corrupt and slow official system, which in any case has collapsed. Civil servants are paid, and the city has not suffered the chaos of elsewhere, partly because it is among the few areas not hit by Saudi-coalition bombs.

AQAP looted local banks, but the council generates revenue mostly through taxes on goods, particularly fuel. Shipping companies continue to trade with the al-Qaeda controlled town; though wary of docking in its port, they stop in international waters and smaller boats ferry in goods, including gas. Its leaders meet representatives of Western aid organisations to coordinate relief, as jihadist leaders did in northern Mali in Selling qat is forbidden, but music and TV are not.

It has also responded differently to dissent. Boko Haram claims to want to bring Islamic rule to the Lake Chad Basin but pillages captured areas of northern Nigeria, bringing not even the blend of coercion and co-option deployed by some others, let alone any pretence of Sharia. Relations with the Islamic World Analysis Paper, no. Nor would even the more adept groups be credible alternatives in reasonably functioning states. Conditions must be awful before communities accept them or are forced to do so to survive — illustrating again how war and state collapse create settings in which jihadists thrive.

But where their governance is evolving, there are clearly policy implications. It has been common for extremists to win some initial support by bringing basic law and order — especially predictable and enforced dispute resolution — but for that to dissipate fast as their violence becomes arbitrary and their punishments draconian, as they ban music and empower criminals, as services collapse and rubbish piles up.

Will that model hold? Can groups be contained geographically in expectation that over time inhabitants will revolt or support their ouster? Or will they hold territory and deliver services in a way that deepens their ties to communities, furthers their agenda and safeguards a haven from which to launch attacks?

It is too early to say, but more such movements hold land now than ever before, many of the crises that permit them to do so show little sign of abating, and some are learning to calibrate their approach toward those they rule. The extending reach of IS and al-Qaeda-linked groups poses thorny policy dilemmas, especially where they hold territory, but also in places facing an increased risk of terrorist attacks.

World leaders ramping up their rhetoric against IS must learn from mistakes, while redoubling efforts to understand evolving dynamics. Many Western politicians overstate the threat. This is, to a degree, understandable: jihadist attacks target their citizens. But even IS poses no major, let alone existential, peril to their countries.

Beyond the human misery it already causes, the gravest risk is that its violence provokes reactions — xenophobia, curtailing of civil liberties, selective policing at home or military adventurism abroad — that aggravate the conditions that enabled its rise, open new opportunities for it in the Muslim world and facilitate recruitment in the West. Over the past few years, however, jihadist movements have become more powerful than ever before. Elsewhere, military gains have often merely relocated the problem. Russian operations in the North Caucasus have partly caused many jihadists to go to the Levant.

In Yemen, without a peace deal between the Huthis and loyalists of former President Saleh on the one hand and forces aligned to the Saudi-led coalition, prospects of ousting al-Qaeda from the territories it controls are bleak. The longer it brings a semblance of order amid chaos, the stronger it will grow. Even with a peace deal, it may have deepened local ties to such a degree and Yemeni security forces may have become so debilitated that they will struggle to oust violent jihadists as they did in Similarly, reversing jihadist gains in Libya will depend on resolving rivalries between other local forces and persuading them to collaborate against IS.

It will depend, too, on giving areas associated with the Qadhafi regime, which are most vulnerable to IS recruitment, a stronger position in the national fabric and probably also self-defence opportunities. But so long as rivalries between its enemies persist, it will continue to hold the area around Sirte and may extend further east.

If the U. More can also be done to engage with diverse Libyan security actors — and promote contact between them — to both build support for the political process and find potential partners against IS. The best starting point against it would be a grand bargain to dial back the Iran-Saudi rivalry that drives both Sunni and Shia radicalism, is a principal obstacle to ending crises across the region and poses a graver threat to global stability than jihadists.

Prospects appear bleak, but urging an entente should be as vital a priority as fighting IS. Without it there is risk of mounting confrontation, with Syria its epicentre and both sides describing their violence as counter-terrorism, that pits an Iran-Baghdad-Damascus-Hizbollah axis, with Russia joining opportunistically, against the mostly Sunni powers in the new Saudi alliance, backed uneasily in the West. Efforts to narrow other fault lines that open space for jihadists, — between, for example, conservative Arab regimes and the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey and Kurdish armed groups, now Turkey and Russia and India and Pakistan, should also be redoubled — even if rapprochement seems remote.

Thirdly, there is the nature of many affected states. The largest movements have filled vacuums left by state collapse in Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen and, to a degree, Afghanistan. In many vulnerable states and those at war, government behaviour is a main source of grievances driving support for jihadist movements or provoking crises they profit from. Capable, resilient states should be the foundation of efforts against extremism.

Left Forum: U.S. Wars of Aggression and Islamic Jihad

However, the outlook for recovery, reform and regeneration, particularly in the Arab world, is gloomy. Little suggests that governments largely responsible for the fourth wave are ready to adapt in ways needed to counter it. Fourthly, leaders in many of the countries most affected simply view the threat differently than their Western counterparts. Some, as described, are more focused on regional rivalries or may fear that action against jihadists would anger religious establishments. Others see opposition movements as graver threats to their rule or jihadists as useful leverage with the West and a pretext for repressing other rivals.

He then gave government posts to some, while sidelining others, even if often retaining ties to them through intelligence services. Throughout the last two decades of his rule, he used the jihadist threat to win Western support, receiving training and weapons to fight al-Qaeda. Despite sporadic crackdowns, usually under U. Some states, notably Pakistan, have badly miscalculated this balancing act, a mistake Turkey may have replicated in Syria.

But contrasting incentives mean anti-jihadist alliances tend to be flimsy, and the U. There is, of course, no single solution. Options against groups like those that captured northern Mali, for example, — that initially enjoyed shallow support, fled when confronted by a serious force and some of which appear to have had transnational goals — differ from those against the Afghan Taliban, which is firmly entrenched in the Pashtun heartlands, largely nationalist, enjoys at least intelligence support and safe havens in Pakistan and has weathered U.

Tackling unpopular Boko Haram, which can hide in the vast desert and bush around Lake Chad but against which regional governments are now reasonably united, requires a very different strategy than in Libya against militants in Benghazi and Derna that other revolutionary brigades view as allies and many residents more as wayward youth than hardened extremists. Understanding local dynamics is critical.

Each movement should be tackled individually, not as a global phenomenon.


That said, many pose similar dilemmas. First is on the use of force. Secondly, does the targeted killing of leaders help reduce the threat, either locally or to the West? Thirdly, what engagement is feasible, what ends should it serve and what risks does it entail? The longer it holds a swathe of Iraq and Syria, the stronger its aura of invincibility and the greater its appeal will be. Ousting it or at least putting it on the back foot should thus be a priority.

But IS also thrives in chaos. Woven within its narrative are both its inexorable advance and a strand of apocalyptic thinking that envisages an eventual final battle with Western forces. Reclaiming territory is vital, but doing so at the cost of further alienating Sunnis — having already lost them in the aftermath of the invasion and then by a betrayal of the Awakening — would be counterproductive.

The lynchpin of any approach and that must shape any use of force has to be a political strategy to win over the communities in which IS is embedded. Bombs alone will not do the job. Pounding Raqqa after the Paris attacks had no strategic value; further flattening and driving more residents from homes risks playing into the hands of extremists as much as weakening them. Airstrikes, even if intensified, only work if they reinforce allies on the ground, which raises the question of which forces can lead offensives.

Even when the U. During the Awakening, the U. Replicating that today would be hard, for many reasons. Even hawks in the U. Even a more limited Western deployment, as some recommend — in numbers ranging up to 25,, including military advisers, Special Forces and Quick Reaction Forces — to back local and regional elements would pose enormous hazards for an uncertain return.

Lewis estimated the needs of a first phase alone at 25, In Iraq, the U. Even during its eight-year occupation, the U. Marshalling local and regional forces for the U.

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Other rebels and their al-Qaeda allies have done the most in Syria against IS, repelling it from the north west, but they cannot fight it successfully in the east while hemmed in by the regime and pounded by Russian airstrikes. So long as the war between regime and rebels rages, training the latter to fight only jihadists has no chance, as shown by the dismal results of U. Arming militias also further degrades the Iraqi state. Most important, while Baghdad and the U. Tribes joined against AQI only after being convinced that the U. Their bitter experience in the aftermath means that any foreign force would face an uphill battle to win their trust.

Unless Western states make an open-ended commitment of troops at far higher levels than seem possible, it will be hard to win back former allies. With a U. Recent offensives have involved warnings to civilians to leave towns and massive airstrikes to oust militants, followed by the Iraqi government, in cooperation with para-state forces, advancing a patchwork of small units — including counter-terrorism forces, retrained Sunni local and federal police and Kurdish forces — to retake territory. Former Sunni political leaders, displaced by IS, are waiting out the fighting in Baghdad and elsewhere, hoping to recover their legitimacy and reestablish their authority by rebuilding the infrastructure the offensive against IS destroys.

The Iraqi government, with the support of the U. This strategy is unlikely to succeed. Iran and, to a degree, Russia oppose any devolution that could empower Sunnis. Renovating the structure of governance will not necessarily imbue it with substance. The key to broad Sunni re-engagement is narrowing the gap between the Sunni leadership and its constituents, particularly young people. This is especially so if non-ideological supporters of IS are to be prised from its ideologically motivated core, which would not disappear even if ousted from towns.

Massive destruction and backing largely discredited leaders who abandoned Sunni areas after the Awakening would be a weak base on which to build a new Sunni political project. The Sunni character of Anbar is undisputed, but the longstanding regional competition over the multi-ethnic and strategically located Mosul will complicate stabilising the city in the wake of any campaign, which itself will be more complex than any previous ones against IS.

Turkey, the Iraqi government, Iran and Shia militias, and the Kurds including both the Kurdish Democratic Party and PKK, themselves at odds with one another are all determined to secure their own interests and, perhaps more important, deny their rivals the same. What, then, is the alternative? This starts by limiting the bombing campaign to vital targets and imminent threats, and preventing IS expansion, while squeezing it in every other way so as to erode the aura of invincibility that has convinced communities to cooperate with it and attracted new recruits from around the world.

Circumstances are different, of course, from a decade ago, when the Sons of Iraq switched sides: IS is more potent than AQI; the Iraqi government is less amenable to Sunni aspirations; the U. The principle, however, should be the same: that trust of residents is a more important asset than territory. It would involve risks that either Iran assumes the lead in combatting it and does so in a counterproductive manner, or that IS endures and its rule normalises; and political costs, including domestically, that the U.

Options against IS are especially poor, but other groups pose similar dilemmas. Early Pakistani operations against militants hosting al-Qaeda in the tribal areas, for example, launched mostly at U. The army stirred up resistance, was repeatedly forced to retreat and struck deals ceding militants more local authority.

Blood on Their Hands. Corruption, insufficient logistics and poor leadership meant desertions were rampant, mutinies common. They may not drive communities to support Boko Haram, but they make them less likely to offer government cooperation, as militants hide in more remote areas. Working through auxiliaries is potentially more problematic still. Institute of Peace, 20 May Foreign boots on the ground involve other challenges. There have been some successes: the French Serval operation in Mali quickly ousted al-Qaeda-linked groups from northern towns, creating space for an eventual deal between Tuareg factions and the government.

The Iraq invasion, though at first only tangentially linked to counter-terrorism, breathed new life into a global jihadist movement disoriented after the loss of Afghan sanctuaries. Even the U. In Afghanistan, U. A further influx of mostly U. As in the Iraqi surge, political failures outweighed military success: a tarnished presidential vote and potential openings for talks with Taliban leaders squandered by U. Instead, their presence has contributed to radicalisation across the region; in some Central Asian states, already threatened by the Afghan upheaval, reliance on closed regimes to keep open supply lines deepened destabilising patterns of rule.

In Somalia, too, foreign forces gave impetus to radicals. Al-Shabaab won backing from both Islamists and nationalists opposing the Ethiopian invasion in Many Somalis view troops from neighbouring countries now in the AU mission as occupiers with suspect motives, sentiments al-Shabaab, much like the Taliban, exploits. More broadly, the Afghan and Somali experiences highlight the flaws in an approach that combines building centralised state institutions with counter-insurgency but without a wider political strategy that includes reconciliation.

The military campaigns in fact work at cross-purposes, relying on local allies whose behaviour is part of the problem and, in some cases, have an interest in perpetrating insecurity. Military aid, meanwhile, has often fed corruption. In Afghanistan, the reduction in foreign forces has left some provincial capitals vulnerable to insurgents, with the U. In Mali, perhaps, and certainly against Boko Haram, military action has been necessary.

But recent history suggests governments and foreign partners have been too quick to go to war. Framing wars as struggles between governments and extremists is far too simplistic a dichotomy and overlooks complex, multi-layered and often old drivers of violence, a misdiagnosis that inevitably leads to mistakes.

Many groups prove more resilient than anticipated. Insurgents with strong bonds to communities and who tap genuine grievances that are hard to resolve quickly and military action often aggravates are difficult to uproot. Crisis Group observations, interviews and telephone interviews, Mali, January-February When force is required, too often insufficient regard is paid to its wider impact. The past decade is littered with examples of violence either deepening support for extremists or leaving communities caught between their harsh rule and brutal campaigns against them.

They perpetrate horrific acts of violence; the suicide bomber, reviled a few years ago as alien across much of the Muslim world, is now ubiquitous. Many fight, however, in conflicts in which all sides violate international law. Targeted killings are a tactic only as effective as the strategy that guides their use. They can disrupt extremist networks and potential attacks on the West across great distance and, in the case of drones, without immediate risk to U. But their greatest strength is also a weakness: by taking asymmetrical warfare to the extreme — with all risk of harm born by the target population, including non-combatants, and none by the attackers — drone strikes can destabilise local political conditions and fuel anger.

Unless they are integrated into a broader strategy to calm a conflict, their tactical gains come at a cost. Drone strikes in Yemen, for years a central component of U. The movement has weathered this, while collateral civilian deaths have fuelled anger, particularly among tribes whose support against al-Qaeda is essential, and driven anti-Western sentiment, even if not direct backing for jihadists. In Somalia, the U. Against large insurgent movements in war zones, particularly those like IS whose inner workings and command structures are opaque, the impact is particularly uncertain.

Though it may fragment some groups, in the case of a well-organised group like IS a replacement, perhaps more radical, is likely to emerge quickly. See, for example, Cockayne, Hidden Power , op. Little suggests targeted killings will help either end the conflicts jihadists fight in or decisively weaken their movements. Talking to IS- and al-Qaeda-linked groups, whether to negotiate over hostages, humanitarian access or an end to violence, poses practical and substantive challenges. There is physical danger to mediators. Leaders may hold views different from those on the front lines.

Mediators often face resistance from states that have suffered attacks. Obstacles can also be legal. Some states prohibit material support of groups designated terrorist in ways that would penalise dialogue; others ban facilitating transport of their representatives to a safe meeting place. Code B. Top IS leaders make no demands; even negotiating relief delivery with local commanders has been hard.

Though their austere social vision, including literal interpretation of the Quran, is not unique to them, ending the wars they fight in will require some degree of political and religious pluralism. At times, too, negotiations have emboldened movements with scant popular support. With hindsight, the U. According to experts with contacts in the insurgency, the Taliban was sending envoys up to Crisis Group telephone interview, March Now, Kabul and its foreign allies will have to surrender much more to persuade the Taliban to stop fighting, if indeed the movement intends to or can without fragmenting.

Reluctance to engage at the height of the war on terror has meant opportunities with al-Shabaab have been missed, too. Crisis Group interviews, mediation team members, September Crisis Group interviews, observations, Tobruk, al-Bayda, Benghazi, On occasion individuals claiming to represent Boko Haram have been dismissed by Shekau.

Instead, both sides escalated, and Boko Haram metastasised into a regional menace. But ending violence through a mediated settlement with the radical and increasingly nihilist core looks remote. Refusing in principle to engage jihadists seems an anachronism, given their prominence, the ties some enjoy to communities and the spotty records of military action against them while trying to sap their support through better governance.

Lister, Syrian Jihad , op. Contact with many groups should be approached without much expectation their core will easily move off global jihad, let alone toward peaceful political participation or Salafi quietism. Prospects are probably brighter with groups with national goals and even more so with those prepared to accept pluralism. Nor should governments themselves necessarily attempt to engage. But policymakers, certainly in Western capitals, could take advantage of often longstanding contacts between those in radical movements and others and of the engagement that already takes place, including by religious or other community leaders, non-state mediators and humanitarian groups.

All these can help shed light on dynamics within groups, facilitate humanitarian access and, in places, alleviate suffering. Although many jihadist movements have perpetrated horrific violence against civilians, the wars they fight in have featured atrocities by many other actors as well. Crimes should be dealt with through transnational justice, if feasible, not shape decisions on whether to talk. Mediators always face questions. What is the purpose of engagement? What are the risks? Will it empower unpopular hardliners at the expense of those more inclined to compromise?

Will it incur costs with others? Who is best placed to do it? Can it delegitimise the use of violence by those that do not participate? Although the answers may differ, these questions are the same for the most extreme group as for any armed movement. Particularly important now with all groups — those with transnational as well as national goals — is to monitor them as prominent forces in conflicts, not just as threats to the West; keep the door to engagement ajar; and identify and assess prospects as they arise. Opportunities to open discreet lines of communication to at least try to define whether groups have demands that could be used as the basis for talks and can be moved away from those that are irreconcilable, are usually worth pursuing.

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The recent expansion of IS and al-Qaeda-linked groups injects new urgency into conflict prevention, particularly in the belt running from West Africa to South Asia. Since such movements are likely to profit from any new crisis, and prospects for reversing their gains or ending the crisis diminish once they do, it is important to shore up states that are still standing but vulnerable. Institute of Peace, Special Report , September The plan refers to preventing, rather than countering, violent extremism, but the thinking is much the same.

Much within the CVE agenda makes sense. So, too, is its call for member states not to violate human rights as they respond. But there may be dangers in countries using CVE as the main prism through which to see threats to their stability. First, while recognising the diverse factors that can drive extremism and shifting resources toward efforts to tackle them is valuable, re-hatting efforts explicitly as CVE may be less so.

Many are worthwhile without vesting them with de-radicalisation expectations they may be unable to meet or that could undermine them. Creating jobs for youths is sensible, for example, but prevents them joining extremist groups only in some conditions. Similarly women activists should be engaged to help develop policy, not inform on their children, as has happened in places.

But branding such diplomacy as CVE adds no value. Governments should allow and protect space for diverse Muslim voices, Salafi and otherwise. During crises, support extremists may enjoy from communities is, in most cases, based less on shared values and more on what else they provide when things fall apart: protection against a hated regime, quick dispute resolution, social advancement or opportunity for profit. Chad is an example worth study. His forces spearheaded offensives that routed militants from the villages they had captured across north-eastern Nigeria. The gradual, mostly Gulf-funded encroachment of Salafism preceded Boko Haram.

As elsewhere in Africa, Sufi leaders in Chad lament ground lost, particularly with youth, to more radical Salafi imams. Boko Haram is likely to remain disruptive, particularly if Chad and its neighbours cannot offer hope to people in affected areas. Without reform, he is likely to either provoke internal instability before he departs office or leave chaos behind. More probably, jihadists, whether Boko Haram or more sophisticated North African and Sahel movements, will infiltrate and profit from any crisis, much as they have done elsewhere, even in places with little history of radicalisation.

So while African and other leaders are justifiably angry at the unregulated flow of Gulf money to intolerant preachers, focusing on that to the detriment of other sources of fragility risks missing the forest for the trees. The likeliest way IS or al-Qaeda-linked groups can capture part of the Chadian state is if it collapses in a struggle over power and resources. Vital is that measures against jihadists do not inadvertently make violent breakdown more likely by propping up exclusive, destabilising patterns of rule.

Does it refer to doctrine, tactics, outreach or aspirations? Some Western governments mostly use the label as a euphemism for the jihadists this report covers; others so classify different kinds of Islamic militants like Hamas; yet others include violent right-wing movements in Europe.

If confusing the Taliban and al-Qaeda was a mistake fifteen years ago, creating a category that might include IS, Hamas, the FARC insurgents in Colombia and right-wing extremists in the West is analytically flawed and risks setting policy on a course that allows leaders to portray their enemies as irreconcilable and lock their countries into endless wars against them. Even the movements this report discusses — among the most extreme contemporary non-state armed groups in terms of their beliefs and goals — comprise a dedicated core and then many others fighting for a diverse array of often local, non-ideological motives.

Policymakers should disaggregate even the most radical movements and look for opportunities to end violence, not lump others in with them. This leaves an empty political middle ground between the mostly development- and de-radicalisation-oriented policies usually considered part of CVE and counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency policies. The CVE agenda has value, of course — and not only as a corrective to previous mistakes. It might help in tackling IS recruitment, which in many places hinges less on imams and religion than on social media and appeals to fraternity, belonging and purpose.

It might, for example, advance de-radicalisation in prisons, a main recruitment venue, and measures to assist particularly vulnerable youth groups, a main recruitment pool. Efforts to address root causes of instability and conflict should, naturally, be redoubled; donors can usefully shift resources from military and security spending toward addressing those underlying factors. However they and governments they support should think carefully about the benefits in each case of labelling these efforts CVE.

Most of all they need to involve a wide range of people, including women, from communities affected in developing whatever policies are adopted and how they should be framed. IS provokes justifiable outrage, but blame for its rise is widely shared and should provoke introspection beside condemnation; compassion as much as revulsion.

Exactly how further expansion would play out is unclear.

The interaction between the threat jihadists pose and other sources of fragility varies from place to place. Despite their contrasting strategies, both IS and al-Qaeda have shown they can exploit cleavages along multiple lines — particularly sectarian in the case of IS, but also generational, between communities and within them, between those with power and those without. Their terrorist attacks, like those of many groups before them, aim to deepen divides, aggravate conditions that enable them to expand and provoke reactions that do the same.

What the past few years show clearly, however — especially but not only in the Middle East — is that war and state collapse are massive boons for both movements. And while either movement could itself provoke a major crisis in a new theatre, the more probable path along which either captures territory or establishes a serious presence elsewhere is by profiting from a collapse in which it initially plays no central role.

The state should press its military offensive against the jihadists but also try undercutting their appeal by improving governance and public services. It has notched military successes and made inroads among Muslim civilians by treating them better than its parent organisation and by filling gaps in governance and service delivery.

Why does it matter? The resurgence of a potent jihadist force around Lake Chad means continuing conflict for Nigeria and neighbouring states, as well as ongoing peril for civilians caught in the crossfire. What should be done?

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While the time may not seem right for comprehensive negotiations, the parties should keep channels of communication open in order to advance short-term goals like increasing humanitarian access. By filling gaps in governance and service delivery, it has cultivated a level of support among local civilians that Boko Haram never enjoyed and has turned neglected communities in the area and islands in Lake Chad into a source of economic support.

They will need to complement military action by filling the service and governance gaps that ISWAP has exploited. It digs wells, polices cattle rustling, provides a modicum of health care and sometimes disciplines its own personnel whom it judges to have unacceptably abused civilians. In the communities it controls, its taxation is generally accepted by civilians, who credit it for creating an environment where they can do business and compare its governance favourably to that of the Nigerian state.

It has also caused real pain to the Nigerian military, its primary target, overrunning dozens of army bases and killing hundreds of soldiers since August ISWAP appears to be working hard to gain greater favour from its namesake organisation, and it has obtained some support already, notably in the form of training, though it is not clear how significant a boost this will afford.

To combat impunity among the security services, they should release the report of the panel that President Muhammadu Buhari appointed in to investigate alleged military abuses and implement those recommendations that advance accountability. They should enhance public safety in towns that are under government control in Borno and neighbouring states where ISWAP is building influence. And even though negotiations to end hostilities may not be a realistic prospect at this time, they should keep lines of communication open with ISWAP, focusing on practical issues such as how to get more humanitarian assistance to local communities.

Since the early s , the jihadist armed group Boko Haram has wielded power and influence in north-eastern Nigeria and parts of adjoining states in the Lake Chad basin. In April it staged the kidnapping of schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno state. This mass abduction, which earned it global condemnation, was only one in a long series of violent incidents of striking brutality.

Yet, starting in , Boko Haram found itself under increasing pressure from the Nigerian military and its regional allies, which fed its internal divisions, causing it to shrink in power. Hide Footnote In March of that year, Boko Haram lost its self-proclaimed capital, Gwoza, to Nigerian troops, and over time, notable towns it had overrun in Borno state fell back into government hands, forcing the group back into safe havens on the periphery of Lake Chad, in the Sambisa Forest and in hills and mountains east of Gwoza.

But a year later it fractured in two. In an internal dispute reportedly led it to execute Nur, and in March , it announced that Abu Musab had been replaced by another albeit unrelated al-Barnawi, Abu Abdallah. It does not indicate kinship between the two. Neither of the two successor factions controls nearly the territory that Boko Haram once held. Their sway is limited to the marshland around and islands of Lake Chad, parts of the Mandara hills on the Nigeria-Cameroon border, and the inaccessible forests of Borno and Yobe states — terrain that provides cover from Nigerian and allied air power.

Yet the two remain potent military forces. Each is made up of a mix of ideologically motivated combatants toting AKs, watchmen bearing locally produced hunting rifles, and captives acting as ammunition carriers or weapon servants. But the numbers remain significant. Given the lack of detail about the methodologies and primary data used to generate both sets of figures, there is no ready explanation for the discrepancy. In December , it overran a major military base in Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, which the Nigerian army had recaptured in February This adaptation has allowed it to foster ties with local communities that its parent and parallel organisations never enjoyed.

The deeper it sinks its roots into the neglected communities of north-eastern Nigeria, the more difficult it may be to dislodge. The report considers what Nigerian and other government authorities are doing to provide their own governance and services and to encourage its own forces to conduct counter-insurgency operations humanely and in a manner that protects civilians.

It also makes suggestions for how they might raise their game in order to deny ISWAP the competitive advantage that it seeks. This report is based primarily on interviews carried out in December and March, October and December in Abuja and Maiduguri, supplemented by additional research conducted through May It reflects contributions from Crisis Group analysts working in all four Lake Chad countries. While it was impossible to get direct access to active jihadists, the report draws on interviews with civilians from the north east of Nigeria who are familiar with ISWAP because of the relations it has built with the local population and the fact that it allows people to move between areas it controls and Maiduguri.

Several former Boko Haram members aware of its internal politics were also interviewed, in addition to vigilantes, diplomats, religious scholars, local and federal state officials, non-governmental organisation workers, human rights activists, and international and Nigerian security experts, as well as journalists. Lastly, the report draws on the lively debates among academics who study Boko Haram. The fracturing of Boko Haram is a story of clashing personalities, military one-upmanship and political manoeuvring.

Crisis Group electronic communication, August Hide Footnote Nigerian authorities labelled Nur the mastermind of the August bombing of the UN building in Abuja, although some local sources question this claim. A Nigerian security expert and a religious scholar acquainted with Nur were sceptical of this claim. Crisis Group electronic communications, November and February It was not long before Nur and Shekau clashed.

Crisis Group electronic communications, December In late , Nur reportedly left the Sambisa enclave to establish his own camp. Shekau mentions another splinter group trying to set up camp in late or early in Falgore forest, a reserve at the juncture of Bauchi, Kano and Kaduna states. Hide Footnote The following June, the Boko Haram council shura held a reconciliation meeting in the Sambisa forest, but the effort failed. His true name is Habib Yusuf.

See Kassim and Nwankpa, op. After Nur and al-Barnawi escaped the Sambisa enclave, they consolidated their own faction in Yobe state and on the banks and islands of Lake Chad in northern Borno state. They began planning their operations. Their first major independent military operation was a 3 June attack on a Nigerien base in Bosso, a town on Lake Chad close to the Nigerian border. Crisis Group electronic communication, August ; Omar S.

Hide Footnote Shekau soon released audio and video recordings insisting that ISIS had been tricked and that he remained the leader of jihad in the region.

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Hide Footnote But the split was complete, and with a military win to its credit and the effective endorsement by ISIS under its belt, the new faction emerged with a strong hand. Although the militants who formed the new faction were united in disapproval of Shekau, there is reason to believe that they did not all see eye to eye about everything. Nur himself was in the latter camp, according to a religious scholar in direct contact with him and to someone involved in facilitating discussions between ISWAP and the state.

Immediately after the break-up, Shekau sent his troops after the dissenters, and the two factions clashed several times through the end of Local government areas are administrative subdivisions of states. Hide Footnote Some fighters still loyal to Shekau have formed a group on the Nigerien side of Lake Chad and have been particularly persistent raiders.

ISWAP later fought off the marauders and rescued the women. Crisis Group electronic communication, February While the fighting subsided relatively soon after the split, a war of words between the two groups raged until at least mid Alongside audio recordings in Hausa and Kanuri, the main local languages, the two factions put out elaborate texts in Arabic, painstakingly drawing on Islamic theology and jurisprudence to justify their respective stands and call into question — sometimes explicitly, sometimes not — those of the rival faction. While each faction bolstered its arguments with quotations from Islamic scripture and jurisprudence, their back-and-forth reveals deep practical disagreements about policy and strategy.

Hide Footnote The Arabic publications appear targeted at an international jihadist audience. Hide Footnote They were especially critical of Shekau for treating Muslims living outside Boko Haram territory as infidels and thus fair game for attack. Based on this stance, Shekau has ordered indiscriminate bombings of Muslim crowds in government-controlled areas, including at mosques and markets.

Debates about the treatment of Muslims who are not jihadist followers are a classic feature of struggles among contemporary jihadist groups. They were for a time at the heart of the dispute between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Relations with the Islamic World, Analysis Paper no. A forthcoming report will examine the issue of women returnees — some of whom were captives and others willing members — from Boko Haram territory. Hide Footnote It was particularly critical of what it characterised as the unjustified, secretive killings of several fellow senior militants whom Shekau saw as challenging his authority.

As for the materials that JAS put out, these contained a mix of defensive parrying and religious claims of its own. Both groups, however, appear to see continuing advantage in being associated with ISIS. Shekau has never renounced his pledge to al-Baghdadi. Hide Footnote More recently, JAS stepped up its outreach to the international jihadist audience with the release of several high-quality videos purporting to show its military prowess, done in ISIS style.

Hide Footnote At least two attacks in January and February reportedly involved fighters from both groups. Hide Footnote Given the bad blood between the two groups, however, full reunification seems unlikely. The presence of small numbers of visiting Arab militants was also reported about Boko Haram before the split, and Nur actually accused Shekau of having tried to kill some of them. Hide Footnote While it is possible that foreign fighters have contributed to the operational evolution that military experts have observed in ISWAP — from the use of improvised explosive devices including vehicle-borne devices with custom-made armour to new infantry tactics and quartermaster techniques — it is also possible that some or all of these were self-taught.

Some observers even suspected that the Nigerian authorities had cut a deal with ISWAP, though the existence of such a pact seems unlikely given that ISWAP began attacking military targets soon after its formation. Yet important differences also emerged between the two groups, notably in terms of targeting. Whereas JAS continued to stage raids to capture civilians and plunder their resources, terrorise crowded markets and mosques with suicide bombings, and conduct mass killings and abductions at roadblocks, ISWAP focused primarily on military targets as well as, to a lesser extent, civilian targets associated in one way or another with the state — eg, local officials, chiefs, vigilantes and suspected informers.

And while there are outliers, by and large ISWAP units seemed to make efforts to spare civilians, and they highlighted these efforts in direct contacts with the local population, as they did when they took the town of Baga in December There may also be weaknesses of command and control in ISWAP, with some groups resorting to increased predation on civilians because of a gap in resourcing by the central command.

Crisis Group interview, humanitarian expert, Dakar, April Still a third explanation for outlier incidents, such as attempted suicide bombings at mosques in Gujba local government area, Yobe state, in May , may be small groups of fighters shifting loyalties between the two main factions. After it split from Shekau, ISWAP likely suffered from weapons shortages, and frequent raids on military sites allowed it to replenish its supply. Crisis Group interview, international military expert, Abuja, March This adjustment appears to have won it both arms stockpiles and combat experience.

Since June , it used these advantages to attack larger military targets again, meeting with more success. Since then, ISWAP has waged many more such attacks on significant military sites, many of them successful. On 7 September , it overran the town of Gudumbali — the first time since that militants had seized a local government area headquarters. Consistent with its guerrilla tactics, rather than trying to hold territory, ISWAP looted the camp and left. On 26 December , it overran the twin towns of Baga and Doro Gowon, taking over major army and navy bases there.

The Nigerian army was overmatched and had little choice but to regroup. In December , it eventually evacuated all its outposts on the lake, including Kangarwa, which it had defended fiercely in Beyond these areas is a wider zone where ISWAP projects its influence via patrols, emissaries and sympathisers who criss-cross significant parts of the northern Borno countryside. Hide Footnote One telling sign of its power projection is that civilians living far from ISWAP camps occasionally feel compelled to bring back fleeing captives.

Another indicator is that residents of communities in the outer zone have been known to pay taxes to ISWAP, even when they are living close to a local government area headquarters controlled by the army. Hide Footnote Within that territory, areas of militant control are fluid but — according to aid organisations that have sought to delineate zones where the two factions hold sway — the border between ISWAP and JAS zones seems to run through the Mafa, Dikwa and Kala Balge local government areas. Agency for International Development.

Some observers think that ISWAP operates in the north of another north-eastern state, that of Adamawa, more than a hundred kilometres south of Maiduguri. Several sources report ISWAP is trying to deploy networks in Nigeria beyond the north east in classic Boko Haram fashion, notably in Taraba, Kogi and Jos states, using loans to create networks of supporters who can help for logistics. Hide Footnote Although some Western diplomats and security analysts fear ISWAP is turning its sights toward terror operations elsewhere in Nigeria or West Africa, or to mount attacks on Western interests, there is little evidence of this so far.

For the Nigerian army, the challenge has been multifaceted. On the one hand, it is facing a formidable adversary: ISWAP is more battle-ready, better trained and more rooted in the population than its parent organisation was. On the other hand, the army itself struggles to be effective. Experts describe how its troops are badly led, poorly equipped and insufficiently supplied.

Army bases are poorly fortified. Troop rotation is rare, medical evacuation capacity is feeble, coordination with air support which has occasionally been essential to repelling attacks on ground troops is weak, and senior leadership has been slow to grapple seriously with its problems. The Twitter timelines of Nigerian security experts PeccaviConsults, beegeaglesblog and DonKlericuzio are illuminating on the issue.

Soldiers have staged a few protests, and there are many reports of desertions. Its Operation Amni Fakhat April-July aimed to reoccupy key positions and begin some service delivery to populations in the lake area but achieved little; ISWAP launched a massive offensive right after the operation stopped. This time, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari canvassed neighbouring states for support in person, and troops from Chad, which had played a key part in the pushback against Boko Haram, entered deep into Borno state to participate.

After an unconvincing start including a three-month delay , there are indications that the Chadian and Nigerian troops, backed by massive air support, are making some headway, reaching a number of important sites in ISWAP core territory. What has that got to do with it? It has created a sense of security among locals that distinguishes ISWAP from its parent and parallel organisations — and from the Nigerian state, which was never very responsive in the Lake Chad basin.

Notwithstanding the draconian nature of its punishments described below , many civilians are grateful that they seem to have brought about a drop in crime. They note for instance that banditry, and particularly cattle rustling, a major problem on the lake, has disappeared from ISWAP areas.

Author, analyst and consultant on extremism J. Berger's work encompasses extremism and terrorism, propaganda, and social media analytical techniques. As a consultant for social media and security companies and government agencies, he has conducted research and training on issues related to homegrown terrorism, online extremism, advanced social media analysis, and countering violent extremism CVE. In addition to writing for The Atlantic and Politico , he has authored and co-authored several groundbreaking studies on social media analysis, including the development of metrics for measuring influence, community detection and detecting the use of manipulative tactics online.

Many claimed he was secretly Jewish, or in thrall to Jewish interests.

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Others saw him as a blowhard and egomaniac, a mercenary who was out only for himself. This is the story of how Trump won not only their votes but, eventually, their enthusiasm. Louis Beam's essay on "Leaderless Resistance" outlined a decentralized strategy for terrorist and extremist groups that has been widely adopted around the world. As written, the strategy was untenable -- it relied on wrong assumptions and a social environment that didn't exist, and it failed to result in any meaningful progress for the movement.

But the emergence of social media has created space for a new wave of leaderless attacks, as seen in Christchurch, Pittsburgh, Poway, El Paso and beyond. A look at how the changing world has -- and has not -- rescued a bad strategy from the dustbin of history. Full story at The Atlantic.