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Behavioural Conflict Blog

Why Understanding People And Their Motivations Will Prove Decisive In Future Conflict

ISIS - What's to be done?


The televised beheading of James Foley is a disgusting and evil act of murder that has rightly brought global condemnation including from many muslim organisations.  But sadly there is also support and you don’t have to go far on the web to find it, as this link shows (beware - some distressing images).


Aside from the web there are also leaflets being distributed in UK cities in support of the IS.


But lets be clear. IS lives in a world where it has [almost] no international friends, and, for now, it seeks none.  That’s an important point to keep in mind when we think about its long term survival. It is one thing to behead innocent journalists, quite another to actually stand up an entire nation.     

Reading the news paper coverage of events its depressingly easy to lose sight of the real issue - what is to be done - amongst all the political rhetoric.  Was ISIS born from the west’s failure in Iraq? Possibly.  Did we inadvertently encourage it in supporting the FSA in Syria?  Again, quite possibly.  Is UK strategy  a mess?  Probably not in our view but clearly many feel it is - certainly the Labour Party takes that view. Should we put boots on the ground?  Well we have done!  We have advisers there, we have a Defence Attache, we had some troops in Kurdistan for a bit.  The term is an over-used cliche. Will we put infantry on the ground to engage in direct combat? Probably not, but it can’t be ruled out.  What is clear is that the situation is incredibly fast moving and its is no surprise that our collective response will need to be just as agile. So, will UK policy evolve to meet the threat? For sure.

But what is to be done?  Clearly a kinetic military response is already happening. At the moment its drones and airstrikes. I would guess that Special Forces are also probably on the ground someplace too but we will never know for certain nor should we.  But as we have shown in the book, military force only gets you so far.  

Chairman of the Defence Committee, Rory Stewart MP, told Radio 4 that we don’t understand enough about the situation. Not the weapons they use, or where their forces are, or who their leadership is. We know that. stuff. We will probably know the identity of Foley’s english murderer soon such is the sophistication of our intelligence apparatus. But what we don’t know, just as with AQ in Iraq in 2005/6, with the Taliban in Afghanistan, is  what are the behavioural motivations for IS and for the people caught up in the conflict ecosystem in which they are operating.  Sure, a great many will be ideologues but there will be a host of other groupings in there as well.  We have to understand that because that information gives  us leverage and influence.   The Sunni uprising against AQ in Iraq was never predicted or expected yet it had a huge impact on the situation on the ground.  What are the chances of that happening again?  Given the sunni disenfranchisement in Iraq I fear they chances may be good but we simply don’t know.  This vital Population Intelligence (POPINT) is missing just as it was in Iraq in 2003 and in Afghanistan.  

Missing does not mean it does not exist however. It does and we write about the remarkable process of Target Audience Analysis (TAA). For sure we need that now to start combatting IS: to understand behaviours actually on the ground; to understand the motivations for their wealthy Sunni donors; to understand the motivations for British recruits.

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