“Tactical excellence does not automatically transform into strategic success.”
So says Dima Adamsky (of Harvard and of an IDF-associated think tank) who has a wonderful article in the latest Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. It’s entitled “Jihadi Operational Art: The Coming Wave of Jihadi Strategic Studies.”
Adamsky comes down on the side of those who suggest that the Salafi jihadists are becoming substantially less centralized, that they are moving in the direction of leaderless jihad, a la Abu Musab al-Suri. On the one hand, such approach has advantages in terms of survivability. In fact, that was the original concern motivating the development of the idea of leaderless resistance. On the otherhand, it’s hard to get much done; it’s hard to advance toward the movement’s positive strategic goals.
Adamsky suggests that the development of a common body of thought would solve this problem for the jihadists. This common body of thought would be operational art. This operational art might emerge purposely or as a result, simply of Darwinian evolution. Citing, among other things, my work, he observes that the Salafi jihadist movement has undergone substantial ideological and military-strategic evolution (adaptation, as military historians and strategic studies analysts might call it) over time. Why should this evolution not come to include operational art? In support of this suggestion, he notes a substantial Clausewitzian strain of thought in jihadist works. Furthermore, he notes that the jihadists’ intelligence and targeting practices evidence a search for “maximum utility of force.” Another prerequisite for operational art is, he suggests, is “military science.” This has been hard to find in jihadist literature, but he argues that al-Suri may have started to create this science.
There is more to this article, but hopefully this should whet your appetite. It is well worth a read.
My only concern about the piece is Adamsky’s use of S.K. Malik’s Quranic Concept of War. This book has received significant attention in the West. (See also here and here.) That said, in my reading of Salafi jihadist literature I can’t off-hand recall ever having seen him mentioned. Certainly I can say with confidence that he doesn’t loom large in those works. He also does not appear in the Militant Ideology Atlas. This small objection aside, I can only hope that we see further research of this quality on the Salafi jihadists and their thinking about war and violence.