National Security

Defeating ISIS and Radical Islamic Terrorism (RIT): Series Overview

By Ex Umbra:  

This article presents an overview for a series of forthcoming articles that offers considerations for the US government (USG) as it develops a new plan to defeat ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or Daesh in the Middle East). President Donald J. Trump (POTUS) promulgated a National Security Memorandum entitled “Plan to Defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” on January 28, 2017.

This presidential memorandum tasked the Secretary of Defense (SecDef), James Mattis, in coordination with designated cabinet members, “to develop a comprehensive strategy and plans for the defeat of ISIS. … [provide the plan] within 30 days” (presumably, by February 27, 2017). The major tasks included in the Presidential Memorandum are:

(A) a comprehensive strategy and plans for the defeat of ISIS;

(B)  recommended changes to any United States rules of engagement and other United States policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law regarding the use of force against ISIS;

(C)  public diplomacy, information operations, and cyber strategies to isolate and delegitimize ISIS and its radical Islamist ideology;

(D)  identification of new coalition partners in the fight against ISIS and policies to empower coalition partners to fight ISIS and its affiliates;

(E)  mechanisms to cut off or seize ISIS’s financial support, including financial transfers, money laundering, oil revenue, human trafficking, sales of looted art and historical artifacts, and other revenue sources; and

(F)  a detailed strategy to robustly fund the Plan.

This initial “jump-start” planning precedes and shapes a fully coordinated (throughout the USG), funded, and formal operational plan (OPLAN) that is the intermediate step toward an eventual president-approved execute order (ExOrd). Consider this presidential memorandum the first spiral of a multiple-spiral development process. A spiral of development addresses all the process steps within the plan development process; however, each subsequent spiral further refines the details until a comprehensive plan with “branches (options and ‘what if?’ contingencies) and sequels (anticipated responses by the US, ISIS, and relevant stakeholders)” is accomplished.

Make no mistake in thinking that this initial presidential memorandum addresses the full spectrum of defeating ISIS and RIT. This is a very strong initial step. The framework that this writer suggests, however, offers a much more comprehensive and long-term approach to defeating ISIS and RIT.

The spiral approach is appropriate considering that the new Trump Administration has been in office for over a week and have just confirmed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. My estimate is that the more comprehensive “National Security Strategy of the United States” (NSS) document is being developed in parallel and in spirals.

The POTUS’ determinative NSS policy document traditionally outlines, among other issues, the vital and major interests of the US. It is evident that the defeat of ISIS is an emerging vital interest of the US. The NSS is the equivalent of the Trump Administration’s “Grand Strategy.” It is the very foundational document for driving priorities and resources among the range of competing vital and major interests of the POTUS.

Once the NSS is completed, then, the more comprehensive and long-term “Defeat ISIS OPLAN” can be completed. It would be wise to complete the NSS and the second spiral of the “Defeat ISIS OPLAN” before the April 2017 mid-fiscal-year budget review (and hopefully, with a budget supplemental from Congress). In parallel to this Fiscal Year-17 effort, it would be wise for the Trump Administration to engage Congress during the “mark-up” of the proposed Fiscal Year-18 budget submission. This will ensure funds to implement OPLANs to defeat ISIS. Vital and major interests without serious funding are just wishful thinking.

If the POTUS’ national security team has a clear vision and understanding of the POTUS’ Grand Strategy, then the “Defeat ISIS OPLAN” will be more realistic—in its concept, timeline, and required resources.

ISIS is a major threat to the American people because it has global reach with its violence. Not only has ISIS killed more than 2000 people worldwide during its short existence, it has killed hundreds in the US. It does not matter whether it is “ISIS-inspired” terrorism or ISIS itself—the results are horrific acts of terrorism that kill Americans. Remember the Orlando night club massacre, the NY City/New Jersey bombings, the Boston Marathon bombers, the San Bernardino Christmas party attack, the Chattanooga Military Recruiting Station attack, the Fort Hood massacre, and scores of smaller-scale terrorist attacks in America.

OpsLens will write a series of four articles during the next two weeks regarding considerations that the Trump Administration might ponder in framing this emerging “Defeat ISIS OPLAN.” In each of the four articles, one of the four fundamental components of the proposed “Defeat ISIS and RIT” framework will be addressed:

  1. Attack and defeat ISIS and RIT.
  2. Defend and protect the US homeland and interests.
  3. Counter the combative ideology and illegitimacy of RIT.
  4. Influence Islam to reform itself from within itself regarding RIT.

OpsLens’ goal is to jump-start and provoke meaningful and constructive discussions among the notable subject-matter experts on these vital RIT matters.

I will briefly describe the four components of this strategic framework in this overview article. I will address, in more detail, the four components, represented in the chart above, with the numbers embedded via separate articles in the series of articles.

Before I directly address the four numbered components, let me quickly address these USG imperatives: command and control of plans and execution; team-building among the contributing organizations—USG and “Coalition of the Willing Nations”; OPLAN coordination, integration, and synchronization across the USG and the Coalition; and the absolute requirement for strict operational security (OPSEC) for these plans.

NATO will be an excellent starting point in quickly organizing a coalition. ISIS’ attacks across Europe are already causing most NATO nations to address the ISIS/RIT problem. Any increase in member nations’ funding will probably occur first in the anti- or counter-terrorism domain.

As the above depicts, the #1 component is the “Attack ISIS” basket of strategic- and operational-level plans, programs, and actions. I will discuss the details in my upcoming “Defeat ISIS and RIT: Part I” article. I will focus, among other things, on defeating ISIS in Iraq, Syria, and the Middle East. I will discuss systematically defeating ISIS from a “functional defeat” approach.

Component #2 is the “Defend the US Homeland and Coalition Allies: Part II” article. I will address, among other things, the “surge and special intelligence” approach required to defeat ISIS. This part of the intelligence approach will require addressing the “home-grown and radicalized” terrorist threat. This component will discuss the need for dramatic new processes, methods, and technology—for law enforcement organizations, the intelligence community, and the military. “Cell phone to cell phone” fund transfers and commercially available 512-bit encryption hurdles must (and can) be overcome.

Component #3 is the “Counter Radical Islamic Terrorism’s Evil and Illegitimate Ideology: Part III” article. I will address how to seriously engage and overcome the social media phenomenon. Also, I will promote the need for a serious counter-ISIS/RIT propaganda program.

Component #4 is the “Influence Islam to Reform Itself from Within: Part IV” article. This article will address how Muslim refugees are vetted and asked to assimilate within their new host countries, as well as how peaceful Muslims must denounce violent jihad on innocents as a form of political expression.

I expect to post the series of articles every few days during the next two weeks. We do not have all the answers. Let us contribute by offering serious suggestions for the USG’s planning process. Remember the old motto: “I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. By the grace of God, what I can do, I shall do.”

Ex Umbra—a pen name, used for the security of an experienced senior counterterrorist operative currently working outside of the US government



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