29th August 2017 14:43:53 Hours
In the Day 2 morning sessions at the Colombo Defence Seminar, the panelist, Major General Roger J. Noble, Deputy Commanding General - North for the Headquarters, United States Army Pacific under the subject, ‘US Army Strategies related to Countering Violent Extremism within the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region’ in his brief presentation cautioned that as the Pacific Commander Admiral Harris has once quipped; (quote) ‘We must stop them at the front end and not the back end when the threat can become more dangerous. But we cannot do it alone. To halt [the VEO] cancerous spread, we must work together with like-minded nations in the region and across the globe.’ Therefore, there is no place for complacency in the face of these 21st Century challenges which only reinforce the central tenant of the proactive US approach as explained above in soldier’s language.
Here follows the full text of his presentation to the panel discussion;
“This conference and the nations and organizations represented here attests to the reach and threat posed by Violent Extremist Organizations (VEO) across the Indo-Asia Pacific and globally. Few nations are immune from the threat. I went to school in Sydney and if you had asked me 17 years ago whether that city would ever be subject toviolent extremist attacks I would have thought the chances to be laughably low; I was wrong and VEO are a real and immediate concern for Sydney as they are for Djkarta, Dhaka, Marawi, Ottowa, San Bernadino and many other of our best loved places. Few locations are immune. This is an unavoidable aspect of the world and the region of 2017 in which we live.
VEO fundamentally threaten and target the good governance of sovereign nations.They are often simultaneously a local, national, regional and/or transnational threat. Given Coalition success in both Iraq and Syria there are nowincreased concerns for a return of fighters into our region that must be taken seriously and countered. For example, we have observed the application of the ISIS methodology recently in Marawi in the southern Philippines that incorporate fighters from multiple backgrounds, nationalities and affiliations.
Despite the diversity of the many VEO they do exhibit similarities in narrative, method and purpose that, while always requiring context and case specific understanding, make them vulnerable to a comprehensive counter strategy. From their core narratives and appeal to their tactics, techniques and procedures the good news is they can be countered, degraded, reduced, disrupted and ultimately defeated. Recent history would suggest, however, that achieving these objectives is rarely simple, cheap, easy or risk free but there is light at the end of the tunnel/tunnels.
A Summary of US Strategy
The nature of the threat therefore determines the nature of the US strategy solution; to quote the US JCS, GEN Dunford - ‘ISIS is a trans-regional threat and we have a global approach.’ The US global approach is founded on the essential need for multi-national and multi-level inter-agency collaboration, cooperation and shared commitment. Secretary Mattis explained it concisely; ‘I emphasize this is a Coalition effort …. united in opposition, sharing intelligence providing troops and funds for combat and, of no less importance, for the post-combat recovery.’ Central is effective vertical and lateral local, regional, national and international integration to defeat this threat. This strategy in execution requires determination, good will, theacceptance of risk, clear and sustained communication plus a deep capacity to listen and learn. A foundation enabler for this strategy is to grow, reinforce and support the network of like-minded leaders, nations, actorsand organizations represented here at this conference and beyond.
The US Military Contribution
As one line of effort, the US military contribution is to adopt a comprehensive approach to both directly and indirectly counter and defeat VEO actions and operations in close cooperation with our partners. This can and does include the provision of direct military capabilities to directly operate against VEO or to support the operations of our partners and allies against common threats.
The military strategy however extends well beyond direct action and combat operations to the sharing of intelligence and perhaps more importantly knowledge about the threat and how to defeat it. We work, as a joint and inter-agency US team, closely with our partners and allies to reinforce and improve institutional professional capacity to successfully counter VEO. In a practical sense this translates into exercises, exchanges, subject matter expert teams, courses and education, capability, professional and institutional development, senior leader engagements and combined planning with a multitude of nations regionally and globally.
This is not an effort locked on transmit. We aim to share and increase our own US understanding and readiness to counter the threats to the United States by learning and understanding from our friends and their experiences. For example, our Sri Lankan hosts here have a deep professional military experience in countering IEDs and de-mining operations that are relevant to our own US requirements and problem set.
I will give you a few practical contemporary US land force examples of the US military strategy in execution. Example one is US attendance at this conference is one part of the strategyand is just one of multiple engagements focused on the sharing of thinking, ideas and the intellectual framework for countering VEO. The US believes that leader engagement and relationship building is a key component of the US military strategy as it underpins our capacity to work together effectively. Trust and understanding arethe currency of effective collaboration.
A second more significant example is the generation of collaborative professional and forums that focus on defeating the threat. One example is the SOCPAC hosted Multilateral Counter Violent Extremist Working Group last held in April 2017 in Guam. This is one example of an important working group that now involves 9 nations after having begun in 2013 with just three countries participating. In this forums a wide range of issues are discussed including cooperation between regional actors across national and organizational seams, understanding and countering the process of radicalization and the design of collaborative solutions to counter and prevent violent extremism.
A third specific example is an important US Army contribution focused on defeat of a preferred VEO tactic – the employment of Improvised Explosive Devices [IEDs]. It is one indicative example of the many US military engagements focused on countering VEO tactics, methods and techniques. The US Army Pacific Asia Pacific Counter IED Fusion Center operates across the region with multiple nations, forces and organizations to understand and defeat the IED threat. This one activity reflects the strategic approach. The APCFC activities include sharing intelligence and knowledge, data analysis and exploitation, training and education, capability development and the sharing of the ‘Defeat the Network’ intellectual framework the US applies against VEO employment of these horrendous and destructive weapons.
The Future - Counter VEO in the 21st Century
My final point is highlight a key lesson that the US has learned; this is that the counter VEO fight is never static and that it takes place in a rapidly evolving operational and informational context. We know we must learn and adapt and we know that if we do it together we will do it more quickly and effectively.
One obvious challenge is dealing with the contemporary physically unconstrained connected informational environment. All indicators suggest the connections will continue to grow and expand quickly and globally. VEO operate, communicate, message and maneuver in this domain and their operations in this realm are critical to their appeal, effectiveness and survival. We need to work together to learn how to operate in the world of continuous social media and 24/7 global connectivity.
My own experience in 2016 in Iraq taught me how quickly operations in the modern world are changing and how critical it is to understand this if we are to proactively counter VEO narrative, appeal and effectiveness. ISIS or DAESH in Iraq 2016 was high end VEO threat who were organized, ruthless, innovative and information and audience savvy. Their tactical defeat has required large scale conventional joint offensive maneuver [at division level and above] executed inside a sophisticated Iraqi led and Coalition supported ‘whole-of-nation’ and international approach. More capabilities than ever before - military and non-military, kinetic and non-kinetic, interagency, multi-national and international - can and are now globally sourced and applied tactically, operationally and strategically, often simultaneously.
The real practical challenge is to apply all capabilities, in all domains, in a coherent synchronized, integrated and/or aligned way that targets VEO vulnerability and reinforces friendly legitimacy, credibility and appeal. This is very hard. This remains a work in progress constantly evolving with the real world.
The US Army with the USMC is working on a concept and approach to fighting in the 21st Century. Watch this space for ‘Multi-Domain Battle’.
There is no place for complacency in the face of these 21st Century challenges which only reinforces the central tenant of the proactive US approach as explained in soldier’s language by our sailor Pacific Commander, Admiral Harris:
‘We must stop them at the front end and not the back end when the threat can become more dangerous. But we cannot do it alone. To halt [the VEO] cancerous spread, we must work together with like-minded nations in the region and across the globe,’ Major General Noble concluded.