by Austin Bay
August 19, 2008One reason the debate question, "Is terrorism warfare or crime?" irks me
is that it is patently both.
Take Colombia's sad experience as a particularly prima facie example. All
but the most ritually blind Marxists now concede Colombia's "leading insurgent
army," the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is a narcotics cartel
with a residual political agenda. Of course they wouldn't mind being the
Colombian government, which may or may not differentiate them from American
mafiosos, but during the decades of Colombia's heinous violence, whatever social
idealism powered FARC has decayed. In Colombia, Marx became Murder Inc.
The Colombian people knew it. In early February 2008, The New York Times
quoted a Colombian citizen who was participating in an anti-FARC demonstration
held in downtown Bogota. "The FARC made themselves into criminals a long time
ago," declared Martin Orozco, identified by the reporter as a surgeon. "We are
simply tired of this (i.e., FARC's violence)."
In some ways, this is old truth rediscovered the hard way. There's often
a fine law between smuggling and rebellion -- the line is there but thin. The
Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) -- which became a de facto ally of the United
States and NATO in 1999 -- had intimate connections with Balkan smugglers and
organized criminal groups. This intelligence analyst's rule of thumb holds true
for Macedonia, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, Chad, Sudan and
It certainly holds true for Iraq, where small crimes empower al-Qaida's
mass murder. In an interview last week, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of
Multi-National Force-Iraq, told me: "We have, in fact, put considerable emphasis
on how al-Qaeda, in Iraq, generates resources. And they do it, again, like a
mafia does, that we would be familiar with. It's through extortion of successful
businesses; extortion of money for protection rackets, or what have you;
insisting that a cell phone business, for example, give them a cut of their
profits or they'll blow the cell phones down -- cell phone towers down; taking a
cut out of the cement business, the real estate business, the financial
businesses and so forth."
The "special groups," which connect to Iran, also connect to local crime
in Iraq. More often than not, Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Militia operated as a
criminal gang in neighborhoods it controlled in eastern Baghdad and southern
Iraq. Again, this isn't news. In August 2004, I had open source reports cross my
desk in Baghdad where Iraqis referred to the Mahdi Militia as "gangsters." Don't
blame that on translation from the Arabic to English. I personally heard an
Iraqi describe Sadr's militia as criminals.
Stopping the crimes financing the terrorists won't defeat terrorist
organizations. However, focused counter-crime operations will crimp their
finances and, to use a term I heard a police counter-terror officer use,
"pressurize" the terrorists' environment. Petraeus' "Anaconda Strategy" in Iraq
employs a number of anti-crime measures and anti-corruption measures, each one
applying pressure to a terrorist organization.
The Taliban tried a similar cell phone tower extortion racket, but it
backfired. StrategyPage reported on June 15 that the Taliban were expanding
"their extortion campaign, demanding that businesses pay 'protection money' to
avoid being attacked" and an effort by the Taliban "to control cell phone use
has quickly evolved into just another extortion campaign."
In several rural areas in Afghanistan, the Taliban launched a campaign to
shut down cell phone service at night. However, tribes in the area (who are
often pro-Taliban) wanted "the cell phone service in order to stay in touch with
friends, family and the few government services that are available." The Taliban
attacks angered the tribes, which "demanded that night service be restored. It
was. But then, noting that there were several cell phone companies operating in
southern Afghanistan, the Taliban went to the different companies and offered
not only 'protection,' but damage to a competitor, for a price."
There is a case to be made that the Taliban's strategic depth isn't
Pakistani territory. Sure, tribal connections protect the Taliban, but money
powers the organization, and increasingly that money comes from criminal
enterprise and specifically the opium trade.