Thursday, March 09, 2006
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported an item of news unlikely to get much attention in the American and European press: the expansion of "deprogramming" techniques, which have already proved successful in Indonesia, Pakistan and the UK to terrorist malefactors caught in Australia. At a stroke the story reveals the outlines of a hitherto unreported endeavor waged without much notice in the back corners of the War on Terror.
The idea of treating the Jihad like a mental disease or lunatic cult may sound like an innovative approach. But in war, probably more than any other profession save one, the new is very, very old. An old but fascinating document describing the approaches developed by Colonel Edward Landsdale to suppress a Communist insurgency in the Philippines on a shoestring budget will remind the reader how dirty and cunningly fought the Long War was. Historians may have called it the "Cold War" but those in it shot real bullets and died very permanent deaths. After the Second World War Communist hit squads were swarming all over the island of Luzon in a battle to seize power that gave no quarter and showed no mercy. Facing them were a bunch of American and Filipino officers who built what in later years was nostalgically referred to as the Army of MacArthur and Magsaysay; men who slept on canvas cots and made up tactics and weapons as they went along. The Terry-and-the-Pirates atmosphere is illustrated by the way they cooked up their own napalm.
Since the Philippines was independent country by then, the American advisors had to substitute influence for authority to manage the battle. One man, Colonel Ed Landsdale, knew that he had to make the new Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay part of the team, and not just the target of a briefing, when he arrived to advise him on counterinsurgency operations.
Operating without much supervision from Washington (Max Boot would probably approve), Landsdale and his team understood that the first order of business was to professionalize the indigenous Army and stop its abuses. Magsaysay, with Landsdale at his elbow, embarked on cleaning out the Filipino armed forces. That accomplished, they began to turn the enemy against themselves. They started by creating associations of ex-insurgents. To paraphrase Australian Federal Police Commissioner Keelty, they attracted the enemy with "somebody they would have otherwise looked up to as a natural leader, in terms of a terrorist, and they've turned him around and used him to convert the others ... And not only convert the others, but also to provide a significant amount of information". Landsdale was "deprogramming" in 1950; but went a step further. He formed units to impersonate the enemy.
In those days before RFID chips, GPS and miniaturized communications devices, infiltrating a Huk stronghold called for large degree of intestinal fortitude. And when in trouble, how would agents call for help? Agents communicated with Landsdale's men through the Stone Age technique of leaving objects in certain configurations so they could be spotted by L-5 observation aircraft making apparently random patrols over the area. "The two open windows indicate that there is an enemy concentration approximately 200 strong in the area. The position of the animal tied in the yard in relation to the house indicates the direction of the enemy concentration, The open gate indicates that the enemy are planning to stay in this area." And Landsdale did treat the Communist insurgency like a cult. Consider his "vampire" tactics.
Landsdale was death; he made the enemy fear his men more than it would fear Stalin himself.
In his early counterinsurgency career, Landsdale extensively used counter-terror as a weapon. Huks were bayoneted in full view of their supporters. Enemy casualties were piled in trucks, their arms and legs artfully made to overhang the edges of the truck, and the vehicles were ostentatiously driven though rebel strongholds. He created hit squads to take out key enemy cadres. After he had gotten the upper hand and Magsaysay was elected to the Presidency, the counterinsurgency campaign cleaned up its act. But today's readers will find it astounding and not a little disturbing to realize at what price the Cold War victories were won while civilians slept unmindful in their beds. Landsdale described the mayhem in a private diary whose account read differently from his subsequent sanitized history of events.
Leafing through history, one realizes that it is possible to write an account of warfare without mentioning a single weapons system other than the human mind. The reader can try to expunge from the tale all reference to the human heart, but in vain: for man is at the center of warfare. His will is its ultimate prize; his broken body its ultimate currency. In that light the "deprogramming" efforts of the Australian Federal Police in the dingy corners of the world are simply a return of warfare to its roots. The jihadis want our souls; the rule in warfare is that we will want theirs.
posted by wretchard at 2:59 AM | 215 comments
Love that Belmont Club.
But will it work with all Jihidi or just non Middle Easterners who probably are recent converts- and who really ARE taking to Islam in the same manner as others have taken to wierd cults in the past?
Will it work with someone from a country where Islam is the Majority religion, and has been for a long time as opposed to somewhere where its a minority and/or new?