Over the last twenty years one of the biggest challenges for the United States was to know and understand the enemy seeking to attack us. The purpose of this blog is to highlight some of those challenges and provide insight and ideas to help those seeking a better understanding and knowledge in positioning the United States to be better able to deal with the continued challenges we face. The terrorists we face today have learned lessons over the last twenty years and are an ever changing enemy.
Twenty years ago few in the United States paid little attention to Al Qaeda. When political leaders were briefed on Al Qaeda back then one had to wonder whether it was sheer negligence or ignorance that guided decisions and often a lack of decisions. We still see some of the same challenges today. Today terrorist groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab,the Taliban, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Ansar al Sharia Brigade, and Jabhat al Nusrah all pose different threats to the United States, our citizens and our way of life.
The Chinese General Sun Tzu in The Art of War stated:
“if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
While many are familiar with Sun Tzu’s quote I am always surprised how little government, military, law enforcement and intelligence officers know of the enemy-from what terrorists have said, what terrorists have written and the ideology that motivates them. I have also seen others who have a detailed knowledge that is nothing less than impressive.We must gain this knowledge and understanding sooner than later. If one was to combine the understanding that Sun Tzu preached about with the decisiveness of General Ulysses S. Grant our enemies would be scattered like the wind. General Grant stated:
“The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him hard as you can, and keep moving on.”
While some have criticized the number of stings the FBI have conducted on terrorists here in the United States, I believe this is exactly what Grant advised.
In March 2003, as Marines of the 1st Division waited for the order to cross the Line of Departure to attack Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq, General Mattis issued a message to all hands. Two important concepts were part of the message General Mattis felt was important to communicate to all his Marines.
“You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.”
General Mattis showed the importance of using one’s brain to defeat the enemy even before using a weapon. General Mattis was an aggressive Marine General on the order of Chesty Puller. But Mattis was also one of the most well-read Marine Commanders always seeking to gain an understanding of the enemy in order to be able to soundly defeat him. I know of another great leader who passed out reading materials for his guys as they flew to Afghanistan after September 11th. Great leaders are always looking for an advantage and knowing and understanding the enemy is the first step for success.