After spending considerable research time in the field with Islamic guerrillas and the Communist New Peoples Army (NPA) in the Philippines in the 1980s, I feel I can comment with some authority as to the type of warfare the ISL militants are waging and how the West can most effectively combat this form of warfare. For some time in the 1980s, I was behind the lines with the Moro National Liberation Front in Mindanao, and then spent some time interviewing and then being a 'captive' (until they left) of an NPA 'Sparrow' squad - perhaps better know an as an assassination team in the slums of Manila. Both these groups were fighting the US-backed Marcos regime. Today both these movements would be certainly regarded as 'terrorist' groups according to popular definitions, and at this level both groups certainly were. They both used indiscriminate terror tactics particularly the 'sparrow' assassination squads murdering any supporters of the Marcos regime. However, on a deeper level it is important to understand this. Both these groups were waging what they called 'Peoples War' - or 'asymmetrical warfare', wherein the main weapon is psychological warfare (psyops) not conventional military action. Guerrilla/terrorist movements understand they cannot match major powers with conventional military tactics so they use terrorist tactics to undermine the support base of such states - i.e. the people's popular support of a government's actions. Hence fear is spread by indiscriminate assassinations/beheadings, bombings etc. to turn popular opinion against a government's war on such movements. This is exactly the nature of the warfare the Vietnamese used against the US - it used Peoples War to turn US popular support against the Vietnam War, And now in 2014, ISL will increasingly wage this form of terrorist war against Western support bases (the people) supporting US, French , Australian actions, etc.) And understand this - this form of psychological warfare cannot be stopped by police, armed forces, and/or security agencies of any dimension in Western democracies using moral, 'legal ' or any other Western accepted 'legitimate' means of waging violence. So what is the answer? How do we combat such warfare? The West must look to the past to the extremely covert, illegal, 'dirty war' strategy waged by the Reagan Administration in the 1980s against revolutionary governments in Nicaragua, etc. and revolutionary movements in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, the Philippines and elsewhere. Known as Low Intensity Conflict (LIC), this strategy was developed by security agencies in the US based on the lessons learnt from Vietnam. However, it was extremely covert because it was an affront to all Western standards of civilised warfare(if there can be such a thing) as it challenged all Western standards of morality and international law. LIC was murderous, brutal, immoral, totally illegal, covert but above all totally successful. Basically the US strategy of LIC involved waging 'peoples war' against 'the revolution'. On one major level (as one pillar of Reagan's 'Contragate'), apart from propaganda, it involved US backed mercenaries and others including US servicemen, using terror tactics against any movements or government the Reagan administration wanted destroyed. And ultimately being so effective globally, it can be regarded as one major factor in the US victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War and the latter's subsequent collapse. In short it involved US backed, financed , trained and supplied mercenary armies and death squads assassinating, torturing, beheading, drugging not just combatants, but civilians, etc, all elements of a brutal dirty war to spread fear and terrorise the support base - the people supporting the movements or governments it opposed. To wage LIC is now the only answer to combating and defeat ISL. However the Catch 22 is exactly this - the West must use totally immoral, brutal, deadly tactics on ISL forces that they are waging brutal war against us. But can the West do this and still pretend to uphold democratic values, support human rights and international law? No it can't! With the threat we are now facing in the form of a murderous radical chapter of an anti-Western ideology our very survival means we can no longer pay lip service to such values when dealing with 'them', if we wish for 'us' (those of the Western world) to survive. So perhaps many would argue it is now time we must adopt Machiavellian tactics and adopt ruthless murderous terror tactics when dealing with ISL and the Caliphate's international supporters. If it can be argued that the end justifies the means - we must adopt LIC - and adopt murderous immoral tactics in the short term to ensure a moral, just and civilized world that embraces human rights and the rule of law will survive. Such action can be seen as both our dilemma but also salvation. And exactly whose God is going to judge us in the end?
Dr Ivan Molloy (retired academic)