Murphy's Law: August 21, 2003


"Order of Battle Analysis" is a fancy term for keeping track of the world's armed forces and what they have in terms of troops and equipment. Since many nations keep details of their armed forces secret, this kind of analysis contains a lot of guesswork. When it comes to non-national forces (revolutionary groups or factions in a civil war), even more guess work is involved. Actually, more than guessing is in play when it comes to sorting out NGAFs (Non-Governmental Armed Forces.) NGO (Non-Governmental Organizations) outfits that provide aid to war torn areas tend to exaggerate the strength of the local NGAFs, as that increases the chances of peacekeepers being sent in. This is often a matter of life and death, as NGAFs have found that they can threaten and intimidate the unarmed NGOs into providing aid for them. If that doesn't work, the NGAFs just take the stuff at gunpoint. 

Journalists also tend to exaggerate the size of NGAFs. It makes for a more exciting story and, as any editor will tell you, this attracts more eyeballs. And the more eyeballs you get, the more money and Pulitzer Prizes come your way.

Increasingly, NGAFs usually contain some people who understand how this works. Not that NGAFs need any encouragement to exaggerate their size. The bigger you appear, the more local civilians, NGOs, other NGAFs and peacekeepers will fear you. In reality, most NGAFs are little more than bandits with a fax machine and an astute press agent. One current example is the ANA (Albanian National Army.) This NGAF is, according to their press releases,  fighting to unite all the Albanian peoples in the Balkans (who reside mainly in Albania, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece) into one "Greater Albania." Naturally, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece are rather put off by this objective. Even Albania is not very enthusiastic about it, as that nation is bankrupt, split by clan feuds and dependent on foreign aid just to survive. Getting tagged as a "foreign aggressor" (with designs on neighbor's territory) is sure to drive off foreign donors. 

So the ANA, which locals estimate is literally about 200 guys with guns, plus a few front men armed with fax machines and press releases, continues their little war. The ANA formed after the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) and the NLA (the National Liberation Army of Macedonia) disbanded in the last few years. Foreign aid donors basically bribed the KLA and NLA to stop the violence and try just politics for a while. But a number of KLA and NLA veterans preferred to stick with guns and violence. And they have, wandering around Kosovo, Serbia and Macedonia killing Serbs and releasing manifestos justifying their depredations. Most Albanians are, for the moment, not really interested in more violence. But the longer the ANA keeps at it, the larger they will appear in the eyes of the media. 

Some NGAFs have made themselves so unpopular that they often don't take credit for their mayhem. Examples of this can be seen in many terrorist organizations. Al Qaeda is a prime example. For many years, there was no mass media that would act as a cheerleader for al Qaeda. But then satellite news network al Jazeera adopted al Qaeda as the poster boy for Arab liberation. All of a sudden, al Qaeda had a sounding board, and the press releases and such began to flow. But sometimes attacks are so unpopular, like the destruction of the UN headquarters in Iraq, or, initially, the September 11, 2001 aircraft attacks in the United States, that no one will take credit publicly. 

And to this day, no one has any accurate idea of how large al Qaeda is. Looking at the past, we can see similar organizations and what their size eventually was revealed to be. There were the Anarchists of a century ago, who, true to their creed, had little organization at all. But there were thousands of "cells" of Anarchists, it turned out, and most of them just sat around and talked. They, in effect, got a buzz going, and that made the "organization" seem a lot larger than they actually were. Next came the "International Communist Conspiracy." This was a rather large operation, because it was sponsored (first officially, then unofficially) by the Soviet Union. Again, when the Cold War ended, it was revealed that most members of the "International Communist Conspiracy" were either communist bureaucrats pushing paper (plus guns, "how to" manuals and some cash), plus a lot of true believers sitting around talking about what they might do some day. 

It doesn't take many people to commit a noticeable number of terrorist acts. Terrorists have long since learned to play to the media, for the more people know about terrorism, the more terrified they are. For this reason, communist countries, and dictatorships in general, clamp down on news about terrorist acts. These governments recognize the media potential of terrorism, and many terrorist acts that were committed in the Soviet Union (and other communist nations), did not become widely known until after the Cold War ended. 

So remember, if you want to become a big, bad, and much feared NGAF, get yourself a good press agent before you start looking for gunmen and bomb makers.




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