On Point: Crime and Warfare: An Anatomy of Terror

by Austin Bay
August 19, 2008One reason the debate question, "Is terrorism warfare or crime?" irks meis that it is patently both.

Take Colombia's sad experience as a particularly prima facie example. Allbut the most ritually blind Marxists now concede Colombia's "leading insurgentarmy," the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is a narcotics cartelwith a residual political agenda. Of course they wouldn't mind being theColombian government, which may or may not differentiate them from Americanmafiosos, but during the decades of Colombia's heinous violence, whatever socialidealism powered FARC has decayed. In Colombia, Marx became Murder Inc.

The Colombian people knew it. In early February 2008, The New York Timesquoted a Colombian citizen who was participating in an anti-FARC demonstrationheld in downtown Bogota. "The FARC made themselves into criminals a long timeago," declared Martin Orozco, identified by the reporter as a surgeon. "We aresimply tired of this (i.e., FARC's violence)."

In some ways, this is old truth rediscovered the hard way. There's oftena fine law between smuggling and rebellion -- the line is there but thin. TheKosovo Liberation Army (KLA) -- which became a de facto ally of the UnitedStates and NATO in 1999 -- had intimate connections with Balkan smugglers andorganized criminal groups. This intelligence analyst's rule of thumb holds truefor Macedonia, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, Chad, Sudan andeven Iran.

It certainly holds true for Iraq, where small crimes empower al-Qaida'smass murder. In an interview last week, Gen. David Petraeus, commander ofMulti-National Force-Iraq, told me: "We have, in fact, put considerable emphasison how al-Qaeda, in Iraq, generates resources. And they do it, again, like amafia does, that we would be familiar with. It's through extortion of successfulbusinesses; extortion of money for protection rackets, or what have you;insisting that a cell phone business, for example, give them a cut of theirprofits or they'll blow the cell phones down -- cell phone towers down; taking acut out of the cement business, the real estate business, the financialbusinesses and so forth."

The "special groups," which connect to Iran, also connect to local crimein Iraq. More often than not, Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Militia operated as acriminal gang in neighborhoods it controlled in eastern Baghdad and southernIraq. Again, this isn't news. In August 2004, I had open source reports cross mydesk in Baghdad where Iraqis referred to the Mahdi Militia as "gangsters." Don'tblame that on translation from the Arabic to English. I personally heard anIraqi describe Sadr's militia as criminals.

Stopping the crimes financing the terrorists won't defeat terroristorganizations. However, focused counter-crime operations will crimp theirfinances and, to use a term I heard a police counter-terror officer use,"pressurize" the terrorists' environment. Petraeus' "Anaconda Strategy" in Iraqemploys a number of anti-crime measures and anti-corruption measures, each oneapplying pressure to a terrorist organization.

The Taliban tried a similar cell phone tower extortion racket, but itbackfired. StrategyPage reported on June 15 that the Taliban were expanding"their extortion campaign, demanding that businesses pay 'protection money' toavoid being attacked" and an effort by the Taliban "to control cell phone usehas quickly evolved into just another extortion campaign."

In several rural areas in Afghanistan, the Taliban launched a campaign toshut down cell phone service at night. However, tribes in the area (who areoften pro-Taliban) wanted "the cell phone service in order to stay in touch withfriends, family and the few government services that are available." The Talibanattacks angered the tribes, which "demanded that night service be restored. Itwas. But then, noting that there were several cell phone companies operating insouthern Afghanistan, the Taliban went to the different companies and offerednot only 'protection,' but damage to a competitor, for a price."

There is a case to be made that the Taliban's strategic depth isn'tPakistani territory. Sure, tribal connections protect the Taliban, but moneypowers the organization, and increasingly that money comes from criminalenterprise and specifically the opium trade.

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