Irregular warfare is the warfare of the 21st century. Irregular warfare (IW) pollutes the battlefield, crossing the lines of economics, politics, business, social media, organized crime and ideological terrorism. In this type of warfare, there is not the traditional clear divide, with law enforcement, government agencies and population on one side and terrorists on the other. In IW, the goals of traditional enemies often align, while the goals of traditional allies may become opposed. Examples of these blurred lines comes in the protection or passive support for street gangs by locals who view law enforcement as the enemy. The refusal of different federal agencies to share information with each other or with local law enforcement to secure funding or justify operations. In a domestic setting, this type of warfare presents unique challenges and requires a robust assessment; in military terms one would conduct an Operational Preparation of the Environment (OPE).
The United States uses a basic approach to combating enemies; a lead agency, such as the Department of Defense (DOD), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the State Department (DOS) or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is chosen to take lead in the defined fight (e.g. terrorism, drug cartels, aggression by state actors) with a domestic or international focus assigned to the mandate. However, the very nature of irregular warfare strives to create both internal and external threats, exploiting existing industries, financial networks, and leveraging strategic relationships in an opportunistic fashion. In a global market context, the cogs and wheels of IW are engrained in most industries and are readily exploited by these terrorist organizations.
The current U.S. approach to combating terrorists, such as the Islamic extremists under whatever name they call themselves, is myopic and counterproductive. U.S. counter-terrorism, which by its very definition is engaged in IW, is conducted by agencies that operate in relative isolation, carve up threats into identified areas of responsibilities (AORs), Commands, “task Forces”, and other artificially divided battlefields. These are then tackled as “problem sets” that teams attack, but a consistent, holistic approach to undermining global networks engaged in IW is conspicuously absent from the U.S. playbook. This exemplifies rice bowl politics at its finest and results in critical information not being shared and effective IW strategies not being developed or implemented.
In a domestic context, the U.S. has not conducted an effective, US focused, internal OPE to identify key actors that may be leveraged by terrorist groups engaged in IW or engaged by U.S. entities as a means of passive or active support. Key actors include industry, finance, nongovernmental groups (NGOs), academia, and criminal organizations. Therefore, the U.S. approach would identify a criminal organization, such as the CRIPS, as within the purview of law enforcement, engaged in criminal activities, and subject to criminal sanctions. In an IW context, criminal organizations are viewed “amorally” when conducting an OPE. In an IW context, a criminal organization would be viewed as a large organized group with a strong and enduring membership, internal discipline, defined roles and relationships amongst members, the geographic scope of the group would be assessed, the type of training and armaments would be evaluated, the industries in which they were active would be identified, and their affiliations mapped. Most importantly the geography they control would be identified and evaluated. This would permit an understanding of their value in an IW context and how they could be leveraged or influenced.
A huge factor that has been overlooked on the current battlefield are non-state actors that operate outside of or on both sides of the law. The United States has myriad criminal and quasi-criminal groups. These groups often operate on both sides of the law, operating legitimate and illegitimate businesses, actively recruiting members, have established intelligence networks, conduct training and are well armed and well funded. They also move large amounts of goods, people and weapons across state, national and international borders using a variety of methods. The questions are, what part does a large, well-organized, well-trained and funded group bring to the table in IW and what does it mean for the domestic security of the United States (U.S.)? How do we view their influence on the battlefield and how do they view their influence?