• 21 Sep 2017 7:59 AM | Anonymous
    By Paul D. Brister

    The views expressed in this paper are the author's alone. They do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the United States Government.

    Dr. Brister is an active duty Air Force officer currently working in the Pentagon. He has served in the Special Operations community for 19 years and deployed to multiple locations in support of named operations. He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and earned his Masters and PhD from the Naval Postgraduate School.

    In the wake of the recent Charlottesville tragedy and continued friction points associated with the removal of Confederate statues, the American dialogue has once again focused on the potential terrorist risk posed by the American radical right. By some accounts, the threat of violence by white nationalists, Neo-Nazis, and militia members is poised to shake the foundations of American democracy. By other accounts, the danger posed by the contemporary radical right is an overblown response stoked by a well-coordinated, "leftist fake news" program. As is the case with most polarized conversations, the truth lies somewhere between these two views.

    The focus on the American radical right, and its potential for violence, is a recurring aspect of the American dialogue. In 2010, as President Obama came into office, some predicted a massive wave of right wing violence, pointing to: a depressed economy; the election of a left-leaning administration; and the return of veterans from an unpopular war (among other variables) as justification for their prediction. Today, equally vocal warnings predict a resurgence of the radical right based on: the election of a right-leaning administration; a rejection of globalism; and the return of a more nationalistic American identity. The sheer diversity of predictive variables leaves one scratching their head trying to determine the actual causes of right-wing extremism and the threat it poses.

    This paper suggests that—using history as a predictor of the future—the radical right will continue to engage in sporadic acts of terrorism, but—owing largely to internal fissures of the extreme right combined with effective law enforcement and the presence of watchdog groups—this terrorism will remain largely uncoordinated and unsustainable. Drawing upon case studies from various periods of Ku Klux Klan violence, variables such as internal organization, a unifying ideology and narrative, and strong leadership emerge as more effective predictors of sustained right wing terrorism. The contemporary radical right—lethal in its own right—lacks in each.

    Readers will undoubtedly ask "why study the Ku Klux Klan?" The Ku Klux Klan was chosen for a number of reasons. Among the most important is the Klan's tremendous lifespan. For over one hundred and fifty years, American society has experienced both peaks and lulls in Klan terrorist activity. This allows for the longitudinal study of the group. Additionally, throughout this time, the Klan has altered its organizational design, shifted recruitment techniques, and operated during times when it attracted both social sympathy and outright hostility. The Klan has tried to be all things to all people and—with varying degrees of success—has offered violent remedies to cure what it saw as the perceived ills of society. In short, this generational lifespan provides for the chance to test multiple theories about terrorism by examining a single organization. Given the relatively short life span of other terrorist organizations, this is a rare opportunity.

    Most importantly, a focus on the Ku Klux Klan is relevant for policy reasons. The type of terrorism represented by the Klan has been responsible for some of the deadliest violence in U.S. history. Today, this form of terrorism remains a topic of great concern for counter terrorism policy analysts and policymakers. Armed with a better understanding of this violence, the United States will be better equipped to craft strategies that effectively counter it.

    America's History of Racial and Ethnic Violence

    Right wing extremism—and the terrorism that frequently accompanies it—is nothing new to the American political landscape.1 Right wing violence is as old as the country itself and is virtually guaranteed to remain a factor for the duration of American existence. From as early as 1780, militant organizations were created to protect America from the supposed evil machinations of the Bavarian Illuminati and other related secret enterprises bent on world domination.2 Concerns about American men becoming "disciples of Voltaire" and American women the "concubines of the Illuminati" spread throughout the fledgling country with alarming speed and strength.3

    In response, so-called "pure American societies" were organized to root out the spread of immorality by these enlightened European sinners and return America to what was deemed its proper, morally superior position in the world. Organizations such as the Anti-Masons, Know-Nothings, and Native Americans would promote themselves as patriotic defenders of American values as prescribed primarily by the Protestant church. These groups directed a full-scale war against the conspiratorial undertakings of the Catholics, Masons, Illuminati, immigrants, and anyone deemed un-American. Even prior to the Civil War, "murderous battles were marked by barricades of carts and hurled paving stones, assaults with knives, brickbats, bludgeons, teeth, and fists."4 Books and publications "proving" such tales became best-sellers throughout the United States.5 Although right wing groups were numerous during the early 1800s, none were able to sustain their existence for any considerable amount of time. This would change in the aftermath of the Civil War with the birth of an organization that would become the epitome of domestic right wing terrorism for over a century thereafter.

    Whereas antebellum America produced several flash-in-the-pan extremist organizations, the post-Civil War era gave rise to an organization capable of weathering over one hundred and forty years of societal changes. In 1866, six young Confederate veterans "hungering and thirsting for amusement" created what would become one of the most formidable politico-terrorist organizations in American history.6 Adhering to traditional Greek methods of naming social clubs—in particular the fraternity Kuklos Adelphon or "old Kappa Alpha"—the group of men dubbed their organization the Ku Klux Klan, and reveled in "its novelty, its alliterative content, and its uncertain meaning."7 The Ku Klux Klan, originally designed to be nothing more than a quirky social club aimed at overcoming the unyielding boredom of small-town life, would quickly and unexpectedly transform itself into an organization capable of systematically weaving together acts of terrorism into sustainable campaigns. Responding to societal issues of the day—be they perceived assaults on Southern institutions or transgressions against the sanctity of white womanhood, serving to defend Americanism or acting as a bulwark against school segregation—and offering cleverly crafted ideas about how to rally supporters, the Klan would soon become a right wing terrorist organization par excellence, capable of spurring some Americans to violence for over a century.

    Since 1866, the Ku Klux Klan has been able to muster three distinctive and sustained campaigns of terrorism, commonly referred to as the three "waves" of Klan violence. The first occurred between 1866 and 1871, the second between 1915 and 1928, and the third from roughly 1954 to the mid 1960s. Klan activity continued in one form or another in the years between these waves, but did not achieve a similar ongoing pattern of organized and sustained violence. Subsequent to the third wave, the Klan unsuccessfully attempted another resurgence in the mid 1970s/early 1980s but was snuffed out before a campaign could be triggered. By studying the three most successful Klan campaigns of the past (granting that each varied in scope, intensity and outcome) alongside the failed campaign attempt of the 1970–1980s, we are able to investigate which commonly cited factors and conditions were, in fact, associated with the rise of the KKK's campaigns of terrorism.

    Fueling Campaigns of Terrorism

    This paper does not purport to explain individual or isolated incidents of white nationalist terrorism; a certain level of racist violence has unfortunately been an almost constant feature of American society. Instead, it seeks to explain campaigns of terrorism. This is more than a nuanced distinction. Terrorism will never be completely eradicated.8 Terrorism is a tactic that has been used since ancient times and will continue to be used for the duration of human existence. Although it will never be fully eliminated, it may be possible to prevent organizations from stringing together acts of terrorism into a sustained campaign, the concern of this paper. Preventing campaigns is important as a way to reduce the total amount of violence and keep terrorist organizations from achieving their objectives.

    A terrorist campaign is defined as a series of systematic terrorist attacks aimed at accomplishing a specific objective within a given time and space. The objectives of the Klan have changed dramatically over time: the overthrow of Republican government during the 1860s; maintenance of a nebulous "100% American" concept during the 1920s; and opposition to desegregation efforts during the 1960s. In order to send its message, the Klan targeted specific groups of people in hopes of achieving these goals: supporters of the Republican Party in the 1860s; bootleggers, Catholics, and perceived communists during the 1920s; and those who promoted Civil Rights during the 1960s. In one study—the 1860s—ways and means were aligned effectively, resulting in the eventual attainment of Klan strategic ends. For the vast majority of its life, however, the Klan has been unable to achieve its goals through the use of terrorism. For over 80% of its life, the Klan has generated only small amounts of localized violence, but at other times, it has expanded the scope and scale of its terrorism.

    At times the Klan has taken advantage of societal unrest to generate sustained terrorist campaigns. This has given the Klan the opportunity to take the normally localized violence and translate it into a program which generates national effects. It is here—where the Klan has been able to generate systematic terrorist activity on a regional or national scale, and for extended periods of time—that this paper focuses.

    The study of Klan violence suggests that four factors: the presence of a safe haven; organizational structure; leadership; and recruitment techniques are necessary and jointly sufficient to explain Klan campaign emergence. The first significant set of correlates is the presence or absence of safe havens and their relation to the organizational structure chosen by Klan leadership. The second set of correlates is the ability of the Klan to downplay its core ideology and effectively frame a recruitment message which resonates with a pre-existing dominant social narrative.

    The study of Klan campaigns finds that the presence of legal, societal, and/or judicial safe havens was a necessary condition for the emergence of a Klan terrorist campaign. In the case of the Klan this meant the ability to carry out specific acts of terrorism when law enforcement, politicians, media outlets, and society either turned a blind eye or actively assisted. When and where the Klan was provided such freedom of operational maneuver, a centralized organizational design proved far more effective in generating and sustaining terrorist campaigns.

    Tailoring an organization's structure to the presence of safe havens is critically important, but is only one piece of the puzzle. A terrorist organization is destined to die without an effective method to sustain members and grow in size. This points to a group's ability to recruit. Akin to the "fit" between an organizational structure and the environment, a recruitment pitch must possess a similar fit with the current beliefs at large in society. A concept that social movement scholars dub framing, defines this interplay as "an interpretive schemata that simplifies and condenses the ‘world out there' by selectively punctuating and encoding objects, situations, events, experiences, and sequences of actions within one's present or past environment."9 Following the crafting of a proper frame, important aspects for terrorist messaging are specifying diagnostic, prognostic, and motivational tasks. Diagnostic tasks pertain to the assigning of blame for whatever grievance the organization has decided to adjust its frame to. For the Klan, African Americans have always served the lead role, although various other groups have has their turn as Klan targets. Prognostic tasks define for an organization the remedies required to eliminate either the people or structures that have been assigned blame. Finally, motivational tasks are those which keep individual members together in a cohesive unit and compel them to violence.10

    The two relationships described above—the "fit" between organizational structure and environment, and the proper framing of messages—do not happen by accident. They are both the product of leadership decisions. Klan leaders that chose the correct organization and followed with an effective message with broad appeal proved most capable of launching a campaign of sustainable terrorism.

    The first decision point involves a leader's ability to recognize the dynamics of the environment and organize his group accordingly. Should a leader choose to organize hierarchically in an environment lacking a safe haven, his organization is likely to be destroyed since law enforcement units will be able to penetrate and systematically eliminate sub-leaders at every level. This is exactly what occurred to Robert Shelton during the FBI's COINTELPRO initiatives during the 1960s. By maintaining a hierarchical structure in the face of overwhelming opposition, Shelton made the FBI task of decapitation an easy one. One by one, Klan leaders were arrested and prosecuted, and the leaderless Klan spun into disarray.

    Where a terrorist organization has a safe haven, the decision to organize hierarchically can dramatically improve its chances of sustaining a terrorism campaign. During both the 1860s and 1920s, Imperial Wizards were able to standardize public messages, develop secure internal communications, manage Klan financial operations, and (sometimes) keep their followers' violence in check. Their centralized organizational structures also allowed Klan leaders to have a hand in crafting recruitment messages and developing a "public face" behind which to hide the more nefarious aspects of Klan operations.

    This brings us to the second leadership decision point. When provided a safe haven, Klan leaders had the opportunity to launch a campaign of terrorism, but the probability of its coming to fruition depended on how well Klan leaders framed societal issues (and how effectively the Klan was portrayed as an acceptable remedy to those issues). Successful Klan leaders were able to hide some of the less appealing aspects of Klan ideology, focusing instead on the chivalrous, patriotic, defensive, or honorable aspects of the organization—false as that may have been. Nathan Bedford Forrest, for instance, promoted his 1860s Klan as a defensive unit designed to protect a virtuous Southern society. In the 1920s, Simmons and Evans painted the Klan as a morally upstanding group, tasked with defending the United States from drunkenness, sexual immorality, Communism, Catholicism, Judaism, and bound to uphold the Constitution as it was written by the forefathers. In the 50s and 60s, Robert Shelton was less successful in portraying continued segregation as a form of anti-communism (although defense of white womanhood sold fairly well).

    Concluding Thoughts

    Klan terrorist campaigns of the past resulted from three factors: an unforeseen event which served as a mobilizing "spark" to the violence; the presence of safe havens and the corresponding adoption of a hierarchical organization; and proper message framing and distribution of a socially palatable message. The "spark" is beyond the control of the terrorist organization, but the final two factors and their interactions are products of a leader's decisions. The role of leadership is to recognize when and where safe havens are available and structure the organization accordingly. Successful Klan leaders understood the dominant social narratives of their time and framed a socially acceptable message which weaved Klan ideology into that narrative.

    Today, thanks to watchdog groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League, right wing terrorist organizations are hard pressed to find either physical or virtual safe haven. Relentless pressure from these watchdog groups and local law enforcement agencies have prevented right wing organizations from adopting an effective organizational construct. Additionally, these groups have largely failed to craft a narrative that resonates with either modern society or amongst themselves. Right wing extremists remain divided among ideological lines and—when they are able to craft a narrative that unites them—it is typically fleeting and evanescent in effect. Although this appears to a good news story, it is necessary for us all to continue discussing the potential violence from the radical right (and, to ensure balance, the radical left as well) and maintain relentless societal pressure to prevent these groups from ever sustaining violent campaigns of terror again.

    * This paper was accomplished by the author in his personal capacity, utilizing previous work from his 2011 dissertation. The views expressed in this paper are the author's alone. They do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the United States Government.

    [1] For narratives on the history of right wing movements see: Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1860; a Study of the Origins of American Nativism (New York,: Rinehart, 1952); David Harry Bennett, The Party of Fear : From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History, 1st Vintage Books ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1990); Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, The Politics of Unreason : Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1977, 2d ed., A Phoenix Book P75 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978); Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, and Other Essays, 1st Harvard University Press pbk. ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996); John H. Bunzel, Anti-Politics in America; Reflections on the Anti-Political Temper and Its Distortions of the Democratic Process, 1st ed. (New York,: Knopf, 1967); Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein, Danger on the Right (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976); Carleton Beals, Brass-Knuckle Crusade; the Great Know-Nothing Conspiracy, 1820-1860 (New York,: Hastings House, 1960).

    [2] Even today, the Bavarian Illuminati remains central to many of the right wing extremist conspiracy theories. The Illuminati was an organization developed in the late 1700s that advocated reason over religion in solving societal problems. Many right wing conspiracy theorists credit the Illuminati as the driving force behind the French Revolution, while others insist that the Illuminati, in conjunction with Jewish power holders, are now manipulating world politics through an entity they refer to as the ZOG (Zionist Occupation Government). It is not uncommon for the Illuminati, the Freemasons, immigrants, and Jews to be used interchangeably in right wing extremist discussions concerning the world's ills.

    [3] Lipset and Raab, The Politics of Unreason : Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1977, 36.

    [4] Bennett, The Party of Fear : From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History, 38.

    [5] For instance, see: Maria Monk et al., Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk : As Exhibited in a Narrative of Her Sufferings During a Residence of Five Years as a Novice, and Two Years as a Black Nun, in the Hotel Dieu Nunnery at Montreal (New York: Howe & Bates, 1836).

    [6] Allen W. Trelease, White Terror; the Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction, 1st ed. (New York,: Harper & Row, 1971), 3.

    [7] Ibid., 4.

    [8] Terrorism is defined here as the systematic use or threatened use of violence, directed against targets chosen for their symbolic or representative value, as a means of instilling anxiety in, transmitting one or more messages to, or altering the behavior of a wider target audience.

    [9] David A. Snow and Robert D. Benford, "Master Frames and Cycles of Protest," in Frontiers in Social Movement Theory, ed. Aldon Morris and Carol McClurg Mueller (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 137. See also: Myra Marx Ferree and Frederick D. Miller, "Mobilization and Meaning: Toward an Integration of Social Psychological and Resource Perspectives on Social Movements," Sociological Inquiry 55, no. 1 (January 1985); Bert Klandermans, "Mobilization and Participation: Social-Psychological Expansisons of Resource Mobilization Theory," American Sociological Review 49, no. 5 (October 1984); Robert D. Benford and David A. Snow, "Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment," Annual Review of Sociology 26(2000). R.H. Williams and T.J. Kubal, "Movement Frames and the Cultural Environment: Resonance, Failure, and the Boundaries of the Legitimate," Research in Social Movements, Conflict, and Change 21(1999).

    [10] David A. Snow Scott A. Hunt, and Robert D. Benford, "Identity Fields: Framing Processes and the Social Construction of Movement Identities," in New Social Movements, ed. Hank Johnston Enrique Larana, and Joseph Gusfield (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994).

  • 24 Nov 2015 1:59 PM | Anonymous

    By Michael Fenzel and Aaron Picozzi

    The November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris and late October bombing of Russian Metrojet flight 9268 have not only crystallized the threat of the self-declared Islamic State to the world, but also created an unlikely opportunity to open a dialogue with Russia. However, these tragedies do not change the long-term threat Russia poses to stability in Europe. Russia’s encroachment in Eastern Europe is a threat to the security and stability of the continent and tests the resolve of NATO in an unprecedented way. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent military intervention in Syria is further evidence of his ambition to broaden Russian influence and capitalize on regional instability.

    One thing appears certain: Putin will not be swayed by tough talk from our allies and friends. The failure to take bold action, even amidst a potential collaboration against ISIS, only serves as tacit acceptance of Putin’s violations of international law. Through an increased military posture, an increase of our ground forces specifically, the United States must take the lead to stem the tide of Russia’s advances with tangible efforts to protect our interests in Europe and strengthen the resolve of the NATO alliance.

    Nine Eastern European members of NATO recently met in Romania to discuss the Russian threat and the challenge of refugee flows from Syria into Europe. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also used the meeting to call for increased pressure from member countries to respond to Russian aggression, particularly stressing the importance of military presence. The challenge of maintaining a heightened posture comes in the midst of the last stage of U.S. troop reductions in Europe, from a force of 40,000 in 2012 to 26,000 planned for this year. Maintaining this course runs counter to NATO requests for additional U.S. troop presence and to our national interests. Over-the-horizon deterrence will simply not work—deterrence must be real, observable, and project strength.

    The commander of NATO’s Allied Land Component, U.S. Army Lieutenant General John Nicholson, reiterated the importance of maintaining U.S. troop presence, stating unambiguously, “If we get there late, then we may have to fight.” The current effort to deter Russia with U.S. presence in Europe is problematic given the number of troops available—an enduring force of two combat brigades can neither be considered an offensive force nor an effective deterrent. The roughly 30,000 American troops on the ground in Europe today are all that Lieutenant General Ben Hodges (U.S. Army Commander in Europe) has at his disposal. Yet Hodges is faced with the very same task that his forebears faced through the Cold War: deter Russian aggression and expansion. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, recognizing these challenges, has called for a “new playbook” for Russia.

    The recent deployment of U.S. F-15C model aircraft to Incirlik, Turkey provide a hedge against continued Russian expansion and a bulwark to their actions in Syria. These aircraft are equipped with only air-to-air weaponry, designed to counter assets that ISIS does not possess, but they are fully capable of responding to threats from Russian fighter planes. This is one example of a number of prudent measures taken by the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, General Philip Breedlove, to address Russian attempts to distract from its actions in Ukraine. The introduction of Russian tanks into the Rostov region, along their southern border, is another echo of Cold War-era saber rattling. Carter responded to this maneuver by rotating two U.S. armored brigades to Eastern and Central Europe. Positioning additional mechanized forces in Europe is the only effective method to counter Russian posturing.

    In order fortify the tenuous NATO position in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, the United States has undertaken a direct training mission in Ukraine. A primary focus for the U.S. Army in Europe is now to train Ukrainian soldiers to utilize their Soviet-era weaponry against Russian separatists. This effort puts one U.S. airborne brigade directly across from Russia’s “little green men” who are conducting operations to further Putin’s aim of consolidating gains. Our training teams in Ukraine, Latvia, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Slovakia are focusing their efforts on training these militaries to fight while staying well clear of direct combat operations.

    Under the tenets of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the United States has begun a yearlong training exercise that spans six NATO countries. This mission not only continues to boost military readiness, but also serves to ease the fears of Eastern European allies. The further expansion of this set of training missions is a prudent method of assuring security and stability in a region that is fearful of what Russia will do next. By rotating U.S. Army combat brigades on a temporary but recurring basis, the United States continues to operate within the confines of the NATO Founding Act while sending a clear message to Russia—the United States will not stand by idly in the face of aggression.

    Russia remains the only country on Earth that possesses the nuclear capability to destroy the United States. Russian encroachment and efforts to expand and consolidate gains at their borders is a direct threat to our vital national security interests. In order to avoid a future conflict and prevent further encroachment, the United States and NATO must increase their commitment to rolling back Russian advances. This can only be done by projecting military force in the same manner that was so effective for over fifty years through the Cold War. Preserving peace in Europe demands action now or it will lead to an even more volatile situation in the future. Even in the midst of global collaboration against ISIS, a clear message must be sent to Russia when it comes to Europe—an attack against one NATO nation is an attack against all.

    Colonel Michael R. FenzelU.S. Army, most recently served as the chief of staff for the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Previously, he commanded the Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. His other assignments include commander, 1st Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade at Vicenza, Italy, and director for transnational threats with the National Security Council. Colonel Fenzel holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University and MA’s from the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard University, and a PhD from the Naval Postgraduate School. 

    Aaron Picozzi is a research associate for military fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations.

  • 26 Aug 2010 11:04 PM | Anonymous

    Written by  Matthew P. Dearing

    Amidst the disarray following General McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone, a much less reported but profound event marked the course of the insurgency in Afghanistan. The recent female suicide operation in eastern Afghanistan reveals not only a paradigm shift in Taliban insurgent tactics, but also a mutation of the organization’s founding ideology.

    On June 20th, dressed in a long-flowing burqa, Bibi Halima walked up to American and Afghan soldiers on patrol in Kunar province with the intention of detonating explosives attached to her body. In recent months, soldiers have had reason to be skeptical of burqa-clad pedestrians. Many of the Haqqani Network’s fedayeen tactics in eastern Afghanistan have included men disguised in burqas, allowing them to approach or breach heavily cordoned buildings and district centers prior to detonating explosives. But as NATO and Afghan counterinsurgency experience heightened, security forces became well adept at reading bodily gestures and cues that distinguished a man from a woman underneath the large Afghan dress. Until recently, this was a valuable force protection measure since not one of the over 450 suicide attacks in Afghanistan since 2001, was perpetrated by a woman. In comparison, women have executed nearly one in ten suicide attacks in Iraq. NATO troops could rest assured that of the many insurgent tactics adapted from Iraq to Afghanistan, female suicide bombings was one that would likely never emerge.

    But as in all insurgencies, there is little a counterinsurgent can be certain. The element of surprise is probably the greatest tool an insurgent holds over the parties attempting to glue together the fragile pieces of an orderly society in Afghanistan. Not only have the Taliban opened themselves up to a new range of criticism by moderate and fence-sitting Pashtuns, whom the Afghan government increasingly seeks to win over, but they will also likely find cleavages develop within their own ranks that see the inclusion of women in the insurgency as dishonorable and outside the realm of “acceptable” jihad.

    There are plenty of practical reasons the Taliban would want to use women as suicide bombers. Given cultural constraints, men are forbidden from searching women, leaving insurgents a gap in security measures that they can exploit. In a recent graduating class of cadets from the Kabul Police Academy, only ten of the over 1,600 graduates were women, ensuring that few women will be searched in at least the near future. However, until recently, the Taliban and associated groups have largely avoided implementing women in the insurgency for several reasons. First, there are larger social and historical considerations such as norms and collective memory within Afghanistan that have prevented Taliban tacticians from utilizing women in insurgent operations. Few women participated in the anti-Soviet jihad beyond the important, but less combative supportive roles, such as serving as couriers, conditioning weapons, or preparing the dead for burial. Ever since the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, women have been relegated to second-class citizenship.

    Second, until recently, the Taliban have resided in a fairly permissible environment, controlling large swaths of territory including urban district centers and rural villages throughout the country, as well as having cross-border access in Pakistan. Today, in many respects due to the success of counterinsurgency operations run by General McChrystal and his team, the Taliban have lost vital areas of sanctuary, elements of command and control have been infiltrated and broken down, and operations have been successfully countered and prevented due to a transfer of much needed assets from Iraq to Afghanistan. Thus, deferment of female suicide bombers is less appealing as the organization becomes increasingly threatened.

    Third, martyrdom has been a convenient rhetorical strategy that wraps a variety of economic, political and social grievances around the all-inclusive narrative of jihad. This can be seen through war ballads, poetry, and personal testimonies distributed via 21st century technology. Women have always played a significant role in Afghanistan as poets espousing the heroics of their men in combat and as defenders of a family’s honor. However, under Taliban tyranny, women were noticeably absent in resistance literature, oral narratives or the Taliban movement in general. Thus, the choice to engage women in violent jihad will soon test the viability of the organization’s ideology that has long positioned women as outsiders.

    We may never know who the real Bibi Halima was, nor why she chose to kill herself for an organization that would rather hold women in a position of permanent servitude. But the act she participated in will undoubtedly stand as a changing point in the Afghan conflict. Will more women follow her lead or resist the temptation of asymmetric violence? U.S. and Afghan forces would be wise to capitalize on this moment to lower that risk and build partnerships with a broader segment of society. First, it presents a significant opportunity to characterize the violent, inhumane nature of the Taliban. Second, it shows there is a deep ideological divide between the Taliban’s foundational ideology and what the organization adopts as legitimate conduct today. When approaching options for reconciliation, this can be a notable point of contention between “moderate” Taliban and irreconcilables. Third, there must be a doubled effort to train female Afghan police and intelligence operatives in order to be the eyes and ears preventing future female suicide bombers. Finally, the West should continue to pressure Afghanistan’s government to ensure women have a legitimate voice and opportunity in the new Afghan society. While some women may feel pressured to work with the Taliban, if viable options exist, such as an amnesty or call-in program for potential suicide bombers, the few female bombers who emerge may think twice about ending their life in such a tragic fashion.

    Matthew P. Dearing is a PhD candidate in the Security Studies Program at the Naval Postgraduate School and a member of the Council for Emerging National Security Affairs. This article was previously published in the Small Wars Journal.

Twitter Feed
Site Search
Follow Us
© Copyright 2015, CENSA
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software • Web Design & Development by DotCreativity Web Design Services