More than a decade after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda and a year after the death of Osama bin Laden, this unique text offers an innovative analysis of that organization's strategic culture. This analysis upends the conventional wisdom that only nation-states can have a strategic culture, an internal process through which issues of strategic significance and intent are discussed, debated, refined, and executed.
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In many ways the U.S. national security establishment was unprepared for this attack and the global conflict that followed. Despite the end of the Cold War the United States remained militarily postured primarily to engage with other nation-states. Al-Qaeda as a non-state actor with global reach posed a decidedly new challenge. In this monograph the author advances our understanding of this non-traditional adversary through an analysis of the shared beliefs, assumptions, and modes of behavior that comprise the al-Qaeda strategic culture. Through a strategic culture framework he identifies and assesses the factors and developments that have shaped al-Qaeda's evolution and behavior over nearly two decades.
The resurgence of Salafi Islam in the early 20th century is at the core of al-Qaeda's identity and forms the basis for its vision and a justification for the group's self-declared role. Though many Muslims who adhere to the Salifi interpretation are peaceful, al-Qaeda established a transnational armed movement that ultimately sought to foster regime change locally in apostate Muslim states and serve as the vanguard of a larger global religious, political, and social movement.
This monograph traces the internal debates and strategic-level decision making amongst al-Qaeda factions following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the subsequent strategic reassessment as the mujahidin were sent to other geographical areas to pursue operations against both a 'near' and 'far' enemy. Here al-Qaeda often exploited ungoverned territory to establish new bases and remain out of reach of security forces. An examination of al-Qaeda's discourse over core strategic subjects of doctrine, strategy, operational art, and related issues offers valuable insights into the behavior of al-Qaeda and its affiliated movements.
In pursuit of its goals al-Qaeda drew on a wide range of operational art, both kinetic and non-kinetic. Leveraging new Internet technologies, al-Qaeda developed a strong information operations capability. This capability was used not only to publicize their cause and create empathy for their goals throughout the Muslim world but to inspire and recruit others to take up arms against their local leadership, lending support to al-Qaeda's global campaign. At the same time al-Qaeda utilized relatively low technology kinetic means, improvised explosive devices to great effect in Iraq, and disseminated how-to manuals on the Internet for others to use in the global campaign.
Though the threat from al-Qaeda may now be diminished, the tactics and techniques utilized by this non-traditional adversary are likely to be emulated by other irregular threats in years to come. An understanding of how such organizations "think" and "plan" at the strategic level is necessary in order to be better prepared for future threats. Dr. Shultz's research is a unique contribution to our understanding of al-Qaeda as a complex actor guided by its own strategic culture.