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Soft Targets Back in Focus – Stratfor

Soft Targets  Back in Focus is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  Soft Targets Back in Focus | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis

From time to time, I will sit down to write a series of analyses on a  particular topic, such as the fundamentals of terrorism series last  February. Other times, unrelated events in different parts of the world are  tied together by analytical threads, naturally becoming a series. This is  what has happened with the last three weekly security analyses — a common  analytical narrative has risen to connect them.

First, we discussed how the Jan. 16 attack  against the Tigantourine natural gas facility near Ain Amenas,  Algeria, would result in increased security at energy facilities  in the region. Second, we discussed foreign  interventions in Libya and Syria and how they have regional or even  global consequences that can persist for years. Finally, last week  we discussed how the robust,  layered security at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara served to thwart a  suicide bombing.

Together, these topics spotlight the heightened and persistent terrorist  threat in North Africa as well as Turkey and the Levant. They also demonstrate  that militants in those regions will be able to acquire weapons with ease. But  perhaps the most important lesson from them is that as diplomatic missions are  withdrawn or downsized and as security is increased at embassies and energy  facilities, the threat is going to once again shift toward softer targets.

Soft Targets

Obviously, individuals desiring to launch a terrorist attack seek to strike  the highest-profile, most symbolic target possible. If it is well known,  the target can magnify the  terror, especially when the operation grabs the attention of international  media. Such extensive exposure not only allows people around the globe to  be informed minute by minute about unfolding events, but it also permits them to  become secondary, vicarious victims of the unfolding violence. The increased  exposure also ensures that the audience affected by the operation becomes far  larger than just those in the immediate vicinity of the attack. The attack  on the U.S. diplomatic office in Benghazi and the killing of U.S. Ambassador  Christopher Stevens led to months of media coverage that has included televised  congressional hearings and fierce partisan and bureaucratic squabbles in  the media. It was the terrorist equivalent of winning the lottery.

However, in the wake of terrorist attacks, increased situational awareness  and security measures make successful attacks difficult to replicate. Targets  become more difficult to attack — what we refer to as hard targets. When this  happens, attackers are forced to either escalate the size and force used in  their attack, identify a vulnerability they can exploit or risk  failure.

In the August 1998 attacks against the U.S. embassies in Nairobi,  Kenya, and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, al Qaeda planners turned to the first  option: a larger attack. They attempted to use large truck bombs to  overcome the embassies’ layered security. The embassies had decent  perimeter security but lacked enough distance between the street and the  buildings to protect them from a large blast. In both attacks, the attackers  also tried unsuccessfully to get the bomb-laden trucks through perimeter  security vehicle checkpoints to detonate them closer to the embassy  buildings.

After those bombings, security enhancements made most diplomatic  facilities more difficult to attack, leading militant groups to turn  their attention to hotels. A strike on an international hotel in a  major city can make almost the same kind of statement against the West as a  strike on an embassy. Hotels are often full of Western business travelers,  diplomats, intelligence officers and, not insignificantly, members of the media.  This has made hotels target-rich environments for militants seeking to kill  Westerners and gain international media attention without having to penetrate  the extreme security of a hard target like a modern embassy.

But increased security is not the only factor that leads those wishing to  conduct a terrorist attack to gravitate toward softer targets. For the better  part of a decade, we have chronicled how  the global jihadist movement has devolved from an organizational model  based on centralized leadership and focused global goals to a more amorphous  model based on regional franchises with local goals and strong grassroots  support. For the most part, these regional franchises lack the training and  funding of the al Qaeda core and are therefore less capable. This means  franchise groups are often unable to attack hard targets and tend to focus on  softer targets — such as hotels or the U.S. ambassador while he is staying at a  poorly protected office in Benghazi rather than at his residence in Tripoli.

Changing Threats in North Africa

As hotels in places like Amman and Jakarta became harder to attack with large  vehicle bombs, attackers began to smuggle  in smaller devices to bypass the increased security. There was also a trend  in which attackers hit restaurants where Westerners congregated rather than the  more secure hotels.

The same dynamic will likely apply today in the Sahel. We believe  that the attack at the Tigantourine natural gas facility in Algeria was greatly  aided by the complacency of the security forces. The attackers did not  demonstrate any sort of advanced terrorist tactics or tradecraft. It would be  very hard to replicate the attack on another energy facility in the  region today due to increases in awareness and security. The  increase in security will be compounded by the fact that al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb and its jihadist brethren in the Sahel lack sophisticated  terrorist capabilities and have lost their bases in northern Mali.  This means they will be hard-pressed to conduct a successful attack against a  hard target.

Furthermore, having lost substantial quantities of men and materiel, and with  French and African forces potentially interdicting their lucrative smuggling  routes, these jihadist groups will be looking to refill their coffers.  Kidnapping is a longstanding way for militant groups in the region to resolve  precisely these issues. Although they have lost control of the towns they  captured in northern Mali, these groups will continue to pose a  threat of kidnapping over a wide swath of North Africa.

Turkey and Lebanon

While the jihadist militants in Syria are currently fixated on attacking the  Syrian regime, there is nonetheless a non-jihadist threat in Turkey — and  perhaps Lebanon — that emanates from the Syrian intelligence and its proxy  groups in the region. However, the Feb. 1 attack against the U.S.  Embassy in Ankara demonstrated the limitations of the capabilities of one of  those proxies, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.

Carrying on the operational legacy of its parent organization, Devrimci Sol,  the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front aspires to conduct spectacular  attacks, but its attacks frequently fizzle or fail. Successfully striking a  hardened target such as the U.S. Embassy is beyond the group’s capability. In  fact, the group frequently botches attacks against softer targets, as in the  attack against an American fast food chain outlet in May 2012 that  failed when the explosive device malfunctioned.

The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front’s limited tactical  capability supports the theory that the attack against the U.S.  Embassy in Ankara was commissioned by the Syrian regime. The group has even  failed in suicide bombings against Turkish police stations with far  less security; it knew it was attacking something beyond its reach.  But at the same time, the group’s limited capability and the failure of the  attack against the U.S. Embassy will likely result in a shift to softer targets  if the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front was acting at Syria’s  behest and the Syrians have asked for additional anti-American attacks.

As noted last week, Devrimci Sol conducted dozens of attacks against U.S. and  NATO targets in Turkey during late 1990 and early 1991 at the behest of Saddam  Hussein. The majority of these attacks were directed against soft targets such  as U.S. corporate offices, nongovernmental organizations, hotels and  restaurants. We believe these same targets are in jeopardy of attack by  the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front now.

Syria maintains a number of proxy militants in Lebanon, including Hezbollah. Hezbollah has its own  calculations and may not be as willing as Syria’s smaller proxy groups  to act on Syria’s behalf. Hezbollah maintains a far more sophisticated militant  capability than these small groups and is able to attack hard targets, unlike  the smaller groups. Therefore, if the Syrians commission a terrorist  attack in Lebanon and Hezbollah does not help them, the attacks their proxy  groups will carry out will be quite limited — and will again focus on soft  targets.

For the most part, soft targets are soft by their very nature. It  is not only impractical to employ embassy-like security at a fast food  restaurant, but it is inordinately expensive — too expensive to be economically  feasible for a business. Still, there are some simple and practical security  measures that can be taken to make them slightly more secure and hopefully cause  anyone planning an attack to divert their operation toward an even  softer target.

Additionally, individuals living in or traveling to these places can and  should practice good situational  awareness, review their personal  contingency plans and mentally prepare  to respond to any crisis.

Read more:  Soft Targets Back in Focus | Stratfor

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When Security Measures Work – Stratfor

When  Security Measures Work is republished with permission of Stratfor.
Read more:  When Security Measures Work | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis

On Feb. 1, a Turkish national named Ecevit Sanli walked up to the side  entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara like many others had done that day.  Dressed inconspicuously, he waved a manila envelope at the man inside the guard  booth as he approached the entrance. The security guard had no reason to  distrust the man approaching the checkpoint; the entrance is used to screen  packages, and perhaps the guard assumed Sanli was dropping off a document or was  a visa applicant at the wrong entrance. What the guard did not know, perhaps, is  that Sanli was a person of interest to the Turkish police, who suspected that he  was plotting an attack.

The guard opened the door of the access control building — the outermost  door of the embassy compound — to speak to Sanli, who took one step inside  before detonating the explosive device that was strapped to his body. The  explosion killed Sanli and the security guard, seriously wounded a journalist  who was visiting the embassy and left two other local guards who were manning  the entrance with minor injuries.

The embassy’s local security personnel, as designed, bore the brunt of the  attack. They are hired and trained to prevent threats from penetrating the  embassy’s perimeter. The low casualty count of the Feb. 1 attack is a testament  to the training and professionalism of the local guards and the robust, layered  security measures in place at the embassy — factors for which those responsible  for the attack apparently did not sufficiently plan.

Layers of Security

Sanli apparently had hoped to breach the outer perimeter of the compound and  to detonate his device inside the embassy building. Reportedly he carried a  firearm and a hand grenade, and the way he approached the access control point  likewise suggests he hoped to gain entry. Had he wanted to kill Turkish  citizens, he could have done so simply by hitting the visa line outside the  embassy.

At embassy compounds, secondary access control posts for vehicles and  pedestrians typically are staffed with fewer guards than more heavily traversed  access points, such as the main entrance or the entrance to the consular  section. This particular access point had two guards at the vehicular entrance  and a third guard to receive and screen packages and pedestrians. Since there  was no drop slot for packages and envelopes, the guard inside the access point  had to open the exterior door to receive deliveries. It is likely that the  plotters knew about this procedure, which probably factored into their decision  to breach the perimeter at this entrance. Moreover, the attack happened around  lunchtime, so it is also possible that attackers thought the guards would be  inattentive.

Though these smaller access control points have fewer people guarding them,  they still boast at least two heavy security doors that all visitors must pass  through. Many embassy compounds, including the one in Ankara, have a third door  located inside the building. This multiple-door configuration, referred to as a  sally port by security officers, provides an additional level of security at  perimeter security posts. Sally ports equipped with magnetic locks and  reinforced doors can also serve as effective traps for intruders.

The access control point constitutes just the outer perimeter of the embassy.  There is also another layer of external security at the entrance to the embassy  building itself. It is possible that Sanli thought he could somehow use his  weapon or grenade to penetrate that layer once he got through the access control  center, but the forced entry/bullet resistant doors and windows on the embassy’s  exterior would not have been quickly or easily penetrated by such weapons.

Whatever his plan, Sanli never had the opportunity to fully execute it. He  was stopped immediately inside the access control center by the security guard  and detonated his suicide device just inside the door. The force of the blast  blew the outer security door off its hinges and cracked the reinforced concrete  exterior wall of the access control building. But the embassy perimeter was not  breached, and Sanli never got near the embassy building.

Security Designs

Embassy security measures are designed with specific threats in mind. Sanli,  for example, executed precisely the type of attack that embassy security was  meant to counter: an isolated terrorist strike that circumvents a host country’s  police and security services. Ankara is an older embassy office building, but it  has received security upgrades over the past few decades that have given the  facility decent access control and concentric layers of security meant to stymie  intrusions.

Like most older embassy buildings, however, it does not meet the security  requirements put in place in the wake of the embassy bombings of the 1980s. The U.S. Consulate  General building in Istanbul, which was completed in 2003, exemplifies a  building that meets those requirements. Not only is it constructed to  specifications, it is also appropriately far enough from the street to help  counter threats, such as those posed by Sanli, and to help withstand the damage  of a vehicle bomb.

But even the most modern embassies cannot withstand all types of threats,  including those posed by long periods of mob violence. On Sept. 14, 2012, a large mob  overwhelmed the outer security perimeter of the U.S. Embassy in  Tunis — a newer facility with a robust security design — causing  millions of dollars of damage. Tunisian authorities responded quickly enough to  prevent the mob from entering the main embassy building, but with sufficient  time the  mob could have breached the facility.

Such was the case at the newly built and occupied U.S. Embassy in Tripoli,  Libya, in May 2011. After U.S. diplomats were ordered to leave the country, the  local security force was unable to prevent a large  mob, which constituted security forces and Moammar Gadhafi supporters, from  ransacking, looting and burning the facility. The attack rendered the building  uninhabitable.

Embassy security measures are also not designed to prevent prolonged  assaults by militant groups armed with heavy weapons. Security measures can  only provide a delay against a persistent attack by a mob or militant  organization. They cannot withstand an indefinite assault. Without extraordinary  security like that of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in the 1980s and 1990s, embassy  security only works when the facility enjoys the support and protection of the  host country as mandated by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The Attackers’ Weakness

Sanli’s method of attack played right into the strength of the embassy’s  security measures. Perhaps he and his colleagues in the Revolutionary People’s  Liberation Party-Front believed Sanli could threaten or shoot his way through  the embassy’s concentric rings of physical security. If so, they underestimated  the physical security measures in place and the dedication and bravery of the  local guard force.

Notably, attack planning is not a strength of the Revolutionary People’s  Liberation Party-Front. Over the past decade, the group has conducted several  attacks, including five suicide bombings, but their attacks have been famously  poorly planned and executed. Often they fail to kill anyone but the suicide  bomber. They also have had problems with the reliability of their improvised  explosive devices, such as the suicide vest that failed to detonate during  the suicide  bombing attack against the Turkish justice minister in April 2009.

The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front’s Sept. 11, 2012, suicide  bombing against a police station in Istanbul killed the bomber and one police  officer. In that attack, the bomber threw a grenade at the security checkpoint  at the building’s entrance, but when the grenade failed to detonate he was  unable to get past security at the building’s entrance. Only then, in a move  similar to the Feb. 1 attack, did he detonate his device.

Following Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Devrimci Sol, the Revolutionary  People’s Liberation Party-Front’s parent organization, conducted a spate of  attacks in Turkey that targeted the United States and NATO. Because of the  timing, U.S. terrorism investigators believed that Saddam Hussein’s government  sponsored these attacks. Currently, some leaders of the Revolutionary People’s  Liberation Party-Front’s factions live in Syria and maintain close connections  with the al Assad regime. Some of the group’s militants have fought with the  regime forces, and the group has published statements supporting the al Assad  regime. They have also fomented pro-al Assad and anti-intervention  demonstrations inside Turkey. This pro-Syrian sentiment, or perhaps even  financial enticement from the Syrian government itself, could explain the motive  for the attack against the U.S. Embassy. Therefore, it is possible that there  could be other anti-U.S. or anti-NATO attacks like those seen in 1991.

The Feb. 1 bombing serves as a timely reminder of several facts that tend to  be overlooked. It reminds us of the underlying terrorist threat in Turkey. It  also reminds us that not all suicide bombers are jihadists, let alone religious.  Indeed, there is a long history  of secular groups engaging in suicide terrorism. Last, it reminds us that  not all threats emanate from al Qaeda and the constellation of groups and  individual actors gathered around its ideological banner.

Perhaps most important, the incident highlights the heroism and dedication of  the local guards who serve at U.S. embassies around the world. In the Feb. 1  attack, the embassy’s security equipment functioned as designed, and the guards  performed as they were trained, undoubtedly saving many lives. These local  guards are often criticized when they make a mistake, but they are too  frequently overlooked when security works.

Read more:  When Security Measures Work | Stratfor

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The Consequences of Intervening in Syria – Stratfor

The  Consequences of Intervening in Syria is republished with permission of  Stratfor.”

Read more:  The Consequences of Intervening in Syria | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis, Stratfor

The French military’s current campaign to dislodge jihadist  militants from northern Mali and the recent  high-profile attack against a natural gas facility in Algeria are both  directly linked to the foreign intervention in Libya that overthrew the Gadhafi  regime. There is also a strong connection between these events and foreign  powers’ decision not to intervene in Mali when the military  conducted a coup in March 2012. The coup occurred as thousands of heavily  armed Tuareg tribesmen were returning home to northern Mali after serving in  Moammar Gadhafi’s military, and the confluence of these events resulted in an  implosion of the Malian military and a power vacuum in the north. Al Qaeda in  the Islamic Maghreb and other jihadists were able to take advantage of this  situation to seize power in the northern part of the African nation.

As all these events transpire in northern Africa, another type of foreign  intervention is occurring in Syria. Instead of direct foreign military  intervention, like that taken against the Gadhafi regime in Libya in 2011, or  the lack of intervention seen in Mali in March 2012, the West — and its Middle  Eastern partners — have pursued a middle-ground  approach in Syria. That is, these powers are providing logistical aid to the  various Syrian rebel factions but are not intervening directly.

Just as there were repercussions for the decisions to conduct a direct  intervention in Libya and not to intervene in Mali, there will be repercussions  for the partial intervention approach in Syria. Those consequences are  becoming more apparent as the crisis drags on.

Intervention in Syria

For more than a year now, countries such as the United States, Turkey, Saudi  Arabia, Qatar and European states have been providing aid to the Syrian rebels.  Much of this aid has been in the form of humanitarian assistance, providing  things such as shelter, food and medical care for refugees. Other aid has helped  provide the rebels with non-lethal military supplies such as radios and  ballistic vests. But a review of the weapons spotted on the battlefield reveals  that the rebels are also receiving an increasing number of lethal supplies.

Visit our Syria  page for related analysis, videos, situation reports and maps.

For example, there have been numerous videos released showing Syrian rebels  using weapons such as the M79 Osa rocket launcher, the RPG-22, the M-60  recoilless rifle and the RBG-6 multiple grenade launcher. The Syrian government  has also released videos of these weapons after seizing them in arms caches.  What is so interesting about these weapons is that they were not in the Syrian  military’s inventory prior to the crisis, and they all likely were purchased  from Croatia. We have also seen many reports and photos of Syrian rebels  carrying Austrian Steyr Aug rifles, and the Swiss government has complained that  Swiss-made hand grenades sold to the United Arab Emirates are making their way  to the Syrian rebels.

With the Syrian rebel groups using predominantly second-hand weapons from the  region, weapons captured from the regime, or an assortment of odd ordnance they  have manufactured themselves, the appearance and spread of these exogenous  weapons in rebel arsenals over the past several months is at first glance  evidence of external arms supply. The appearance of a single Steyr Aug or RBG-6  on the battlefield could be an interesting anomaly, but the variety and  concentration of these weapons seen in Syria are well beyond the point where  they could be considered coincidental.

This means that the current level of external intervention in Syria is  similar to the level exercised against the Soviet Union and its communist  proxies following the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. The external  supporters are providing not only training, intelligence and assistance, but  also weapons — exogenous weapons that make the external provision of weapons  obvious to the world. It is also interesting that in Syria, like Afghanistan,  two of the major external supporters are Washington and Riyadh — though in  Syria they are joined by regional powers such as Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the  United Arab Emirates, rather than Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, the Saudis and the Americans allowed their partners in  Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency to determine which of the myriad  militant groups in Afghanistan received the bulk of the funds and weapons they  were providing. This resulted in two things. First, the Pakistanis funded and  armed groups that they thought they could best use as surrogates in Afghanistan  after the Soviet withdrawal. Second, they pragmatically tended to funnel cash  and weapons to the groups that were the most successful on the battlefield —  groups such as those led by Gulbuddin  Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin  Haqqani, whose effectiveness on the battlefield was tied directly to their  zealous theology that made waging jihad against the infidels a religious duty  and death during such a struggle the ultimate accomplishment.

A similar process has been taking place for nearly two years in Syria. The  opposition groups that have been the most effective on the battlefield have  tended to be the jihadist-oriented groups such as Jabhat  al-Nusra. Not surprisingly, one reason for their effectiveness was the  skills and tactics they learned fighting the coalition forces in Iraq. Yet  despite this, the Saudis — along with the Qataris and the Emiratis — have been  arming and funding the jihadist groups in large part because of their success on  the battlefield. As my colleague Kamran Bokhari noted in February 2012, the  situation in Syria was providing  an opportunity for jihadists, even without external support. In the  fractured landscape of the Syrian opposition, the unity of purpose and  battlefield effectiveness of the jihadists was in itself enough to ensure that  these groups attracted a large number of new recruits.

But that is not the only factor conducive to the radicalization of Syrian  rebels. First, war — and particularly a brutal, drawn-out war — tends to make  extremists out of the fighters involved in it. Think Stalingrad, the Cold War  struggles in Central America or the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans following  the dissolution of Yugoslavia; this degree of struggle and suffering tends to  make even non-ideological people ideological. In Syria, we have seen many  secular Muslims become stringent jihadists. Second, the lack of hope for an  intervention by the West removed any impetus for maintaining a secular  narrative. Many fighters who had pinned their hopes on NATO were greatly  disappointed and angered that their suffering was ignored. It is not unusual for  Syrian fighters to say something akin to, “What has the West done for us? We now  have only God.”

When these ideological factors were combined with the infusion of money and  arms that has been channeled to jihadist groups in Syria over the past year, the  growth of Syrian jihadist groups accelerated dramatically. Not only are they a  factor on the battlefield today, but they also will be a force to be reckoned  with in the future.

The Saudi Gambit

Despite the jihadist blowback the Saudis  experienced after the end of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan  — and the current object lesson of the jihadists Syria sent to fight U.S.  forces in Iraq now leading groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra — the Saudi  government has apparently calculated that its use of jihadist proxies in Syria  is worth the inherent risk.

There are some immediate benefits for Riyadh. First, the Saudis hope to be  able to break the arc of Shiite  influence that reaches from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.  Having lost the Sunni counterweight to Iranian power in the region with the fall  of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the installation of a Shiite-led government  friendly to Iran, the Saudis view the possibility of installing a friendly Sunni  regime in Syria as a dramatic improvement to their national security.

Supporting the jihad in Syria as a weapon against Iranian influence also  gives the Saudis a chance to burnish their Islamic credentials internally in an  effort to help stave off criticism that they are too secular and Westernized. It  allows the Saudi regime the opportunity to show that it is helping Muslims under  assault by the vicious Syrian regime.

Supporting jihadists in Syria also gives the Saudis an opportunity to ship  their own radicals to Syria, where they can fight and possibly die. With a large  number of unemployed, underemployed and radicalized young men, the jihad in  Syria provides a pressure valve similar to the past struggles in Iraq, Chechnya,  Bosnia and Afghanistan. The Saudis are not only trying to winnow down their own  troubled youth; we have received reports from a credible source that the Saudis  are also facilitating the travel of Yemeni men to training camps in Turkey,  where they are trained and equipped before being sent to Syria to fight. The  reports also indicate that the young men are traveling for free and receiving a  stipend for their service. These young radicals from Saudi Arabia and Yemen will  even further strengthen the jihadist groups in Syria by providing them with  fresh troops.

The Saudis are gaining temporary domestic benefits from supporting jihad in  Syria, but the conflict will not last forever, nor will it result in the deaths  of all the young men who go there to fight. This means that someday the men who  survive will come back home, and through the process we refer to as “tactical  Darwinism” the inept fighters will have been weeded out, leaving a core  of competent militants that the Saudis will have to deal with.

But the problems posed by jihadist proxies in Syria will have  effects beyond the House of Saud. The Syrian jihadists will pose a threat to  the stability of Syria in much the same way the Afghan groups did in the civil  war they launched for control of Afghanistan after the fall of the Najibullah  regime. Indeed, the violence in Afghanistan got worse after Najibullah’s fall in  1992, and the suffering endured by Afghan civilians in particular was  egregious.

Now we are seeing that the jihadist militants in Libya pose a threat not only  to the Libyan regime — there are serious problems in eastern Libya — but also  to foreign interests in the country, as seen in the attack on the British  ambassador and the U.S. diplomatic mission in  Benghazi. Moreover, the events in Mali and Algeria in recent months show  that Libya-based militants and the weapons they possess also pose a regional  threat. Similar long-lasting and wide-ranging repercussions can be expected to  flow from the intervention in Syria.

Read more:  The Consequences of Intervening in Syria | Stratfor

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The Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis – Stratfor

The  Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis is republished with  permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  The Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis, Stratfor

The recent jihadist attack on the Tigantourine natural gas facility near In  Amenas, Algeria, and the subsequent hostage situation there have prompted some  knee-jerk discussions among media punditry. From these discussions came the  belief that the incident was spectacular, sophisticated and above all  unprecedented. A closer examination shows quite the opposite.

Indeed, very little of the incident was without precedent. Mokhtar  Belmokhtar, who orchestrated the attack, has employed similar tactics and a  similar scale of force before, and frequently he has deployed forces far from  his group’s core territory in northern Mali. Large-scale raids, often meant to  take hostages, have been conducted across far expanses of the Sahel. What was  unprecedented was the target. Energy and extraction sites have been attacked in  the past, but never before was an Algerian natural gas facility selected for  such an assault.

A closer look at the operation also reveals Belmokhtar’s true intentions. The  objective of the attack was not to kill hostages but to kidnap foreign workers  for ransom — an objective in keeping with many of Belmokhtar’s previous forays.  But in the end, his operation was a failure. His group killed several hostages  but did not destroy the facility or successfully transport hostages away from  the site. He lost several men and weapons, and just as important, he appears to  have also lost the millions of dollars he could have gained through ransoming  his captives.

Offering Perspective

Until recently, Belmokhtar  and his group, the Mulathameen Brigade, or the “Masked Ones,” which donned  the name “Those Who Sign in Blood” for the Tigantourine operation, were  associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Prior to their association with  al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, they were a part of Algeria’s Salafist Group  for Preaching and Combat, which operated in the Sahel. As part of these groups,  Belmokhtar led many kidnapping raids and other operations throughout the region,  and these past examples offer perspective for examining the Tigantourine  operation and for attempting to forecast the groups’ future activities.

In April 2003, Belmokhtar was one of the leaders of the Salafist Group for  Preaching and Combat operation that took 32 European tourists hostage in the  Hoggar Mountains near Illizi, Algeria, which is roughly 257 kilometers (160  miles) southwest of the Tigantourine facility. Seventeen hostages were freed  after an Algerian military raid, and the rest were released in August 2003 —  save for one woman, who died of sunstroke.

 

Prior to 2006, when the  Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat essentially became al Qaeda in the  Islamic Maghreb, kidnappings and attempted kidnappings occurred roughly once  a year. But after 2006, the operational tempo of kidnappings  in the Sahel quickened, with about three to five operations conducted per  year. According to U.S. Treasury Department Undersecretary for Terrorism and  Financial Intelligence David Cohen, al Qaeda earned approximately $120 million  in ransoms from 2004 to 2012. Cohen added that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb  had become the most proficient kidnapping unit of all al Qaeda’s franchise  groups.

Examples of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s proficiency abound. In  September 2010, the group took seven hostages from a uranium mine in Arlit,  Niger, and kidnapped four European tourists in Mali in January 2009. More  recently, it kidnapped three aid workers in Tindouf, Algeria, in October  2011.

Typically the group prefers to kidnap more than one person. Having multiple  hostages allows the captors to kill one or more of them to ratchet up pressure  for the ransom of the others. Guarding multiple hostages requires more  resources, but Belmokhtar has plenty of human resources, and the additional  ransom makes guarding them worth the extra effort.

Holding multiple hostages also enables the kidnappers to make political  statements — often connected to outrageous demands. In the Tigantourine attack,  much attention was paid to the militants’ demands to the U.S. government to  release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as “The  Blind Sheikh,” and Aafia  Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of terrorism  charges. But again, such demands are not unprecedented. Edwin Dyer, one of the  four European tourists kidnapped in January 2009, was beheaded in June 2009  after the British government refused al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s demand to  release imprisoned jihadist cleric Abu Qatada. The group again demanded the  release of Abu Qatada in April 2012 in exchange for British-South African  citizen Stephen Malcolm, who was kidnapped in Timbuktu, Mali, in November 2011.  Certainly the militants had no realistic expectation that the British would meet  their demands; the demands and Dyer’s subsequent execution were meant as  political statements, not realistic objectives.

Botched Missions

Tactically, how the Tigantourine attack transpired remains unclear. What we  do know is that the amount of militants used in the attack is not unprecedented.  While serving as a unit leader for the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat  in 2005, Belmokhtar led a group of 150 militants in a raid on a military outpost  in Lemgheiti, Mauritania, that left 15 Mauritanian soldiers dead and another 17  wounded.

According to a Jan. 21 statement made by Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek  Sellal on Jan. 21, it appears that Belmokhtar’s Tigantourine operation was  a two-pronged attack. One team appears to have been tasked with intercepting a  bus taking Western employees from the facility to the airport. Militants  reportedly used vehicles marked as oil company security or as belonging to the  Algerian government. Sellal noted that the objective of the operation was to  take a group of the hostages out of the country, presumably transporting them to  northern Mali’s Kidal region, where in recent years al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb has held its foreign hostages.

Notably, the Tigantourine facility is located only about 32 kilometers from  the Libyan border. The attackers probably took advantage of the chaos in Libya  to gather weapons and prepare for the attack and then came across the border  from Libya to conduct the attack. They could have covered very quickly the  distance from the Libyan border to the facility, and this likely provided them  an element of tactical surprise.

The second prong of the attack was directed against the facility itself.  Heavily armed attackers surprised the security forces at the facility and  subdued them by concentrating their forces and using overwhelming firepower.  Algerian forces recovered from the assailants a recoilless rifle,  rocket-propelled grenade launchers and several medium and light machine guns. We  are currently unsure if this group was tasked with taking additional hostages at  the facility and fleeing with them, staging a  drawn-out hostage drama, as in Beslan, or sabotaging the facility and  fleeing. Such an operation may have meant to divert attention from the group of  militants that was transporting hostages out of the country. Having a group of  hostages in custody outside Algeria could have helped them extract the second  team from the facility.

In any case, the first unit apparently failed to achieve its objective, and  it does not appear that the militants were able to take hostages from the bus  and quickly transport them out of the country. (Currently, not all of the  hostages are accounted for, but they are most likely among the unidentified  dead. It will take time for forensics teams to identify them.) Moreover, on the  second day helicopter gunships thwarted the escape efforts of some militants,  who had used foreign hostages as human shields.

Some reports indicate that the attackers set explosive charges around the  plant and attempted to destroy it Jan. 19, an action that apparently triggered  the final assault to neutralize the militants at the facility. We have not seen  photos of any demolition charges or any other indication that the attackers  employed any sort of sophisticated improvised explosive devices in the  operation. If the attackers went to the trouble to bring large quantities of  explosives with them on the raid, they likely did so intending to use the  explosives to damage the plant or to facilitate a drawn-out hostage drama — or  both. The militants wouldn’t need large quantities of explosives to seize  hostages, and they would not have spent the money to buy them or the effort to  transport them unless they are critical to their mission.

But tactically, both missions — stopping a vehicle to kidnap foreigners and  storming a facility — are within the demonstrated capabilities of Sahel-based  jihadist militants. In addition to numerous vehicular ambushes al Qaeda in the  Islamic Maghreb has conducted to steal cargo or grab hostages, it has also  raided hotels, homes and clinics to seize hostages. Perhaps the attack most  similar to Tigantourine was the September 2010 raid on the Areva uranium mining  facility near Arlit, Niger. The facility was more than 320 kilometers from the  Malian border and more than 160 kilometers from the border with Algeria. The  militants demonstrated their ability to operate hundreds of kilometers from  their bases in northern Mali, successfully storm a facility and return to  northern Mali with Western hostages. These militant groups have also staged  large-scale raids on military bases across the Sahel.

Several indicators suggest the Tigantourine operation was intended to seize  hostages, not kill hostages. According to a June 2007 classified cable released  by Wikileaks, the U.S. Embassy in Algiers said that Belmokhtar had criticized al  Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s suicide operations that mean to kill civilians.  Moreover, the attackers did not immediately begin to shoot foreigners as they  did during the November 2008 Mumbai  attack and the June  2004 attack against foreign energy workers in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. They  failed to hold these hostages for any period of time, and by all accounts they  failed to take Western hostages back to northern Mali. This amounts to a  significant loss for Belmokhtar.

Avoiding Complacency at Energy Sites

Despite a long history of militant activity in Algeria, energy facilities had  largely escaped unscathed — until last week. When al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb began to conduct  large vehicle bombings in Algiers and roadside bombing attacks against buses  carrying foreign energy workers in or near the capital, energy companies  countered the threat by flying workers directly into airports near energy  facilities like the one in In Amenas.

This lack of attacks led to some complacency on the part of Algerian  officials and security forces at Tigantourine. But in the wake of the recent  attack, security at such facilities will be increased, and any sense of  complacency will disappear — at least for a while. And because militants prefer  to hit softer targets, we are unlikely to see follow-on attacks at similar  facilities in the region in the immediate future. It may also take Belmokhtar  some time to replace the leaders and materiel unexpectedly lost in the  attack.

However, with targets in the region becoming scarcer and harder to attack,  these groups will likely continue to extend their range of operations for new  kidnapping victims. Doing so would not only replace the resources they lost in  the attack but would also circumvent the French and African military offensive  in Mali, where their traditional smuggling activities will be disrupted.

Another lingering concern is the presence of large  quantities of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles in the region. If  Belmokhtar or other militants decide to attack Westerners working at energy  facilities in the region instead of merely kidnapping them, and if increased  security prevents them from other direct assaults, like Tigantourine, these  militants could attack aircraft used to ferry Westerners to airports near these  remote sites.

As Mali becomes a more difficult environment in which to operate, these  groups likely will retreat, at least initially, to Mali’s  Kidal region and possibly Niger’s Air region. Once those areas face the  French-backed African intervention forces, a retreat farther back into southern  Libya is likely, due to the vacuum of authority there and the close links they  have with Libyan militants.

Contrary to what has been widely discussed, the Tigantourine attack fit well  within the range and capability of Sahel-based jihadist militants like those of  Belmokhtar’s group. Thus the attack was more of a reminder of the region’s  chronic problems and less a startling new threat. Militancy and banditry were  fixtures in the Sahel well before the jihadist ideology entered the region. This  history — combined with the vacuum of authority in the region brought on by the  Malian coup and the overthrow  of Gadhafi, the prospect of millions of dollars in ransom and the large  quantities of available weapons — means we will see more kidnappings and other  attacks in the years to come.

Editor’s Note: A comprehensive assessment on al Qaeda in  the Islamic Maghreb can be found here.

Read more:  The Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis | Stratfor

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The Benghazi Report and the Diplomatic Security Funding Cycle – Stratfor

The  Benghazi Report and the Diplomatic Security Funding Cycle is republished  with permission of Stratfor.”

By Scott Stewart Vice President of Analysis

On Dec. 18, the U.S. State Department’s Accountability Review Board released  an unclassified version of its investigation into the  Sept. 12 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador to  Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack,  so the report was widely anticipated by the public and by government officials  alike.

Four senior State Department officials have been reassigned to other duties  since the report’s release. Among them were the assistant secretary of state for  diplomatic security; two of his deputy assistant secretaries, including the  director of the Diplomatic Security Service, the department’s most senior  special agent; and the deputy assistant secretary responsible for Libya in the  State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

The highly critical report and the subsequent personnel reassignments are not  simply a low watermark for the State Department; rather, the events following  the attack signify another  phase in the diplomatic security funding cycle. The new phase will bring  about a financial windfall for the State Department security budgets, but  increased funding alone will not prevent future attacks from occurring. After  all, plenty of attacks have occurred following similar State Department  budgetary allocations in the past. Other important factors therefore must be  addressed.

Predictable Inquiries

The cycle by which  diplomatic security is funded begins as officials gradually cut spending on  diplomatic security programs. Then, when major security failures inevitably  beset those programs, resultant public outrage compels officials to create a  panel to investigate those failures.

The first of these panels dates back to the mid-1980s, following attacks  against U.S. facilities in Beirut and Kuwait and the systematic bugging of the  U.S. Embassy in Moscow. These security lapses led to the formation of the  Secretary of State’s Advisory Panel on Overseas Security, chaired by former  Deputy CIA Director Adm. Bobby Inman. The law that passed in the wake of the  Inman Commission came to be known as the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and  Antiterrorism Act of 1986, which requires that an accountability review board be  convened following major security incidents.

There are a few subsequent examples of these panels. Former Chairman of the  U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. William Crowe chaired an Accountability Review  Board following the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998. And after  the Benghazi attacks, an Accountability Review Board was chaired by former U.S.  Ambassador Thomas Pickering. The Dec. 18 report was the findings of the  Pickering board.

Predictably, the review boards, including Pickering’s, always conclude that  inadequate funding and insufficient security personnel are partly to blame for  the security breaches. In response to the reports, Congress appropriates more  money to diplomatic security programs to remedy the problem. Over time, funds  are cut, and the cycle begins anew.

Funding can be cut for several reasons. In times of financial austerity,  Congress can more easily cut the relatively small foreign affairs budget than it  can entitlement benefits budgets. Cuts to the overall State Department budget  generally result in cuts for security programs.

Moreover, rivalries among the various State Department entities can affect  spending cuts. The Diplomatic Security Service’s budget falls under the main  State Department budget, so senior diplomats, rather than Diplomatic Security  Service agents, represent the agency’s interests on Capitol Hill. Some within  the security service do not believe that senior diplomats have their best  interests at heart when making the case for their budgets — at least until a  tragedy occurs and Congressional hearings are held to air these problems. For  their part, others in the department resent the Diplomatic Security Service for  the large budgetary allocations it receives after a security failure.

More than a Matter of Funding

With Congress and the presumed next Secretary of State John Kerry now calling  for increased spending on diplomatic security, the financial floodgates are  about to reopen. But merely throwing money at the problems uncovered by the  accountability review boards will not be enough to solve those problems. Were  that the case, the billions of dollars allocated to diplomatic security in the  wake of the Inman and Crowe commission reports would have sufficed.

Of course, money can be useful, but injecting large sums of it into the  system can create problems if the money provided is too much for the bureaucracy  to efficiently metabolize. Government managers tend to spend all the money  allocated to them — sometimes at the expense of efficiency — under a “use it  or lose it” mentality. Since there is no real incentive for them to perform  under budget, managers in a variety of U.S. government departments spend massive  amounts of money at the end of each fiscal year. The same is true of diplomatic  security programs when they are flush with cash. But the inevitable reports of  financial waste and mismanagement lead to calls for spending cuts in these  programs.

If the U.S. government is ever going to break the cycle of funding cuts and  security disasters, the Diplomatic Security Service will need to demonstrate  wisdom and prudence in how it spends the funds allocated to them. It will also  be necessary for Congress to provide funding in a consistent manner and with an  initial appropriation that is not too big to be spent efficiently.

Beyond money management and a consistent level of funding, the State  Department will also need to take a hard look at how it currently conducts  diplomacy and how it can reduce the demands placed on the Diplomatic Security  Service. This will require asking many difficult questions: Is it necessary to  maintain large embassies to conduct diplomacy in the information age? Does the  United States need to maintain thousands of employees in high-threat  places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at the expense of smaller  missions, or can the critical work be done by hundreds or even dozens? Is a  permanent U.S. presence even required in a place like Benghazi, or can the  missions in such locations be accomplished by a combination of visiting  diplomats, covert operatives and local employees?

At the very least, the State Department will need to review its policy of  designating a facility as a “special mission” — Benghazi was designated as such  — to exempt it from meeting established physical security standards. If the  questions above are answered affirmatively, and if it is deemed necessary to  keep a permanent presence in a place like Benghazi, then security standards need  to be followed, especially when a facility is in place for several months.  Temporary facilities with substandard security cannot be allowed to persist for  months and years.

Host Countries

As they consider these issues, officials need to bear in mind that the real  key to the security of diplomatic facilities is the protection provided by the  host country’s security forces as dictated by the Vienna Convention. If the host  country will not or cannot protect foreign diplomats, then the physical security  measures mandated by security standards can do little more than provide slight  delay — which is what they are designed to do. No physical security measures  can stand up to a prolonged assault. If a militant group armed with heavy  weaponry is permitted to attack a diplomatic facility for hours with no host  government response — as was the case in Benghazi — the attack will cause  considerable damage and likely cause fatalities despite the security measures in  place.

The same is true of a large mob, which given enough time can damage and  breach U.S. embassies that meet current department security standards. The U.S.  Embassy in Tripoli, a state-of-the-art facility completed in 2009, was heavily  damaged by a mob of pro-Gadhafi supporters in May 2011 and rendered  unserviceable.

In another example, a  large crowd caused extensive damage to the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and the  adjacent American School just three days after the Benghazi attack. In that  incident, Tunisian authorities responded and did not provide the attacking mob  the opportunity to conduct a prolonged assault on the embassy. Though the mob  caused millions of dollars worth of damage to the compound, it was unable to  breach the main embassy office building. Without host country security support,  there is little that can be done to assure the safety of U.S. diplomats, no  matter what happens to security budgets.

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