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Dangerous Combination: Terrorist Collaboration with Sun Tzu’s Principles

January 27, 2014

Although each terrorist organization or insurgency is uniquely different, there have been many theories connecting global terrorist movements worldwide. Chechen terrorists are notorious for their Beslan Middle School attack in 2004 where they took over 1,000 hostages including nearly 800 children. The alleged Boston Marathon bombers were connected to the Chechen terrorist organization. Recently Ayman al-Zawahiri has endorsed the Chechen rebels and welcomed them to the global jihad against the Olympics.

Terrorist collaboration can create the right combination of resources, capabilities, and specialized skills. Chechen terrorists in alliance with al Qaeda extends beyond the current threat; and military history has proven linking allies builds the most successful armies. Sun Tzu stated, “He whose ranks are united in purpose will be victorious.” Ayman al-Zawahiri’s leadership is developing a robust strategy to bring together diverse teams to meet a common objective or purpose.

Terrorism has many intentions, including political change, religious duty, territorial advantages, and ideological differences. Depending on the group organizing the attack these purposes all use common tactics of kidnapping, suicide bombings, mass casualty attacks, hijacking, and much more. Careful and detailed planning combined with intelligence gathering can make an attack successful, but the psychological factor can often win the objective before an attack even occurs.

Sun Tzu’s Art of War highlights many military strategies that have been used successfully for thousands of years. The philosophy of Sun Tzu is that a battle is won before it even begins and the planning stage is the most critical in battle. Another principle of Sun Tzu is to appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak. This deceives the opponent on the true capabilities of your force.

The terrorism threats that have surfaced for the Sochi Olympic Games have already achieved some purpose and success. President Putin has spent billions of dollars on security for the Games and athletes are telling their friends and family not to come to Sochi out of fear for their safety. The resources used on extra security and the psychological fear created is part of winning the battle without a fight. The common objective is shared by many talented individuals which is the collaboration needed to make this attack successful and very dangerous.

The Olympic Games in Sochi is a perfect target for terrorists and insurgencies. It is a global event with international cooperation, contains plenty of media coverage, attracts large crowds of people, and is located in an area with weak counterterrorism measures and adjacent terrain to many terrorist strongholds. Cooperation with international forces is needed by Russia to help secure the area before and during the Olympic Games.

Sun Tzu also highlights the importance of knowing your enemy’s strengths and weaknesses in addition to your own. This leads to an understanding of when to exploit your enemy and combined with external factors and contingency plans will make for successful attack. Terrorist organizations already understand the weaknesses of the Russian security forces. The Russian North Caucasus contains insurgencies that have been successful in keeping their supply lines open, increasing their forces, and flying under the radar of the Russian federal security forces. Detailed intelligence gathering is something that is lacking in the Russian counterterrorism policy. Without intelligence, you cannot understand your enemy.

One final point worth noting is the use of deception. Sun Tzu said, “All war is deception.” Many resources are flooding into the Sochi Winter Olympic Games and focus is primarily on Sochi. This should not distract from other targets in Russia or western civilization. Many threats have been made regarding Sochi, but this is also a technique to draw security forces away from the main target. This technique was used in Vietnam, successfully, with the Tet Offensive attacking more than 100 targets simultaneously.

These terrorist threats are real and should not be taken lightly. The Sochi Games create the perfect target, give insurgencies the environmental and territorial advantage, and could be in a city that is unprepared for the attacks. This dangerous combination is the perfect storm for terrorism.