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Category: PRISM Articles

Sept. 14, 2017

The Evolution of MS 13 in El Salvador and Honduras

Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13) is rapidly evolving into a criminal-economic-military-political power that poses an existential threat to the states of El Salvador and Honduras.1 In Guatemala, the gang remains a tier two threat—dangerous, but with far less influence and fewer capabilities than in the other two nations of the Northern Triangle. With growing ties to Mexican drug cartels, while assuming an ever-greater role in the transportation of cocaine transportista networks across the Isthmus, the gang is acquiring financial resources, advanced weaponry, and the ability and sophistication to wield increasing political power. Factions that once relied exclusively on violence and threats for control are now trying to win the hearts and minds of the communities in which they operate; taking concrete steps to consolidate themselves in the cocaine trade; and becoming credible alternatives to the state. MS 13 in many ways now better resembles a criminal business enterprise rooted in brutal violence than a traditional gang.

Sept. 14, 2017

ISIL Radicalization, Recruitment, and Social Media Operations in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines

In a 2014 video posted to YouTube, the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) announced the end of Sykes-Picot.1 While Sykes-Picot may be unfamiliar among many in the West, ISIL’s appeal in 2014 centered on promoting its ability and vision, as a caliphate, to invalidate the boundary between Iraq and Syria. That border, a result of World War I neocolonial competition, stemmed from the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement that divided the region into mandates governed by and reflecting the interests of France and Britain. Where was the Wahhabbi doctrine in this YouTube message? Nowhere. Rather, the message suggested that administrative control of territory, an opportunity provided by the Syrian Civil War, distinguished ISIL from other terrorist organizations and that expansion of a caliphate did not rely on the legitimacy of radical Wahhabism ideology alone. While ideology remains central to this process, ISIL radicalization depends on exploitation of networks including familial ties, friendship, religious institutions and especially expansion of these connections. With the potential end of its attempted caliphate in Iraq and Syria, what other regional networks will ISIL target for exploitation?

May 16, 2017

A Letters to the Editor A Critique of 'Special Operations Doctrine: is it Needed

Regarding the PRISM Vol 6. No.3 article “Special Operations Doctrine: Is it Needed?” by Charles T. Cleveland, James B. Linder, and Ronald Dempsey, I am struck by the curious absence of reference to the long established and mature body of Joint Special Operations doctrine. The authors write as if there was no special operations doctrine until Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 3–05 came along in 2012. They opine as to the various reasons for this, including accusing “...the general military doctrine community (of holding) a myopic view of U.S. Special Operations Capabilities.” In truth, their contention is not factually correct.

May 16, 2017

BR: The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World

In 1990, with the Cold War having just concluded, I delighted in reviewing analyses written during the previous decade, which confidently assumed that the bipolar world order was a permanent description of the global landscape. 2016 may represent another threshold year. The Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election require re-examination of critical assumptions that gained traction between the end of the Cold War and 2015 regarding the inevitability of economic and political progress in the developing world, including Africa.

May 16, 2017

Islam in from the Cold: A Muslim Brother’s Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future of the Islamic Movement in the Sudan

Ahmed found himself in Khartoum’s notorious Kober prison with Sheikh Hassan al-Turabi, éminence grise of political Islam, shortly after the 1989 coup d’état in the Republic of the Sudan.1 He and the coup leader al-Turabi, who infamously welcomed Osama bin Laden into the country in 1991, were close friends for years before he served as one of the leading members of the Sudanese Islamic Movement’s shura.2 Thus prison began the saga of the second Islamist rule in the Sudan with all of its twists and turns, and a watershed moment in Ahmed’s long journey as a Muslim Brother.3

May 16, 2017

BR: This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organized Crime

Nigerians are no strangers to international controversy. This book opens by recounting a comment by erstwhile U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell who described Nigerians as scammers who “tend not to be honest.” In May 2016 then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron described Nigerians as “fantastically corrupt” during an unguarded conversation with Queen Elizabeth. Regardless of how one interprets these comments, there is no denying that unlawful activity is ubiquitous across Nigerian society. Multiple decades of criminal activity have been debilitating and stultifying for the vast majority, but extraordinarily profitable for a few.

May 16, 2017

BR: Security in Africa: A Critical Approach to Western Indicators of Threat

Claire Metelits in Security in Africa: A Critical Approach to Western Indicators of Threat illustrates clearly and concisely that the most commonly used threat indicators provide a narrow, flawed view of threats in sub-Saharan Africa. Metelits’ work should not be as groundbreaking as it is: consider that on a recent survey conducted by AfroBarometer—a pan–African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys in more than 35 countries in Africa—the police were perceived as the most corrupt institution throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where survey data from Gallup suggests that police are among the most trusted institutions in the United States—even when trust levels are at a 22–year low.1 However, Metelits’ book is one of the few venues that fully appreciates the ramifications of this disconnect between citizens and states throughout the region. Metelits demonstrates how western, and particularly American, state-centric security indicators are ill-suited to understanding power structures and governance on the continent. Security in Africa unpacks what it means for a country to be “stable” and “secure,” or “impoverished” and “ungoverned;” she also delves into the significance of who is given the authority to characterize regions as such.

May 16, 2017

The Armies of the Great Lakes Countries

Precolonial Africa was a rather special part of the world because durable state structures were extremely rare. Local chiefdoms or large (but transient) multi-ethnic empires—yes. Tight nation-states—hardly. Except in a rather limited geographical area to the east of the continent, a cluster of sacred monarchic states grew, expanded, and fought each other around the shores of the Great Lakes in Africa. There are no written records, so we can only fathom the historical depth of these monarch states through oral traditions, and these date to the 10th century.

May 16, 2017

Brothers Came Back with Weapons: The Effects of Arms Proliferation from Libya

In November 2011, Mokhtar Belmokhtar of the North Africa-based al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) told the Mauritanian news agency ANI that “We have been one of the main beneficiaries of the revolutions in the Arab world…As for our acquisition of Libyan armaments that is an absolutely natural thing.”1 His statement summed up the fears expressed by many commentators—to include the author of this article—that large quantities of arms within Libya were left in unsecured stockpiles and would be proliferated to terrorists and insurgents around the world.2 Most vividly, in 2013 the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper, noted “spy chiefs” claim that Libya “has become the Tesco [supermarket] of the world’s illegal arms trade.”3

May 16, 2017

Continuity and Change in War and Conflict in Africa

Since the end of the Cold War, Africa has experienced a disproportionately large number of armed conflicts. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), there have been an estimated 630 state-based and nonstate armed conflicts on the continent between 1990 and 2015. Explanations for this glut of armed conflicts in Africa remain the subject of debates. Nevertheless, between the early 1990s and the late 2000s, Africa underwent a period of significant progress in reducing the number and intensity of armed conflicts. Since 2010, however, the continent has witnessed some disturbing upward conflict trends. Specifically, there have been significant reversals in the decline of state-based armed conflicts and deliberate campaigns of violence against civilians; religious and environmental factors have played increasingly significant roles in a wide range of armed conflicts; there has been a dramatic increase in the levels of popular protests across the continent; as well as an exponential rise in the use of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and suicide bombings. International efforts to respond to some of these developments by deploying more robust and militarized forms of peace operations and interventions have met with at best only limited success.