The U.S. Commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East is tapping outside government experts in search of innovative ideas to use in the fight against the Islamic State’s ideology, reports The New York Times.
According to the Times, Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata this summer solicited help from a “brain trust outside the traditional realms of expertise within the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence agencies” to solve a pressing problem for the U.S. military: “What makes the Islamic State so dangerous?”
“We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it,” he said, according to excerpts from a confidential conference call that the general held with outside government experts.
“We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea,” he added.
Other American officials share Gen. Nagata’s sentiment that understanding the intangible power of the Islamic State (IS, ISIS, or ISIL) is essential to defeating the jihadist group, notes The New York Times (NYT).
Some U.S. officials “acknowledge they have barely made a dent in the larger, longer-term campaign to kill the ideology that animates the terrorist movement,” according to the Times article.
Breitbart News reports that the U.S. has often failed in its efforts to counter ISIS propaganda and ideology.
Echoing Gen. Nagata’s comments about the U.S. not understanding ISIS’ ideology, Evan F. Kohlmann, chief information officer of Flashpoint Global Partners, a firm that tracks terrorism videos, criticized a State Department video released to counter ISIS propaganda.
“The problem with this video is the same problem that seems to happen over and over again with these type of initiatives,” Kohlmann said, Breitbart News reports. “They don’t seem to have a clear picture of what audience they are trying to reach, or how to influence them.”
NYT gained access to “minutes” of internal conference calls between Gen. Nagata and at least three dozen outside government experts that occurred in August and October.
The calls “offer an unusual insight into the struggle to understand the Islamic State as a movement, and where the American military’s top leaders are most focused,” notes the article.
ISIS’ ability to control a population, something that has been highlighted by the panel of experts, has piqued the general’s interest.
According to the conference calls, experts believe that ability stems from “psychological tactics such as terrorizing populations, religious and sectarian narratives, economic controls.”
“It is not so much the number of troops or types of weapons the militants use, the experts said. Rather, it is the intangible means by which the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, wrests and maintains control over territory and its people,” reports NYT.
The experts question whether ISIS “has the bureaucratic sophistication necessary to govern,” the article adds.
During one of the conference calls, Gen. Nagata highlighted ISIS’ “sophisticated use of social media to project and amplify its propaganda” and insisted that the U.S. needs “people born and raised in the region” to help combat that problem, NYT reports.
ISIS avidly uses social media, including a “Twitter account full of adorable kittens,” to sell Jihad, Breitbart News reports.
The jihadist group uses a multi-pronged approach to online propaganda.
“Those on the ground in Iraq are painstakingly chronicling the mass killings of Iraqi soldiers, civilians, and any who may appear to be enemies of Jihad,” notes Breitbart News’ Frances Martel. “Sympathizers online are using everything from common Western-style internet memes, to topical jihadist ‘jokes,’ to questionably real images of supporters of ISIS rallying online.”