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The Islamic State and Information Warfare: Defeating ISIS and the Broader Global Jihadist Movement

Date Published: 
Thursday, 10 December, 2015

ISIS, or the Islamic State (IS) as it now calls itself, is a far deadlier enemy than Al Qaeda, especially in its understanding and use Information Warfare and Psychological Operations (PSYOP). A fully ledged insurgency which has recruited tens of thousands of ighters and controls large parts of Iraq and Syria, IS is especially skilled in the exploitation of global social media networks to radicalize, indoctrinate and recruit. While the use of force-such as airstrikes-against IS targets may have a positive efect in the short term, victory in the long term will only come when the “lifestyle of the jihadi” is efectively delegitimized. This will require America to draft and execute a national-level Information Operations campaign against the Islamic State. Currently the true center of gravity of this group lies in its Threat Doctrine of Global Jihadism. That ideology cannot be destroyed kinetically.

In order to defeat the Islamic State and eventually the broader Global Jihadist Movement, the US government must recognize the ive following truths of Information Warfare:

1. The purpose of Information Warfare or PSYOP is to use information as a weapon to inluence thought processes, beliefs, emotions, and ultimately behavior.

2. Information Warfare and PSYOP should be the military tools of irst resort, not an afterthought or appendix to military action, since their efective employment can obviate the need to use force at all.

3. You cannot engage in a war of ideas without understanding the enemy’s ideas. You cannot permanently defeat the enemy unless you are intimately familiar with the ideology he uses to mobilize his side and the Enemy Threat Doctrine that drives his violence.

4. All wars-kinetic or psychological-have as their practical objective causing the enemy to give up the ideas that animate their struggle. This was true for the Nazi Third Reich and the Soviet Union just as much as it is true for Al Qaeda or the Islamic State. This victory can only be achieved by making the enemy accept the illegitimacy of their ideology or crushing those who hold it, or as is most often the case, through a combination of both.

5. In order to win a morally based war of ideas you need organizational and financial means that span generations.