Saturday, January 23rd 2016
"The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute conducted an intensive multi-week exercise to frame, design, and evaluate potential courses of action that the United States could pursue to defeat the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria.” Reports on “U.S. Grand Strategy: Destroying ISIS and al Qaeda,” were written by Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, Jennifer Cafarella, Harleen Gambhir, and Katherine Zimmerman. Report One is “Al Qaeda and ISIS: Existential Threats to the U.S. and Europe.” Here are the three paragraphs on “Media Support.”
Attack groups operating in the West almost invariably desire media attention. They acquire such attention automatically, in a sense, simply by conducting a successful attack. But Western media is sometimes slow to credit the sponsoring group with conducting the attack, as was the case with the downing of the Russian airliner over Sinai by ISIS and initially with the San Bernardino attack. The Sinai case is of particular interest because of the lengths ISIS went to in order to prove that it really had carried out the bombing of the plane in the face of significant—and unjustified—skepticism. It deployed the considerable media capabilities at its disposal to make multiple claims from sources reliably attributable to it, and then to provide imagery of the explosive device itself in its official magazine, Dabiq.
Had the attack group that placed the bomb on that airliner not been able to draw on the resources of the ISIS regional support base, the world might still be debating how the plane went down. The importance of media support goes far beyond ensuring that the right group receives credit for an operation. Al Qaeda and ISIS deploy attack groups abroad in order to achieve very specific objectives not by the destruction of their targets, but rather by their plans to exploit the attacks in the information sphere. Since ISIS’s attacks in the West generally seek to provoke anti-Muslim backlash and over-reactions in order to radicalize Muslim communities throughout the world, controlling the messaging following an attack is critical. Without such message-control, the attack is just another terrorist incident that may or may not advance the ISIS campaign plan.
The ability to shape and amplify the message delivered by an attack is thus a core component of the attack itself. An individual attack group does not have such an ability. It cannot, indeed, hope to have this capability since most of the attackers die in the attack. The media capabilities of the regional support base are what give the operation its meaning from the standpoint of the attackers through glossy publications like Inspire and Dabiq and through official and informal social media platforms.