FROM THE EDITOR’S VAULT
With the pandemics, terrorism, and economic collapse on the minds of many people all over the world, one must ask themselves:
What exactly is that we need to be doing about all this?
To help answer that question, this exclusive report has been released from the Editor’s Vault.
Originally written in April of 2016, it’s a get-up-and-go action plan written to assess the two dominant strategic frameworks that hang like a specter over the Trump Administration of today, and all future Administrations to come:
- The George W. Bush Strategic Framework
- The Barack Obama Strategic Framework
This assessment is all the more critical today, because as the current National Defense Strategy, released in 2018 explains, “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security.”
Likewise, this report provides unique and interesting study into the forces of Nationalism and Globalism–because it was written months before these terms came to dominate everyday media discourse on all forms of politics.
With that, we at Mind at War.org proudly present to you the present author’s “Onward to Victory: A Winning Strategy for the War on Terror”.
ONWARD TO VICTORY:
A WINNING STRATEGY
FOR THE WAR ON TERROR
Today, the United States stands at a crossroads in the War on Terror.
After fifteen years of engagement against Islamist terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe, the United States has witnessed the rise of ISIS, the destruction of Syria, the crumbling of Iraqi democracy, the anarchic spiral of Libya, and the increase in secretarain warfare all across the world.
The forces of tyranny are on the march. Freedom is in retreat.
In order for the United States to seize the initiative in the War on Terror and destroy the menace of Islamist terrorism, it is necessary to reexamine our strategic assumptions that have guided us in this fight.
Since 9/11/01, both the Bush and Obama Administrations have put forth different counter-terrorism strategies intending to decisively win the War on Terror.
This essay will use the George W. Bush Administration’s Counter-terrorism Strategy as a model for which to develop a new understanding of the strategic reality of this conflict.
Accepting the Bush Administration’s premises to defeat Islamist terrorism, this essay will refine the Bush Administration’s strategic framework in four ways:
- First, this essay will examine the global shift in political centers of gravity from nation-states to decentralized organizational entities unified by a common cultural identity.
- Second, this essay will use this context to erase the traditional state-centric boundaries between strategy and tactics.
- Third, this essay will examine the operating dynamics of these new decentralized organizational entities, namely clans and tribes.
- Fourth, this essay will make recommendations on how to build partner capabilities to defeat Islamist terrorism and make victory a reality in the War on Terror.
SHIFTED CENTERS OF GRAVITY
With the end of the Cold War, the rise of globalization and internationalism have been predicted as the political organization of the future.
According to this view, as global centralization increased, decentralization would decrease. This would destroy the nation-state as a viable political organization and by extension all smaller political entities.
This new era of cooperation would signal an era in which Western cultural and economic norms would become the globe’s dominant forms, heralding an era of peace.
While globalism has indeed increased as predicted in some ways, its march to dominance has been rolled back by an unexpected counter-force. Over the last twenty-five years, nation-states across the globe have seen a loss of power not from centralization, but from decentralization.
Known alternatively as decentralization, devolution, and regionalization, nation-states across the globe have experienced the loss of political power to regional entities organized by tribes and united by local culture.
While peace and cooperation were the predicted outcomes of centralization, the reality of decentralization has been accompanied by the opposite, with a rise in conflict and instability between these new political entities becoming what the Department of Defense has termed “The New Normal.”
With this new type of dominant political organization, it is necessary for us to reexamine our understanding of politics and warfighting in light of the dynamics of decentralization. This will require a redefinition of strategy that erases the distinction between strategic-level goals and tactical implementation.
STRATEGY AND TACTICS REVISITED
“War is…a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means,” writes Clausewitz.
The traditional understanding of this definition has been interpreted in light state-to-state interactions rising out of the Westphalian Treaty system and the Napoleonic Wars.
This understanding has regalated politics to the realm of strategy, conducted by high-level state actors, while considering tactical implementation of violence to be separate and distinct from political decision-making.
While this division of labor has served the West well when dealing with large nation-state entities organized on a mass scale, the new political reality of global decentralization does not fit this model.
In the current political climate, this division is erased because the political centers of gravity are not at the large state-level usually reserved for areas of strategy, but at the small, personalized, local level of tribal organization—an area usually only reserved for the tactical application of violence.
This new reality has been witnessed repeatedly over course of Iraq and Afghanistan, as Lt. Col. Daniel Laux, USMC and former advisor to the 7th Iraqi Infantry Division from 2007-2008, observed:
“The difference between a large-scale strategic incident rests in the young Marine corporal, whether he extends his hand to shake hands or points his weapon at somebody can be a point of strategic crisis in this fight. The ability for the young nineteen year old Marine to impact strategy as opposed to just the immediate tactical situation is profound in this Counterinsurgency reality…That wasn’t the case a few years before…so the question became ‘how do we train these marines?’”
To answer this question, it is necessary to understand the dynamics of these new decentralize units of political organization, specifically their views of politics and warfighting.
The basic directing force of these political units is tribalism. While seemingly novel to a political paradigm dominated by state-level organization, tribalism is in fact the basic mode of organization for human beings.
Considered to be an anachronism in an age of modernity, the study of tribalism has been ignored in political Science departments since the 1940s. But in an age of decentralization, it is now more vital than ever to understand its dynamics.
Common dynamics of tribalism are shared across the globe in every pre-modern society, encompassing diverse cultures such as the Tartars of Central Asia, the fragmentary tribes of the Balkans, Russia, Japan, China, and even Europe and America all the way up through the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
This essay, however, will examine these common behaviors in the context of Arab tribalism and its dynamics in the Middle East.
THE ARAB WAY
Since the dawn of time, the Arab peoples have struggled for survival in a human terrain summarized by the maxim, “Homo homini lupus” or “Man is wolf to man.”
Within this violent context, combat is viewed not as a negative, but as normal, positive, and defining part of human existence.
To insure the ultimate goal of self-preservation, the individual Arab holds the value of self-sufficiency at a premium, creating a mentality and operating procedure characterized by what T.E. Lawrence described as “mobility, toughness, self-assurance, knowledge of the country, and intelligent courage.”
This concept of self-sufficiency is made up of two equally important facets:
- Social interactions
In warfighting, the Arab has manifested this concept of self-sufficiency in perfecting the tactic of the raid, an individualized method of combat that emphasizes mobility, stealth, and ferocity.
In social settings, Arab self-sufficiency is displayed by negotiating skill, sarcasm, poetic and rhetorical longevity, generosity with resources, and stoicism in the face of pain.
By continually living a life of self-sufficiency, an Arab maintains his sense of honor, defined by Donald Kagan as “deference, esteem, just due, regard, respect, or prestige.”
It is with this foundation of self-sufficiency that Arab tribal structure takes place.
This begins with the clan, in which is based on a lineage of common ancestry through male descendants, also known as patrilineal clan. This is essentially a collection of basic family units, in which mating and childrearing are conducted.
Multiple clans go on to form sub-tribes and tribes. This allows for a basic division of labor of men as warfighters, women as homemakers, and the patriarchs as martial leader and peacemakers.
The key element that allows this system to function is the khamsa, or blood vengeance group.
The khamsa consists of all male members of the clan, whose duty as warfighters it to extract revenge for murdered kinsmen—the conducting of blood feuds.
Any member of the murderer’s khamsa is a legitimate target for death, and because this system is two-way street, the khamsa becomes a body of martial unity mutually supporting one another through their individual self-sufficiency.
This bonding of the khamsa, to protect the clan as the basis of its survival, creates for the entire clan what the eminent Islamic Historian Ibn Khaldun called asabiyya—a sense of collective identity, more commonly referred to today as culture.
It is this sense of deep-seated collective identity that has allowed tribalism to survive for millennia, and weather the storms of modernity to emerge the dominant political force in today’s Middle East.
This sense of asabiyya then, is made possible by khamsas composed of individuals valuing self-sufficiency, and has been the greatest strength of clan-based tribal organization.
However, it has also been its greatest weakness. The extreme sense of self-sufficiency that makes the entire system possible also is the cause of endemic conflict and warfare. This situation is eloquently summarized by a Somali poem that is reflected throughout the Middle East:
“Me and my clan against the world;
“Me and my family against my clan;
“Me and my brother against my family;
“Me against my brother.”
Because of this extreme nature of self-sufficiency, the job of controlling these forces is the greatest challenge to chieftains in tribal society. Sir John Bagot Glubb, British officer and eminent Arabist, described the situation:
“The Arab tribe is so democratic as to be almost entirely lacking in discipline. The ordinary tribal shaik has no power to enforce compliance with his decisions.”
To conquer this challenge, the Arab chieftain must possess a level of self-sufficiency so superior to all tribal members so as to be able to enforce his will upon the populace under his charge, allowing for the control of clans and tribes.
This is summarized in the Jordanian proverb, “The people follow the strongman.”
A major preoccupation of Arab chieftains is the enlarging of one’s khamsa to force multiply its combat factor. This separates the effective from the ineffective chieftains.
This can often be done by marriage, negotiation, or an imposed peace through conquest. In the end, this process creates the loose organizations of sub-tribes and tribes. Under the leadership of a chieftain who leads his people to conquest, new alliances can form a sense of asabiyya.
Likewise, the subjugation of conquered tribes, integrated and pacified by the payment of blood money and the enforcement of arms, also leads to a sense of asabiyya over time. Often, chieftains achieve this in units no larger than clans, but skilled leaders can achieve the level of tribe, state and even empire.
This system of organization forms the bedrock values of today’s Middle East, even within the modern confines of cities. These values are kept alive in history, myth, and legend, and together, they form millennia’s worth of asabiyya that drive the political and warfighting procedures of a region and its people.
MORE FAMILIAR THAN FIRST THOUGHT
While concepts such as khamsa, blood feuds, and asabiyya may seem like foreign ideas to contemporary students of political science, they are more familiar than first thought.
The concept of self-sufficiency in Arab tribal culture is the same as the doctrine of Escalation Dominance in the Cold War. In this context, the idea of dominating the next-level of violence encompasses both military and social (i.e. political) functions.
Likewise, the idea of khamsa linked by clans and tribes is the same as the concept of treaty obligations, epitomized by the NATO Article 5 Doctrine of “an attack on one Ally is considered an attack against all Allies.”
Additionally, the waging of blood feuds and tribal warfare for the sake of honor is the same as wars waged to acquire or maintain hegemony. Finally, a sense of asabiyya is the tribal equivalent of nationalism and patriotism.
Upon deeper investigation, concepts of tribal organization and interaction are the same as their state-level equivalents.
The main difference, however, lies in size and division of labor, for while state-level organization and interactions are marked by a clearly demarcated strategic and tactical division without overlap, the small size and personal nature of tribal organization does not allow for such a division, making strategy and tactics a single entity composed of an undivided whole.
Because decentralization defines today’s geopolitical landscape, it is necessary for US counter terrorism policy to consequently shift to the new political centers of gravity: tribal organization.
To wrest the initiative away from Islamist terrorism, US military forces in embattled areas must partner with locals at the tribal level to become contributing members of their khamsa.
Contributing “mobility, toughness, self-assurance, knowledge of the country, and intelligent courage” both military and socio-politically, US forces ensure the survival of the tribe against our common foes by using the major preoccupation of tribal leaders—enhancing khamsa size and ability— to build enduring partnerships.
These developed bonds will have the same effect they have always had since the dawn of time—creating asabiyya between American forces and our local partners.
Together, these forces can complement each other’s abilities, with US forces contributing manpower and combat force multipliers, while locals contribute intelligence and a knowledge of the local human terrain.
To apply this program, it is necessary to begin enhancing and developing local khamsa capabilities in areas already friendly to US interests, thereby smoothing over the process of asabiyya creation.
Beginning in this way will allow for the creation of social proof to be viewed by other tribal entities. With the superior self-sufficiency of the newly integrated khamsa winning for itself the “deference, esteem, just due, regard, respect, or prestige” of honor, other tribes will seek to enhance their khamsa size and accompanying honor by joining our local partnered forces.
Together, our mutual interests “advance[sic] like a spot of oil,” and force multiplying our in-theater combat capabilities to go on the offensive and eradicate the Islamist menace.
This program can be used to create stabilization and enforce unity in failed states such as Syria, and likewise can be applied under modified conditions to bring stability and unity to embattled states dominated by tribal dynamics, such as Iraq.
Under the latter conditions, this program would consist of a two-fold approach. The process of US khamsa integration would first be targeted to enhancing and developing the capabilities of embattled government forces.
Specifically, this would be aimed at the creation of partner Special Operations Force capabilities to act as a Quick Reaction Force to engage in offensive operations, including but not limited to assassinations, raids, and rescues.
This “praetorian guard” creation would occur in tandem with the creation and use of US integrated khamsas at the local tribal level described above. These local forces would be beneficial not only as combat force multipliers, but also in the gathering and providing of intelligence for US and host-nation SOF forces.
Likewise, because of their unique personal stake and investment, these local khamsas would be able to maintain the security of their areas of responsibility, denying Islamist terrorist sanctuaries and safe-havens.
To coordinate these two forces together, a US military representative invested with political authority must exist to act as a liaison between the host-nation’s SOF and the local khamsa in a given area of operations.
This American-held position would be assisted by a mirror-image host-nation partner. United together by the bond of asabiyya, these two forces would operate together as mutually inclusive entities to support stability within the embattled state’s borders, and would serve as an achievable model to emulate in failed states.
At every level, from the local khamsa to the host-nation SOF forces and the coordination between the two, personal US interaction is the key. Their self-sufficiency of “mobility, toughness, self-assurance, knowledge of the country, and intelligent courage” is the necessary glue to cements the coalition together.
Because it leverages the intensely personal dynamics of tribal society that Sir John Bagot Glubb described about his time implementing similar policies across the Middle East during the first half of the 20th Century:
“The peoples of Asia and Africa differ profoundly from those of north-west Europe. Their personal relationships are warmer and they do not expect their governments to be impersonal machines.”
AT THE END OF THE DAY
In conclusion, in order to win the War on Terror, the United States must develop a strategy that deals with the reality of political organization in today’s world.
The new centers of gravity that dominate the geopolitics of our time are not sprawling, centralized nation-states, but small, decentralized tribal entities. These entities operate by their own compact dynamic that erases the demarcation between strategy and tactics.
This dynamic takes on a personal nature that is marked by individual warfighting and social self-sufficiency that allows for the creation of khamsas to insure the survival of the tribe.
Only by recognizing and understanding this structure can the United States effectively partner with local forces in failed and embattled states to bring stability and peace to regions wracked by the scourge of Islamist terrorism.
Only together, working closely, intimately, and personally with our local partners as dictated by the dynamics of tribalism, can America win the War on Terror.
Historically, this approach to politics and warfighting has been the key to American success across the globe.
With it, we helped create a world in the 20th Century of nation-states enjoying security and stability.
Today, as geopolitical conditions change, we must change with them, engaging at the personal level of tribalism to ensure security and stability once more.
As Maj. Vince Boncich, who served in the al-Dawiniya province of Iraq from 2007-2008, summarized the dynamics of the fight today:
“…when you’re there, all that stuff you read in the newspaper doesn’t matter. ‘The politics, and why we’re there,’ it doesn’t matter. Because now all you’re doing is you just have this little, little, little tiny piece of Iraq that you’re trying to make better.
“And that little piece has moms, dads, schools, this, that, they have their own little pieces of problems…
“My concern was keeping my people alive and trying to make that piece a little bit better, in hopes that their kids don’t want to harm Americans, and don’t want to join a group who wants to hurt Americans. It’s bigger than what’s there, or what’s read in the paper.”
May the khamsas of America and the Middle East unite.
Onward to Victory.
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 Lt. Col. Dan Laux, USMC. Personal Interview, March 3, 2015.
 Schultz Jr. Richard H, and Andrea J. Dew. Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. 40-54.
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 Schultz Jr. Richard H, and Andrea J. Dew. Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. 5-7; Bailey, Clinton. Bedouin Poetry from Sinai and the Negev: Mirror of a Culture. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991, 30-32. Waltz, Kenneth N. Man, the State and War: A Theoretical Analysis. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1954, 22.
 Schultz Jr. Richard H, and Andrea J. Dew. Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. 35; Pipes, Daniel. Slave Soldiers and Islam: The Genesis of a Military System. New Haven, MA: Yale University Press, 1981. 78-79.
 Schultz Jr. Richard H, and Andrea J. Dew. Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. 36, 43; Boot, Max. Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present. New York, NY: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013. 11-12.
 Patai, Raphael. The Arab Mind. Long Island City, NY: Haterleigh Press, 2002. 43-69, 89-95. Bailey, Clinton. Bedouin Poetry from Sinai and the Negev: Mirror of a Culture. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991, 120-127, 134-135, 138-139.
 Kagan, Donald. On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace. New York: Random House, Inc., 1995, 8.
 Bailey, Clinton. Bedouin Poetry from Sinai and the Negev: Mirror of a Culture. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991, 120-127, 134-135, 138-139; Patai, Raphael. The Arab Mind. Long Island City, NY: Haterleigh Press, 2002. 78-85. Schultz Jr. Richard H, and Andrea J. Dew. Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005, 58-61, 62-65.
 Patai, Raphael. The Arab Mind. Long Island City, NY: Haterleigh Press, 2002. 85-86; Schultz Jr. Richard H, and Andrea J. Dew. Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. 50-54.
 Ibid. 48-54.
 Ibid, 59. Compare with Arab “Myself and my cousin against the world.” In Cockburn, Andrew, and Patrick Cockburn. “Saddam at the Abyss.” In Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession,. 2nd ed. London, England: Verso, 2002. 68.
 West, Bing. The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq. New York: Random House, 2008. 22.
 Schultz Jr. Richard H, and Andrea J. Dew. Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. 48-50.
 Young, Peter. The Arab Legion. London: Osprey Publishing, Ltd., 1972. 18.
 Schultz Jr. Richard H, and Andrea J. Dew. Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. 58-60. Bailey, Clinton. Bedouin Poetry from Sinai and the Negev: Mirror of a Culture. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991, 120-127; Long, Jerry M. Saddam’s War of Words: Politics, Religion, and the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2004. 28.
 Patai, Raphael. The Arab Mind. Long Island City, NY: Haterleigh Press, 2002. 78-83, 85-86.
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 Schwarzenberger, Georg. Power Politics: A Study of International Society. New York, NY: Frederick a Praeger, Inc., 1951 (print). 53-63.
 Schultz Jr. Richard H, and Andrea J. Dew. Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. 35.
 Kagan, Donald. On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace. New York: Random House, Inc., 1995, 8.
 General Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey, quoted in Boot, Max. Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present. New York, NY: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013. 179.
 Schultz Jr. Richard H, and Andrea J. Dew. Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. 35.
 Glubb, Sir John Bagot. A Short History of the Arab Peoples. New York: Dorset Press, 1968. 281.
 Major Vincent Boncich, Personal Interview, April 2015.