Counterinsurgency Warfare And Special Operations Studies Program

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An Historical Analysis: Unconventional Tactics Against Civilians in Afghanistan

This open source report, prepared by the Program on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations Studies Program Manager Susan Stipanovich, aims to detail an historical analysis of the Taliban and Al Qaeda using unconventional warfare against civilians in Afghanistan.


Unconventional Warfare
Unconventional warfare is defined as “activities to enable a resistance or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow a government or occupying power through or with an underground, auxiliary and [or] guerrilla force in a denied area.” It includes, but is not limited to, guerrilla warfare, subversion, sabotage, intelligence activities, and unconventional
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In several public letters, the Taliban has outlined their definition of civilian as “those who are in no way involved in fighting: the white bearded people, women, children and common people who live an ordinary life”. In this report, “civilians” is used to describe any person who is not actively engaged in fighting during a war. Events in which civilians were killed in person by Al Qaeda or Taliban forces by direct gunfire, hanging, beheading, or individual suicide attack in person are outlined in the following pages. We have chosen not to focus on improvised explosive devices, vehicle bombs, or rocket fire due to their relatively indiscriminate nature.

Islamic Ethics of War
The Islamic tradition of jihad (just war) explicitly respects noncombatant immunity. The foundation for jus in bello (conduct within war) was set by Muhammad’s successor, the first caliph, Abu Bakr, when he gave the Islamic ‘ten commands’. He very succinctly said: “do not kill children or old men, or women.” Deference for civilians in war is also supported by the Koran which says: “fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not transgress limits, for God loves not the transgressors.” (2:190) The loophole that some Muslim extremists, including al Qaeda, have used to exploit Islam as a cover to kill noncombatants has been the “sword” verses of the Koran. The most famous sword verse is:

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