Jihadists are nothing if not clever and inventive in their approach to asymmetrical warfare against the US -- and it is the US that is the ultimate target of the current kidnappings as it is the Snow White among largely coalition Dwarfs. The jihadist approach in both Iraq and Saudi Arabia has been to progressively move from hard to soft to softer targets, the latter made especially 'soft' by both physical and domestic political vulnerability.
Recapping the progression, jihadists and Feydayeen quickly withdrew from direct force on force confrontations with US/UK/Coalition assets early in the war, shifting to a guerrilla war mode that then shifted into an extensive use of roadside Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) as the anchor of an ambush strategy. In short order. attacks extended to antipersonnel strikes on US commercial and contract security assets then, in Saudi Arabia, the attack profile shifted into the soft targets of civilian compounds and commercial office blocks while the attacks in Iraq shifted to nascent Iraqi defense forces and civil authorities.
Beheadings of US nationals started with Daniel Pearl, kidnapped in Pakistan, January 2002, and executed shortly after. In retrospect, it is surprising that the mode of execution did not more quickly migrate to Iraq, but the archetype was in place albeit seemingly isolated outside the Iraqi theater.
The Atocha train attacks in Madrid, March 2004, while physically "out-of-theater," were still directly in the coalition supply chain's critical path, and quickly showed insurgents that they could collapse a sovereign government leading to the withdrawal of a coalition member's forces from theater. Jihadists turned to attacking other coalition assets from Italy and other minor coalition members. By April 2004, insurgent websites were carrying targeting priorities against Western individuals, as opposed to infrastructure.
It should be noted that the sahl, the mutilation and burning leading to dismemberment, of four Blackwater employees in Falluja was a spontaneous local initiative after the attacking mujahideen had departed. Once done, and the imagery repeatedly broadcast on Western and Arab media, the event raised the general threat level while giving the insurgents an added reason for protracted physical violence.
The kidnappings and beheadings of Nick Berg in Iraq and Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia shifted the strategy yet again into a protracted killing coupled with collateral sensitizing of domestic audiences in both the US and other involved nations. The retention of Johnson's severed head in a refrigerator at the home of Saleh al-Awfi, al Qaeda's leader in Saudi Arabia, indicates to me that the jihadists recognize the value of retaining the severed head, at least as so long as the media continues to remark upon it, as a tool to further unhook wavering countries and their nationals.
Kidnapping and beheadings extended to Korean and Bulgarian nationals, but as yet have not caused their governments to withdraw. Jihadists then kidnapped Filipino drivers under threat of beheading and so forced Manila to withdraw its forces from Iraq. (While the Philippines were scheduled to shortly rotate their troops out, it was clear that the kidnappings forced a pell mell extraction.)
Moving down the coalition supply chain, jihadists have now kidnapped nationals of Indian, Kenyan, and Egypt, all countries which do not have coalition forces in theater but rather purely commercial support personnel such as drivers. Insurgents are now demanding that these countries withdraw their nationals, and any commercial effort that is seen to support coalition forces. It is hard, or very expensive, to support a 160,000-member coalition force in theater if you can not get them fed. Having outsourced these support roles to reduce costs and coalition troop exposure, we have merely transmitted the risk to these subcontractors who may have a very different political calculus in remaining.
Expect to see a marked rise in twinned kidnapping/beheading threats wherever foreign and US nationals are exposed and undefended. (While three Japanese nationals were kidnapped but later released without concession, I would expect Japan to come under renewed attack.) There are far too many human targets who are far too dispersed to be easily and uniformly protected. We have a significant flaw in the critical path of our coalition supply chain that will not be easily resolved.
Militant Group Says It Has Six Foreign Hostages in Iraq
By Ravi Nessman
The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 21, 2004; 12:02 PM
Head of slain U.S. hostage found in fridge
Wed 21 July, 2004 14:49
By Fahd al-Frayyan
HOME RULE: A dangerous excursion into the heart of the Sunni opposition
by Nir Rosen
Issue of 2004-07-05