Countering Local Violent Extremism Around the Globe

Last week, I discussed a past working paper on labor economics application as it relates to countering violent extremism of terror cell members and tried to relate it to the travels of Hanif – a fickled Pakstani fighter whose been a part-time fighter for al Qaeda and now the Haqqani Network.

This week, I’m throwing up my second labor economics graph related to countering violent extremism with respect to geographic and socio-economic positions.  (For a quick re-cap on my take as it relates to labor economics and terror recruits see this post.)  Here’s where I left off last week:

Knowing the combination of benefits bringing about terrorist recruitment is essential in crafting an effective program for countering violent extremism.  Much like real employment markets, the price of recruitment varies depending on the skills needed by the terror group (job opening) and the location of the terror group (geography).  A terror cell’s operational leader requires more incentives than a new wannabe.  A terror cell operating in Africa likely requires less resources for recruitment than a group in Europe.

Knowing the role of the recruit in the terror group is important for understanding how one might design a CVE strategy to disrupt the recruitment of specific individuals.  However, organizational role alone is not the only factor.  The local conditions from which a recruit arises also matters.  A terror recruit in Africa may be far more enticed by the tangible, pecuniary benefits offered by al Qaeda while a middle to upper class student recruit from Saudi Arabia might be more interested in the ideological, non-pecuniary benefits of group membership.

Following the same method as the price to recruit for terror group roles, I created a hypothetical distribution of recruitment prices based on locations in which al Qaeda operates.  The vertical (y) axis represents increasing pecuniary benefits and the horizontal (x) axis represents increasing non-pecuniary benefits.  Each dot represents the total combination of pecuniary and non-pecuniary benefits an average recruit from that geographic location might require to be recruited to al Qaeda.  Note, this is a conceptual diagram and I don’t have actual data behind these dots.  It’s just an estimate for discussion. Another note, I’ve placed markers on here for countries and regions.  However, I think the price for recruitment should be done down to the local (neighborhood) level as the drivers for recruitment can be quite dynamic and highly dependent on local conditions.


So what, who cares?

Like understanding the price for recruitment by terror cell position, the local conditions bringing about recruitment can also help counterterrorism efforts shape appropriate CVE packages and chip away at group members.  One of the U.S. key witnesses during the U.S.A. vs Osama Bin Laden trial was a man named Jamal al-Fadl.  One of al-Fadl’s main reasons for defecting from al Qaeda and turning on Bin Laden – a pay discrepancy and the fact he was embezzling money from al Qaeda.  As seen in the Harmony documents and other reports, al Qaeda routinely paid African recruits to al Qaeda lower wages than Gulf recruits resulting in a friction between group members over pay.

Recognizing the differences in recruiting price geographically can help the U.S. select CVE programs with the greatest reach and impact.  In places like sub-Saharan Africa, where recruitment is largely about pecuniary benefits, programs focusing on alternative opportunities will likely have more of an impact.  In places like the Arabian Peninsula, where recruits join for ideology more than sustenance, programs in counter narratives or community engagement might be more effective.   Overall, the U.S. must know what type of recruits, by organizational function and geographic location, should be the focus of a CVE campaign and then build programs specifically to reduce the benefits (pecuniary and non-pecuniary) enticing that particular type of recruit.  If this step is not done first, then CVE will achieve little aside from making its advocates feel good for trying.

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