The “global war on terror” since 2001 has slowly been transformed into a more elaborate  theory, “the global Islamic insurgency.”

Rather than terrorist groups, in the mold of ETA or the IRA, it has been argued, Al Qaeda represented a worldwide “insurgency” against the established order and that a wider and more aggressive military effort would be required.

The Iraq War provided another opportunity to elaborate insurgency theory. The multi-pronged resistance to U.S. occupation following the fall of the Hussein regime was not expected in 2003. In the next several years, it grew to include a range of militants fighting on sectarian or jihadist grounds. In order to quell them, the U.S. military began applying counterinsurgency tactics of the sort used against guerrilla fighters in long term, small wars.

The premise of insurgency, very broadly speaking, is that armed groups seeking to overthrow an existing government can do so over the long term, using a variety of violent and non-violent tactics that include terrorism. Insurgents embed themselves among and draw support from the general population. Counterinsurgency’s task, then, is to sort out who’s who, and separate insurgents from civilians, either by killing them or winning the “hearts and minds” of the civilians.

The US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, was a defender of the idea that in the future, war would be much more like insurgency than it would like a series of tank battles.

The growing influence of counterinsurgency melded nicely with evolving theory of Al Qaeda as a globalized network of disparate groups. Different theories about how this actually works exist. One of the most elaborate was David Kilcullen’s in a 2005 article called “Countering Global Insurgency.”

Kilcullen defended the idea that there is one set of actors who take the entire world, rather than one country, as the field for insurgency, and who seek–in the name of global jihad–to overthrow the existing international order. There are also longstanding, unrelated, insurgencies or small wars throughout the world with deep roots in territorial, ethnic, religious, and resource disputes. Kilcullen argues that there is a middle layer of actors, global insurgents, who onto local insurgencies and globalize them. He also argues that these middlemen should be ‘disaggregated’ from local insurgencies, so that each local insurgency can be dealt with on its own.

The idea of global Islamist insurgency has become the dominant theory in the US military today. Gates in Foreign Affairs in the beginning of 2009 wrote: “What is dubbed the war on terror is, in grim reality, a prolonged, worldwide irregular campaign — a struggle between the forces of violent extremism and those of moderation. Direct military force will continue to play a role in the long-term effort against terrorists and other extremists. But over the long term, the United States cannot kill or capture its way to victory.”

This premise has led to a new global approach to victory, in which all of the mechanisms of state power, such as diplomacy, economic aid, intelligence and military action are involved in counterinsurgencies that engage Muslim populations.

The concept of global insurgency opens the door for wider involvement, intelligence and information collection, increased military training of local forces and military action to stabilize any arena believed to be susceptible to falling to the global insurgents.

Jihad is the obligation of each Muslim, within his abilities, to spread Islam in the world and it supposes to last up to the day that the last non Muslim human being recognizes Islam as the true faith. Some Muslims interpret jihad as a violent struggle. This has old roots but the modern global jihad started to expand after the end of the Cold War.

Since the end of the Second World War in 1945 there is a growing frustration in the Arab and Muslim world as a result of the relapse of the Muslim and Arab countries despite their enormous wealth, especially in oil.

The continuous deterioration in economy and human rights under socialist Arab leaders strengthen the general feeling that only true Islam can restore the glory of the early days of Islam and the dignity of all the Muslims in the world.

All over the Muslim world a new Jihadist ideology emerged and is preached by Muslim clergy.

These clerics claim that the destiny of the Muslims, their wealth and their future was hijacked by the rich Western world for its benefits.

It was the Western world that drew the borders of the Arab world to divide the Arab Muslims, supporting corrupted Arab regimes – all in order to continue the exploitation of the Muslim world.

Israel is described as deliberately planted in the Middle East by Western powers to serve as an outpost in the Muslim World in order to protect Western interests on Arab and Muslim soil.

That shameful exploitation of Muslims the Jihadists preach can be stopped only by removing all the corrupt Arab regimes from power, clear the Muslim world from all foreign interests and presence and regain control on Muslim soil and wealth.  

The Global Jihad of the 21th century is waged against non Muslims in the whole world. It is directed especially against Christians, Jews and Western democracies.

After the defeat of the Soviet Army, which had invaded Afghanistan in 1979, in 1988 the “holy warriors”, who had come from all parts of the Muslim world to fight felt invincible and many turned to “holy war” on the West.

The successful Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 further encouraged increased Global Jihad against the United States and the rest of the West.

The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979 further enraged radical Muslims and was seen as a grave betrayal by the pro-Western government of Egypt. It helped, so the jihadists, to prolong the existence of Israel.

The Global Jihad has had a great influence on the global economy, human rights and democracy since 1979. Islamic terror, during the beginning of the 21st century, is playing the same role as communism during the Cold War. The West is fighting back and it is possible that the Global Jihad will eventually collapse in much the same way as the Soviet Union.


Dr. David Kilcullen is the founding President and CEO of Caerus Associates LLC, a strategic design consultancy with a focus on the overlapping problems of conflict, climate change, energy, health and governance.  Caerus operates in challenging environments worldwide, from the field to the policy level, with a presence on four continents and provides design solutions for NGOs, communities, private industry and government. He has published extensively on the global insurgency:

The Accidental Guerrilla: fighting Small Wars in the midst of a big one (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009)

“Ethics, Politics and Non-state Warfare”, Anthropology Today, Volume 23, No. 3, June 2007

“New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict” in Countering the Terrorist Mentality, special edition, U.S. Department of State electronic journal, May 2007

“Counterinsurgency Redux”, Survival, Vol 48, No. 4, December 2006.

“Complex Irregular Warfare: The Face of Contemporary Conflict”, The Military Balance 2005, (London: International Institute For Strategic Studies, 2005)

“Countering Global Insurgency” Journal of Strategic Studies, Volume 28, No. 4, August 2005

Major General Aviv Kochavi, Israeli head of Military Intelligence in June 2013, warned that the global jihad is literally at Israel’s doorstep, using the Israeli term of preference.

“It is possible that in the long run the winds of change will bring with them an opportunity, but in the short term the risks are increasing,” said Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi during a graduation ceremony for hundreds of new intelligence officers.

“Syria, which is the most disturbing example attracting thousands of global jihad activists,  and Muslim extremists from the region and around the world, who base themselves in the country, not only to bring down Assad, but to promote the vision of a state based on Islamic law,” he added.



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