How Non-State Actors are Making a Difference on the Battlefield of Tomorrow (Part 1)


    Non-State Actors, The Greyzone and the Battlefields of Tomorrow


    In this article, I have analysed the role of non-state actors in recent conflicts and particularly in Somalia. To improve readability this article has been divided into 3 parts. The first part briefly examines the background on the recent use of non-state actors as proxies. The second part explores the use of proxies in other parts of the world. In the last part, I give my take on the future role of non-state actors.

    In the novel environment of non-war, non-linear and asymmetry dubbed the Gray Zone by the DOD. We believe there is a place for non-state actors, particularly in the intelligence domain. We chose the name: Grey Dynamics because we strive to understand this environment. Through practical experience and research, in an effort to inhabit and overcome this space. Grey also represents the “grey matter” aka the brain, which is key to understand this Gray Zone environment. Dynamics was chosen because it embodies the forces or properties which stimulate growth, development, or change within both aforementioned domains. These forces or properties can be political, social, economic or non-state actors. Our aim is to stimulate growth, development and change in the Gray Zone.

    Background on Non-state Actors

    In the conflicts of today, and certainly those of tomorrow, there has been a rise of non-state actors. This trend is also prevalent in the intelligence and information domain—illustrated in Syria, Ukraine and in Somalia. Since, the ascendance of the world’s most powerful countries on the nuclear power stage. There was a decline in inter-state conflicts. Instead, the world witnessed the asymmetrical nature of the War on Terror. Wherein groups such as Al Shabab have demonstrated the decreased relevance of technological superiority. Allowing it to punch far above its weight.

    Resulting in western powers and in particular, the US Military, changing tactics, technologies and doctrine to defeat these asymmetric foes.Furthermore, it led to the introduction of concepts such as the Find-Fix-Finish-Exploit-Analyse-Disseminate (F3EAD). Or the infamous Task Force ODIN, which merged operations with intelligence. Consequently, it saw the warfighters and intelligence personal move further and further away from this new environment. Particularly with the wide use of Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPA) or more popularly “drones”.

    Non-state Actors as Proxies?

    The use of non-state actors as proxies has similarly seen a dramatic rise. Some with negative consequences. For example, the Blackwater incidents in Iraq. However, there are also success stories such as the partnerships with Aegis during the same campaign. In the Afghan war, the CIA and Pentagon successfully pushed back the Taliban with warlords from the Northern Alliance (NA). Ultimately, the NA proved to be a miscalculation. It was allegedly involved in atrocities against prisoners of war. 


    Similarly, the use of warlords in Somalia failed spectacularly. Because of years of abuse, it lacked the popular support of the Somali people. On the other hand, the Somali people saw the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) as a breath of fresh air. The situation was further exacerbated by the Ethiopian invasion in 2006 (seen as the arch-nemesis by many Somalis). Transforming Al Shabab from a fringe group, part of ICU, to a capable and battle-hardened force with popular support. Though, after years of fighting Al Shabab. Lessons were learned about the successful use of non-state actors on the battlefield.

    Ahmed Hassan
    Ahmed Hassan
    Ahmed is the CEO of Grey Dynamics. He has worked as a HUMINT specialist and focuses his writing and research on counterintelligence, Infosec, Covert Action and Space Operations. Ahmed also hosts our weekly Grey Dynamics Podcast.

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