Grim Beorn at BlackFive offers a useful way to comprehend counterinsurgency strategies. He uses a Gravity analogy to describe COIN operations.

Ten minutes, and you’ll both understand how the Global insurgency works, and how to fight it — even in those times and places when we have no combat troops to devote to working it.

This type of war works like a Gravity Well.

“The Earth “sits” in its own gravity well, drawing other objects … towards it. The closer they come, the more likely they are to fall into its well. If they do, they add to its mass — it becomes that much heavier, and its gravity well becomes that much deeper.”

Literally, a social network creates its own gravity well and attracts new members. This is determined by the attractiveness of the idea and the ability to maintain cohesive structures. Networks with larger mass have greater gravitational pull. These network planets and stars compete with other planets over membership. Larger planets can peel off members from smaller planets.

In network terminology, this represents clustering and preference. So how do individual agent create preferences and attach to clusters? Something like gravity. Big organizations attract attention, small ones go unnoticed. If individual agents are dissatisfied with their current cluster, they detach and join a better cluster.

The goal of a Counterinsurgency Strategy is to shrink the size of the insurgency planets while increasing the mass of allied planets. This means destroying as much of the Islamist networks as possible to reduce their overall mass and cohesion. Second, we provide an alternative to Islamism that competes with it for membership.

“[We must find] existing things — tribes, religious organizations, governments, etc — that already have the capacity to sway them. Then, what we’d like to do is boost the credibility of those organizations. The best way to do that isn’t by being nice (i.e., ‘winning hearts and minds’), but by the appearance that we can be swayed by the arguments of nonviolent organizations. If terrorists succeed only in drawing down fire, but nonviolent organizations can get results, those who think America is a problem will trend toward the nonviolent organizations.”

There are many Islamic organizations such as the Nahdlatul Ulama. NU is the largest such organization, with 40million members, and it represents the conservative Muslims of Indonesia which opposes the Revolutionary Islamists. NU directly competes with the al-Qaeda regional group Jemaah Islamiyah for members. The NU is very pro-US yet conservative in their beliefs. They have more credibility than the radical Islamists, and have used their power to cripple JI recruitment. Similar organizations may non-violently oppose the US, but we can still use them to oppose violent revolutionaries.

Tribes are the major player in 4th generation warfare. They have the most legitimacy in Islamic countries and have the most organized fighters. All sides in this conflict compete for control over the tribes. We entice them with things like economic deals while al-Qaeda threatens them with mass murder. If you win over the tribes, you win the war.