The ACRPS conference "Militias and Armies: Developments in Combat and Political Performance of Armed Non-State and State Actors" closed in Doha today. The first panel, "Armies: Centralisation and De-Centralisation" was introduced by session chair, Dana El Kurd.
Gregory Waters was the first speaker for the day, discussing his paper, "Assad's Militias: Strength Through Decentralization." Waters breaks down a militia typology for the various loyalist Syrian militia groups and provided his analysis of three case studies: the Tiger Forces as an example of an intelligence-founded militia; the Qalamoun Shield Forces as an example of a Syrian Arab Army-founded militia and the 4th Division as an example of a military unit that has transformed into a militia over the course of the war. He went on to assess Russian attempts to bring the various militias, who traditionally seek independence, under centralized command, with Moscow's primary objective to return the monopoly of violence to the army.
Hamzeh Almoustafa spoke next on his paper, "The Combat Performance of Al-Nusra Front: The Transition from Jihadist Militia to the Syrian Salvation Government's "Army"." He explored the combat performance and transformations of Al-Nusra, which most recently become Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, from its founding until it finally took sole control of Idlib, the last stronghold of the Syrian armed opposition. His study monitors Al-Nusra's transition from the guerrilla warfare and traditional methods by which they have been characterized to the institutionalization of their forces as a military wing of a political organization or executive government. He follows an increase in organisation's associates and resources, and a clear definition of its political project to establish a rational "Islamic government."
Ahmed Hussein was the final speaker on this panel, discussing his paper "How Did Hamas Establish Its "Army?" The Development of Al-Qassam Battalions' Military Action in Palestine." The development of Hamas as a regional military actor differed according to the developments of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in terms of political thought and its interactions with the regional and international systems. Hussein makes note of the generational polarization of Muslim Brotherhood in Arab countries between the Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb camps, which influenced the development of Hamas and its military wing between 1967 and 87. This shaped the changing identity of the movement, leading it to determine its interests and role in the region based on its military strength, with al-Qassam Brigades becoming a pseudo-classic army in Gaza.
The seventh & final panel of the conference looked at "Tactical Developments" and was moderated by Rashid Hamad Al-Nuaimi. First speaker Hugo Kaaman discussed his piece on "How Car Bombs Became a Battlefield Weapon". He noted that the suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) has been one of ISIS's most powerful and versatile weapons. Used extensively in active combat on the front lines, SVBIEDs were the primary means by which the group was able to capture territory and temporarily stave off advances by opposing forces.
Second speaker Dan Gettinger followed with his paper on the topic of "Drone Wars: The Legacy of the ISIS Drone Program". Gettinger began by noting that in 2014, ISIS released an hour-long documentary that opened with drone footage of the Iraqi city of Fallujah. The blurred and uneven aerial video looked amateurish, but it was a sign that a shift in warfare was underway. His work examines the various stages of the ISIS drone program and its legacy for security and warfare. The proliferation of drones has directly boosted the counter-drone market as well as spurring growth of military "personal drones" and demand for consumer drones, with the aim of adapting consumer drones at a military level.
The third and final speaker of the day, Mohammed Al-Dorani presented his research on "Most Famous Cyber-Attacks: Nations States and Organized Groups." He began by noting that the market size for cyber security products and services is over USD 77 billion and is expected to triple this year, with attacks costing businesses up to USD 500 billion annually. He went on to discuss famous cases such as the attack on the Nantaz plant in Iran, the attacks on Saudi Aramco and RasGas, and the 2017 attack on the Qatar News Agency, the repercussions of which are ongoing. Cyber-attacks carried out by criminal, activist, or state-sponsored individuals or groups have increased over the past 5 years, not only impacting social, economic, & political landscapes, but also national security around the globe.