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Posted 03.24.05

Tribal Warfare Study Could Avert "Treacherous Attacks" On Troops, Researcher Says

COLUMBIA, Mo. - The deliberate betrayal of another person's trust is the ultimate deceit. It is a frightening and highly effective tactic used in tribal warfare but often overlooked by modern troops. According to a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher, that oversight might leave United States soldiers vulnerable for lethal surprise attacks.

"Being aware of the possibility for treacherous attacks would increase vigilance and keep troops alive," said Reed Wadley, assistant professor of anthropology. "Soldiers must always keep up their guard."

Treacherous ambushes are defined as friendly and peaceful social interaction between the attacker and victims immediately before a surprise attack. This tactic increases the vulnerability of the victims while reducing the risk to the attackers. The victims are surprised by the betrayal therefore unable to defend themselves effectively.

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Wadley says this is especially worrisome for smaller groups of soldiers and Special Forces like those in Afghanistan. Soldiers who rely on face-to-face contact with locals to build one-on-one relationships on a regular basis are at the greatest risk. He doesn't believe the problem exists for troops currently in Iraq because of their sheer numbers. However, as troops start leaving Iraq in the years to come, this is a troubling possibility for those who must stay.

To plan a treacherous attack, Wadley said, trust must be built in order for the victims to let their guard fall. Because the attacker has to engage people convincingly on a social level, the deception is not sustained for very long. The longer the attack is delayed, the greater the likelihood of being caught.

The breakdown of Al Qaeda from a hierarchical cell structure to a more loosely connected network allows for more independent and lethal decision-making. According to Wadley's research, this breakdown could lead to an increase in treacherous attacks due to increased anonymity and a greater reliance on the so-called sleeper agents. Sleeper agents are operatives placed in an enemy country who live unobtrusively as citizens of that country until activated by a prearranged signal.

Wadley's research on the parallels in tribal and terrorist warfare has been published in the Journal of Anthropological Research and Studies in Conflict and Terrorism.



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