Archive for the ‘Al-Qaeda’ Category

There is a remarkable statistic in Jane Mayer’s superb piece [abstract] on the Predator war in The New Yorker:

It appears to have taken sixteen missile strikes, and fourteen months, before the C.I.A. succeeded in killing [Baitullah Mehsud]. During this hunt, between two hundred and seven and three hundred and twenty-one additional people were killed, depending on which news accounts you rely upon.

Remember, this took place under the best of circumstances, with friendly governments in both Islamabad and Kabul, a steady flow of human intelligence from the ground, and 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. With all the talk of a classic COIN campaign in Afghanistan not being worth the cost, and of resorting to a cheaper off-shore CT option instead, it’s easy to forget what it actually takes to kill a guy with a flying robot. And it’s not only the man-hours and the innocents incinerated — it’s also the inevitable moral damage to a war-fighting nation’s psyche. What else is a suicide bomber who targets an army patrol and kills 10 bystanders but a drone sent from afar by a deft operator¹ to carry out an assassination? Scott Horton sums up the dilemma:

Saying ‘no’ to predator drones would not serve the nation’s security interests. But reconsidering the troubling deviations from American traditions of civilian-military control over weapons systems and accountability for their use is an imperative.

See also:

Revenge of the Drones (appendix 1) — New America Foundation
Analysis: A look at US airstrikes in Pakistan through September 2009 — The Long War Journal
Suicide Attacks in Afghanistan (2001-2007) — United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan

¹Amir is a fifteen-year old boy who was born in Pakistan to a family from Gardez. He has spent half of his life in Pakistan and the other half in Gardez. He is uneducated and spent only two days in a madrassah when his father asked him to leave and start working with him. He was greatly influenced by a local mullah (religious leader) who told him to go to Kabul to kill the ‘Angrez’. […] He claims that the Gardez mullah gave him 200 Afghanis and told him that he is in fact giving him heaven. The mullah told the boy that jihad is farz, required against the foreigners that have come to occupy Afghanistan and if he manages to kill a foreigner, he would go to heaven.

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“Al-Qaida was involved in the insurgency in Afghanistan from the very beginning in 2002”, Anne Stenersen argues in a new FFI conference paper that will be a nice eye-opener to anyone under the illusion that the West is fighting a monolithic enemy in Afghanistan. Also:

“When looking at biographies of militants who died in the area in this period, we see that a majority of these fighters seem to have been involved in guerrilla warfare at a local level, such as ambushes and rocket attacks, but not so much in spectacular suicide operations, or terrorist attacks in the West, that we traditionally associate with al-Qaida.”

More good stuff here.

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At Jihadica, which to my great relief is going strong despite Will McCants’s departure, Thomas Hegghammer decodes bin Laden’s latest audiotape and concludes all may not be well at the house of al-Qaeda:

What we have here is a short, outdated tape delivered manually following a series of longer, up-to-date statements distributed online. This suggests to me that Bin Ladin’s personal situation has changed in the past few months. He may have moved to a new location, and/or he is taking much stricter security precautions than before.

Peter Bergen, speaking in an International Press Institute panel here in Helsinki earlier today, suggested Al Jazeera may actually have sat on the tape for some time, waiting for “a newsworthy moment”.

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Why don’t we lay this stuff to rest now, mmkay?

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If you’re currently experiencing a terrible pain in your lower extremities, that’s because Israel has just shot us all collectively in the foot.

Whatever happens in the next few days in the Israel-Hamas smackdown, the winner will be al-Qaeda. As Marc Lynch points out, AQ and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas evolved, are fierce rivals; and whether the outside world likes it or not, Hamas has been the only power capable of blocking AQ’s forays into Gaza:

Even if Hamas emerges weakened, as Israeli strategists hope, all the better (from al-Qaeda’s point of view, that is). In general, where the MB is strong (Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine for example), AQ has had a hard time finding a point of entry despite serious efforts to do so, while where the MB is weak (Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon) it has had more success. Up to now, AQ-minded groups have had little success in penetrating Gaza, because Hamas had it locked. Now they clearly have high hopes of finding an entree with a radicalized, devastated population and a weakened Hamas.

UPDATE: John Robb:

Israel is locked in a strategic vise that will get tighter and tighter. What is the vice? DIY missiles and a strategic barrage. DIY missiles are proving much cheaper and easier to deliver than using human beings as the terminal guidance systems for explosives (unfortunately, radical improvements in accuracy are in the offing making them comparable to human delivery). Israel can’t ignore the missiles due to their impact on psychology and economic activity. Walls don’t help either. It can’t adopt Hama rules (razing enemy territory) without incurring isolation/economic collapse. It can’t engage the enemy without high collateral damage which boosts recruitment and solidifies support for its enemies (Van Creveld’s paradox or broadening the conflict to include missiles from Hezbollah).

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Here’s a new brand name the next U.S. president will have to try and wrap his tongue around: Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Not only did LeT apparently train the Mumbai attackers, but, according to a United Nations document scooped by McClatchy, the group has “sent operatives to attack U.S. troops in Iraq, established a branch in Saudi Arabia and been raising funds in Europe”.

The group may also have received money from al Qaida, suggesting that it has close ties with Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network based along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, the document said.

Although Pakistan’s government outlawed LeT in May 2002, it ‘continues to operate and engage in or support terrorist activities abroad,’ the document said.

What makes the Let truly dangerous, writes Raja Karthikeya, is its “resilience and mutability”:

Most terrorist groups do not survive ten years of operation. Lashkar has only grown stronger in its fourteen or so years of existence, despite bans by the US and Pakistan and the pressure on terrorist groups after 9/11. It has successfully adapted itself to the changing political environment in Pakistan (from democracy to dictatorship to democracy) and transformed itself from a largely militant organization to one with extensive philanthropic activities, without losing its capacity to commit terrorist acts outside Pakistan. It has attracted young, urban professionals and enjoys wide support within its constituency.

It has shed the lure of branding just like al-Qaeda and operates under a number of aliases. Its not-so-clandestine charity front and the charity’s vigorous work in post-disaster relief operations have helped it raise millions of rupees which will help it survive international crackdowns. The Mumbai attacks testify to its intelligence gathering and planning capabilities in a hostile environment. Specific tactical details of the standoffs in Mumbai, (such as the blowing up of an elevator in order to take cover inside the elevator shaft) indicate the level of professionalism its cadres have achieved. The very modus operandi of the attack (an amphibious landing) could rank it alongside the Tamil Tigers in terms of innovation.

Last but not least, Lashkar’s leadership is ambitious. Even if their agenda has been impacted by al-Qaeda, they aspire to achieve the status of ‘liberators’ and will not be content to play second fiddle to any larger group. Thus, we must be prepared for more attacks from this group. Mumbai’s tragedy may just have changed the game.

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In a panel hosted by Counterterrorism Blog, CNAS Fellow and COIN guru David Kilcullen offers good insight on the Mumbai attacks:

On the tactics:

‘This was not some Islamic charity or some group working alone from the Deccan Mujahedeen: this has all the hallmarks of a Special Forces raid, closer to a commando or SBS raiding activity than a traditional Al Qaeda style terrorist attack. Al Qaeda has never attacked a land target from the sea, though they have attacked maritime targets from the sea, such as the Cole, the Limburg and attacks on Saudi oil installations. There has never been anything close to this level of sophistication of a seaborne attack: this was a high professional bar. We can deduce they had some professional help though I think it is much too early to state who that support came from. It has been set up to look like a Pakistani government operation. We should be careful until we know more. As a side bar, European CT forces captured an Al Qaeda CD that highlighted Al Qaeda urban warfare tactics, and these matched those used in Mumbai to the letter. The sea part was new but the land parts followed Al Qaeda tactics pretty closely.’

On Pakistan:

‘President Zardari offered general Pasha, the head of the ISI, to help out with the investigation and 24 hours later, General Kiyani, the Pakistan Chief of Army Staff, said no and recalled him. The other question, then, is who is actually in charge in Pakistan and to what extent is their national security state operating outside civilian government control? I think it is way too early to hold anyone inside Pakistan responsible.’


‘We provide Pakistan 100 million dollars a month in coalition support funds, we also train the SSG; Mohammed Ajmal Kasab said he was trained by retired Pakistani officials, so did our money go to elements of the Pakistani Army or intelligence that helped plan this attack?’

On success:

‘Assuming it is LeT I think they would feel they did pretty well. The way they were set up, with fake IDs, clean shaven with western clothes indicated they might have intended to survive the attack. The fact that they lost 9 out of 10 does not indicate that they intended to have those 9 people die. They would have some after-action discussion, I think, about what you do when the hotel you just captured gets assaulted by the Indian security forces. They managed very fortuitously to kill the head of the Mumbai CT police, they would be very happy with that; they would be very happy with the way the diversion worked.’

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I think this much is clear:

Whoever the Mumbai attackers were, and whatever power they swore allegiance to, they weren’t acting on their own, and those who set things in motion had a larger strategic goal in mind: to relieve military pressure on the Taleban, al-Qaeda and other forces operating along the Afghan-Pakistani border, by provoking a confrontation between India and Pakistan.

If this sounds like Tom Clancy, you should read Steve Coll’s brilliant account of what happened last time. On December 13, 2001, five armed men stormed the grounds of the Indian Parliament in Delhi, killing nine people and setting South Asia’s nuclear rivals on the warpath. Not only was the world closer to a nuclear exchange than ever before since the Cuban missile crisis, but, as Pakistan moved its troops from the Afghan border to protect its eastern flank from a seemingly inevitable Indian offensive, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s senior leadership were allowed to slip into FATA.

As in the case of Mumbai, no hard proof of Pakistan’s complicity was found. For those who still have doubts, here’s my favourite passage from Coll’s story:

On December 13th, the United States Ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin, happened to be visiting the two-star Pakistani general in command of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, at his headquarters in Quetta, in the western province of Baluchistan. During their meeting, the general kept his television tuned to a satellite news channel, with the sound muted. As reports of the parliament attack crossed the screen and the magnitude of the event became clear, Chamberlin asked her host for his reaction. According to a written record of the meeting, the general offered a one-word reply: ‘Oops.’

[Dang. My hero Ahmed Rashid is saying pretty much the same thing.]

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In Salon yesterday, Walter Shapiro listed four possible game-changers that could “still produce a long count on election night or even a McCain presidency”. One of them:

Seven years after 9/11, it seems both alarmist and in bad taste to speculate about the political fallout from a pre-election terrorist incident. But al-Qaida surprises can come in less lethal packages, such as the election eve 2004 Osama bin Laden tape that may have undermined John Kerry.

Every time I hear this refrain, I can’t help wondering why even the most astute of observers fail to see how al-Qaeda has changed since 2004. There hasn’t been a credible bin Laden tape for years — in fact, not since the “October Surprise” mentioned by Shapiro –, and it’s doubtful AQ can produce anything more than crude cut-and-paste stuff, like the suspiciously jerky October 2007 video.

This is not to say there won’t be a bombing somewhere, but unless it’s spectacularly bloody or happens in the U.S., I doubt it will swing the election this way or that.

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Also Sprach Bin Laden

After a busy day at the office, what would be better than some light reading? Here’s a little something: a 289-page compilation of Osama bin Laden’s statements 1994-2004 by the CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service. Even better, it’s not public yet.

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