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Archive for the ‘Al-Qaeda’ Category

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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After flouting U.S. and international laws for nearly seven years, the United States, in a stunning anticlimax, yesterday convicted Osama bin Laden’s driver Salim Ahmed Hamdan of supporting terrorism.

I think it is a testament to the folly of Bush’s “war on terror” that after all the death and suffering and abuse of human rights, the best they can manage is a military commission trying a footsoldier.

I mean, I can understand Hitler’s architect and Pol Pot’s physician, but this…

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For some weeks there have been reports that foreign jihadis are departing Iraq in increasing numbers to join their fellow believers in Afghanistan. According to The Washington Post, Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri himself has recently relocated. With security improving in Iraq, Americans with neocon leanings have predictably announced that “victory” is at hand.

This is the same as if Roosevelt would’ve declared the Pacific War won when the last Japanese was killed on Guadalcanal.

Just as President George W. Bush himself has always spoken of his “global war on terror” as a multi-front struggle, Iraq for al-Qaeda has been but one battlefield among many. For bin Laden, it has never been the central front, but rather a useful sideshow, an unexpected opportunity to bleed the stumbling superpower even more. And it has been a spectacular success: thousands of Americans have died, Iraqi deaths probably number at least 100,000, billions of dollars have been wasted, resources have had to be diverted from Afghanistan, and America’s image as a beacon of democracy has suffered irreparable damage.

Only fools believe al-Qaeda’s local affiliates really sought to establish a Salafi state in Iraq. The jihadis knew that once the U.S. realised what it was up against and harnessed its military might to fight a counterinsurgency, it would all be over. Iraq was nothing more than a country-sized training ground for terrorist tactics, and the surge provided the trainees with their last live targets before the real deal — Afghanistan.

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Here’s an eye-opening quote from Seth Jones, a RAND scholar who recently wrote an excellent monograph on counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan, from yesterday’s al-Qaeda story by NYT reporters David Rohde and Mark Mazzetti:

‘The United States faces a threat from Al Qaeda today that is comparable to what it faced on Sept. 11, 2001. […]

The base of operations has moved only a short distance, roughly the difference from New York to Philadelphia.’

And the reason this was allowed to happen? You guessed it:

‘We had to put people out in the field who had less than ideal levels of experience,’ one former senior C.I.A. official said. ‘But there wasn’t much to choose from.’

One reason for this, according to two former intelligence officials directly involved in the Qaeda hunt, was that by 2006 the Iraq war had drained away most of the C.I.A. officers with field experience in the Islamic world. ‘You had a very finite number” of experienced officers, said one former senior intelligence official. ‘Those people all went to Iraq. We were all hurting because of Iraq.’

(Today NYT is running another Pulitzer-calibre story, this time on al-Qaeda in Algeria.)

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Clinton Watts looks at the Sinjar records and concludes:

Western fixation with AQ’s propaganda has resulted in over-focus on countering media outlets that likely have limited and at best a secondary recruiting impact in high foreign fighter producing cities and countries. While AQ mass media propaganda is an important factor in the war of ideas, it should be addressed more in Western counterterrorism efforts in Western countries where socially isolated second and third generation Muslims and Western converts have limited direct access to militant ideologies, limited access to veteran foreign fighters, increased access to the Internet, and a propensity to access militant websites. The two non-Western exceptions to this might be Saudi Arabia and Morocco, which appear to have sufficient access and desire to utilize militant websites. However, the plethora of former foreign fighters in Saudi Arabia and Morocco is far more likely the radicalization culprit with the Internet acting as a distant second factor.

The West should fear instead what it cannot see on the Internet: the day-to-day interactions and subsequent radicalization occurring when veteran foreign fighters encounter young recruits in living rooms, ideological centers, schools, workplaces and neighborhoods in flashpoint cities.

The whole shebang, including discussion on data, plus country and city analysis, can be found here.

For comparison, see Andrew Exum’s take on what happens when Omar comes marching home.

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