ThreatsWatch.Org: PrincipalAnalysis

Long War or Long Wars?

By Dan Darling

In a recent New York Times story assessing the recent spike in terrorist-related incidents including the death of Chechen terrorist leader Shamil Basayev, the commuter train bombings in Mumbai, and recent attacks on Israel by Hamas and Hizbollah, argued that "The far-flung extremists share an ideology of violent Islamic militancy, hostility to the West and a vicious intolerance of other creeds" but that "the notion of "global terrorism," and the war against it, may be strategically misleading," noting the numerous differences between the various terrorist organizations and how they operate.

If only it were that simple.

To begin with, take the Times's claim that "no Chechen militants are known to have schemed to attack the United States." While this is true, it also misses the point, which is that the Taliban could have made the exact same claim on September 11 and could probably still make it today if one interprets "attack the United States" to be the continental United States, as opposed to the thousands of American troops currently stationed in Afghanistan. Rather, the Taliban were involved in a local struggle for control of Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance and had a reciprocal relationship with al-Qaeda that was to its benefit in that struggle. So while the Taliban had no direct role in the September 11 attacks, the Cole bombing, or the 1998 embassy bombings, they certainly didn't have a problem with actively assisting, facilitating, and supporting the people who did. Even when confronted with American demands to turn over the perpetrators of September 11 or face the destruction of their regime, the Taliban still chose to face down the United States rather than turn on their long-time patron and ally.

This formula appears to have held up fairly well with both Pakistani and Chechen terrorists that were mentioned in the Times article as well. It would seem fair to say after September 11 and the subsequent American-led response, every terrorist and guerrilla group on the planet is now fully aware of the implications of getting involved with al-Qaeda, yet it is also equally clear that many such groups have not been deterred by these implications. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted in a speech at the National Press Club last February, "No fewer than 18 organizations loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda are conducting terrorist acts in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Somalia, Algeria, Russia, Indonesia and elsewhere." The inclusion of Russia as a target of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorism in the Defense Secretary's remarks was almost certainly intended to refer to the followers of Basayev, who was linked to al-Qaeda by the U.S. government. And while India was not mentioned by name as a target of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorism, the United States has long accepted the very clear links between al-Qaeda and its affiliated Pakistani terrorist organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed, the former of which appears to be the most likely perpetrator of the Mumbai train bombings.

How these affiliations with al-Qaeda play out varies from group to group, but in the cases of both Basayev's followers and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, they run deeper than merely "an ideology of violent Islamic militancy, hostility to the West and a vicious intolerance of other creeds." In addition to the obvious financial, strategic, logistical, and ideological cooperation, since September 11 both groups assisted in the flight of senior members of al-Qaeda following their expulsion from Afghanistan, providing them with sanctuaries and in some cases terrorist training facilities.

(The same is also true in the case of al-Qaeda ally Ansar al-Islam which, contrary to the assertions of former Clinton administration official Daniel Benjamin in the Times article, was quite active inside Iraq prior to the coalition invasion--and according to the September 11 Commission's final report this activity was tolerated by Saddam Hussein's regime.)

Don't forget that senior al-Qaeda leaders such as Saif al-Islam el-Masry and Abu Zubaydah were captured at known strongholds of the Chechen terrorists and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, respectively. The Somali Islamic Courts Union (ICU), fresh from their endorsement by Osama bin Laden and the presence of noticeably non-Somali Arab fighters in their propaganda material, currently appears to be serving much the same function for al-Qaeda in East Africa, protecting those members of the group believed to be responsible for terrorist attacks against American and Israeli targets in Nairobi and Mombasa respectively.

The argument that al-Qaeda affiliate groups possess "local agendas" that do not affect the United States and hence should be distinguished from the core network for reasons other than those of strategy was another argument that was also advanced in the Times article. But an ample amount of evidence exists connecting "local" groups such as the Algerian GIA and GSPC or the Moroccan GICM to terrorist attacks in Europe; Lashkar-e-Taiba members have been arrested or captured as far afield as Australia and Iraq (locations quite removed with their primary purported goal of evicting India from Kashmir); and while no Chechen terrorist is believed
to have schemed to attack the United States, French anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere has described Chechnya as "an aircraft carrier" bringing Islamist terrorism to Europe. This phenomenon of internationalized Islamist terrorism is chiefly a by-product of al-Qaeda influence, though it should be noted that al-Qaeda was itself originally based around the "local agenda" of establishing Islamist theocracies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia before concluding that the best way to do so was to initiate a global terrorist campaign against the West.

The idea that you do everything you can to disrupt, interdict, and destroy the operations of the enemy has long been a staple of warfare. To ignore large groups of self-professed al-Qaeda allies or to leave terrorist support infrastructure and logistics intact on the grounds that the groups in question possess merely "local" agendas is absurd.

[Long War or Long Wars? is reprinted courtesy The Weekly Standard.]