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al-Qaeda Bases = al-Qaeda Targets

In our most recent analysis, we considered the resurgent Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in Pakistan and its potential effective 'acquisition' of an incorporated 63,218 square miles of FATA and NWFP in Pakistan, juxtaposed against the increasing weakness of the Musharraf government. Troubling as that is, there is always room for another perspective when considering matters of grave national security import.

From the erstwhile James S. Robbins at National Review, optimism that is not without merit.

It may well be that some small scale camps have been established — nothing like those in Taliban Afghanistan surely — but this is as much opportunity as threat. If al Qaeda is coalescing, it is easier to target. If there are camps, they can be surveiled. If there are training programs, they can be infiltrated. Al Qaeda’s leaders should understand that these are not the 1990s. Unlike then, everything they do will be watched. Unlike then, we are not afraid to take strong action instantly when opportunities arise. If we can lull them into a false sense of security, allow them to reconstitute to the point where they feel comfortable enough to operate in the open, so much the better. If they get confident, they will make mistakes. And they have a lot to be confident about. I’m certain the enemy is convinced we are a weak, failing power with neither the will or capacity to continue to prosecute the war effectively. At least that’s what they read in the papers.

The man has a point.

8 Comments

Al Qa'ida would be a non-issue today if George W Bush stayed focused on his "War on Terror" instead of getting side-tracked into Iraq.

And how did the Taliban manage to resurrect itself? I thought our initial invasion into Afghanistan destroyed their organization and killed most of their leadership?

The point that you think Robbins makes IS valid, but not in the way that he, or you, imagine it. It's valid because the Bush administration has lost interest in Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and Al Qa'ida except as memes for continuing a failed policy in Iraq. Had we modeled our response after what Mossad did in 1972-73 to those behind the killings of the Israeli athletes, and poured even a fraction of what we've spent on rebuilding and security in Iraq into THAT effort, bin Laden would be dead, Al Qa'ida would be crippled and the Taliban would be a historical footnote.

People like Jeff Carr make me thank God he's not in charge. First, it's not President Bush's war on terror (we'll pretend the condescending quotation marks weren't really there). Just ask the 3,000 slaughtered on 9/11 or their survivors if it belongs only to Dubya. Second, if Mr. Carr really can't manage to connect Iraq and the war on terror (as Bin Laden himself has publicly done). then I can't even imagine why he's hanging around this site - which requires a bit of logic and open mindedness.

But perhaps with enough time Mr. Carr will learn something (though I'm not holding my breath). That nonsense about Al Qaeda being a non-issue ain't exactly the mark of a modern-day Socrates.

The "War on Terror" is badly named. You cannot declare war on a verb, nor can any government fund and sustain a war on something so fluid and ambiguous as terrorism. Instead, you go after the people involved in individual acts of terror. In the case of 9/11, that's bin Laden. We started to do that, and then Bush splintered our focus into going to war against Iraq; a country which had nothing to do with Al Qa'ida according to the latest intelligence report on the subject:

http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2006_rpt/srpt109-331.pdf

Had we stayed focused on our original purpose, to bring the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks to justice, and had we committed even one quarter of the 400 billion dollars we've poured into Iraq into that effort, Al Qa'ida would be dismantled (read "non-issue"), and bin Laden would be dead.

Jeff,

While we appreciate the comments, the initial conjecture remains unnecessary. If it is the only means for you to discuss these issues, which are clearly important to you, then we will learn that overtime.

It is difficult to imagine qualified professional or well-informed observers arguing that al-Qaeda would be a non-issue following the course you describe. That sort of argument ignores what is understood about the nature of al-Qaeda and aligned movements, the ideological basis behind them, and what we now understand about the nature of fourth generation warfare.

To keep us on topic, we might want to consider the crux of Robbins' rather refreshing optimism. It is grounded on points of fact relating to the prosecution of the war. And while there are reasons for concern and pessimism as well - the resolve to fight AQAM remains a one of few points of agreement across the broader political spectrum here and abroad.

We all understand that you do not support the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq, or its now much maligned efforts afterwards. Still though, I presume that you - like TW's editors and contributors - would continue to pursue AQAM where they are found, no matter the means or timing of their arrival.

Marvin,

I'd like to refer you to the speech that Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution, recently gave at a policy luncheon last month entitled "Al-Qa'ida Five Years After the Fall of Qandahar". You can read it at:
http://www.brookings.edu/fp/saban/events/20070118.htm

I'm going to do a more indepth review of Riedel's remarks at my blog tomorrow, but for now, I'd like to quote from his speech:

"Al-Qa'ida in the last 5 years has suffered significant setbacks..., but most importantly it has retained a base of operations in the Badlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it has created a new base of operations in the Badlands of Western Iraq. It has spread like a virus elsewhere, developing cadre throughout the Muslim world and particularly in the Muslim diaspora in Europe.

"Why has this happened? The short answer is simple. The opportunity to destroy the Al-Qa'ida leadership was lost in late 2001 when they fled into Pakistan where the chase ran cold. Instead of focusing resources and attention on the remnants, America went off to Iraq."

That is why, Marvin, I posted what I did. In order to devise a strategy to defeat Al Qa'ida we must understand why they are still a threat, and most importantly, we must acknowledge the role that the U.S. government has inadvertently played in it. If we ignore the "why", we cannot plan the "how" of their defeat.

Feel free to read my full remarks on Riedel's speech tomorrow at www.idolator.net.

Jeff,

Riedel attributes too great a significance to two factors and not enough to a third, in my opinion.

He clearly believes that al-Qaeda's greatest strength comes through its leadership - a statement al-Qaeda's leaders would never make. Additionally, he asserts that Iraq is the problem after stating clearly that the trail was lost in late 2001 - long before the invasion of Iraq. The trail went cold not because of Iraq, but because we have determined to be an ally with leaders in Muslim states that reject al-Qaeda. President Musharraf is one such leader. While he has not been successful in defeating them from within his own borders, the decision remains sound due to the risks associated with his nations nuclear arms. It may not always be the case.

You say we must address the 'why' in order to plan the 'how' to defeat al-Qaeda.

I agree. But I believe that you (so much as I understand your view) and Mr. Riedel are wrong on the why al-Qaeda remains a threat, wrong on the significance of al-Qaeda's leadership (which I do not discount) and wrong in the belief that our withdrawal from Iraq will somehow assist our pursuit of al-Qaeda.

Mr. Riedel said:

"When we leave Iraq, it will be a catastrophe. It will be a disaster. Can I say it any more strongly? But, it's a matter of time now. Are we going to leave a catastrophe in Iraq a year from now, two years from now, or now?"

While he goes on to explain that he believes the darkest pictures of Iraq and the regions future will not occur, he attributes that to the lose of the "American occupation as a rallying cry." Again showing little regard for the jihadiya system of beliefs.

I'll say this as clearly as I may in hope that you and others who might read this understand my intent and perspective.

I do not believe that the US can morally withdraw from Iraq or any other conflict with the jihadiya left behind and in tact. al-Qaeda has made their intent very clear, and should we withdraw we will have provided them with an additional foothold from which they can work to destroy the regions existing governments and seek to establish a new khalifate in the region. To say they will have "to work in Iraqi politics in a different kind of way" is as naive a view as was the thought that Iraq would not face significant challenges, from internal and foreign interest, after the fall of Hussein.

It is worth noting in this thread a very central theme that no one has acknowledged:

Pakistan (Musharraf) would not then and will not now allow US troops onto Pakistani soil.

If we were to spend $100 Billion parking two divisions on the Afghan-Pak border, this is not going to resolve Usama's elusiveness inside Pakistan.

Unless your alternative is to invade a nation whose leader is just about as good an ally as can be expected given the envirionment he presides over.

I'm not sold on the notion of pouring divisions into Afghanistan for the purposes of capturing or killing Usama in Pakistan.

Marvin: Al-Qa'ida only flourishes in areas that are unstable and chaotic, like Iraq. Further, it's always been their plan to bleed us in lives and money. Let's stop playing their game by beginning an orderly withdrawal of our troops, refocusing instead on what both the Iraq Advisory Group and the NIE have recommended we do - achieve a multi-national diplomatic solution. This will not only rob them of thier delight in watching us bleed money and lives, but it will ultimately take away the Iraqi theatre as a base of operations for them.

Steve: There are lots of ways to disrupt the Pakistani Al-Qa'ida organization short of "parking two divisions on their border". See my blog today for some expert views on the subject.