Tag Archives: al qaeda

Now that they’re in the game again, let’s ask “who is al Qaeda?”

Summary:  US counterinsurgency experts have declared al Qaeda down for the count many times. Their #3 executive assassinated, repeatedly. Defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet in the 13th year after 9-11 we have been ejected from Iraq, which has burst into flames again. We face almost certain defeat in Afghanistan. Our special operations forces fight shadowy jihadists in dozens of nations. Our strategy of lavish killing, often in support of corrupt tyrants, doesn’t seem to be working. Perhaps we should go back to step one, and learn about the organization that initiated the Long War. Owen Bennett-Jones walks us through two new books helping us do so.

Flag of Jihad

Flag of Jihad

.Bunches of Guys

by Owen Bennett-Jones
Published in the London Review of Books
19 December 2013
Red emphasis added
Reprinted with the permission of the author and LRB.

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A review of these books:

  • Decoding al-Qaida’s Strategy: The Deep Battle against America by Michael Ryan
  • The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organisations by Jacob Shapiro

As they fled Afghanistan after 9/11 some of bin Laden’s followers wondered whether the attacks on the US had been a mistake. Among them was one of al-Qaida’s most acerbic writers, Abu Musab al-Suri. In public he backed bin Laden: privately he described him as an obstinate egotist. And he was scathing about the consequences of 9/11: ‘The outcome, as I see it, was to put a catastrophic end to the jihadi current which started in the early 1960s.’ Al-Suri believed that the Afghan Taliban regime, the most religiously correct Islamic emirate in centuries, had been destroyed for the sake of a provocative attack on a country al-Qaida could not defeat.

Before 9/11, the organisation’s training camps had processed a steady stream of highly motivated recruits. After the attacks it was on the run. Another senior al-Qaida figure, Abu al Walid al-Masri, put it even more bluntly. Bin Laden, he said, had led his followers to ‘the abyss’.

A decade later those concerns seemed to have been vindicated. By 2011 al-Qaida had been reduced to a few bands of men hiding in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Distracted by the need to evade death or capture they were capable of mounting only puny attacks. Their allies in the Afghan Taliban were a shadow of their former selves: they may have been fighting US forces with increasing vigour, but they were nowhere near conquering Kabul for a second time.

It was much the same story in North Africa, where the local al-Qaida branch, al Shabab, was thrown out of Mogadishu by African Union forces fighting in support of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. In Saudi Arabia, al-Qaida had suffered an even more devastating reverse. In 2003 the royal family had to be persuaded that al-Qaida was a genuine threat, but once that was done the state was running a concerted and well-resourced security and propaganda campaign. Senior clerics were seen on TV denouncing the organisation.

At the same time, many of al-Qaida’s most capable leaders, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man who put together the 9/11 attack, were languishing in Guantánamo. Those who were still in Pakistan faced drone strikes of such accuracy that they had to be continually on the move and could not risk meeting up for more than a few minutes. The West’s assault on al-Qaida’s finances had left bin Laden, the son of one of the wealthiest families on earth, worrying about money for the first time in his life. Then in May 2011 the US located and killed him.

All of which makes plain how remarkable al-Qaida’s resurgence over the last three years has been.

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We cannot defeat al Qaeda unless we understand it. And since we’re told mostly exaggerations and lies…

Summary: Forged by our intervention into Afghanistan against the USSR, senior US government officials ignored al Qaida until 9-11. Then its name became a totem for the American people, the hated other. To mention it was waving the bloody shirt, hitting the stop button to our minds. Any thought about our strategy must start with questions about the myth and reality of al Qaeda. These were asked here in 2005 (and countless times since), yet for most Americans these questions remain not just unanswered but unasked. Today’s post by Richard Seymour provides some answers, confirming what we’ve said here so many times.

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden

“He [VP Cheney] would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it – Hezbollah, Hamas, etc. In other words, he thought the whole world had to be made anew, and that after September 11, it had to be done by force and with urgency. So he was for hard, hard power. … We’re coming after you, so change or be changed.”
— UK PM Tony Blair in his memoir A Journey: My Political Life

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
— Aphorism 146 in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

Today’s reading

The Uses of al-Qaida

By Richard Seymour, London Review of Books, 13 September 2012
Published with the generous permission of Richard Seymour and the LRB.

President Obama has waged war on al-Qaida by drone and by ‘kill list’. Vladimir Putin has hunted al-Qaida in the North Caucasus. The late Colonel Gaddafi, and now Bashar al-Assad, have summoned alliances against it.

The alarming ubiquity of al-Qaida, its mitosis and metastasis seemingly outpacing the destruction of its cells, is attested by the multiplication of enemies on the US State Department’s list of ‘foreign terrorist organisations’. In 2002, al-Qaida appeared as a single entry; now there are four officially recognised organisations with the same root brand: al-Qaida (AQ), al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The list also includes the Abdallah Azzam Brigades, usually described as an ‘affiliate’ of al-Qaida in Iraq.

About the greater al Qaida

The taxonomic determinacy of this list is deceptive.

Consider al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the group held responsible for organising the attempt in 2009 by the ‘underwear bomber’, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to blow up a plane en route from Amsterdam to Detroit.

  • AQAP was one of the most alarming new franchises identified in a briefing given to Congress by the Federation of American Scientists in 2005, one of a rash of new ‘presences’ and ‘affiliates’ of al-Qaida emerging from Bali to Mombasa. It was said to be responsible for an attack on the US consulate in Jeddah in 2004 and, the FAS claimed, was attempting to overthrow the Saudi royal family.
  • Yet, five years later, a Carnegie Endowment analysis paper traced the origins of a group called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to the emergence of a small number of jihadis who had escaped from prison in Sanaa in February 2006.
  • And the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported {in July 2011} that ‘al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) emerged in January 2009 from the union of two pre-existing militant groups: al-Qaida in Yemen (AQY) and al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia.’

Can these various expert analyses all have been discussing the same organisation?

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The US government is competent, as proven by the results of the latest terror alert

Summary: Since 9-11 Homeland Security has declared 15 alerts (8 Red and 7 Yellow) with no terror strikes. Now we have another, this time overseas. Again, nothing has happened. These alerts are successes on a historic scale, as the government has maintained a climate of fear and built support for the vast and growing security state. But the US government must share the credit. They could not have done it without us, and our gullibility. Our inability to learn might prove more destructive to America than any likely terror strike. Will we change?

Doveryai, no proveryai (Trust but verify)
— Russian proverb

Charlie Brown & the football

The definition of gullibility

Contents

  1. The latest warning
  2. The threat is serious
  3. Criticism of the story
  4. The classic plays that work
  5. Other posts in this series
  6. For More Information

(1) The latest warning

We what appears to be yet another in the US government’s long series of successful information operations waged against us. Bomber gap, missile gap, Tonkin Gulf incident, Saddam’s WMDs, etc. Post-WW2 history has been shaped by our gullibility.

For a description of the latest terror alert we turn to that source of right-wing fear-mongering propaganda, The Washington Times: “Congressional leaders agree on drastic response to al Qaeda terrorist threat” 4 August 2013 — Excerpt:

Key Democratic and Republican members of Congress said Sunday that the terrorism threat reportedly triggered by an intercepted message between senior al Qaeda operatives is the most serious threat in years, with some warning that the threat is an indication the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks still poses a significant danger to the U.S.

The threat forced the closings of more than 20 U.S. embassies and consulates this weekend. A travel alert was issued for Americans planning to travel overseas, particularly in the Middle East, and will remain in effect for the rest of August. The closures of the embassies and consulates and the travel alert were triggered by an intercepted message between senior al Qaeda operatives, CNN reported Sunday.

Like clockwork our leaders and national security gurus nod in agreement. Cue the fear-mongering…

(2) Our leaders tell us, as usual, that the threat is serious

(a) Rep. Michael T. McCaul (R-TX, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence) on “Face the Nation“, CBS, 4 August 2013:

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A look at al Qaeda, the long war — and us

Summary: With the newest terror alert, it’s timely to review what we know about al Qaeda. What kind of organization is AQ? How are they fighting us? Here is a brief summary (quickly written), giving one perspective on these things. We are in war, a war of choice, a war we’re fighting in a mad fashion, a war that might have horrific effects (even more horrific effects) if we continue as we have since 9-11.

One of the 2 builders of 21st C America

One of the 2 leading builders of 21st C America

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Contents

  1. Forms of al Qaeda
  2. What is al Qaeda?
  3. Fighting al Qaeda
  4. For More Information

This post is a summary of conclusions drawn in the dozen-plus posts about al Qaeda listed at the end. See those for the details of analysis and evidence. These are my guesses based on the available scraps of public information.

(1) Forms of al Qaeda

We are told of two versions of al Qaeda:

  • a powerful global organization like SPECTRE, THRUSH, & COBRA
  • a powerful system of a central unit plus national franchises

These are conflicting stories; neither has much supporting public evidence. The first is fiction, a useful creation of US propaganda after 9/11 to gain support for the Patriot Act and foreign wars. Based on the public information, AQ might no longer exist in any effective form. Just as a shattered remnant issuing PR materials — bolstered by the US government, for whom it’s a useful boogeyman.

The second version is equally questionable. There are effective national organizations using the AQ brand name (eg, AQ in Iraq). These have some things in common with other organizations using the AQ name and AQ “central” — belief in some form of jihadist theology, opposition to Western culture, etc. But they are not “franchises” in any meaningful fashion.

Franchises are licenses from a central organization to operate under its umbrella, usually with some degree of control by the center. Like McDonalds, perhaps the paradigmatic example. See this Bloomberg article about life as a McDonald’s franchisee, under the thumb of the parent. There is little evidence that’s how AQ operates, that the AQ HQ has such control over others using the AQ name, or that AQ “central” can provide meaningful support to the national AQs. AQ “central” does not even control the most basic element of a franchise: control over the name.

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The ultimate 21st Century cage match: Titanic Government vs. the National Security Iceberg

Summary: Today GI Wilson writes about the great game of the 21st century — the US government vs. our 4GW foes. Once called “low intensity war”, our foes have taught us the ability of sustained 4GW produces only a series of expensive defeats for foreign armies (no matter how powerful). A slow bleeding, until we either adapt or give up.

We just need bigger weapons!

We just need bigger weapons!

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Introduction

The recent article, “7 Absurd Ways the Military Wastes Taxpayer Dollars” by Laura Gottesdiene at Salon shines a bright light on military waste and the smarmy behavior of general officers. This smarmy behavior is just the tip of a national security iceberg. The personal foibles of these general officers are symptoms of a much deeper problem. In the wake of 9-11 we are witnessing the costly ineffectiveness our Titanic government bureaucracies. Today, a report by the Independent Accountability Review Board on Benghazi slammed senior level leadership and management laying bare national security miscalculations and incompetence. (Chicago Tribune)

What our national security apparatchiks are missing is that we live in a world where we are seeing sub-national “bad actors” use 4th generation warfare (4GW), which embodies low-tech tactics, techniques procedures (TTPs) together with insurrection, sabotage, espionage, and terrorism, to subvert nation-states. In effect, 4GW has emerged to challenge the established international system. While 4GW is not new, as some critics would have you believe, 4GW has emerged over several decades as the dominant style of warfare in the first part of the 21st Century.

The United States Government (USG) has not adapted to this change. Driven by conventional mentality and bureaucratic inertia, the Military Industrial Congressional Complex (MICC) and the US military has responded to the 4th generation warfare (4GW) threats with a conventional techno strategy of fielding high cost acquisition programs that created the MICC in the first place during the Cold War. The acquisition-programmatic approach to strategy led to a welter of highly complex programs and associated complex organizational relationships that force-fits the fighting man into a technological strait-jacket.

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Death celebrates 9-11. Can we stop and think before we walk further along the road of terror?

Summary:  The news from Libya has produce the usual flood of American hysteria, and the natural (by now, habitual) but foolish desire to strike back. It should instead force us to stop and think. As should the attacks by our Afghanistan allies. Something has gone terribly wrong with the War on Terror brewed in cold calculation during the dark days after 9-11.  How appropriate that this occurs on its anniversary. Today to find a useful perspective we go to the fringes of “respectable” political thought in America, and find some golden insights we can use.  At the end are links to a wealth of additional useful articles.

Osama bin Laden

“He [VP Cheney] would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it – Hezbollah, Hamas, etc. In other words, he thought the whole world had to be made anew, and that after September 11, it had to be done by force and with urgency. So he was for hard, hard power. … We’re coming after you, so change or be changed.”

— UK PM Tony Blair in his memoir A Journey: My Political Life.

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
— Aphorism 146 in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

Although ignored by senior leaders of the US government before, after 9-11 the name Al Qaeda became a totem for the American people. The stop button on our brains, it’s mention the equivalent of waving the bloody shirt. Any thought about our strategy must start with questions about the myth and reality of al Qaeda. These were asked here in 2005 (and countless times since), and for most Americans it remains unanswered. Here are some answers, confirming what we’ve said here so many times.

The Uses of al-Qaida

by Richard Seymour
London Review of Books, 13 September 2012
Reposted with their generous permission

President Obama has waged war on al-Qaida by drone and by ‘kill list’. Vladimir Putin has hunted al-Qaida in the North Caucasus. The late Colonel Gaddafi, and now Bashar al-Assad, have summoned alliances against it. The alarming ubiquity of al-Qaida, its mitosis and metastasis seemingly outpacing the destruction of its cells, is attested by the multiplication of enemies on the US State Department’s list of ‘foreign terrorist organisations’. In 2002, al-Qaida appeared as a single entry; now there are four officially recognised organisations with the same root brand: al-Qaida (AQ), al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The list also includes the Abdallah Azzam Brigades, usually described as an ‘affiliate’ of al-Qaida in Iraq.

The taxonomic determinacy of this list is deceptive. Consider al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the group held responsible for organising the attempt in 2009 by the ‘underwear bomber’, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to blow up a plane en route from Amsterdam to Detroit. AQAP was one of the most alarming new franchises identified in a briefing given to Congress by the Federation of American Scientists in 2005, one of a rash of new ‘presences’ and ‘affiliates’ of al-Qaida emerging from Bali to Mombasa. It was said to be responsible for an attack on the US consulate in Jeddah in 2004 and, the FAS claimed, was attempting to overthrow the Saudi royal family. Yet, 5 years later, a Carnegie Endowment analysis paper traced the origins of a group called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to the emergence of a small number of jihadis who had escaped from prison in Sanaa in February 2006. And the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported that ‘al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) emerged in January 2009 from the union of two pre-existing militant groups: al-Qaida in Yemen (AQY) and al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia.’

Can these various expert analyses all have been discussing the same organisation?

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A look at an enemy of America, and a discussion about the execution of al-Awlaki

Summary:  Any attempts to reform America’s political system quickly encounters an enemy:   our lack of shared view of the world.  Not just the differences in values that divide most societies.  Americans have not only different opinions, but years of intense propaganda have given us different facts.  They’ve become totems of tribal identity, held with fanatic intensity by groups within America.  It’s a useful tool for our ruling elites, preventing communication between people of good will which might otherwise lead to collective action.  Here we look at an example of this process in action, concerning the execution of al Awlaki.

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As has been proven many times in history, aggressive lies provide one of the most powerful tools to control a people.  Effective lies match people’s biases and fears, so people easily believe them — despite contrary evidence.  At some point Americans became unusually vulnerable to this method of control, as explained in Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations, The easy way to rule: leading a weak people by feeding them disinformation, and Programs to reshape the American mind, run by the left and right.  The barriers this creates has become one of our great enemies.

On the Left we have a wide range of misinformation (my favorite — Earth will become just like Venus!)  See the posts at the end, accounts of discussions with climate change fanatics — immunized against facts.  On the Right we have faux economics (see these posts) and the War on Terror, both largely supported by lies.

On the FM website and by email I have had hundreds of such discussions during the past 5 years.  Mostly about simple facts trumped by the need to maintain tribal identity (such as Listen to the voice of America’s decline. Can we bring these people into the 21st Century?  Today we look at a comment by Staunch lifted from Watch the Constitution die right now as we burn a 2452 year old vital legal precedent (about the government’s secret rulings condemning al-Awlaki to death.  My guess is a well-meaning and patriotic person who relys on sources which lie to him about simple matters of fact.

Great legal analysis, except for the fact there is none.

There is nothing that prevents the US from killing its enemies at a time of war, whether they are citizens or not. Forget the fact the Mr. Al-Awalki renounced his citizenship because that is irrelevant. If he wanted to subject himself under US due process he had every right to do so. All he needed to do is avail himself to US jurisdiction. They would have gladly taken him in and put him on trial. Instead, he lived in Yemen and directed terrorist activities against the US.

During the Civil War, US soldiers killed confederate US citizens. During the WWII, there were several instances of US citizens of german and italian decent who either went back to Europe to fight the US or were performing spy operations here. No legal precedent ever required the government to seek a warrant for these peoples arrest nor has any legitimate legal theory ever held that the government could not kill people who have declared war against it.

You are filled with righteous indignation and you do not cite one sentence, not one line, not one word from the Constitution or case law to back up your assertions.

As per SOP on the FM website, we’ll examine this line by line.  Note his response in the comments, displaying the same characteristics displayed here.

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