Does al Qaeda still exist?

Summary:  As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9-11, we should ask if al Qaeda still exists.  There is little public evidence that it does.  But dead or alive, it remains useful to our intelligence and military apparatus.  At the end are links to other posts about AQ.

In the five years following 9-11 experts produced a wealth of evidence about al Qaeda’s history, methods, and operations.  But this flowed slowed since then.  Relatively little has appeared during the past two years, other than fevered extrapolations based on jihadists (or wannabe jihadists) talking big in magazines, on TV and websites.

Nor has AQ accomplished much.  The major jihadist related operations in the US have been midwifed by the FBI, who sometimes fill al Qaeda’s shoes by recruiting, encouraging, and financing terrorists (then, of course, arresting them).  There is little public evidence that AQ has the resources to recruit, finance, or train terrorist on any significant scale.

Washington and Hollywood often describe AQ as the equivalent of Thrush, SPECTRE, and COBRA.  But publicly available evidence suggests that it is either dead or a shadow.  Many experts (e.g., Stratfor) say that AQ has become a franchise, its core destroyed by the concerted effort of the world’s police and intelligence agencies (despite our recruiting efforts for AQ in Iraq and Afghanistan).  Such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).  Note Wikipedia’s absurd description of AQI as the “popular name for the Iraqi division” of AQ, as if AQ is a highly organized multinational corporation.

There is an additional explanation for AQ’s continuing prominence on the world’s stage.  AQ is the Dread Pirate Roberts (from The Princess Bride; see Wikipedia}.  Just as no one would surrender in fear to Joe Smith (unknown pirate), local peons-turned-terrorists need juice to get attention for their  jihad.  Adopting the AQ brand gives them instant stature to the news media and the help of the world’s top marketing agencies:  the US defense/intelligence agencies.  AQ is the face of the enemy, justifying their massive budgets.  They’ll publicize every incident.  Large or small, failure or success.  All linked to the global jihadist conspiracy, boosting next year’s budget.

Why did Al Qaeda die?

Why has al Qaeda died?  First, they adopted a high profile marketing strategy — and after 9-11 became the #1 most wanted for almost every police and intelligence agency on the planet.  Second, they made serious mistakes.  For details see “The Strategic Failures of al Qaeda“, Thomas R. Mccabe (DoD analyst; Lieutenant Colonel, USAFR, retired), Parameters, Spring 2010.  Excerpt:

Five critical mistakes are apparent, each of which had a significant strategic impact. Some were mistakes by al Qaeda in particular, while the rest have been mistakes by al Qaeda and the jihadis in general.

  1. Misreading the situation in the Middle East and the role of the United States.
  2. Misreading the weakness of the United States.
  3. Expanding the war and bringing in additional enemies.
  4. Alienating the local populace.
  5. Indifference to Muslim casualties

For more information

Posts about Islam:

  1. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy, 1 March 2006
  2. Are islamic extremists like the anarchists?, 14 December 2009
  3. Hatred and fear of Islam – of Moslems – is understandable. But are there hidden forces at work?, 3 August 2010
  4. Should we fear that religion whose believers have killed so many people?, 4 August 2010

See posts about al Qaeda here.

  1. Lessons Learned from the American Expedition to Iraq, 29 December 2005 — Is al Qaeda like Cobra, SPECTRE, and THRUSH?
  2. Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action, 26 February 2008 — An example of madness in action.
  3. Was 9/11 the most effective single military operation in the history of the world?, 11 June 2008
  4. The enigma of Al Qaeda. Even in death, these unanswered questions remain important, 15 September 2008
  5. “Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda” by George Friedman, 31 January 2009
  6. Can we defeat our almost imaginary enemies?, 10 December 2009
  7. Are islamic extremists like the anarchists?, 14 December 2009
  8. RAND explains How Terrorist Groups End, and gives Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida, 15 January 2010
  9. Stratfor’s strategic analysis – “Jihadism in 2010: The Threat Continues”, 17 March 2010
  10. Stratfor: “Jihadism: The Grassroots Paradox”, 21 March 2010
  11. Stratfor: Setting the Record Straight on Grassroots Jihadism, 1 May 2010
  12. Today’s news about the Ak-Pak War, about al Qaeda’s strength, 1 July 2010
  13. “The Almanac of Al Qaeda” – about our foe, 16 June 2010
  14. Bin Laden wins by using the “Tactics of Mistake” against America, 6 February 2011

8 thoughts on “Does al Qaeda still exist?”

  1. The US government gives Al Qaeda the finest in free publicity, update

    Al Qaeda Stirs Again“, Juan C. Zarate, op-ed in the New York Times, 17 April 17, 2011 — Every statement from al Qaeda gets top publicity from the US government, as if from a superpower. No mention of the actual weight AQ swings on the world stage, or if it even exists in a meaningful form.

    Juan C. Zarate, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was the deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism from 2005 to 2009.

    Rebuttals: “NATO denies Al-Qaeda reviving in Afghanistan“, AFP, 7 April 2011

  2. Stratfor observes that AQ is almost dead, update

    Bin Laden’s Death and the Implications for Jihadism“, Stratfor, 3 May 2011 — Excerpt:

    The al Qaeda core always has been a fairly small and elite vanguard. Since 9/11, intense pressure has been placed upon this core organization by the U.S. government and its allies. This pressure has resulted in the death or capture of many al Qaeda cadres and has served to keep the group small due to overriding operational security concerns. This insular group has laid low in Pakistan, and this isolation has significantly degraded its ability to conduct attacks. All of this has caused the al Qaeda core to become primarily an organization that produces propaganda and provides guidance and inspiration to the other jihadist elements rather than an organization focused on conducting operations.

    … As we noted in our annual forecast of the jihadist movement, the al Qaeda core group not only has been eclipsed on the physical battlefield, over the past few years it has been overshadowed on the ideological battlefield as well. Groups such as AQAP have begun setting the tone on the ideological realm — as in its call for Muslims to assume the leaderless resistance model rather than traveling to join groups — and we have seen the al Qaeda core follow the lead of AQAP rather than set the tone themselves. We believe this deference to AQAP is a sign of the al Qaeda core’s weakness, and of its struggle to remain relevant on the ideological battlefield.

  3. Inspired guessing about the threat from al Qaeda, update

    No evidence is necessary, apparently, when they can substitute inspired guessing about the danger of al Qaeda.

    (1) “Don’t Get Cocky, America – Al Qaeda is still deadly without Osama bin Laden“, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Foreign Policy, 2 May 2011

    (2) “Death by a Thousand Cuts“, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Foreign Policy, 2 May 2011 — “See all those security lines? Just because al Qaeda’s recent attacks haven’t succeeded doesn’t mean the terrorist group’s overall strategy is failing.”

    Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is an American counter-terrorism expert and attorney. See Wikipedia for details.

  4. WaPo: Al-Qaeda targets dwindle as group shrinks

    The last member of al-Qaeda will be dead for years before the US admits AQ is defunct. It’s too valuable as an enemy, with which to build fear in America.

    Al-Qaeda targets dwindle as group shrinks“, Washington Post, 22 November 2011 — Excerpt:

    The leadership ranks of the main al-Qaeda terrorist network, once expansive enough to supervise the plot for Sept. 11, 2001, have been reduced to just two figures whose demise would mean the group’s defeat, U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials said.

    Ayman al-Zawahiri and his second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, are the last remaining “high-value” targets of the CIA’s drone campaign against al-Qaeda in Pakistan, U.S. officials said, although lower-level fighters and other insurgent groups remain a focus of Predator surveillance and strikes.

    … “We have rendered the organization that brought us 9/11 operationally ineffective,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said. Asked what exists of al-Qaeda’s leadership group beyond the top two positions, the official said: “Not very much. Not any of the world-class terrorists they once had.”

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