Tag Archives: al qaeda

A senior US general explains that we’re learning to fight 4GWs, but slowly

Summary: We’ve slowed the intensity of our efforts in the Long War, following failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. So the momentum shifts to our foes, as the fires we’ve sparked across the Middle East spread. Success in the next phase depends on what our military leaders have learned from their failures. Today a senior general gives a demonstration.

I’ve killed them by the tens of thousands, scoured their countryside at will, pried their allies away, and humiliated them day after day. I have burned their crops and looted their wealth. I’ve sent a whole generation of their generals into the afterworld … Have I changed nothing? They are stronger now than before. They are more than before. They fight more sensibly than before. They win when they used to lose.
— Hannibal, in David Anthony Durham’s novel Pride of Carthage (2005).

{From the start the insurgents} made a decision to attack our tactical mobility … and they’ve chosen the IED as the way to do that.  This is the first war where we’ve faced an enemy that’s adapted better than we have at a tactical and operational level. We had IEDs from Day 1. … What have we done to adapt? Nothing.
— Anthony Zinni (General, USMC, retired; former chief of the U.S. Central Command), quoted in USA Today, 15 July 2007.

From Encyclopedia Mythica

 

Contents

  1. What have our generals learned after 14 years of 4th Generation War?
  2. We crank the Darwinian Ratchet & empower our foes
  3. Why our strategy fails
  4. For More Information

 

(1)  What have our generals learned after 14 years of 4GW?

See this Interview by Breaking Defense with Michael Flynn (Lt. General, US Army), retiring chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency. See his Wikipedia entry.  He shows what might be the defining characteristics of senior US military thinking in our Long War: blindness about the effects of our actions and obliviousness about the intents of jihadist groups.

I know that’s a scary thought, but in 2004, there were 21 total Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 18 countries. Today, there are 41 Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 24 countries. A lot of these groups have the intention to attack Western interests, to include Western embassies and in some cases Western countries. Some have both the intention and some capability to attack the United States homeland.

The general’s analysis has the sophistication of a boy explaining how the cookie jar “just broke”.

In 2000 the Middle East was relatively calm. There was, as there has been since WW2, turmoil about Israel. The Iraq-Iran War was over. The Taliban had brought peace to Afghanistan. There was persistent low-lever conflict in Lebanon, and small attacks on US personnel based in Saudi Arabia (1995 & 1996). The general does not mention what happened in the years before 2004 to set the region afire.  We invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, toppling a row of dominoes that’s still falling.

What makes this quite sad is the US military’s blindness to their role as useful idiots in bin Laden’s plan to incite a war between Islam and the infidel invader (that’s us) that would unify his people — as Bismarck used wars to unify small States to create Germany. We took the bait: invading Iraq and Afghanistan, attacking Pakistan, Yemen and now others in Africa.

(2) We still crank the Darwinian Ratchet, empowering our foes

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Things we need to know about the Long War

Summary:  Today we have a note by Mike Few about our Long War, one of the great public policy issues of America today. We post the work of many experts at the FM website. Usually I post them without comment. Today I’ll add an endorsement. All of Few’s articles deserve attention. This one even more than most. I agree with every line, and strongly recommend reading it.

Know your foe, know yourself, you can face a hundred battles without danger;
if you do not know your foe but know yourself, you will win one and lose one;
if you do not know your foe and do not know yourself, every battle will be lost.
— Sun Tzu’s Art of War (circa 6th Century BC)

Islam Logo

Contents

  1. Understand the Arab world
  2. Understand al Qaeda
  3. Events in Iraq are not a surprise
  4. Be wary of experts
  5. About Counter-Terrorists
  6. A Forecast
  7. A good place to start your research
  8. About the author
  9. For More Information

Comment by Mike Few

Made to the post Now that they’re in the game again, let’s ask “who is al Qaeda?”, 9 January 2014

Excellent review by Owen Bennett-Jones. I’ll try to add a couple of additional thoughts.

(1) Understand the Arab world

To understand al Qaeda (AQ), I spent a lot of time trying to understand the Arab world. In the bigger picture, I believe that the Arab world and Islam is undergoing it’s own internal Political and Religious Reformation. This process started almost a century ago as the Ottoman Empire crumbled and the Sykes-Picote treaty (see Wikipedia) drew new lines in the sand and created nation-states.

AQ is an ideology that provides an alternative to government and religion from the current hated norm. Thus, it has not died. It was never dead, and it resonates with some folks.

(2) Understand al Qaeda

If we want to understand AQ, then we must respect the ideology and stop dismissing it as terrorism. Terrorism is merely the form of political violence that AQ is using in order to gain power and maneuver space (Given their size, it is the only option that they have).

Instead, I think that we need to look at AQ in the same vein that we would consider the spirit of the American Revolution, the ideals of the French Revolution, and the initial ideals of the Russian Revolution. Previously (myself included), AQ was dismissed as akin to anarchist in the late 19th century angry at uncontrolled capitalism.

(3)  Events in Iraq are not a surprise

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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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