They rose up quickly to take up Osama bin Laden's call for jihad, ruthless men in their 20s and 30s heralded as the next generation of global terror.
Two years later, 40 percent are dead, targets of a worldwide crackdown that claimed its biggest victory with the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida's front man in Iraq.
Manhunts in Asia, Africa and Europe have pushed most of the rest deep underground — finding refuge in wartorn Somalia or the jungles of the southern Philippines. While there are still recruits ready to take up al-Qaida's call to arms, analysts say the newcomers have fewer connections than the men they are replacing, less training and sparser resources.
"There are more people popping up than are being put away," said Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense College. "But the question is whether the new ones have the fortitude to take up the mantle and carry the struggle forward. I don't see that they have."
It's a matter of experience, isn't it? While there is no doubt that among those who will answer the call, there will be capable terrorists who will learn the "trade" and, if they survive long enough, become somewhat proficient at waging their brand of jihad.
But the way you degrade the capabilities of any terror network is to do exactly what is apparently being done with some success.
Deny them any permanent haven. Afghanistan was the crucible from which the most effective terrorists came. Many learned their trade fighting the Soviets and went on to become leaders in the al Qaeda movement. That leadership has been decimated since 2001 and they've had to go deep underground to survive. The more time spent on the run and ensuring their own security means less time to plan, train and execute.
Deny them the ability to train. Not as easy as it sounds. We hear constantly of clandestine training camps in remote areas. I wouldn't be surprised to find out there were many in Somolia or remote areas of the Philipines, etc. However as an ongoing part of the GWoT, those camps have to be identified and eliminated. Perfect missions for particular portions of our SOC folks.
Shut down their financing. This is probably one of the least publicized parts of this war, but it is critical to its success. Weapons, training, subsistence and movement aren't free. Denying terrorists the funding to which they can purchase all of those necessities cuts their ability to execute their plans drastically.
Eliminate their connnections. That means rooting out those who enable the terrorist through their support either financially or materially. Put them in jail. But make it more and more difficult for terror cells to procure those things they need to execute their plans. Additionally, success if finding, identifying and eliminating connections will make those who might consider supporting terrorists think twice as well.
The decimation of the old leadership and success in rolling up the support network will have a telling effect on the capabilities of those who still answer the call of jihad. Obviously if we deny them haven and the ability to train, they are less likely to be as effective as the old guard was. And because they are more likely to be less sophisticated in terms of training they'll be more likely to be detected and eliminated.
Last but not least, propaganda. And this is where successes like Zarqawi come in. Publicize them. I know there is a school of thought that says don't make rock stars out of these guys. And I can understand the thinking. But on the otherside of that, the propaganda value of taking out a high value target like Zarqawi is incredibly valuable. You read the thoughts of the Iraqi journalists I featured in this post yesterday. That sort of goodwill is hard to buy. And, although perishable, it is a desirable outcome.
It translates a little differently to those who are considering joining the jihad. It provides a cold splash of reality to those who might otherwise buy into the glory of jihad. Death has a way of dampening some of that zeal.
This war is a constant war and a long one. It is based in intelligence and swift execution. Like all wars it is about getting and staying inside your enemy's decision cycle. Keeping him at bay and off balance. If successful in doing so there exists a real possibility that the extremist message of jihad will find fewer and fewer willing takers. When that begins to happen, we can truly begin to believe we are winning this war.
True. Interestingly, that group is more of the face of the "new" terrorists who are less sophisticated and with fewer connections. What they did was pretty much OJT. And that makes them more visibile and thus more vulnerable to being noticed before they can actually do anything.
Not that it always happens that way, the British subway bombings being a case in point. But the opportunites to thwart it were certainly there. I’d have to say, if everyone is on their game, it is more likely they’ll be detected before they can act than less likely.
In World War Two, the United States had a policy regarding it’s combat fighter pilots - 100 combat missions and you rotate back to the states to train new pilots with what you have learned. Germany and Japan both kept their veterans on the front lines - you either had to die or be badly wounded before you got sent home. And if wounded, you were back at the front as soon as you could climb back into an airplane.
Slowly, attrition killed the off Axis veterans - as an example, of the top 20 Japanese aces only 3 survived the war and only one of them was still flying at the end. But the American veterans kept putting their knowldge and savvy into the newly winged fighter pilots. The result was these young pilots enterred the fray with the accumulated savvy of their instructors facing either tired veterans or young pilots who may have beeen able to fly an airplane but who did not have the imparted wisdom of their own combat veterans.
I flew fighters in the US Air Force for over 17 years and ended my career as a staff officer. I can tell you this from my own flying experience, let me at the youngsters anyday. They may have the advantage of their youth but Fresh meat gets killed off quickly.
Al Qaeda is faced with the same today. It may have enterred this war with an army full of combat veterans with experience in Afghanistan against the Soviets, and facing off against the US and others in differing parts of the world, but the attrition of the last 5 years has got to wear on them. There may be more and more new blood enterring the conflict. But these younsters will not have the operational savvy of their dead veterans. They will not have the ability or experience necessary to plan and execute complex operational plans. They may have the advantage of their youth but Fresh meat gets killed off quickly.
Nicely stated, SShiell. A nice reminder to the "someone will just rise to take Zarqawi’s place" crowd.
Another related principle is at stake, too. In computer strategy war games (Empire and Civilization being two examples with which I’m familiar), there’s a common dynamic in facing an enemy with hidden resources. You can only see what you face. Now, when the enemy becomes strained, it’s hard to tell for quite a while, because a losing enemy can hide that fact by throwing every resource they can muster into the fight.
Moreover, the less territory and production potential they control, the less they can produce for future fighting. So, as they get pressed, their capacity to respond becomes smaller and smaller. But again, it’s hard to tell for a while because all you see is the front lines.
Eventually, there comes a tipping point. The enemy’s force becomes so weak that it’s no longer cohesive and can’t hold control territory or resources. At the end you realize that the enemy’s fierceness was a last gasp of a losing foe.
While obviously computer strategy games are far simpler than the real world, I think that general principle still holds in most conflicts. While insurgencies don’t attempt to hold territory the way a normal army would, they still must control some locations and resources to be able to fight effectively. So I think that dynamic is at work in Iraq to some extent.
You do not have to rely on computer simulations to show what you are referring to, Billy. An excellent example of the potential effects of dwindling resources by an enemy is our own experiences in World War Two. In both major theaters, as the war eroded the Axis’ abilities to wage war, the more desperate they became.
In Europe, the Battle of the Bulge represented a huge effort on the part of Nazi Germany and a major portion of the casualties inflicted upon US forces in France. And the war was over in Europe less than 5 months after the end of that battle.
In the Pacific, the effect was very similar. Desperate measures taken by the Japanese included the infamous Kamikaze raids. The battle for Okinawa and the Kamikaze attacks around that island represented some of the most ferocious and deadly combat of the entire war, but again the war was to end within just a few months following the end of the battle.
And for the the "someone will just rise to take Zarqawi’s place" crowd, history is full of examples of major field commanders being lost on the battlefield. But I am at a loss to find one example where it turned out to be anything but disaster for that particular side.
Shut down their financing. This is probably one of the least publicized parts of this war, but it is critical to its success.
Try not at all publicised, is it not as successful as the blunt head on fighting being done in Iraq and Afghanistan? Resources can allow experience to be purchased. The critical battle is to stop them getting resource and assistance.
They have a potential of millions coming, with financing and indoctrination to Islamic purity they will be dangerous. Without they will be a bunch of angry young men - dangerous, but in ways not specifically dangerous to us. To win the war we need to destroy the wealthy centres of hardline Islamic purity.
And for the the "someone will just rise to take Zarqawi’s place" crowd, history is full of examples of major field commanders being lost on the battlefield. But I am at a loss to find one example where it turned out to be anything but disaster for that particular side. Well, there was General Polk...
D@MN you Shark... that’s MY line.... Now to be fair, there is a risk in the GWoT and that is we wage war on ALL terrorists. AQ will be/is pretty much gone, now and the war wasn’t about AQ except that AQ represented the worst of the Global Terror Menance. It’s not our job to fight the South X-anian Muslim Libertaion Front, current strength 15, simply because they ARE terrorists, that’s X-ania’s job. The US needs to be involved only to the extent that the SXMLF receives FOREIGN support or exports support to foreign nations. It’s too easy for SOCom and the CIA to continue their "war" ad infinitum.
Congressional oversight is necessary, HOWEVER oversight is not "leaking" everything you think will embarass the Administration (D or R) to the NYT. So there’s som growing up that needs to be done in Congress as well.
SXMLF...h’uuuum South X-ania YOUTH Muslim Liberation Front... SXYMLF’s, there you go SXY MLF’s! The best kind. Couldn’t resist.