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A few thoughts about al Qaeda
Posted by: McQ on Friday, September 21, 2007

Interesting bit of conjecture from the Strategy Page about al Qaeda's possible problems, leadership and future.
Recent reports about Ayman al Zawahiri taking control of al Qaeda from Osama bin Laden, missed some important points. The obvious one is that bin Laden was never more than a charismatic figurehead and source of funds for the movement, while al Zawahiri has been running the show all along.
I happen to agree with this. Call Zawahiri the "executive terrorist" if you will, but I've become convinced that he does call the day-to-day shots within the organization while bin Laden is trotted out for his 'spiritual' pull useful in recruiting. Bin Laden is sort of the spiritual glue that helps hold the organization together and give it its "legitimacy", if you will.
More important to the debate about the future of the war against al Qaeda is that, as the organization suffers public defeats, with no off-setting impressive wins, there's a good chance that very real internal rifts will arise. Although difficult to monitor and measure, this is an important "front" in the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban.
When things begin to go badly all organizations suffer from internal friction and fractures. And when the organization is mostly built on the cult of personality, it is especially problematic. Anyone who tries to argue that AQ is "winning" just hasn't been paying attention. It was AQ that declared Iraq the central front in their war against the West (and specifically the US). That means, given their declaration, that they have to deliver a victory there. At the moment, they're hard pressed to even pull off a decent ambush or car bombing. And it is public knowledge that the vast majority of Iraqis reject them explicitly and are working specifically for their defeat there.

Not exactly good PR. Additionally, AQ affiliates in Yemen, the Horn of Africa and the Philippines haven't fared much better. They've been mostly hunted down and decimated.

And that's another problem for AQ. The status of its leadership. Sure bin Laden and Zawahiri are still kicking, but much of the senior and mid-level leadership has been destroyed.

The effect of that is telling. One of the biggest problems with standing up the Iraqi Army isn't recruits. They're a dime a dozen. It's the absence of experienced NCOs and junior leaders. AQ is suffering the same lack of experience. Each time an 'old fighter' is taken out, the institutional knowledge and experience base is again reduced.

You can't just replace and reconstitute that level of experience repeatedly. That is one of the problems AQ is suffering at the moment and is, I think, one of the reasons you're seeing rather amateurish attempts at spectacular attacks being sniffed out and quashed. The lack of experience is problematic and it is bringing a frustration within the organization that has rumors of internal strife within the organization.

Stategy Page talks about one possible route such frustration coupled with the lack of success can take within organizations such as AQ:
There's a solid history of radical ideological terrorist groups falling apart through internal upheaval, following reverses "in the field." Three decades ago, the Japanese Red Army Faction (JRAF) literally destroyed itself in a massive internal convulsion that was sparked by a series of major defeats. The reverses led to a round of "soul searching/witch hunting" to insure ideological purity; after all, "We know we're acting at the cutting edge of history. We cannot lose. So if we have been suffering defeats in the glorious struggle, it means that either we've drifted into ideological impurity or we're being betrayed. We must take corrective action." The group began an ideological "purification" that led to such extremes as debating whether it was ideologically more correct to kill policemen with bullets or with bombs. This may sound silly, but it was often fatal for the losers. And ultimately it doomed the movement.
That sort of purging and internal struggle for leadership is obviously destructive and something we'd want to encourage. Keeping them on the defensive in their self-declared "central front" is a good way of doing that. We've also seen polls which say that the Muslim world is less and less enamored of AQ and their tactics. That's a good thing and indicates that somehow they're seeing the side of AQ we want seen and have come to understand that they aren't a group, regardless of their proclaimed religious affiliation, with which they wish to be associated.

Lastly, Strategy Page discusses something I've wondered about since I first heard of the Zawahiri letter to Zarqawi in Iraq warning him off the intense violence he was committing there.
There have been hints that defeat in the field has caused strains in both al Qaeda and the Taliban. It's generally believed that al Zarqawi, late head of al Qaeda in Iraq, ran afoul of the inner circle because he initiated violent attacks on Shia and even Sunni civilians. He died under curious circumstances, suggesting Coalition forces had been tipped off. In true revolutionary fashion (or maybe gangland style), al Zawahiri, who probably ordered al Zarqawi fingered, sang the dead man's praises. There have been a number of other deaths among al Qaeda and Taliban leaders over the past year or so that hint at internal rifts. There is a need to keep very careful tabs on the relationships and status of al Qaeda's principal field commanders and known leaders, in order to be able to monitor the internal strength of the organization. This sort of information is kept from the press, lest the enemy get an idea of how they are being observed, and take measures to hide themselves better. The need for secrecy means that intelligence victories must also be kept secret, for revealing these achievements turns them into defeats. But something is going on.
I've always wondered if, in fact, Zarqawi was fingered by AQ leadership because he ignored them. Obviously if that could ever be proven it would assuredly lead to a huge internal rift and probably the demise of the organization itself. But Zawihiri's dissatisfaction with Zarqawi does indeed point to at least a tactical rift within the organization that hopefully is being exploited by our side. And it wouldn't surprise me in the least the Zarqawi went down just as Strategy Page asserts. However, since his death, and other than an occasional spectacular bombing here and there, AQI has not been anywhere as effective in Iraq as it was under his leadership.

Given all of that I'm in agreement with Strategy Page that "something is going on" within AQ and its leadership. I think this latest video blitz is also an indication of internal problems (a sort of "hey, we're still here and relevant" campaign). What those problems are obviously isn't clear because there isn't a whole lot of information available about the terrorist group. But the few bits and pieces of info that have found their way into the press seem to me to indicate some serious problems for the organization.
 
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What is the latest thinking about Mr. bin Laden’s probability of existence? I still hope that he is a cave painting somewhere in Afghanistan.
 
Written By: sammler
URL: http://stonecity.blogspot.com
In our of our podcasts, I talked of a common scenario that appears in war game simulations. An enemy pushed to the wall will keep throwing assets at you because they have no choice. Unless you have exceptional intelligence on their inner structures, you don’t really know when they’re about to run out of assets. Thus their eventual failure, when it happens, tends to be sudden and catastrophic.

Up until very close to the end, they appear to be a credible and sometimes formidable opponent. Then the first signs appear that they can no longer plug the gaps. That’s usually the sign of the beginning of the end.

Terrorist movements have a key difference from military foes in that they can continue to generate small amounts of opposition activity even after the main organization has been virtually destroyed. But there are common principles in conflict. I think it’s quite possible that Al Qaeda is suffering as much as the article suggests, and if so they might be on the verge of breakdown.

Our problem lies in one of the additional differences between this conflict and previous ones. I can’t think of a previous conflict in which everyone on our side wasn’t happy to see victory. However, in this case, if Al Qaeda is indeed vanquished, then that to some extent vindicates George Bush’s strategy. We could still argue that his strategy was not *optimal*, but it could no longer be argued that it was *ineffective*. There are those in our society that will not accept that conclusion because they simply hate George Bush too much.

They’ll never admit to themselves that Chimpy McBushHitler was good enough to defeat Al Qaeda, so they’ll seize on any minor attack as proof that Al Qaeda is still a going concern. Only if/when a Democratic president were elected would they be prepared to admit that maybe Al Qaeda has finally been pushed to near irrelevance, because then that would be a convenient excuse to "bring the troops home" and take credit for the whole shebang, even though it took five years plus to get through it.

And, yeah, I’m cynical about those folks. I’ve seen too many comments right here at QandO to doubt my assessment of their psychology.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
They’ll never admit to themselves that Chimpy McBushHitler was good enough to defeat Al Qaeda,
The other day I saw one of the Democrat front runners being referred to as "Hitlery." Should she win I’ll bet Chimpy McBushHitler types will have their panties twisted in hypocritical outrage.
 
Written By: Bob
URL: http://
It’s the absence of experienced NCOs and junior leaders. AQ is suffering the same lack of experience. Each time an ’old fighter’ is taken out, the institutional knowledge and experience base is again reduced.

You can’t just replace and reconstitute that level of experience repeatedly.
Exactly. I’ve made that same point repeatedly to those who trot out the "we’re just creating more terrorists" argument.
 
Written By: DavidC
URL: http://
The other day I saw one of the Democrat front runners being referred to as "Hitlery."
You may be missing the point, if I understand what you’re trying to say. Every president gets called that or worse. The question is, if she were to get us into a war, would conservatives then want us to lose just because she was president? I rather doubt that.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://qando.net
You could say that the GWoT is really turning Osama into a has-Bin!

Thanks folks, I’ll be here al-Quarta’.
 
Written By: James O
URL: http://
They’ve been mostly hunted down and decimated.
I think they have been better than decimated (lost 1 in ten).

Closer to slaughtered, dismantled, obliterated, disintegrated, bouleversed, annihilated, or eviscerated.
 
Written By: Neo
URL: http://
Neo,

I like the phrase, "explosively ablated".

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://tomdperkins.blogspot.com/
Bin Laden always wanted to hit America. Zawahari (sp?) wanted to work on the Arab regimes (he’s Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood.) Would their split be on similar lines?
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Since the subject of the democrats has come up, I am struck by the similarities between the democrats and al-Qaida, at least insofar as how we should be dealing with each. As an example:
That sort of purging and internal struggle for leadership is obviously destructive and something we’d want to encourage. Keeping them on the defensive in their self-declared "central front" is a good way of doing that. We’ve also seen polls which say that the Muslim world is less and less enamored of AQ and their tactics. That’s a good thing and indicates that somehow they’re seeing the side of AQ we want seen and have come to understand that they aren’t a group, regardless of their proclaimed religious affiliation, with which they wish to be associated.
Let’s try an edit, just for laughs, and see how well it fits:

That sort of purging and internal struggle for leadership is obviously destructive and something we’d want to encourage. Keeping them on the defensive in their self-declared "central front" is a good way of doing that. We’ve also seen polls which say that the Mainstream Democrat is less and less enamored of the far left and their tactics. That’s a good thing and indicates that somehow they’re seeing the side of the far left we want seen and have come to understand that they aren’t a group, regardless of their proclaimed religious affiliation, with which they wish to be associated.
Hmm.
Let’s try again and see if it holds up:
When things begin to go badly all organizations suffer from internal friction and fractures. And when the organization is mostly built on the cult of personality, it is especially problematic. Anyone who tries to argue that AQ is "winning" just hasn’t been paying attention. It was AQ that declared Iraq the central front in their war against the West (and specifically the US). That means, given their declaration, that they have to deliver a victory there. At the moment, they’re hard pressed to even pull off a decent ambush or car bombing. And it is public knowledge that the vast majority of Iraqis reject them explicitly and are working specifically for their defeat there.


and the edit:

When things begin to go badly all organizations suffer from internal friction and fractures. And when the organization is mostly built on the cult of personality, it is especially problematic. Anyone who tries to argue that the Democrats are "winning" just hasn’t been paying attention. It was the Democrats that declared Iraq the central front in their war against Bushy McHitler. That means, given their declaration, that they have to deliver a victory there. At the moment, they’re hard pressed to even pull off a decent ambush in COngress... and their polls are slipping badly as a result of those failures.. And it is public knowledge that the vast majority of Americans reject them explicitly and are working specifically for their defeat there.
Guess it still works. Observation; apparently, the tactics are sound, regardless of which situation they are applied to.
(Snicker)



 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Harun has a point. Zawahiri is Egyptian and his head is still in Egypt, still trying to win the Six Day War so to speak. The unity between Arabian Qaida and Egyptian Qaida (Islamic Jihad, Gama’a al-Islamiya, Vanguards of Conquests, Egyptian Ikhwan, and other names) is not and never was as close as those groups themselves tell us it is. Even between Egyptian and Egyptian there is a lot of disunity.
 
Written By: Larry Hammick
URL: http://

 
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