Confirming a quiet triumph over al Qaeda

More evidence accumulates that we are winning against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A report written by intelligence experts at the the United States Military Academy confirms the signs of the major success that I reported recently, in an AT article entitled  A Quiet Triumph May be Brewing.

The article was well received by those on the right, but the left went apoplectic. One significant liberal blog was so threatened by the very idea of American military success that they defaced the American Thinker masthead graphics with Photoshopping.

So for those who answered "I hope this is true" and for those who answered "just more neocon propaganda" here is confirmation of the splintering of the jihad movement.

This report was written by intelligence experts who study al Qaeda professionally for the United States Military Academy. The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point recently released the study called Cracks in the Foundation: Leadership Schisms in al Qaeda 1989-2006. The report specifically tells us that al Qaeda is exceedingly vulnerable to being split apart. It also states that recent dire warnings of a resurgent al Qaeda are wrong. Again, neither I nor the authors of this study argue that al Qaeda is defeated, but rather degraded. The following is a rather long excerpt from that study [bold added for emphasis] :
Its' successful attacks on America, first on the embassies in Africa and then on 9/11, gave al-Qa'ida's message an immediate global audience, but the American military response to these attacks have so seriously degraded its organizational capacities that management of that message has been virtually all that al-Qa'ida Central has subsequently been able to muster.

There has recently been some speculation that al-Qa'ida has been regrouping in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, perhaps even regaining the organizational capacity to operationally manage terrorist agents, but there is no evidence to suggest that it has overcome the persistent weaknesses identified in this report.107 On the contrary, recent events have highlighted al-Qa'ida's continuing vulnerability to them. For example, in 2005, after the capture in Pakistan of senior al-Qa'ida operative Abu Faraj al-Libi, it was revealed that Central Asian jihadis, a contingent of whom have established a foothold in the Waziristan tribal areas, provided the information to Pakistani intelligence that led them to al-Libi. Bad blood generated by the chauvinistic disdain for Central Asian jihadis displayed by Arab al-Qa'ida personnel in the region had led captured Uzbek, Tajik and Chechen jihadis to provide information on al-Qa'ida's operations, leading to a series of raids and arrests that ultimately led to al-Libi's capture.108

Despite the continued appeal of al-Qa'ida's message to certain populations, it must not be forgotten that al-Qa'ida's transition from an extremist cult cloistered in the mountains of South Asia to a publicly-debated global movement creates new sets of vulnerabilities, open to exploitation by any interested party with the means of delivering its message. Lacking a broad command-and-control structure, al-Qa'ida Central finds itself unable to control the uses - and abuses - of its brand by self-starting "affiliate" groups. The gory media tactics of Zarqawi's al-Qa'ida in Iraq did considerable damage to the mass popularity of the al-Qa'ida message.109 Letters from al-Qa'ida Central to Zarqawi attempted damage control while he was alive, and in a recent video appearance, Usama bin Ladin himself has tried to shore up his brand against the effects of Zarqawi's legacy through direct media spin control. For example, he laid blame for the Sunni-Shi`a civil war on the United States, even though he was certainly aware of Zarqawi's role in igniting the bloody sectarian conflict in Iraq, as is abundantly clear in the letters from Zawahiri and ‘Atiyah discussed above.110 The damage to the al-Qa'ida name wrought by Zarqawi's tactics was seen as so bad by his former associates in Iraq that they, supported

by al-Qa'ida Central, changed the name of their organization from al-Qa'ida in Iraq to the Islamic State of Iraq, hoping by this move to regain traction with Sunni insurgents alienated by assassinations of Sunni leaders carried out in al-Qa'ida's name; thus far they have failed.

The continuing failure of the Islamic State of Iraq is emblematic of a larger theme of this report: al-Qa`ida is terrible at state building. As long as Bin Ladin and Zawahiri are at the helm, their inability to organize will dash any hopes they have for creating an Islamist state.
In the book I co-authored, Both In One Trench: Saddam's Secret Terror Documents, we note that several Asian al Qaeda affiliates were captured at a training camp controlled by Maulana Fazlur Rahman (who was friendly with Saddam) in Pakistan "More recently, a cadre of terrorists from Abu Sayyaf was caught in one of his madrassas".

It is likely that the Asian al Qaeda fighters who turned against the central al Qaeda Arab leaders as referenced in this study were also under the Maulana's control. I also noted in an earlier article on the jihad fracture that the Maulana had helped the Libyan government to capture some al Qaeda affiliated Libyan oppositional terrorists (he helped Libya because Qadaffi was also a sponsor of the Maulana along with the Saddam regime). As noted in Quiet Triumph, Rahman who strongly supported al Qaeda was recently placed on an al Qaeda hit list. It is clear that Asian al Qaeda affiliates influenced by the Maulana have angered the Arab al Qaeda leaders; thus he is now an al Qaeda enemy.

This is important because it shows not only a splitting of al Qaeda itself but a split with a large part of the Taliban. As the man who is known as the father of the Taliban, the Maulana still holds great sway over them. The Taliban is essentially just the militant, Afghanistan based extension of the Pakistani jihad groups he controls. As he goes, most of the Taliban will go with him.

A sign of this change is the re-emergence of Benazeer Bhutto in Pakistani politics. She and Pervez Musharraf appear to have reached a power sharing agreement. The Maulana enjoyed her patronage and held much power under her leadership (in fact created the Taliban at her request under the heavy influence of Pakistani intelligence - Steve Coll, Ghost Wars). If she is to return to power in Pakistan, then the Maulana would be much more interested in working with the government instead of as the opposition leader. His sway with the Islamic militants of Pakistan will serve Mushareef well as part of the deal to  bring back Bhutto.

So the foundation has been set. The Maulana no longer has benefit from, and is indeed threatened by, the Taliban working with al Qaeda. His reinstatement into the inner power circle via Bhutto (a democratic woman at that) will cause him to move to mollify the jihadi groups he controls. It is an essential balance of power that will reduce the violence in Afghanistan and will leave al Qaeda out in the cold. With al Qaeda's history of moving from nation to nation only to fail at building an Islamic state, it remains to be seen whether this new Pakistani power brokerage will force al Qaeda to abandon the Pakistan/Taliban region. If so, where will they go? Back to Africa?

Maybe they will go to Iraq to martyr themselves to strengthen the jihad. Let's hope they try. They will find their former Sunni allies have completely lost their taste for jihad.

Ray Robison is proprietor of Ray Robison: Pointing out the Obvious to the Oblivious.