Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The War on Terror, post Memorial Day

On the heels of a Memorial Day that has left 8 American soldiers dead in Iraq, this would be a good time to compare the operational and political methods that al-Qaeda used in 2001 and where they stood as an organization at that time to where they are today in 2007. A review of where things stand at this point in time, a "snapshot" as our President would say, can be illuminating. The information in this posting has come from various independant government reports that are freely available on the web, reports from journalists who have specialized in al-Qaeda and various books written about the organization over the last 10 years.

In 2001, al-Qaeda was organized under a strict hierarchical design. The planning , financing, leadership and operational responsibilities were centralized at the top level, with regional Lieutenants working under close supervision of the Captains of bin Laden. Training en mass was confined to Afghanistan with graduates of these training programs being sent to a handful of regions around the world without orders to train others. Instead they were sent to these places to carry out the technical aspects of their missions with support of locally recruited sympathizers who acted as soldiers.

The organization was considered outside the mainstream to Muslims in the African, Arabic and Persian cultures. Recruits for soldiers were targeted in the most susceptible environments of poverty and chaos. Recruits for positions as Lieutenants came from extremists backgrounds who had skills and educational backgrounds that could be exploited from bin Laden’s Captains. The Captains were long-term mercenaries of the Jihadist movements and virtually all shared experience in combat against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan or as covert militants in nations such as Egypt. Most of the Captains had exposure to CIA training or methods of operation that had been learned from CIA operators.

Their financial support was derived from bin Laden’s personal fortune and supplemented by running a variety of bogus religious charities worldwide, including a presence inside the US. This fund raising was apparently too small or too well run to bring attention to US authorities as this network was not exposed until well after the 9/11 attacks had occurred. They were politically marginalized, finding their only state support from governments that operated outside accepted channels of the world political stage. Sanctuary could only be found in nations of utter chaos such as Yemen and Ethiopia or a nation which rejected all norms of society and operated in it’s own bubble, as they found shelter in the Taliban government of Afghanistan.

Their strategic capabilities were severely limited although they did display an uncanny ability to organize attacks in a methodical, clockwork process. Their primary and only method of attacks were the use of bombs even though they were researching and experimenting with the use of non-conventional weapons such as poison gas. Their MO involved car bombings of buildings, vest explosive type suicide bombers and an interest in using civil aviation as a tool. The only members who had combat skills were the Captains. They had no understanding of the tactics, weapons and methods used by armed forces and no knowledge of those same subjects in how they were used by the US military.

Now, in 2007, they have altered this entire overview of their organization. Some of this was forced as Captains and Lieutenants were captured or killed, the majority appears to have been a conscious effort on their part to evolve and adapt in response to the changing environment in which they operate.

The organization is no longer operating in a rigid hierarchical structure. The planning , financing, leadership and operational responsibilities have moved away from the top down approach and it is now comprised of regional leaders who operate as independent Captains that are interconnected with one another and receive support from the top echelons of their chain of command. Regional Captains are now have autonomy. The Lieutenants now carry out the commands of the Captains, which allows them more freedom to train others, plan and lead attacks as well as creating operational relationships with sympathetic groups.

The organization is now mainstream in not only the African, Arabic and Persian cultures, it is now gaining the sympathy and empathy of Muslims residing in the First World countries of western Europe and the Americas. Soldiers once had to be recruited among the vulnerable populations using methods related to mind control and conditioning, now the organization has educated and intelligent sympathizers coming to them for membership. al-Qaeda can now pick and choose among candidates and a wider range of skills and academic backgrounds have integrated into their toolbox.

Financial support is much easier to gather, from a wider source of contributors, with a greater pool of wealth to draw upon. The actions of the current administration have forced even the polemic moderates around the world to condemn American actions, if not sympathize with the goals of al-Qaeda.

Their strategic resources have expanded, deepened and become very advanced. Combat experience has been gained as well as and understanding of how to adapt in crisis. Their chain of command appears to be robust with experienced and capable leaders able to rise as various managers and leaders are killed or captured. The entire organization appears to have evolved to a point where it is self-healing and adaptable. Their combat against US forces have given them an enormous boost in the arts of gathering, analyzing, classifying and disseminating intelligence gathered from combat missions. It also has given them real-world skills at being able to create, implement and evolve strategy based on that intelligence based on the activities seen in Iraq.

Instead of decapitating the leadership of the organization, instilling feelings of defeat and the sense of facing an unbeatable force as the war in Afghanistan began; the current administration shadow boxed with the top levels of power in the organization and brought a meager sized force to the theater of operations. While al-Qaeda was dealt a small blow at the onset and the Taliban was utterly defeated by 2003, the war in Iraq gave them a chance to regroup and prioritize their movements. al-Qaeda has since grown and become a more well defined organization and now even the Taliban have not only re-emerged but are now threatening to regain control of not only Afghanistan but possibly expand in Pakistan.

al-Qaeda operates freely in Iraq, many north and east African nations, is fortifying cells in Afghanistan and now have another government sponsored safe haven in the area of western Pakistan. The sub-Asian regions where they are actively hunted are still active and now they have created relationships with Sunni and Shiite militias that would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

The way this organization has grown and survived over the past 6 years, in spite of two declared war fronts and an undeclared front in southern Pacific nations, one cannot help but wonder if the abject failure of this administration to contain the organization is because of incompetence, or an intentional act. Following the fall of the Soviet Union the US had no clear-cut and terrifying enemy with which to base it’s military strengths and budget against. The War on Terror has seen a massive increase in defense spending and the usual suspects are the ones who have made a financial killing. Should we view the War on Terror and al-Qaeda’s growth as being a symbiotic creature, with one sustaining the growth of the other?

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