Archive for the 'Transnational Insurgencies' Category



Analyzing Martha Coakley’s Afghanistan Remarks (and reactions on the right)

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

Media Matters analyzes reactions on the so-called right to Coakley’s Afghanistan remarks (that Afghanistan is terrorist-free).  Distort Coakley’s comments, the right does, from the Weekly Standard to Foxnews and others.  Then they marshal evidence from McChrystal to Jim Jones and then Petraeus to show that at most there may be 300 “al Qaeda” fighters in Afghanistan proper.  Even Charles Krauthammer gives her the benefit of the doubt.  Media Matters ignored my own post on Coakley showing that the Marines in Helmand were battling fighters from both sides of the border (although I occupy first page on a Google search).

Alas, the issue is not that complicated, but it does require a bit of attention to detail.  It’s important in that it matters from the perspectives of both national security and the lives of sons of America who are fighting in Afghanistan as we speak.  Thinking of the enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a name (such as al Qaeda) is dangerous because of its oversimplification of the problem.  To be sure, there are Arabs, Chechens, Somalians, and other foreign fighters (e.g., German) who currently take sanctuary in the Hindu Kush.

But as I have noted before, the Taliban (including the indigenous Pashtun population) has evolved into a much more radicalized and globally committed group after at least eight years of exposure to this thinking.

… they have evolved into a much more radical organization than the original Taliban bent on global engagement, what Nicholas Schmidle calls the Next-Gen Taliban. The TTP shout to passersby in Khyber “We are Taliban! We are mujahedin! “We are al-Qaida!”  There is no distinction.  A Pakistan interior ministry official has even said that the TTP and al Qaeda are one and the same.

Admiral Mullen explains the same thing in slightly different words.

The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, is expressing concern about the growing ties between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida.

Admiral Mullen told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that President Barack Obama’s new strategy in that country is aimed at creating an environment that will not permit al-Qaida to return to Afghanistan.

“There is a strategic goal the Taliban have, to move back and take over the country, and secondly, in that goal, in that environment, that that is fertile ground for al-Qaida, who continues not to be just in Pakistan, but is now moving into Yemen, is connected very well in Somalia, and in other parts of the world,” said Admiral Mullen. “Their strategic objectives remain the same – to threaten us, to threaten the west, and that fertile ground to do that would be Kandahar and Kabul again, if we do not get this right.”

Mullen underscored his concern by noting growing ties between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida.

“While al-Qaida is not located in Afghanistan, it is headquartered clearly in Pakistan, what I have watched over the last couple of years is this growing integration between al-Qaida and the Taliban, and the various networks of the Taliban, whether it is [Jalaluddin] Haqqani, or [Baitullah] Mehsud or [Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar, and that has alarmed me in its growth and integration over the last couple of years,” he said.

Asking the question whether al Qaeda and the Taliban are in Pakistan or Afghanistan is like asking whether the water is on the right or the left side of a swimming pool.

The conversation on Pakistan versus Afghanistan presupposes that the Durand Line means anything, and that the Taliban and al Qaeda respect an imaginary boundary cut through the middle of the Hindu Kush.  It doesn’t and they don’t.  If our engagement of Pakistan is to mean anything, we must understand that they are taking their cue from us, and that our campaign is pressing the radicals from the Afghanistan side while their campaign is pressing them from the Pakistani side.

Advocating disengagement from Afghanistan is tantamount to suggesting that one front against the enemy would be better than two, and that one nation involved in the struggle would be better than two (assuming that Pakistan would keep up the fight in our total absence, an assumption for which I see no basis).  It’s tantamount to suggesting that it’s better to give the Taliban and al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan as Pakistan presses them from their side, or that it’s better to give them safe haven in Pakistan while we press them from our side.  Both suggestions are preposterous.

This is why Coakley’s misunderstanding is critical.  Reasonably intelligent people must be engaged in assessing the facts on a rather detailed level in order to arrive at a reliable understanding of the issues.  Catch phrases, buzz words and bean counting is no replacement for scholarship.  And that’s why Coakley’s comments are no mere gaffe.  They are honest comments that betray a stolid understanding of national security.

Martha Coakley: Afghanistan is Terrorist-Free

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

Martha Coakley has given us some good news.

“I am not sure there is a way to succeed.  If the goal was and the vision in Afghanistan was to go in because we believe the Taliban was giving harbor to terrorists, we supported that, I supported that goal. They are gone, they are not there anymore, they are in apparently Yemen and Pakistan.  Let’s focus our efforts on where Al Qaeda is.”

Maybe someone should tell the U.S. Marines who would like even more troops to stop the flow of terrorists into Afghanistan.

KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan — Only a few hundred American troops are policing the southern border of one of Afghanistan’s major smuggling areas, leaving open a vast expanse of desert that the Taliban use to shuttle in weapons and fighters from Pakistan.

This dusty hamlet 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of the border in Helmand province was the Taliban’s key transit point from Pakistan before the Marines arrived in July. Since then, the Marines have set up a series of patrol bases east and west of Khan Neshin to disrupt the Taliban’s supply lines.

But the battalion deployed at only about 50 percent of its authorized strength, and one of its three companies is posted in central Helmand. That leaves several hundred Marines to cover roughly 6,000 square miles (15,000 square kilometers) — an area larger than Connecticut.

As a result, the Marines may have trouble curbing Taliban supply lines as thousands of fresh troops pour into the province as part of President Barack Obama’s surge.

“I would like to push closer to the border, but I can only go as far as I can support,” said Lt. Col. Michael Martin, commanding officer of 4th Marine Division, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

“Like Napoleon, you don’t want to overextend your capabilities, or you will get your butt handed to you,” said Martin, whose troops are spread out among a handful of patrol bases along the Helmand River, marking the coalition’s most southern presence in the province.

Some 8,500 additional Marines are slated to arrive in Helmand by mid-2010 as part of the 30,000-troop buildup. But any decision to send more Marines south to patrol the largely uninhabited border area would leave fewer troops for the major population centers farther north.

Many Taliban fighters fled to Pakistan following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and found sanctuary in the mountainous belt that runs between the two countries. Obama has pressed Pakistan to target the militants, but many analysts believe the government has resisted because the Taliban could serve as useful proxies if the coalition effort in Afghanistan fails.

That leaves the Marines with the difficult task of disrupting the flow of Taliban fighters into Afghanistan largely without Pakistani help.

“We are trying to make it as difficult as possible for the Taliban to stay connected to their sanctuary in Pakistan,” said Capt. Timothy Newkirk, executive officer of 4th LAR’s Bravo Company, which is based in a 200-year-old mud fort in the town of Khan Neshin.

They (the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban, both of whom harbor AQ and other transnational insurgents) are sharing resources, just as they said they would.

Taliban and al Qaeda Ideological Alignments

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 11 months ago

In Connection Between the Taliban and al Qaeda we discussed the first hand account by David Rohdes of the New York Times after he was kidnapped by the Afghan Taliban, transported to Pakistan, spent time among both Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, and then finally escaped some seven months later.  His experience, coupled with data we had previously cataloged and analyzed, is convincing and compelling evidence of the hardened and more extremist theological alignment of the Taliban, and thus of their alignment with transnational insurgents and global actors such as al Qaeda.

Over those months, I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become. Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of “Al Qaeda lite,” a religiously motivated movement primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan.

Living side by side with the Haqqanis’ followers, I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. Contact with foreign militants in the tribal areas appeared to have deeply affected many young Taliban fighters. They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world.

But questions remain.  There are some (not identified in this article) that have weighed in saying that Rohdes is merely offering perspective or speculation, not facts.  There are others who have gone on record with analyses (parsing the Taliban into many different factions) that seems at the outset to cast doubt on Rohdes’ observations, at least, in a normative sense.  Myra MacDonald, for instance, outlines the main insurgent groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and weighs in questioning whether some of them share the global aspirations as al Qaeda.  In this same analysis she links Vahid Brown writing for Jihadica who even questions whether the Taliban and al Qaeda may be diametrically opposed.

Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban and al-Qa’ida’s senior leaders have been issuing some very mixed messages of late, and the online jihadi community is in an uproar, with some calling these developments “the beginning of the end of relations” between the two movements.  Beginning with a statement from Mullah Omar in September, the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta-based leadership has been emphasizing the “nationalist” character of their movement, and has sent several communications to Afghanistan’s neighbors expressing an intent to establish positive international relations.  In what are increasingly being viewed by the forums as direct rejoinders to these sentiments, recent messages from al-Qa’ida have pointedly rejected the “national” model of revolutionary Islamism and reiterated calls for jihad against Afghanistan’s neighbors, especially Pakistan and China.  However interpreted, these conflicting signals raise serious questions about the notion of an al-Qa’ida-Taliban merger.

We covered the al Qaeda rejection of the nationalistic model for jihad in The Globalization of Jihad in Palestine, and there is no question that the infighting between insurgent groups can become deadly.  It’s this supposed rift between factions of the insurgency that the U.S. administration wants to exploit.

… the Obama administration has indicated that it intends to make a fresh attempt to engage more moderate Taliban groups in talks with the Afghan government – in a determined effort to woo at least some of them away from the fighting that is claiming increasing numbers of American and other Nato forces’ lives.

Mullah Mutawakkil, once a confidant of the one-eyed Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, was held at a US base in Kandahar in 2002 after he gave himself up to American troops.

Now he is being politely wooed by a stream of senior US officials who make discreet visits to his villa, which is guarded by armed police, to hear his thoughts on what the Taliban mood is like and whether any of its leaders are ready for talks.

A soft-spoken and intelligent man who was one of the Taliban regime’s youngest ministers, Mullah Mutawakkil is cautious about what can be achieved, but even so his thinking is music to tired Western ears.

He believes that the Taliban would split from what he called their al-Qaeda “war allies” if a deal was within reach. Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph in the guest room of his Kabul home, he insisted that a settlement to end the war was possible – and that it would be the West’s best chance of stopping terrorists from turning Afghanistan back into their base again.

“If the Taliban fight on and finally became Afghanistan’s government with the help of al-Qaeda, it would then be very difficult to separate them,” he warned.

But there is, he says, another option. Taliban leaders are looking for guarantees of their personal safety from the US, and a removal of the “bounties” placed on the head of their top commanders. They also want a programme for the release of prisoners held at the notorious Bagram US air base in Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay.

In return, he says, the Taliban would promise not to allow Afghanistan to be used to plan attacks on America – the original reason for American invervention (sic), and the overriding aim of US policy in the region.

A Morton’s Fork to be sure.  Settle with Taliban who might bring back al Qaeda safe haven, or send more troops in what may prove to be an increasingly unpopular war.  But perhaps not.  Perhaps the choice is clearer.  Commenter Amm Sam at Jihadica offers a clear and unvarnished view of the debates between the globalists and the nationalists.

The Taliban’s statements of late have to be understood in the context of the US debate on what strategy to pursue in Afghanistan. Mullah Omar is trying to influence the debate by signaling to the Obama Administration that they aren’t a threat – but should we take Mullah Omar’s word for it? Of course not. If you look at the discourse of the Taliban, from spokesmen and commanders to the footsoldiers quoted in David Rhodes’ excellent 5-part NYT series, you see that the Taliban as a semi-coherent movement has drifted into the global jihadist perspective over the last several years. They are still primarily focused on the region, but less so now than ever.

Only now do we see this shift from Omar in the heat of Washington deliberations on Afghanistan.

In fact, the Haqqani group, the Taliban who held foreign al Qaeda fighters in such high esteem in the Rohdes account with the New York Times, is operationally allied with Mullah Omar who is said to be ready to jettison al Qaeda’s presence after a return to power.

Most violence in the province has been linked to the Haqqani network, which operates out of havens on both sides of the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border and has taken responsibility for dozens of attacks around Afghanistan.

The group was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who made his name as a leader of the Islamist uprising against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. More recently, the militants introduced the use of suicide bombings to Afghanistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, Jalaluddin’s son, said his fighters didn’t want to capture heavily populated areas because the operations would likely result in significant casualties among insurgents and civilians. Still, he made clear his group had no intention of abandoning its focus on Khost. “Every now and then we want to carry out coordinated group attacks,” he said.

An American military official who recently served in eastern Afghanistan said the U.S. had intercepted communications suggesting the Haqqani leadership was closely coordinating its activities in Khost with Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s leader, who is believed to be in Pakistan. “It’s a division of labor, with each group focusing on a different part of Afghanistan,” the official said.

The official said some U.S. intelligence officers suspect that the Haqqani leadership had offered to conquer Khost in exchange for a promise from Mullah Omar that the family would be allowed to rule large swaths of eastern Afghanistan if the armed group eventually retook control of the country.

And it’s now believed that the Taliban and / or al Qaeda are helping the Gaza insurgents to fabricate much more sophisticated bombs for use in their terrorist efforts.  The battles between certain factions of the Taliban and al Qaeda must be seen as internecine spats – as intramural struggles.  They don’t represent a terminus.  They are quite public debates over strategy and tactics rather than policy and doctrine.  It’s important not to conflate one with the other.  Believing that any faction of the Taliban would actually risk their lives to battle al Qaeda because of the former’s focus on the region and the focus of the later on the globe is not only unwise, it is profoundly bad logic.

As for David Rohdes, everything and everyone else takes second place (or less) to direct, first hand knowledge to someone who has been there and seen these things first hand.  Rohdes is now in the position of being a subject matter expert – perhaps the foremost and most knowledgeable one in the world.  Rejection of his analysis because it creates discomfort for one strategic option (i.e., separating the “good” Taliban from the bad) is paramount to rejection of the preeminent scholar in the field of study.  From his time with the Taliban, Rohdes has earned the equivalent of a Doctorate in Jihadist Islamic studies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Finally, the fact that certain jihadi web sites may be “abuzz” with emotion over a coming split between the Taliban and al Qaeda simply isn’t important.  It’s as irrelevant and insignificant as the silly and gross exaggerations of U.S. and NATO casualties inflicted by the Taliban at the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Voice of Jihad).

Al Qaeda Withdrawal from Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

In Resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda we relied on the CTC Sentinel at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point to show that there had begun a steady redeployment of al Qaeda and foreign fighters away from Iraq and to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  “By 2007, jihadist websites from Chechnya to Turkey to the Arab world began to feature recruitment ads calling on the “Lions of Islam” to come fight in Afghanistan. It appears that many heeded the call. This was especially true after the Anbar Awakening of anti-al-Qa`ida tribal leaders and General David Petraeus’ “surge strategy” made Iraq less hospitable for foreign volunteers.”

This steady drain of fighters away from Iraq has increased lately as reported by the Gulf News.

Some groups of Al Qaida terror network in Iraq have started leaving the country towards other hot spots in Africa like Sudan and Somalia, security sources tell Gulf News.

A key reason behind the change in strategy by the so-called Al Qaida Organisation in Mesopotamia is the intensity of the latest military strikes launched by Iraqi and US forces against the network, which has been the major challenge to restoring the stability of Iraq, the sources said.

“Our intelligence information indicates the withdrawal of certain groups of Al Qaida fromIraq because of the military strikes. Many of them have escaped through the borders with Syria and Iran to hotter zones such as Somalia and Sudan,” Major General Hussain Ali Kamal, head of the Investigation and Information Agency at the Interior Ministry, told Gulf News.

“I believe this is the beginning of the complete withdrawal of Al Qaida from Iraqi territory.”

A source at Iraqi Ministry of National Security said that documents and letters found in hideouts of “some elements of Al Qaida” during search operations in Sunni suburbs in Baghdad, which were previously under the control of Al Qaida, “prove these elements left Iraq for Somalia and Sudan”.

The sources for this article are mistaken that al Qaeda has “started leaving the country.”  They had started during the campaign for Anbar and later during the initial stages of the security plan for Baghdad.  The pace has apparently increased according to intelligence obtained directly from al Qaeda.  This is very good news for Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the vigilance must not wane.  Al Qaeda left Iraq and headed for Pakistan and Afghanistan, and now Somalia and the Sudan (among other countries – AQ was already present in Libya).

The Captain’s Journal has previously recommended that the U.S. Marines be deployed to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom, and Somali and Sudan and other countries in Africa and the Middle East will need our attention.  While Iraq must be made secure and stable, we must not forget that the long war is against a transnational insurgency which has no recognition of borders as important or even existent with respect to its ideology.

State Actors in Transnational Insurgencies

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

In “Everyone thought the Taliban would not fight!” I observed concerning the difference between modern day insurgencies and classical insurgencies that “In addition to an insurgency being a function of counter-forces within a nation state, they can be (and have been in the case of Iran) funded, supported and trained by nation states to undermine the stability of the host country.”

Today we have yet another indication of Iran’s actions in Iraq, given to us straight from someone who would know.

Iranian secret service agents are working to “sabotage” the operations of groups fighting Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Baghdad’s intelligence chief said on Wednesday.

Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani issued the statement shortly before a landmark visit to Baghdad on Sunday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“We have information confirming that Iranian secret services have sent agents to sabotage the Sahwa experience in Iraq,” the statement said, referring to mostly Sunni groups fighting Al-Qaeda in Iraq alongside the US military.

Shahwani “stressed the need for the Iraqi people to be vigilant in facing these activities.”

Vigilant indeed.  They should kill the Iranian usurpers.  Another example is given to us in the Pakistan / Afghanistan region, but this example is not of a formal nation-state actor (although it is being allowed to exist by a nation-state).

Al Qaeda is taking a greater role in coordinating the Taliban and other Islamist militant groups operating in Afghanistan’s volatile border region with Pakistan, a top U.S. commander said yesterday.

U.S. military officials are concerned the activity is part of an ongoing effort to escalate violence in Afghanistan against U.S.-led NATO forces as attacks in Iraq subside.

Similar to Vietnam where the Viet Cong were supported by North Vietnam who was supported by Russia and China, this is the brave new world of transnational movements that David Galula didn’t get to experience.


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