Archive for the 'al Qaeda' Category



Al-Qaeda In The United States

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 1 month ago

Just Piper sends an important study our way.  We are accustomed to discussing al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, or al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, and so on.  It seems rather odd to be among the first to use the phrase “Al-Qaeda In the United States,” but with our failure to execute the war on the transnational Islamic insurgency, it was bound to happen at some point.

The study was done by the Henry Jackson Society, a British think tank, and includes a detailed statistical analysis of perpetrators of terror who were affiliated or associated with al Qaeda.  There are a lot of take-aways from this study, including how active Afghanistan and Pakistan are as havens for terrorists and their training camps.  The foreign threat has not disappeared regardless of what the administration is saying.  But knowledge of this fact should be coupled with knowledge of the local threat.

According to the new report, Al-Qaeda in the United States, of the 171 al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-inspired terrorists who either committed acts of suicide terrorism in the U.S. or were convicted in U.S. civilian or military courts from 1997 to 2011, 54% were American citizens, and more than a third were born in the United States.  “Moreover, 36% of all individuals were U.S. born, indicating that these were citizens who had grown up in the U.S. rather than having moved there later in life.

This is important to us for a whole host of reasons, but let me focus briefly on just two.  First, while I have recently written about the potential for an apocalyptic shattering of the stability of American civilization due to governmental totalitarianism, there are other possible catalysts, one being attacks by groups of Islamic fighters (and we also know that Hezbollah cells are already embedded in American civilization).  Several well-placed attacks on infrastructure will cause the American economy to screech to a halt.  Shooting attacks on shopping malls will bring retailers to their knees across America.

But there is yet another, more insipid, attack that could happen on our freedom and liberty.  In the event of an attack such as I’ve described above (or a series of attacks), the U.S. government might (and probably will) use it as the expedient to declare martial law, and include firearms confiscations as the central policy of that control.  This might be done by the federal government, or it might be done by Governors of states (recall that gun owners had their firearms confiscated in New Orleans after Katrina).

The point is this.  There are a number of different catalysts for societal instability and the consequent push for totalitarian control.  Be wise and circumspect, and be prepared for any exigency.

Losing the Forest for the Trees: Drone Strike Kills al-Libi

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 10 months ago

Hat tip to Hot Air.

The New York Times as well as other media outlets are now confirming, along with the Obama Administration, that Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, has been killed by a drone strike in a remote, Pakistani village last week:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Central Intelligence Agency drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal belt killed Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, American officials said on Tuesday, dealing another blow to the group in a lawless area that has long been considered the global headquarters of international terrorism but the importance of which may now be slipping.

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The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said that as a result of Mr. Libi’s death, “there is no clear successor to take on the breadth of his responsibility, and that puts additional pressure” on Al Qaeda, “bringing it closer to its ultimate demise than ever.”

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If his death is borne out this time, it would be a milestone in a covert eight-year airstrike campaign that has infuriated Pakistani officials but that has remained one of the United States’ most effective tools in combating militancy.

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One American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, described Mr. Libi as one of Al Qaeda’s “most experienced and versatile leaders,” and said he had “played a critical role in the group’s planning against the West, providing oversight of the external operations efforts.”

As damaging as these “decapitation operations” may be to Al Qaeda, we seem to be losing the forest for the trees.

While the U.S. focuses on sending missiles through the windows of every, significant Al Qaeda leader that remains (and each, new one that sprouts up), the war against Militant Islam has long since moved on to other, more threatening venues.  Iran, for example, is a declared enemy of the United States, bent on developing nuclear weapons, but U.S. policy has never reflected anywhere near the seriousness accorded to Al Qaeda, despite the fact that Iran poses a threat that is orders of magnitude greater than Al Qaeda.  Islamists appear poised to take absolute control of the most populous Arab state in Egypt and are actively taking advantage of the civil war in Syria where U.S. intransigence has created a vacuum among the rebel forces.  Turkey is moving doggedly toward an Islamist state that will seek to dominate the region in direct conflict with U.S. national interests.   Pakistan seems to be increasingly in the grip of Islamists who occupy key positions in its military and intelligence services.   More ominously, Europe is increasingly subject to the influence and intimidation of Islamist immigrants who regularly resort to violence to undermine traditional, Western values.   In the U.S., any talk of Islamists or their ideology is forbidden throughout the federal government.

For all that George W. Bush may have gotten wrong during his eight years in office, and in particular with his war planning, he did understand that the United States (and the West at large) was not fighting only or even primarily against Al Qaeda, but against a broader ideology– islamofascism, if you will– that motivated not only Al Qaeda but an entire movement of muslims determined to impose fundamentalist Islam upon the world.

As a last, side note on the al-Libi assassination, we should be careful what we wish for.  The U.S. may succeed in debilitating Al Qaeda’s operation capabilities to such an extent that they will change tactics and resort to the sort of “lone wolf” terror tactics that traumatized Israeli society in the intifada days of a decade ago.  Anyone who lived as I did in the Washington, D.C. area in the Fall of 2002 well remembers how just two persons, acting on their own in seemingly random fashion, could seriously disrupt an entire region.  It is a wonder that the Islamists have not resorted to this tactic in any concerted way.  Let’s hope that they don’t.   But, considering how little strategic thinking seems to be going on in D.C., “hope” may be the only thing left.

The Taliban And Al Qaeda Are The Same

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 8 months ago

The National Interest has an important account from the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The money quotes follow.

November 11, 2007—Veteran’s Day. I was a veteran waiting to meet the Taliban. I hated this, but I was here now. A young man, called Abu Hamza, a nom de guerre, entered the room and sat down, pointing his rifle low, but at me. He wore an infrared light on his turban. Someone was backing him. Why was he fighting? “We are fighting jihad,” he said. Who supported him? “Elders,” he replied. “Pakistan. We live in the mountains, but for training we go to Pakistan. Sometimes the army comes and trains us. “We know they are in the army, but they have gray beards, like you.”

[ ... ]

A month later, at midnight, I sat in the mountains south of Tora Bora. A Predator buzzed above us and I shivered in the cold. A Taliban commander, about forty years of age, quoted from the Koran before he answered each of my questions. Their support came from God, from the tribes and religious parties in Pakistan, he said. Jihad was jihad. They didn’t care about or look for support from the Pakistani army. He was from Waziristan. I asked about al-Qaeda. “The Taliban and al-Qaeda are the same,” he responded. “We fight under Mullah Muhammad Omar. He started on the mountain tops as we do now.” A dozen teenagers and young men in their early twenties sat with us. I asked how they trained. “They are the sons of the mujahideen,” he said proudly. “Fighting is in their blood, as it was in the blood of their ancestors.”

[ ... ]

The more the U.S. pushes into the east near the Pakistani border, where there are mountains and forests, places to hide and where men have been fighting outsiders for centuries, the more that Pakistan, and its proxy army, the Taliban, will fight back. “Not a shot would be fired in Afghanistan,” my jailer said, “without Pakistan’s approval.” It knows that the U.S. is pulling out of Afghanistan and is desperate to regain its influence there—and to sit at the negotiating table.

Encapsulated in this one account of a man who was kidnapped by the Taliban are two themes I have pressed before: the ideological alignment of the Taliban and AQ, and the duplicity and in fact even role of direct opposition that Pakistan plays in Afghanistan.

Can we please end the juvenile pretensions that we can play nice with the Taliban and re-engage them in the government?  The Taliban and al Qaeda are the same.  Those aren’t my words.  I just quoted them.

The Morphing of the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 11 months ago

Joshua Foust is both a genuinely good guy and an expert on the affairs of Central Asia.  I am neither.  With that said, I strongly disagree with the theme of his analysis of the question of whether all militants are the same?  He weighs in thusly.

Max Boot thinks all militants are the same.

Of greater immediate concern are al Qaeda’s allies: the Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqani network and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HiG), which among them deploy thousands of hardened terrorists. These groups, in turn, are part of a larger conglomeration of extremists based in Pakistan including the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (the Pakistani Taliban), Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed…

The major difference among them, at least so far, has been one of geographic focus. The Taliban, the Haqqani network and HiG want to seize power in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban aspires to rule in Islamabad. Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are primarily focused on wresting Kashmir away from India, although there have been reports of the former’s network expanding into Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Only al Qaeda has a global focus—so far.

Apart from rightly noting that al Qaeda is the only one of these groups that poses even a remote threat to the U.S. homeland, this is basically all wrong—so wrong I’m curious if it is the result of maliciousness or just laziness. Boot engages in some worrying conflations and conceptual fuzziness. Assuming the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban groups work together, are equally associated with al Qaeda, or pose an equal and in some way interchangeable threat is, put simply, dramatically at odds with our understanding of those groups, their goals, and their methods. There is no ” a larger conglomeration of extremists,” as he asserts, as that term implies an interoperability that just doesn’t exist in the real world.

Mullah Omar, contrary to what Boot writes, was not closer to Osama bin Laden than Hafiz Muhammed Saeed — and that sort of formulation misses the point anyway. Similarly, and again in contrast to Boot’s portrayal, there ARE a number of signs that the Afghan Taliban (NOT the Pakistani Taliban or Kashmir-focused terror groups, all of which Boot confuses) is seeking a way to break with al Qaeda — and we have reports of these signs going back at least to 2008.

We’ll start with this bit.  I am of the opinion – based on what I have studied – that most of the so-called Afghan “Taliban” who have sought to “reconcile” with the Karzai government are washed-up has-beens who want an easier life as they go into their golden years.  They play us and the Afghan government for fools, and they don’t legitimately represent either the Quetta Shura or Tehrik-i-Taliban (or any allied or affiliated or similar group).

Moving on, it might have been legitimate to have discussed divisions, subdivisions and categories of Taliban and al Qaeda ten or even six years ago.  Things have changed since then.

… 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.

Nick Schmidle – who is also a genuinely good guy and a scholar – gave us a learned warning shot over the bow.  It was reiterated by David Rohde who was in captivity by the Taliban.

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.

More recently we have a report at the Asia Times from Syed Saleem Shahzad on Maulvi Nazir.

Extremely loyal to Taliban leader Mullah Omar and a part of the Afghan Taliban, Nazir began as a conventional Talib guerrilla and a follower of the populist traits of the Taliban movement.

This changed in 2006, when, like many others including Sirajuddin Haqqani, Nazir became inspired by al-Qaeda and realized that fighting a war without modern guerrilla techniques meant draining vital human resources for no return.

That led to the advancement of the skills of Nazir’s fighters, and it also came with rewards.

In Afghanistan, if a commander sticks solely to his relations with the Taliban, he will never climb the ladder to prominence and the Taliban can only provide a limited number of local tribal fighters and meager funds. But if a commander allies with al-Qaeda, he is given the opportunity for joint operations with top Arab commanders who arrange finances for those operations.

Similarly, breakaway factions of Pakistani jihadi organizations like the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Laskhar-e-Taiba and the Harkatul Mujahideen also supply an unending stream of fighters to those commanders associated with al-Qaeda.

Nazir’s affiliation with al-Qaeda seems to have passed unnoticed by the United States and NATO, which are investing heavily in a reconciliation process with the “good Taliban” and they appear not to understand the drastic changes that have taken place among the top cadre of the Taliban …

“What is the rationale of dialogue after NATO’s withdrawal?” Nazir asked rhetorically. “Then, the Taliban and NATO can hold a dialogue on whether the Taliban would attack their interests all over the world or not, and what treaties should be undertaken in that regard.”

Taken aback by this statement from a Taliban stalwart who is not perceived as being a global jihadi but simply a guerrilla fighting against occupation forces in Afghanistan, I intervened. “Hitting Western targets abroad might be al-Qaeda’s agenda, but it is not the Taliban’s, so why should the West negotiate that with the Taliban?”

“Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are one and the same. At an operational level we might have different strategies, but at the policy level we are one and the same,” Nazir said, surprising me further.

I’m usually hesitant to cite Syed Saleem Shahzad since he is a mouth piece (witting or unwittingly) for the Taliban.  But occasionally he scores significant interviews, and those tend to be very productive and informative.  For this particular interview, the only thing that surprises me is that Syed Saleem Shahzad is surprised.

To be sure, there are factions within the TTP, and in fact, the Taliban are an amalgam of groups, subgroups, factions, leaders, and so on and so forth, some of whom disagree and even level threats at each other.

So what?  We all knew that.  The question redounds to threat, or some approximation thereof.  And so here is the crux of the issue.  Back to Foust as he opines “If these groups do not pose a threat to the United States, then it is not our problem to “fix” them. Period.”  And he summarizes.

I had hoped that the death of Osama bin Laden would at least temporarily tamp down on the irresponsible fear-mongering over a few crazies with guns in mountains whose names we cannot pronounce and who cannot and do not pose an existential threat to our existence. I guess my hope was mistaken.

Well, yes, no and maybe, depending upon point and inflection.  Let’s dissect.  I agree that it’s not the task of the U.S. to fix all of the world’s problems if there is no national security interest.  In fact, I couldn’t agree more.  While it’s laudable that we might want women treated better in Afghanistan, that’s not a reason for war.  We cannot be the policemen of the world, nor does the world want us as policemen.

But this issue of threat is more complex.  Don’t forget that the Hamburg cell headed for Afghanistan intent on receiving training and returning to Germany to perpetrate violence there.  It was OBL who persuaded them to pull off an attack in the States, and we know it as 9/11.  It was actually a fairly simple attack, and if there is any mistake that the AQ leadership is making at the moment it is that they are focusing on big, flashy attacks when they should be focusing on the simple.  I am thankful for this error in judgment.

I have already described an attack that America simply cannot absorb despite the ignorance of the current administration (who claims that we’re just fine).  The unfortunate truth is that American infrastructure, from bridges to malls, from buildings to roads, from airports to power plants, from water supplies to electrical grid, hasn’t been hardened since 9/11.  It would cost too much money to do it, far more than waging a counterinsurgency campaign in the hinterlands of the earth for the next decade.

As for threat, I never really believed that Baitullah Mehsud could actually pull off an attack on Washington, D.C.  What’s important is that he wanted to.  With enough time, money, motivation and several hundred dedicated fighters, I could bring the economy of the United States to its knees.  So can any smart Taliban leader.

Unlike Josh who believes that Max believes that all militants are the same, I see his mistake differently.  Max Boot makes the mistake of subdividing the Taliban, as if these are neat, clean, Aristotelian categories into which we can drop an organization.  This is wrong in my estimation.  They have swam in the same waters for the last decade with globalists galore, and this ideology has morphed the Pakistani Taliban into something they weren’t.  To a lesser extent this has happened with the Afghan Taliban.  Lesser extent, I admit, but it’s still there.  The mistake Joshua makes is that he sees no threat.  Again, this is wrong in my estimation.

I can play the subdivision game too.  I know the various groups of militants in the Pech River Valley, Hindu Kush, Kandahar, Helmand, FATA and NWFP.  It just doesn’t matter as much as it might have a few years ago, and to some extent I see it as pedantic and braggadocios to list out all of the names (and it’s even more impressive if you pronounce the names right – and for heaven’s sake, pronounce “Pech” correctly as “Pesh”).

But at some point I think this is all being too smart for our own good, and fiddling while Rome burns (or in this case, Central Asia).  The death of Bin Laden will have little affect on the global insurgency.  He and his ilk were but one manifestation of the globalist Islamist movement, the larger framework being the Muslim Brotherhood.  With the air of respectability, the MB will proceed apace.  Their military manifestation will still be seen in AQ, the TTP, Hamas, Hezbollah and others.  Bin Laden is dead.  The war continues.

Bin Laden: Mission Kill or Mission Capture?

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 11 months ago

A striking contradiction has been present for a long time in the so-called war on terror, but this contradiction is highlighted with the recent death of Osama Bin Laden, the highest of all high value targets.  There are two narratives that have developed in the short time since he was killed (it’s amazing that any administration could get things so confused).

The first narrative is that the women were thrown out in front of the men and used as human shields.  This makes me celebrate.  No, not the death of non-combatants, but the action, if it in fact occurred.  Bin Laden, who is routinely shown in file tape toting a Kalashnikov and wearing tactical gear, hid in caves at Tora Bora rather than fight, and then fled when he could.  Rather than fight with his recruits or even be seen in public, he hides behind walls and then when the fight is brought to him, rather than protect his family, he throws them out in front of himself to avoid being shot.

How rich.  Jihadist-Warrior-Martyr my ass.  He was a cowardly weasel.  I’m okay with this.  Or, there is the second narrative to consider, and it makes me happy too.  Rather than fighting from behind women and children, they just got in the way and some perished while others were wounded.  But the legendary, storied SEAL Team 6 simply went in and shot him.  Bin Laden didn’t even have a weapon when he was shot.  In fact, not a single shot was fired at the SEAL Team (presumably the Pakistani police know this because of spent cartridges?).

Working hard to justify this to themselves, they are.  Eric Holder testified before Congress today.

“The operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed was lawful,” Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “He was the head of al-Qaida, an organization that had conducted the attacks of September 11th. He admitted his involvement and he indicated that he would not be taken alive. The operation against bin Laden was justified as an act of national self defense.”

He was a very bad guy and we’re in a war.  Fine.  But wait, there’s more.

Holder said bin Laden was a legitimate military target and he had made no attempt to surrender to the U.S. forces that stormed his fortified compound near Islamabad on Monday. He was shot in the chest and head.

It was lawful to target an enemy commander in the field and the mission was conducted in the way that was consistent with U.S. laws and values, Holder testified, adding that it was a “kill or capture mission.”

“If he had attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that. And therefore his killing was appropriate,” Holder said.

Senator Lindsey Graham chimed in thusly.

“You have to believe this guy was a walking IED,” and that any of the Navy SEALs would have wanted to kill bin Laden as far away as possible from the other members of the American team.

Yes, Lindsey, I routinely put on my explosive vest every day when I get home from work.  I’m sure that Bin Laden was wearing one too.  Holder jumped right on that ridiculous bandwagon by agreeing with Graham, so they both looked even more ridiculous than when they started.

But wait, there’s even more.  The narrative gets muddled.

The SEALs’ decision to fatally shoot bin Laden — even though he didn’t have a weapon – wasn’t an accident.  The administration had made clear to the military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command that it wanted bin Laden dead, according to a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the discussions.  A high-ranking military officer briefed on the assault said the SEALs knew their mission was not to take him alive.

So by walking this back, Eric Holder is actually placing the SEAL Team 6 members at risk by alleging that there was a fire fight, and that resistance can occur with or without a weapon, and so on.  No one actually believes that a 54 year old man without a weapon is a threat to the most fit, well-trained warriors on earth.  No one.

They shouldn’t feel the need to work so hard at the justification.  We already engage in targeted assassinations, i.e., the drone strikes that kill high value targets all over Western Pakistan, just like the strike that killed Baitullah Mehsud (and that strike killed family members as well).  Baitullah Mehsud couldn’t surrender to an aircraft, and surely wasn’t pointing a weapon at a U.S. service member when he died.  Yet we killed him anyway because he was the enemy, or at least, one of them.

There is confusion over this issue generally because there is confusion at the highest levels of the administration.  It’s why flag officers who should know better tried to hold snipers accountable for murder because they shot an unarmed Taliban commander in Afghanistan.

And herein lies the rub.  We unleashed SEAL Team 6 to kill Bin Laden, apparently, and I don’t have a problem with that.  It isn’t necessary for me to believe that he was holding a weapon or wearing a bomb or somehow a threat to the team.  He wasn’t.  He was the enemy, and that’s enough for me.

But we hold Marines in the Helmand Province, still under fire, fighting for their lives, to a completely different standard.  After recently lampooning the prison system in Afghanistan (something I have done repeatedly), a Marine father responds this way.

According to my son, a USMC 0311 recently returned from Helmand, the effect on their morale when seeing released Taliban was significant. He recalled capturing two bombers after an IED wounded a squad-mate. A week later they saw the two walking by them, smiling and waving. He said apparently American testimony is inadmissible in Afghan courts. Many of the IEDs they saw were command detonated, so they would hustle to catch the bomber.

The officers and visiting Senators would interact with the Afghans, but the 03s in my son’s company didn’t trust any of them, including the imbedded ANP. The only one they would get to know were the interpreters (“terps”), but they were the primary target of the bombers, so they turned over a lot. The squad leaders walked with the terps, so they turned over a lot too.

SEAL Team 6 is to be congratulated.  But there’s still fighting going on.  The catch-and-release program in Afghanistan is a joke, and prisons do not work in counterinsurgency.  The only thing prisons are doing in Afghanistan is making the American fighting man look like a chump when Taliban whom they have captured walk down the road smiling and waving at them.  It isn’t winning any hearts and minds, and it isn’t going to change.  The system is too corrupt, and we don’t want it to change badly enough.  We would rather see Marines lose their legs.

So if you agree with what SEAL Team 6 did to Bin Laden, and if you agree with the drone program, then sleep well.  But if you have a problem with the Marines in Helmand doing the same thing to Taliban fighters, then you are inconsistent.  Consistency isn’t the Hobgoblin of little minds.  It’s the stuff of life.

I simply won’t let this inconsistency pass.  I will force it upon me [you] [y'all] [us] [them] [the administration] [everyone].  It’s not okay to be irrational.  You can’t have it both ways.  If you wanted to see Bin Laden and Baitullah Mehsud dead but you want the Marines to play by different rules in their particular piece of hell, then you must go to sleep tonight knowing that you’re irrational, and you are irrational deep down where it matters most, on basic issues of morality, violence, warfare, life and death.

UPDATE: From the AP.

Only one of the five people killed in the raid that got Osama bin Laden was armed and fired a shot, a senior defense official said Thursday, acknowledging the new account differs greatly from original administration portrayals of a chaotic, intense and prolonged firefight.

The sole shooter in the al-Qaida leader’s Pakistani compound was quickly killed in the early minutes of the commando operation, details that have become clearer now that the Navy SEAL assault team has been debriefed, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

He said the raid should be described as a precision, floor-by-floor operation to hunt and find the al-Qaida leader and his protectors, rather than as it has been portrayed by a succession of Obama administration briefers since bin Laden’s death was announced Sunday night.

Increasing clarity, just not from the administration.

Al Qaida Closer to Nukes? Don’t Bother Telling Anyone

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years ago

Here is a highly disturbing article from February that I would bet most of us never saw featured in any major, U.S. newspaper or given any time on the network news.

According to the article:

Al-Qaida is on the verge of producing radioactive weapons after sourcing nuclear material and recruiting rogue scientists to build “dirty” bombs, according to leaked diplomatic documents.

A leading atomic regulator has privately warned that the world stands on the brink of a “nuclear 9/11″.

Security briefings suggest that jihadi groups are also close to producing “workable and efficient” biological and chemical weapons that could kill thousands if unleashed in attacks on the West.

Thousands of classified American cables obtained by the WikiLeaks website and passed to The Daily Telegraph detail the international struggle to stop the spread of weapons-grade nuclear, chemical and biological material around the globe.

At a Nato meeting in January 2009, security chiefs briefed member states that al-Qaida was plotting a program of “dirty radioactive IEDs”, makeshift nuclear roadside bombs that could be used against British troops in Afghanistan.

Lest anyone think that this is an over-reaction by nervous State Department diplomats, the Indian security services have provided their own confirmation:
The briefings also state that al-Qaida documents found in Afghanistan in 2007 revealed that “greater advances” had been made in bioterrorism than was previously realized. An Indian national security adviser told American security personnel in June 2008 that terrorists had made a “manifest attempt to get fissile material” and “have the technical competence to manufacture an explosive device beyond a mere dirty bomb”.

Does anyone have the increasing feeling that we are trying to build ever stronger sandcastles?   The tide is coming in.  The U.S. had better have a well-thought out response.

On second thought, given the current Administration and its responses to international crises so far, the most sensible response may be on a personal level:  food, medicines, water and ammunition.

Al Qaeda Makes a Comback in the Pech Valley

BY Herschel Smith
3 years ago

From The Wall Street Journal:

In late September, U.S. fighter jets streaked over the cedar-studded slopes of Korengal, the so-called Valley of Death, to strike a target that hadn’t been seen for years in Afghanistan: an al Qaeda training camp.

Among the dozens of Arabs killed that day, the U.S.-led coalition said, were two senior al Qaeda members, one Saudi and the other Kuwaiti. Another casualty of the bombing, according to Saudi media and jihadi websites, was one of Saudi Arabia’s most wanted militants. The men had come to Afghanistan to impart their skills to a new generation of Afghan and foreign fighters.

Even though the strike was successful, the very fact that it had to be carried out represents a troubling shift in the war. Nine years after a U.S.-led invasion routed almost all of al Qaeda’s surviving militants in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden’s network is gradually returning.

Over the past six to eight months, al Qaeda has begun setting up training camps, hideouts and operations bases in the remote mountains along Afghanistan’s northeastern border with Pakistan, some U.S., Afghan and Taliban officials say. The stepped-up infiltration followed a U.S. pullback from large swatches of the region starting 18 months ago. The areas were deemed strategically irrelevant and left to Afghanistan’s uneven security forces, and in some parts, abandoned entirely.

Strategically irrelevant to the campaign planners who focused their efforts on population-centric counterinsurgency and thus withdrew troops to redeploy in larger population centers.  Not strategically irrelevant to me.  Google the phrase Abandoning the Pech and see where TCJ lies in authority.  I have supplied a surrogate conversation between flag officers when AQ returns to the Pech (which would be  now), and argued that without hitting the Taliban’s recruiting grounds, fund raising and revenue development, training grounds, and logistical supply lines, the campaign cannot be won.  I have pleaded that we not abandon the chase, and that we kill every last Taliban.  Campaign management and I just disagree.

Continuing with the article:

American commanders have argued that the U.S. military presence in the remote valleys was the main reason why locals joined the Taliban. Once American soldiers left, they predicted, the Taliban would go, too. Instead, the Taliban have stayed put, a senior U.S. military officer said, and “al Qaeda is coming back.”

No, American commanders didn’t really believe that.  They fabricated the only narrative available at the time that had any hope of convincing the administration that the strategy would work.  As I pointed out, this argument was similar to the one deployed by the British to justify their retreat from Basra.  Continuing:

The militant group’s effort to re-establish bases in northeastern Afghanistan is distressing for several reasons. Unlike the Taliban, which is seen as a mostly local threat, al Qaeda is actively trying to strike targets in the West. Eliminating its ability to do so from bases in Afghanistan has always been the U.S.’s primary war goal and the motive behind fighting the Taliban, which gave al Qaeda a relatively free hand to operate when it ruled the country. The return also undermines U.S. hopes that last year’s troop surge would beat the Taliban badly enough to bring them to the negotiating table—and pressure them to break ties with al Qaeda. More than a year into the surge, those ties appear to be strong.

To counter the return, the coalition is making quick incursions by regular forces into infiltrated valleys—”mowing the grass,” according to one U.S. general. It is also running clandestine raids by Special Operations Forces, who helped scout out the location of the Korengal strike, U.S. officials said.

[ ... ]

Last year’s surge of 30,000 U.S. forces, authorized by President Barack Obama, aimed to inflict enough pain on the Taliban that they would negotiate a peace settlement on terms acceptable to the West. Coalition commanders and civilian officials were initially bullish about the new strategy’s chances, seizing on reports from Taliban detainees that a “wedge” was developing between al Qaeda and midlevel insurgent commanders. The insurgent leaders were said to be tired of fighting and increasingly resentful of what they considered the Arab group’s meddling in their fight.

The reappearance of al Qaeda fighters operating in Afghanistan undercuts those reports from detainees. “There are still ties up and down the networks…from the senior leadership to the ground level,” said a U.S. civilian official, citing classified intelligence.

Interviews with several Taliban commanders bear out that assessment. The commanders say the al Qaeda facilities in northeastern Afghanistan are tightly tied to the Afghan Taliban leadership. “In these bases, fighters from around the world get training. We are training suicide bombers, [improvised explosive device] experts and guerrilla fighters,” said an insurgent commander in Nuristan who goes by the nom de guerre Agha Saib and who was reached by telephone.

Of course the ties are still strong.  I pointed out one and a half years ago that the ideological ties were powerful.

… 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.

And topping off this disturbing report is the most disarming quote of all.

The problem, say officials, is that JSOC, with a global counterterrorism mission that gives it responsibility for strikes in Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and other trouble spots, is already stretched thin. Relying on it to police Afghanistan’s hinterlands as American forces pull out may be unrealistic, some officials said.

“We do not have an intelligence problem. We have a capacity problem. We generally know the places they are, how they are operating,” said the senior U.S. military official, speaking of al Qaeda. The problem “is our ability to get there and do something.”

As I have pointed out for years, the high value target program is a failure.  It won’t work.  Nor will swooping in with SOF troopers to conduct raids in the middle of the night based on poor intelligence and no local “atmospherics” whatsoever (no atmospherics because there are no U.S. troops there).  Of course we have a capacity problem.  Kinetics needs to be conducted by everyone, and everyone needs to be off of FOBs, living among the locals, including SOF troopers.  We have discussed this at great length.

But the same, tired, worn out paradigms of SOF troopers conducing raids, general purpose forces serving as policemen, most of the troops tied to huge bases, and begging the criminals Hamid and Wali Karzai to go groovy on us are still employed, hoping that good governance can turn Afghanistan into Shangri La.

But it isn’t working, and AQ is returning to the Hindu Kush.  Can we jettison the failed strategy in time?

Prior:

Taliban Massing of Forces category

Abandoning the Pech Valley Part III

Abandoning the Pech Valley Part II

Abandoning the Pech Valley

Korengal Abandoned, Pech River Valley Still Problematic

Powerline Blog Calls It Quits On Afghanistan

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years ago

Normally I enjoy reading the posts by John Hinderaker at Powerline, but his recent post is an exception.  With a strange bit of melancholy or resignation, John argues that it is time to pack up and quit Afghanistan.   I will detail this in a bit, but suffice it to say that I found most of his arguments shallow and unpersuasive.

Even so, I would not bother making John’s post the subject of my own, but for two things that alarm:  (1) Powerline has one of the highest levels of readership in the blogosphere, so its opinions reach a lot of people, aggravating the damage;  (2) this recent post seems to be indicative of a growing opinion among conservatives (as shown by the large, positive response it has received so far).

So here goes.

Here are the reasons supplied by John Hinderaker for calling it quits.   After stating that he supports the initial attack to chase Al Qaeda out of its bases in Afghanistan, he sees the ensuing efforts differently:

Since then, for going on nine years, we have pursued a somewhat half-hearted peacekeeping/democracy policy in Afghanistan. The Bush administration was right, I think, not to devote excessive resources to Afghanistan, which is virtually without strategic significance compared with countries like Iran, Iraq and Egypt. Moreover, the country’s human natural and human raw material could hardly be less promising.

Afghans are not just living in an earlier century; they are living in an earlier millenium. Their poverty, cultural backwardness and geographic isolation–roads verge on the nonexistent–are hard for us to fathom. They are a tribal society run by pederasts whose main industry is growing poppies. If our security hinges on turning this place into a reasonably modern, functioning country, we are in deep trouble. But I don’t think it does; and, in any event, I don’t think we can do it.

In large part, our effort in Afghanistan has been devoted to protecting normal Afghans against extremists like the Taliban. But, as the current rioting in Kandahar, Mazar-e Sharif and elsewhere reminds us, there there may not be a lot of daylight between the Taliban and more moderate Afghan factions.

For Hinderaker, Afghanistan and its people are pretty worthless, to put it bluntly.  No “strategic significance compared with…Iran, Iraq and Egypt.”  The country is devoid of raw materials or human potential.  In his view, it is such a backward, black hole of inhumanity that any change is hopeless.   Even Obama, presumably, wouldn’t try to sell his snake oil there.  The rioting there over the Koran burning is proof of sorts, he says, that the country is hopeless.

I hate to say it, but this is just lazy, generalized thinking.

It is very tempting thinking, however.   There is certainly alot of things about Afghanistan that repulse our cultural sensitivities and it is indeed easy to see the depths to which the country has sank and believe it has always been this way, but this is not a reason for leaving, in and of itself.   It is just letting our prejudice show.  It is hard to remember as far back as the 1960′s, but Afghanistan had a functioning monarchy with a tolerable standard of living in Kabul and prospects for reform and political rights up until the communist takeover in 1978.   What Afghanistan has become, after 30 years of war, brutal totalitarian rule and the importation of strict, Islamic codes, is not what is has always been nor its eternal fate.

As for the claim that Afghanistan has no strategic value, that is at least a debatable point.  If we had a coherent and consistent foreign policy that looked at the broader interest of the U.S. in the region, Afghanistan has significance.   If, for example, we had a foreign policy that recognized the dire threat that the Iranian regime poses to the entire Middle East (and beyond), the ability to stage forces on both sides of Iran— in Iraq and Afghanistan– would enable the U.S. to effectively aid insurgents and opposition groups in Iran.

Having a presence in Afghanistan also gives the U.S. a key leverage point and access to Pakistan.  Like it or not, nuclear Pakistan is a major threat to the U.S. so long as it teeters on the edge of political instability and the possibility of the Islamofascists getting their nukes.   The U.S. has a natural affinity with India that could be cultivated into a strategic partnership in the region as a counterbalance to China and the growing Islamofascist threat in Pakistan.   Afghanistan is valuable to that partnership as well and we could be doing much more to involve India.

Hinderaker believes Afghanistan is worthless, a view not shared, however, by Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the Muslims, the  Tsarist Russians, the British Empire and the Soviet Union.

I think that the heart of the problem for Hinderaker and other conservatives when it comes to Afghanistan is the notion of “turning this place into a reasonably modern, functioning country…”   In many circles, you can add in “democracy” to that list.   This has been the great mistake of our involvement in Afghanistan.

Our first and primary goal in Afghanistan should always have been to establish security, period.   Without security first, every, other goal is like piling up sand on the beach.   Security against the Taliban and Al Qaeda is a limited, achievable goal.   It is measurable victory.  And, once established, it creates the necessary space and stability for the kind of investments and social reforms that, over the long term, can make a real difference in the development of the country.  The problem for the U.S. has been that we have been way too ambitious, trying to establish security and establish a democratic government and re-build their infrastructure and make it into a “modern, functioning” country.

This is analogous to a man, near starvation, who is rescued and then force-fed a king’s banquet: it will kill him.   His shriveled stomach is not ready for that.   After such deprivation, he needs a little bit at a time, slowly and carefully. Afghanistan is the same way.   After over twenty years of ruin and oppression, we cannot descend upon the country and begin force-feeding it with hundreds of billions of dollars in aid for every conceivable project, no matter how well-intentioned.   We have almost literally been killing Afghanistan with kindness.   Funny how they don’t appreciate it.

The mistake that Hinderaker makes is looking at the process and concluding that the entire enterprise is worthless or hopeless.  They seem to have gotten discouraged because all of our ‘force-feeding’ has not brought a miracle cure.   Their answer, to throw the hapless man back in the desert to starve again, is absurd.  Rather, they should see our actions to this point in Afghanistan as the excessive blunder it has been.

If the U.S. had been single-mindedly pursuing security and the elimination of the Taliban since 2001, we might well have drawn down our troop levels there to some border outposts to interdict insurgents from Pakistan while leaving the interior to ANA forces that would have had almost a decade of solid training by now.   Even if you view the ANA as a hopeless project, at the very least we would have had time to establish local militias that would keep the peace in their locale and govern themselves.   We would not have diverted billions of dollars to a corrupt, central figurehead like Karzai.  All of these things feed the disenchantment that Hinderaker and others feel.

But just because mistakes have been made– even terrible mistakes– should not give way to careless analysis and spotty observations.   It should, instead, be a call for better policy.

When Hinderaker turns to the consequences of quitting Afghanistan his view is rather limited:

Is there a danger that if we leave, the Taliban will re-take control and, perhaps, invite al Qaeda or other terrorist groups to join them? Yes. However, it it not obvious that, after what happened in 2001, the Taliban will be quick to make its territory, once again, into a launching pad. If they do, one would hope that drones, bombs and perhaps the kind of small-scale insertion of troops that we mounted in 2001 will be an adequate response. In any event, when it comes to harboring terrorists, I am a lot more concerned about Pakistan than Afghanistan.

The war in Iraq is over, and has been for some time. Our mission there has been a success; how important a success depends not on us but on the Iraqis. For a predominantly Arab country, Iraq is doing well. At this point, we have done about all we can do. Our troops are no longer in a combat role, and we should bring them home, and honor their victory, on schedule.

There are several problems in these paragraphs.

First, as John admits, it quite possible (I would say likely) that the Taliban will allow Al Qaeda and its affiliates to set up shop again in Afghanistan.  For him to say, however, that we should “hope that drones, bombs and perhaps the kind of small-scale insertion of troops… will be an adequate response” is fanciful.

Those “drones” and “bombs” have to come from somewhere.  If we pull out, there will no longer be any bases from which to fly the drones and the “secret” bases in Pakistan will likely be closed down as well once it is clear to the Pakistanis that we are done.   As for the “small-scale insertion of troops,” I assume he is referring to the SOF and CIA teams that partnered with the Northern Alliance forces and rained down smart munitions on the Taliban positions.   Trouble is that there will be no Northern Alliance forces for these teams to partner with if we pull out.

Second, if the U.S. pulls its forces out as John suggests, there is very little likelihood that those forces will ever return again.  Even if the U.S. was capable of flying in sorties of long-range bombers and sending in cruise missiles, Al Qaeda has learned a thing or two since 2001 about nullifying the effects of long-range munitions.   Al Qaeda can expand into the remote areas of Afghanistan where the U.S. will be increasingly helpless to affect.  With the bombing option of little use, what chance is there that the American people will want want to re-commit troops after having gone through the national trauma of pulling forces out in disgrace? (And I dare anyone to say that doing so at this juncture would be anything other than a U.S. humiliation).  It is not going to happen.

Third, are we willing to face the unbelievable humanitarian crisis that will result when the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan?  Are we willing to accept into the U.S. as refugees the hundreds of thousands of Afghans that Hinderaker denigrates as “pederasts” and “tribal” and hopelessly backward?  We still have an ugly spot on our national honor from abandoning South Vietnam to the communist killers.    Anyone remember the Boat People?  The world well remembers how we abandoned the shia in Iraq to Saddam’s mass executions and tortures in 1991.   Are we willing to endure yet another flag of shame in Afghanistan?

Finally, the view espoused by Hinderaker and others is incredibly short-sighted.  Our best hope of eliminating Al Qaeda or keeping them disrupted is by having troops and bases in Afghanistan that allow us at least the option of ground action against their sanctuaries in Pakistan.   The only reason that we can even contemplate leaving Afghanistan is because we have not suffered any large-scale attacks since 2001.  That is remarkable in itself and should be kept in mind when contemplating withdrawal.

Our continuous presence in Afghanistan, while extremely problematic, deeply flawed and poorly run, gets at least some credit for keeping Al Qaeda on the defensive and ill-prepared to mount another large-scale attack against the U.S.    If, God forbid, Al Qaeda should pull off another 9/11-type attack and we can trace its origins to the Pakistani FATA camps, do you think we will want U.S. combat forces right next door in Afghanistan to go in and wipe out every, last camp and terrorist hideout?   You bet we will.   But if those forces are gone, our ability to make Al Qaeda pay (and to force our will upon Pakistan if they resist us crossing the border) is neutered.

(I cannot in good conscience leave off here without at least commenting on John’s statements above about Iraq.  As Herschel Smith has said on more than a few occasions, the U.S. achieved an incredible feat of arms in 2006-2007 by taking it to Al Qaeda and Sadr’s illegal militias only to risk most of those gains by hastily agreeing to a status of forces treaty with Iraq that severely restricted our forces there.   Since Obama’s election, the U.S. has been withdrawing troops at a pace that further jeopardizes our hard-won gains in security there.   Too much American blood and treasure has been invested in Iraq for us to simply throw up our hands and say, “Well, it’s up to the Iraqis now.  Good luck, we’re outta here!”  Iraq can and should be a major ally of ours in the most crucial spot in the Middle East.   We should be doing everything we can to ensure that we have a continuing military presence there as well as increasing diplomatic and economic ties.   We still have troops in Germany and Japan, for crying out loud.   How much more important is it to have troops or at least air bases in easy reach of Iran and the Persian Gulf — not to mention Syria and Israel?)

If the post by John Hinderaker is a real indication of the trends of conservative thinking (or the thinking of the public in general) then the U.S. is in big trouble in the world.

Can we save a few bucks from the budget by calling it quits in Afghanistan?  Sure, but even Hinderaker admits that the cost is comparatively small change.

Let me emphasize here that I do not advocate an unlimited and unconditional engagement in Afghanistan.   I have said before that if the U.S. is not serious about winning there, if we are simply using the precious lives of our combat forces as a political game or in some half-hearted program to get re-elected, then those forces should come home.   But the rational response to bad policy and poor management is not to shut everything down and hide under the bed at home, it is to recognize the problems and do something about it:  throw out the policy-makers and bad managers and implement a better approach.

It saddens me to think that John Hinderaker has gotten so discouraged with our Afghan policy that he would rather hide under the bed than use his considerable intellect to advocate for a better way.

Holding Terrain in Afghanistan: Pakistan’s Games of Duplicity Part III

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 4 months ago

In response to U.S. Marine Corps Combat Action in Sangin, Old Warrior said:

… in my mind, if you go to war, go to war right. They are completely robbing most of these young men of the resources that are available to them. Also, as long as the Taliban is crossing over from Pakistan every minute, they will never cease to multiply and that blood vessel needs to be cut quickly. For every Taliban these men kill, another hundred cross the border to replace them. The fundamental strategy of this war is faulty, and it saddens me to see the young, brave men of the infantry, in particular, have to pay the price with their lives. -0311 Vietnam

Recall Lt. Col Allen West’s counsel regarding the difference between occupying terrain and chasing the enemy where he establishes himself.  Population-centric counterinsurgency isn’t any different than occupying physical terrain in time and space, except that the terrain is the mind and will of the population.  That’s why we have “human terrain teams” deployed in Afghanistan (and did in Iraq).

But just like the 80-100 foreign fighters crossing the Syrian border into Iraq for many months on end, and the Quds forces who came across the Iran-Iraq border (many even before the war began), Afghanistan is a theater in a larger, transnational insurgency.  In fact, the problem is even more pronounced in Afghanistan than it was in Iraq.  Iraq was a country.  It’s best not to think of Afghanistan as a country.  It’s also best not to think of the Taliban as a Pashtun insurgency.  It isn’t.  There are Uzbeks, Arabs, Afghanis, Pakistanis and others involved (even a smattering of Europeans).

In Games of Duplicity and the End of Tribe in Pakistan, and then again in Pakistan’s Games of Duplicity Part II, we discussed Pakistan’s gaming the system of largesse with U.S. lawmakers and various U.S. administrations.  There is an important intersecting issue here pertaining to a much-discussed Taliban and al Qaeda ideological alignments.  I previously observed that:

… 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.

Finally, recall our discussions of David Rohde’s remarkable captivity by the Taliban and his subsequent escape to Pakistani Army forces.  At the time I found it especially troubling and even somewhat amusing how little the presence of Pakistani forces mattered to Taliban sanctuary.  Now comes a report by The Nation that adds to our knowledge base of the events surrounding David’s captivity and escape, and the collusion of Pakistani ISI with the Taliban.  Extensive quoting is necessary.

On a Friday night in June 2009, New York Times reporter David Rohde and his translator made a dramatic escape from captivity in Pakistan, climbing over a wall while their Afghan Taliban guards slept. Rohde wore sandals and a traditional salwar kameez, and he had a long beard, grown during his seven-month imprisonment. The two men walked in the darkness of the city, a Taliban ministate, past mud-brick huts, and found their way to a Pakistani military base just minutes away.

Rohde had been a prisoner shared by two competing groups of Taliban fighters, both of which appear to have held him not as a political or military tool in their operations against the US and Afghan governments but for his monetary value as a hostage.

Rohde’s escape was an unexpectedly joyous ending to a harrowing episode for him, his wife, his colleagues and friends. But it was by no means the end of the story.

An Afghan who is well acquainted with several of the participants in the kidnapping has provided The Nation and the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute with new details about the perpetrators, as well as new information about what happened after Rohde’s escape. This source’s account reveals how Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) serves as an arbiter for the various Taliban groups that compete with one another for influence, loot and profits. According to the source, the ISI, acting on behalf of one Taliban faction, took two of Rohde’s guards into custody to interrogate them about how he escaped. Then, despite its knowledge of the men’s role in the kidnapping, the ISI simply set them free.

Though this new information merely lends more substance to already strong suspicions about the ISI’s close relationship with the Taliban, it’s still an explosive allegation: rather than cooperating with US authorities, Pakistan’s intelligence agency essentially became an accessory after the fact to Rohde’s kidnapping.

[ ... ]

After capturing Rohde, Najibullah quickly saw dollar signs. Realizing that he might have to hold on to Rohde for a long time to shake loose real money in ransom, Najibullah brought him to Pakistan, where the American reporter, his translator and his driver were placed in the custody of the Haqqani network. Rohde, in his forthcoming book, explains how he had made a mistake his second night in captivity: desperate to stay alive, he told Najibullah that he could be traded for “prisoners and millions of dollars.”

The Haqqanis, a mujahedeen clan from Khost province, may be some of the most effective commanders battling US forces. They deploy terrorist tactics—waves of well-trained attackers wearing explosive vests deployed in operations such as the assault on the Kabul guesthouses, the assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a series of large-scale actions against US combat outposts on the border near Pakistan.

The Haqqanis were even more effective against the Soviets in the 1980s, when they worked closely with the CIA. The late former Congressman Charles Wilson famously referred to Jalaluddin Haqqani back then as “goodness personified.” A former agency official who used to know Jalaluddin said, “I really regret the fact that we are tangling with him, because he is not a guy to fuck around with.”

When the United States invaded Afghanistan, the Haqqanis sided with the Taliban, not Karzai. By 2002 the Haqqanis were almost on the ropes. Jalaluddin was injured in a US bombing raid. So the younger generation took over. Jalaluddin’s son Siraj, trained like his father in the twin arts of paramilitary warfare and charismatic religious leadership, was now in charge.

The Haqqanis are also known to live well. “They do business,” The Nation’s source said. “They’ve done business for years. They are involved in war, but if they find some business opportunity, they do it. They like buying houses and selling them and stuff like that. Now they have trucks and trucking equipment in Peshawar.”

Rohde’s kidnapping was in essence a business opportunity. Najibullah, the young commander who first captured Rohde, was not a subordinate of the Haqqanis; but by bringing Rohde to them, he would build up his reputation with the clan, giving him a safe base from which to conduct negotiations. Najibullah and his men brought Rohde across Afghanistan’s border to the Haqqanis to make it easier to hold him for an extended period, according to the source familiar with the kidnapping. In Pakistan, they figured, they were safe from American rescue efforts, since they understood that the Haqqanis had the protection of the ISI …

The Nation’s Afghan source said that guarding Rohde was a task shared by Najibullah and the Haqqanis, who provided the logistical support, housing and a secure environment in which to operate near Afghanistan. With so much money at stake, each faction was mistrustful of the other. Of Rohde’s three chief guards, one was a Haqqani loyalist and two were Najibullah’s men. So important was this operation to Najibullah that he had his brother Timor Shah act as a full-time guard for Rohde. (These details are corroborated in Rohde’s book.)

Not only were the Haqqanis and Najibullah eager to use Rohde for profit but the main Taliban Shura—the head council that oversees the Afghan Taliban—hoped to get involved as well, according to The Nation’s source …

Throughout his captivity, Rohde was well aware of the likely connections between the ISI and the Haqqanis who held him, though he said no ISI agents made themselves known during his captivity. “I didn’t witness any direct contact between the ISI and the Haqqanis.” That said, he was living proof, in a sense, that Pakistani authorities gave the Haqqanis full freedom to do as they liked. “What I did see,” he emphasized, “was that Pakistan forces never came off their bases, and the Haqqanis were allowed to operate their own Taliban ministate in North Waziristan.”

In Pakistan, Rohde’s escape was devastating for the Taliban. Not only had they lost their prize prisoner but the loss caused the Haqqanis and Najibullah to turn on each other. They were both convinced, in a case of mirror imaging, that the other one must have released Rohde as part of a secret arrangement in which they kept the ransom money for themselves. Instead of suspecting incompetence on the part of the guards, they believed someone was cheating and getting rich.

“There was a big problem between Siraj [Haqqani] and Najibullah,” the source familiar with the kidnappers told me. “A huge issue. Siraj was blaming Najibullah, that he’s the one who took money from the Americans and let the guy go. 
And [Najibullah] was blaming him, that he did it, because it was his compound.”

Even the Taliban Shura in Quetta got involved, the source said. They “thought that Siraj kept the money.”

To arbitrate the dispute about the kidnapping, the Haqqanis turned to the Pakistan government’s intelligence service, according to The Nation’s source. Siraj, the source said, turned over the two guards affiliated with Najibullah to the ISI for questioning. “One of them,” the source said, “was Najib’s brother Timor Shah.”

The guards were allegedly interrogated fiercely and tortured by the ISI. The interrogators demanded to know exactly how Rohde had escaped. Who had let him go, and why? Were the men paid a ransom they had not shared? In other words, the ISI was making sure that the relations between the Taliban factions weren’t destroyed by anyone’s betrayal.

Once the ISI was convinced that there had been no bribes and no ransom, Rohde’s guards were set free. Despite their role in the kidnapping, they were not charged in court or handed over to the Americans. After more than a month in custody, they were let go.

First, while this report ends with musings on civil war within the Taliban, there is no such war.  There might be individuals who battle each other for preeminence, but the various factions seem to me to get along remarkably well, from the Tehrik-i-Taliban to the Haqqani network, to the Quetta Shura, to al Qaeda.  Anyone who questions the religious and ideological underpinnings of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s fighters should make sure to watch this interview by the NEFA Foundation.  Regardless of the internecine battles, the Taliban factions are well connected.

Second, we have previously focused in on Matthew Hoh’s arguments to get out of Afghanistan because the enemy is in Pakistan.

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 isn’t about nation-states and imaginary boundaries.  When we think this way we do err in that we superimpose a Western model on a region of the world where it doesn’t apply.  This is about a transnational insurgency, and it’s never better to give the enemy more land, more latitude, more space, more people, more money, and more safety.  Any arguments to this effect are mistaken at a very fundamental level.

Seeing things in terms of Pakistan or Afghanistan is a category error.  We aren’t dealing with European nation-states, but dangerous waters in which rogue elements freely swim, where they exchange ideas and are increasingly becoming radicalized, and where elements of the Pakistani ISI collude with the enemy rather than fight them.

As we focus on physical and human terrain in Afghanistan, it has become painfully obvious that no amount of focus or effort will secure that terrain when the very insurgents we fight are supported by the Pakistani ISI and given both safe haven and free passage across the border.

Finally, the Durand line is imaginary, and unless we chase and kill the insurgents where they are, the campaign in Afghanistan is doomed.  The press is filled with positive reports lately about progress in Afghanistan, but wherever the ebb or flow of the war is, they enemy awaits our withdrawal to reclaim his own territory.  Pakistan is an enemy in this campaign, not an ally.  Unless we take clear-headed action in the coming months to address this problem, not only will the opportunity to win the campaign be lost, but the opportunity to use this theater to wage war on our enemy will have been relinquished.  We will not find a better theater than this one.

Al Qaeda’s Effect on the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 7 months ago

Poor Katrina vanden Heuvel repeats Captain Matthew Hoh’s arguments for a small footprint in Afghanistan.  I briefly answered Hoh’s arguments earlier.

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.

Further, I have repeatedly pointed out that the small footprint model, enticing and seductive though it may be, contains its own defeater.  Without adequate troops to ensure contact with and protection of the population against the insurgency – for those who want protection – there would be no lines of logistics to supply this small number of troops, and no intelligence networks.  The model simply won’t work because there will be no known targets, period, much less high value targets.

But continuing with the more current argument against heavy commitment to Afghanistan, it has been stated that al Qaesa represents only a small fraction of the insurgency.  The drone attacks, it is said, have accomplished their purpose.  This position ignores the very real possibility that the Taliban have morphed into something other than what they were ten or more years ago.

In fact, I have claimed just the condition I described above.

… 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.

Add to this yet another data point comes to us from the New York Daily News.

Ever since senior Obama administration advisers such as CIA Director Leon Panetta and Vice President Biden admitted that Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan  was minimal, with fewer than 100 operatives believed to be on the ground there, war critics have complained the President has little justification for escalating the U.S. commitment there.

But the inside-the-Beltway political debate underscores a fundamental misunderstanding of what Al Qaeda’s role in Afghanistan — which Osama Bin Laden’s minions call “Khorasan” — truly has been, according to Special Operations commanders and troops on the ground.

Today’s Washington Post makes hay of the fact that Al Qaeda is barely mentioned in the 76,000 pages of war files released last month by WikiLeaks. The story overlooks two key facts: (1) The voluminous files are mostly “sigact” – “significant action” – combat reports dispatched as incidents happened; and (2) troops who faced Arabs in battle fighting alongside Afghan “Taliban” rarely knew, even after they had killed them, that they were up against non-Afghan opponents.

Critics also fail to realize that a single Al Qaeda operative’s knowledge and experience in guerrilla and terror tactics is of incalculable value as a force multiplier to the Taliban.

Al Qaeda’s Arab operatives are considered a fearless elite. They have knowledge of Islam that makes them seem like religious scholars to many Pashtun tribesmen, who they have led into battle in the past. After Al Qaeda fled Afghanistan’s cities with their Taliban government allies in 2001-02, they reorganized and reconstituted their ranks in Pakistan. Al Qaeda returned to the fight in 2004, training, equipping and often leading or joining Haqqani fighters in battle along the eastern border.

Their presence was often suggested by the tactics used by Haqqani fighters, the cells’ skill at accurately firing AK-47s and RPGs, and gear such as armor-piercing ammo, body armor and night-vision devices.

Today, as they withstand CIA’s withering drone onslaught in Pakistan’s tribal belt, the Arabs are more low-key in their Afghan ops than they were in the past. The CIA’s targeted killing of Skeik Mustafa Abu al-Yazid after he left Mir Ali may also have impacted their activities on the other side of the AfPak.

Arabs from Al Qaeda still fund and train the Taliban, but no longer lead operations from the front, Army Col. Donald C. Bolduc, who leads the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, told me in his office at Bagram Airfield this month.

“They’re considered much too valuable to risk that,” said another U.S. official in the war zone.

During the winter, Taliban leaders ensconced in Pakistan send in Al Qaeda operatives to train their fighters in bombmaking tradecraft during the lull in fighting, sources said.

“The Pakistani madrassahs are still the big recruiting and training place. The Afghans go to a madrassah in Pakistan, where an Arab is typically like the dean, or headmaster, and learn how to fight,” the official told me. “Then the Afghan goes back home and teaches others to build bombs or fight — and gets paid handsomely for it.”

Again, this is yet another point of confirmation of my previously described hypothesis, i.e., that of a shift in the theological landscape within Afghanistan and a morphing of the Taliban into a more globally focused and religiously motivated entity.  These rogue elements swim in the same waters, and to use the expressions “al Qaeda” or “Taliban,” while certainly precise from the perspective of a close view analysis, misses the point of a morphing of these elements into something new and different.


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