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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

An Examination Of Al-Qaeda In 2015

Links: A. Who's Left To Lead Al-Qaeda?
           B. Al-Qaeda (Arab. Peninsula) Attempts to Counter Drones

I can't recall who was chosen as Time magazine's "Person of the Year - 2014", but the Islamic State (IS) would have been as good a choice as any (as long as bad guys get to play as well).  The frequent stories from northern Iraq about mass executions and starving children at least elevated IS to the "most despised" position.  The stated goal of the Islamic State is the creation of a Caliphate somewhere in the Levant/Mesopotamia/North Africa/Arabian Peninsula, and in furtherance of that goal, the IS is engaged in a conventional war in both Syria and Iraq.  It would appear that the IS has pushed Al-Qaeda not only from the front page, but all the way to the back next to Dear Abby.  Our Air Force is in regular combat with the IS, and we are providing military aid to the Free Syrian Army, the Iraqis and the Kurds, so it only makes sense that 2014 came with a steady diet of news on the IS.  For those of us who are obsessed with staying informed, the blogosphere is a miracle.  I can hop over to at any time for an update on Al-Qaeda.  The truth is, the death of Osama Bin Laden did not lead to the collapse of AQ.  Long before Abbottabad, Bin Laden had restructured the Al-Qaeda network of communications and operations, to avoid dependence on any one leader.  The virus that is Al-Qaeda is still very active in certain parts of the world.  Let's take stock of Al-Qaeda as 2015 begins.

Pakistan/Afghanistan - it would be foolish for anyone to claim that Al-Qaeda is stronger anywhere else in the world than Pakistan and Afghanistan.  For reasons of simplification, I consider the Taliban to be "Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan".  Does the Pakistani government expect the American people to believe that no one in the Pakistani Intelligence Service or military was aware that Bin Laden and his immediate family were living in Abbottabad?  Bullshit.  The Pakistani Intelligence Service has a number of very dedicated, decent officers, many of whom are pro-West in political orientation. But it also contains a traditional, deep-rooted vein of support for both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.  More importantly, it appears that the people of Pakistan support AQ.  How long has it been since an international sampling/polling company like Gallup has provided numbers on the sympathies of the Pakistani people?  No need to take a poll....just listen to the people on the street.  They hate the British (even though it seems as if half of London is Pakistani), hate the United States and REALLY hate India.  Lots of hate going around, which isn't surprising, given the perpetual state of endemic poverty the Pakistani people wake up to every morning.  Sadly, I'm losing my sympathy in old age.  Stop having so many damn kids, stop electing thieves, and stop spending over fifty percent of the nation's budget on nuclear research and weapons to aim at India.  As is my habit, I've gotten off-topic; my apologies.  The point is, Al-Qaeda is safe in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  At times over the past ten years, we were close to eradicating AQ in Afghanistan.  But the draw-down and the confusing policy of the Obama Administration has allowed for a full rejuvenation of AQ influence and control.

Iraq - I don't believe that AQ has any current interest in Iraq, although I have seen reports of recruiting efforts in the Sunni community and also training bases in the far west of the country.  As MB pointed out last summer, the IS was actually born of an AQ parent.  Al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, began to lose steam in 2007-2008, as the Sunni people grew tired of the violence and constant warfare, and withdrew support.  Al-Qaeda in Iraq eventually ended up in Syria and re-emerged with a different name and a different mission.  But make no mistake - the IS is a Sunni-based group with numerous similarities to AQ.  I have always suspected that the lines of communication between the IS and AQ are much more active than people are willing to admit.  It behooves both organizations to make the west believe that the IS and AQ are two separate, very distinct groups working towards a different agenda.  It leaves the impression that Islamic Extremism is a growing umbrella movement with room for many, many more, and that agreement on all issues is not required.

Yemen - Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been active for over a decade, trying to remove the current government and replace it with...well, AQAP.  The conflict in Yemen is a microcosm of the conflict in Iraq.  Not only are the Sunni fighting amongst themselves (the secular government against AQAP), but the large Shia population has armed itself and made its presence known.  And in the middle is the United States, with a substantial military footprint in Yemen and drones flying around everywhere, looking for AQAP to blow to bits.  I understand that the Shia are determined to keep AQAP from succeeding in Yemen, just as the continued presence of U.S. military in Yemen (that includes the U.S. Navy) will keep AQAP pissed off enough to stay in the fight.  Yemen has provided Al-Qaeda with the perfect environment to train its new recruits, as AQAP has demonstrated that it is in possession of the latest weaponry (although I'm not sold on the Jiffy-Pop tablecloth as the best way to avoid a drone strike...see link #2).

Africa - Al-Qaeda is very active in Africa, and, unfortunately, very healthy.  AQ has a definite presence in Libya, but I am guessing they are playing the same game as us; waiting for the dust to clear.  Al-Qaeda has proven to be a very patient organization, which I believe is more the philosophy of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the crusty old psychopath who took over after Bin Laden took a couple bullets to the front right side of his head.  Dr. Zawahiri is all about the methodology (he is a physician, after all), and he is probably the one who has orchestrated the "sleeper cell" operation, if one exists (scary thought).  Al-Qaeda in Africa is most active under the moniker "Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb", with the Maghreb being that hard-to-define area that is basically west of Egypt and north of Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad.  Actually, I consider the northern half of Mali, Niger and Chad to be part of the Maghreb.  Al-Qaeda has used Islam to propel its message from oasis to oasis and campsite to campsite.  In some of the struggling communities they have found a receptive audience.  Al-Qaeda's most receptive audiences, though, are in the northern parts of Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali and Niger.  These people have been forsaken by their governments for one reason or another (usually because the president and the ruling party are from a tribe of economically successful southerners).  Boko Haram, for all its radical ideas, and the Lord's Resistance Army, for all its insanity, have found recruits around every corner.  Africa presents an opportunity for AQ to recruit heavily and to create a second base of security (after Afghanistan).

Southeast Asia - Al-Qaeda has always been comfortable in Indonesia and the Philippines, where the government is always in the midst of some new effort to root out the communist insurgency that has been active since Karl Marx was in short pants (or at least seems like it).  Indonesia is another country which provides AQ the opportunity to spread its message through the mosques and Islamic educational centers on Java.  In the last two decades, the transportation network in this part of the world has grown by leaps and bounds.  Flying from Malaysia to Australia, or Singapore to Beijing, or Vientiane to Manila, is as simple as buying a ticket, and the arrival of the no-frills airlines (AirAsia being a good example) has made air travel affordable.  This complicates matters for security personnel in every country.  Its as if even Al-Qaeda can have conference calls in 2015.  Indonesia also presents fertile ground for recruitment, and the mosques have a bad reputation for preaching some really nasty, anti-U.S., anti-Aussie propaganda.

My next post will focus exclusively on Al-Qaeda on Africa, with other geographic locations to follow.  I consider Al-Qaeda, not the Islamic State, be the number one international terror threat to the United States.

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