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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Just How Much Separation Really Exists Between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State? (Part I)

Links: A. Conflict Between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
           B. Are Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State at War?

If I get something wrong, I can rely upon my readers to send enough emails to ensure that I am corrected.  I get so little correspondence (the email address is provided below), that I welcome a polite scolding, just for the opportunity to interact with someone who has given consideration to my perspective.  And that, basically, is what the blog means to me.  It provides an opportunity for me to share my perspective with an unlimited number of people around the world.  Now my perspective is biased by definition.  I do my best to present a balanced viewpoint, supported by my personal life experiences.  But I am a citizen of the United States, and I fully believe in the exceptional nature of our Constitution and the American people; let there be no doubt that I would lay down my life for my country.  But I am half-French, and I cherish every part of me that is France.  That being said, I have been a world traveler, and I make a supreme effort to give full consideration to all viewpoints.  One issue that seems to draw sharp dividing lines is the relationship between the two terrorist groups Al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS).  I have included two links that present opinions which are contrary to my own, in an effort to jump-start a conversation which is truly very important.  The sources for the links I have provided, continually use information obtained from Social Media as evidence of a rift between the two organizations.  We have also heard vague rumors of actual violence between the groups, and also conflict with some of the other players on the ground in Iraq, including Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) and the Khorasan Group (K).  Both links are well-written and ideally sourced.  I found both commentaries to be full of well-intended, useful information.  But in the end, I disagree with their basic premise.  I believe that AQ and IS are closely linked and work within a loose, coordinated Confederation of sorts.  And the sooner we recognize this fact, the better.

Its no secret that the IS has evolved from the remnants of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).  I see many similarities.  The first link above continues to highlight the atrocities committed by IS and its obvious propensity towards violence, as if AQ plays the game differently.  The history of the AQ movement begs to differ.  AQ brought us televised beheadings from Afghanistan when such demonstrations were still good for a bit of shock value.  AQ has ordered the slaughter of entire villages in Afghanistan and whole families in Pakistan.  I assume that I don't have to remind anyone about the amount of blood shed on September 11, 2001, or the desecration of the bodies of three U.S. contractors in Fallujah/Ramadi during Operation Enduring Freedom.  Osama bin-Laden fully understood the power of violence as a tool in both warfare and perception.  Bin-Laden frequently used violence to create fear in his enemies and the public in general, who would in turn acquiesce to his will.  Its not a new approach, nor is it Rocket Science (damn to hell all those clichés!).  I believe the attacks of September 11 carried a different message, a declaration of war against Christianity, Judaism and the west, as represented by the United States.  President George W. Bush recognized the determination in his enemy, and decided upon a course of action that will be debated until the end of time.  Bush decided to force AQ into a conventional conflict, in AQ's own backyard.  He used the issue of "Weapons of Mass Destruction" as a platform (excuse? justification?) from which to force AQ into battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He correctly deduced that AQ could not avoid the confrontation with the U.S. Army in the heart of Islam, or risk losing legitimacy with the Muslim community internationally.  He was also correct in assuming that AQ would suffer logistics and funding crises, which would hamper its ability to stay active elsewhere.  I don't believe Bush, Rumsfeld or the Pentagon anticipated Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or the depth of the Iraqi insurgency, but before leaving office in 2008, he could be satisfied with the status quo in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bin-Laden and his elderly Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Physician-turned sidekick Ayman al-Zawahiri (now that was a mouthful) obviously assessed the situation and realized early on that Bush was attempting to paint them into a corner.  But for the time being, they were obliged to play the game.  But Bin-Laden considered our Democratic habits to be our Achilles tendon, and in this instance he may have been correct.  in 2008, the American people voted for a new direction, and a new direction is what we received.  Although it didn't begin immediately, you might as well circle President Obama's first day in office as the start of the U.S. military's draw-down and eventual departure from Iraq.  Bin-Laden and Zawahiri anticipated this, and focused on rebuilding their movement from the ground-up (I'm frequently including Zawahiri because he now runs the show, and we need to get accustomed to his brand of terrorism.  He is methodical, detail-oriented, brilliant and probably a sociopath, and he is the enemy).  If the west wanted a conventional war, then the movement was happy to oblige.  First and foremost, I believe that sometime in between 2007 and 2009, AQ reviewed and rebuilt its internal security network.  Bin-Laden realized that many parts of his network had been compromised and a simpler, more effective plan was put in place.  The key to this plan was to limit the amount of time members engaged in face to face contact outside of the battlefield, and to severely limit all contact with Bin-Laden and Zawahiri.  Steps were taken to eliminate the need for direct contact.  As long as the brain could communicate with the limbs, everything else was almost superfluous.  Also, a designation must exist between highly-trained, professional operatives and the continued stream of unskilled volunteers that make there way into the organization.  I believe the root of the original AQ, based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which trains highly skilled and motivated operatives for complex operations, still functions as it always has.  What has changed is the growth of another type of operative, the foot soldier who will give the movement a resource which was sorely lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq: a conventional offensive capability.

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