Late last week and into the weekend, it seemed as if Taliban militants and other extremist groups had infiltrated the Pakistani city of Peshawar -- a city of three million located at the mouth of the Khyber pass, a critical entry point into Afghanistan. Truckloads of bearded men with guns had been roaming the streets of Peshawar, kidnapping residents, ordering barbers not to shave men's beards, and threatening music and DVD shop owners.
But a strong offensive by the Pakistani security forces over the weekend seems to have cleared out the extremists -- for now. According to Pakistan's Daily Times, no government casualties were reported. Militants (not affiliated with the Taliban) were ordered to refrain from fighting the government. Nevertheless, Washington must be happy with Pakistan's aggresiveness in the tribal areas, as this is the first time that the new coalition government has opted for the military approach.
In the grand scheme of things, this "battle" may mean little save its symbolic importance for both sides. The Pakistani government seems to be indicating it will take a more hard-line stance towards the Taliban and other groups, but militants continue to infiltrate key regional towns and cities at will -- seen recently across the border in Kandahar -- and al Qaeda is feeling quite at home in the tribal areas. Watch this space for updates.
Berkeley law professor and former Bush administration official John Yoo weighs in on Boumediene v. Bush, last week's Supreme Court ruling granting Guantánamo detainees the right to challenge their detention:
In World War II, no civilian court reviewed the thousands of German prisoners housed in the U.S. Federal judges never heard cases from the Confederate prisoners of war held during the Civil War. In a trilogy of cases decided at the end of World War II, the Supreme Court agreed that the writ did not benefit enemy aliens held outside the U.S. In the months after the 9/11 attacks, we in the Justice Department relied on the Supreme Court's word when we evaluated Guantanamo Bay as a place to hold al Qaeda terrorists. [...] Incredibly, these five Justices have now defied the considered judgment of the president and Congress for a third time, all to grant captured al Qaeda terrorists the exact same rights as American citizens to a day in civilian court.
I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me that the key problem here is using the phrase "captured al Qaeda terrorists" to refer to accused al Qaeda terrorists. Shouldn't you have to prove that someone is, in fact, a terrorist? Yoo says no:
A judge's view on how much "proof" is needed to find that a "suspect" is a terrorist will become the standard applied on the battlefield. Soldiers will have to gather "evidence," which will have to be safeguarded until a court hearing, take statements from "witnesses," and probably provide some kind of Miranda-style warning upon capture. No doubt lawyers will swarm to provide representation for new prisoners. [...] So our fighting men and women now must add C.S.I. duties to that of capturing or killing the enemy. Nor will this be the end of it. Under Boumediene's claim of judicial supremacy, it is only a hop, skip and a jump from judges second-guessing whether someone is an enemy to second-guessing whether a soldier should have aimed and fired at him.
Judging from the scare quotes, Yoo seems to have little time for legal terms of art when it comes to terrorism. It's an odd stance for a law professor to take. But there's an easy way to solve his problem: Put arresting terrorists back in the hands of law-enforcement officials who are actually trained to handle the kinds of thorny questions Yoo outlines. Soldiers can focus on fighting wars.
On top of Gordon Brown and George W. Bush's joint warning to Iran, there's a bit of other news on the Anglo-American cooperation front. The Times of London reports that Bush has asked Britain's elite special forces to aid in a final, reinvigorated effort to capture Osama bin Laden, who is presumed to be hiding in northern Pakistan:
The Special Boat Service (SBS) and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment have been taking part in the US-led operations to capture Bin Laden in the wild frontier region of northern Pakistan. It is the first time they have operated across the Afghan border on a regular basis.
Now, besides the obvious question (if the Brits can't trust themselves with sensitive al Qaeda information, why should the United States?) what is perhaps most interesting about this story is the effect Bin Laden's capture would have on the 2008 presidential campaign. Who benefits most: John McCain or Barack Obama?
Nailing the world's most wanted man might help to save Bush's legacy, but I'm not so sure that either candidate would score a clear victory. After all, are the differences here, at least in rhetoric, all that different? In a speech this past weekend John McCain vowed to capture al Qaeda's leader. Barack Obama has advocated a beefed-up military force along the lawless Afghanistan-Pakistan border and criticized Bush for failing to nab Osama.
And would putting Bin Laden behind bars really alter the fundamentals of this race? At the end of the day, McCain will still support a war that 64 percent of Americans don't agree with and Obama will still be the candidate of a political party that can't shake its reputation as being weak on security.
Readers, what do you think?
On Sunday, Yemen's defense minister told reporters that his country has expelled some 16,000 suspected al Qaeda members since 2005. If true, that's an astounding and disturbing figure.
What are we to make of his claim? I see a couple possibilities:
It's tough to catch al Qaeda personnel when intelligence on their top leaders is scarce, but it's even more difficult to run an effective counterterrorism program when your country's spies leave sensitive documents in public places. That's what happened today in England.
This mind-boggling security breach occurred when a passenger spotted an orange folder that had been left on a train, and upon discovering its contents, handed it to the BBC:
The two reports were assessments made by the government's Joint Intelligence Committee.
One, on Iraq's security forces, was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence. According to the BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner, it included a top-secret and in some places 'damning' assessment of Iraq's security forces,
The other document, reportedly entitled 'Al-Qaeda Vulnerabilities', was commissioned jointly by the Foreign Office and the Home Office.
Just seven pages long but classified as 'UK Top Secret,' this latest intelligence assessment on al-Qaeda is so sensitive that every document is numbered and marked 'for UK/US/Canadian and Australian eyes only,' according to our correspondent."
Sound familiar? Several weeks ago, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Bernier resigned after it was discovered that he left classified NATO documents at an ex-girlfriend's house.
I have to give the edge to Bernier here. At least he might have been trying to impress his female company with his top-secret documents.
September 11th mastermind and terrorist extraordinaire Khalid Sheikh Mohammed yesterday explained to a Guantánamo military tribunal why he was rejecting legal counsel:
I will not accept anybody, even if he is Muslim, if he swears to the American Constitution,'' he said, vowing to follow Islamic shariya and scorning the U.S. Constitution "because it allows for same sexual marriage.''
He also complained that the courtroom artist made his nose look too wide.
(Hat tip: Emptywheel, who notes that KSM's assertion about the legal status of same-sex marriage is open to question.)
The New America Foundation's Steve Coll and Peter Bergen were on CNN the other day, and they made some encouraging comments to Wolf Blitzer:
WOLF BLITZER (Host): [...] What's the latest in terms of the hunt for bin Laden? Is the U.S. and the West any closer to finding him?
STEVE COLL (President, CEO of New America Foundation): Well, I'm not aware of any specific intelligence that has lit up the trail in the last six months or so, but the circumstances in which he's hiding have changed. And he's probably in Pakistan and there his popularity has declined considerably, and also you've got a new government in power, so the motivations on the Pakistani side are changing very quickly.
BLITZER: What do you think, Peter?
PETER BERGEN (New America's Schwartz Senior Fellow): Yes, I think the hunt for bin Laden is going very poorly. As Steve said, bin Laden's support is evaporating in the North-West Frontier Province, where he's almost certainly hiding. A recent poll showed he had dropped from 70 percent favorable in August of 2007 to 4 percent.
BLITZER: So wouldn't that make it easier for Pakistani or other -- or the U.S., Afghan troops, somebody to find him?
PETER BERGEN: Yes. And I think the short answer is yes. Also a very sharp decline in support for suicide bombings amongst Pakistanis. Unfortunately, on the other hand, you have got a Pakistani government which is doing a deal with some of the militants in the North-West Frontier Province at the same time. So as always, sort of a mixed message here with the Pakistanis.
If the Pakistanis can convince those militants to dime out their special guest, it might all be worth it.
(Hat tip: Sameer Lalwani)
The conclusions on Pakistan are likely to garner the most attention, and quite rightly. Watch for more calls like this one for a three-front war.
Last week, our Web editor, Blake Hounshell, ably deflated some of the optimism surrounding the surge. The security gains are impressive, he contends, but the deadly combination of underdevelopment and overeliance on oil make Iraq's political prospects grim. Far better to cut our losses and focus on Afghanistan ("the real fight against Al Qaeda").
But what is it that Blake would have us do in Afghanistan? If Iraq's political prospects are poor, Afghanistan's must be considered even worse. Afghanistan doesn't have oil (yet), but it is one of the world's least developed countries, with infrastructure decimated by a quarter century of war and no history of effective governance. Why then spend billions and risk hundreds of lives propping up a doomed democratic government?
On Blake's logic, it's hard to see the rationale. Commandos and Predator drones can wage the "real fight" against the al Qaeda luminaries in the Pakistani hinterlands with or without an effective central government. Is Blake then willing to jettison the doomed Afghan nation-building project? And, if not, why not?
Blake also believes that cutting Iraq loose will free up America's taxed diplomats to concentrate on managing the rise of China. This has become something of a mantra on the left recently (indeed, it's almost "drearily familiar"). And it's not implausible -- Iraq is consuming vast quanities of senior executive time and energy. But I've never understood what precisely the United States could be doing vis-à-vis China that the Iraq mission now renders impossible. The U.S. has been engaging China economically, tamping down Taiwanese separatism, and working with Beijing diplomatically on North Korea. In sum, an accomodationist stance designed to guide China toward responsible great- power status. What vast benefit would our China policy enjoy once we've cast off the nettlesome Maliki and millions of ordinary Iraqis with him?
Back in September, Rand analyst Seth Jones helped us put together a list of senior al Qaeda leaders who were still at large. The list included senior commander Abu Obaidah al-Masri who, it was announced this week, died about two months ago. I spoke with Jones today about the implications of al-Masri's death for the al Qaeda leadership. He stressed that it's a mistake to think of the organization as a bureaucracy where specific offices are filled after they are vacated:
People get moved around quite a bit based on their competencies. Less-informed people talk about al Qaeda leadership in terms of numbers, as if someone was "number three or number four." I don't think the command and control structure works that way. There's a range of people who go through the different positions. There is not one job that any of these guys do.
People get moved around quite a bit based on their competencies. Less-informed people talk about al Qaeda leadership in terms of numbers, as if someone was "number three or number four." I don't think the command and control structure works that way. There's a range of people who go through the different positions.
There is not one job that any of these guys do.
But this is not to say that al-Masri's death is insignificant. He played a major part in several high-profile operations and, as Jones noted, it can be hard to find someone with his particular skillset:
He played an important role both on the international front in the  transatlantic plot, and was involved in a couple of other plots that European government are investigating. Recently he also played quite an important role with the Afghan insurgency. It takes time to replace competent senior al Qaeda operatives.
It can be tough to get out of the shadow of a famous sibling, and that's especially true if you're an airplane enthusiast and your brother is the world's most famous terrorist. Luxury goods entrepreneur and aviator Yeslam bin Ladin, half-brother of Osama, just can't see why anyone would find it odd that he's launching a line of specialty watches for pilots.
To be fair to Bin Ladin (he spells his last name differently), he has publicly denounced terrorism and hasn't had any links with his notorious younger brother for decades. It's also worth remembering that they are only two out of 54 siblings, but I still have a hard time believing that Yeslam didn't anticipate the aviation theme being an issue. Ironically, their father Mohammed died in a plane crash.
The watches sell for up to $9,472. If you're feeling flush, you can also buy "Yeslam" brand perfume and handbags from his store in Geneva, Switzerland. In the future, Bin Ladin may want to avoid adding some other items to his line, such as digital timers or vests.
So says veteran New York Times correspondent (now London bureau chief) John Burns. He and colleague Dexter Filkins chatted with Charlie Rose about the remarkable security progress the surge has created in the country -- and the still difficult political road ahead. Watch the entire segment:
(Hat tip: TPM)
This is still developing, but a senior U.S. counterterrorism official is saying that al Qaeda operative Abu Obaidah al-Masri has died of natural causes.
In September, al-Masri made our list of major al Qaeda figures who are still at large and was described by Rand Corporation terrorism analyst Seth Jones as “probably the most active and most important” figure we included. He played a major role in coordinating attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan and is thought to have been one of the architects of the foiled 2006 trans-Atlantic airliner plot. This is a significant loss for al Qaeda.
I managed to slog through the entire 46-pages of al Qaeda deputy commander Ayman al-Zawahiri's responses to questions (pdf), and found it very revealing as to how jihadi sympathizers view the terrorist organization.
The general tenor of the questions is sharply critical, so let me boil down the questioners' main beefs here:
Now, it's entirely possible that some of these complaints were planted by clever Western and Arab intelligence agencies, but the fact that Zawahiri felt obliged to respond to them repeatedly and at length shows that the critiques must have stung a bit. It also suggests that he's got a lot of time on his hands.
The wait may finally be over.
Back in December, al Qaeda's No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri announced that he was taking questions from the viewers of his Web videos. The sheikh apparently received over 2,000 questions and the IntelCenter monitoring service now expects the first of his video replies within the week. Watch this space for more analysis when this "Web 2.0" mass murderer addresses his public.
The Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy recently made available "Saddam and Terrorism," a Pentagon-requested report conducted by the Institute for Defense Analyses. The five-volume report analyzes captured Iraqi documents for connections between Saddam and terrorist organizations. The document was declassified earlier this month, but was made available only in CD form.
According to FAS:
The five-volume report affirmed that there was "no 'smoking gun' (i.e., direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda." But it also said there was "strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism."
In light of the report's mixed findings, Warren Strobel of McClatchy Newspapers writes:
The new study appears destined to be used by both critics and supporters of Bush's decision to invade
Three of the report's five volumes consist of hundreds of pages of the translated Iraqi documents. For those of you not up to the challenge, FAS has pulled out the highlights, which include this peculiar gem:
One of them, a fifty-page Iraqi "intelligence" analysis, disparages the austerely conservative Wahhabi school of Islam by claiming that its eighteenth century founder, Ibn 'Abd al Wahhab, had ancestors who were Jews. In what must be the only laugh-out-loud line in the generally dismal five-volume report, the Iraqi analysis states that Ibn 'Abd al Wahhab's grandfather's true name was not "Sulayman" but "Shulman."
"Tawran confirms that Sulayman, the grandfather of the sheikh, is (Shulman); he is Jew from the merchants of the city of Burstah in Turkey, he had left it and settled in Damascus, grew his beard, and wore the Muslim turban, but was thrown out for being voodoo."
I was struck today by the disturbing parallels between sentiments expressed by a Tibetan social worker and Osama bin Laden. Here's the social worker:
Tibetan youth are frustrated," the social worker says. She talks about her 21-day hunger strike in front of the United Nations office in New York, meant to raise awareness about the Tibetans' plight. "It didn't help," she says bitterly. The first TV cameras arrived only after 12 days. "But when a bomb explodes or a house goes up in flames," she says, "the UN is right there. The world only reacts to violence. Just like in Kosovo."
And here's Bin Laden, in his most recent tape:
Palestine cannot be retaken by negotiations and dialogue, but with fire and iron... Our enemies did not take over Palestinian through negotiations, but rather, by force."
Of course, the social worker isn't advocating violence, but merely commenting on how it seems to be the only way to get attention. And Bin Laden isn't calling for Palestinian autonomy, but the destruction of Israel (nor is he saying anything that Gamal Abdel Nasser didn't say 40 years ago). Both quotes nonetheless underline why it's so important to make negotiations and dialogue work. Because when they fail, those who say that violence is the answer will begin to win the argument.
I'm surprised U.S. media outlets haven't picked up on this nugget from a story about Monday's bombing in Lahore, Pakistan, which targeted the Federal Investigative Authority:
Deputy Inspector General (Investigations) Tasadaq Hussain said police had collected the remains of the two attackers. Part of the head and a leg of the FIA building attacker were found from the roof of a nearby building, he said. He said the attacks had targeted the US-trained Special Investigations Group (SIG) that had been working on the third floor of the building. Plastic explosive C4 was used in the attacks, he added. [my emphasis]
Syed Saleem Shahzad, writing for the Asia Times, says the unit in question is "a joint initiative of US and Pakistani planners set up to eliminate the strong roots of radicalization in Punjab province." The worry is that jihadi groups from the northwest are extending their influence into historically moderate Punjab, making it easier to infiltrate and attack hard targets. Shahzad warns:
Tuesday's attacks are significant... in that the establishment's most secret underground offices are now on the militants' radar, and more attacks are anticipated.
(Hat tip: The indispensable NightWatch)
Memri translated a Qatari newspaper's interesting interview with a fellow named Abu Turab al-Jazairi, who says he is al Qaeda's in Mesopotamia's northern commander in Iraq. In it, Jazairi acknowledges his organization is in trouble, but vows to fight on.
It is the type of attacks and the way they are planned that will be changed. Accordingly, we will be focusing on operations that cause the maximum pain and bewilderment to the enemy. This [shift] will open a new page in the fighting, which you will notice on the fifth anniversary of the occupation of Iraq..."
Then, in an eerie parallel to the umpteen newspaper columnists who repeatedly aver that "the next six months" will be decisive in Iraq, Jazairi says:
The next few months will prove decisive, and by Allah! We have prepared for this - we have humiliated the Crusaders, and have made their blood flow in the streets... And what is to come will be even worse and more bitter. Therefore, I say to those who claim that we have failed, or are paralyzed...: You will receive our answer in the next few weeks..."
(Hat tip: Pat Lang)
In today's WaPo, David Ignatius rightly calls Marc Sageman's new book, Leaderless Jihad, required reading for politicians as they stump on the terrorism threat. Better yet, they can read Sageman's feature in the new issue of FP, "The Next Generation of Terror."
In the piece, Sageman, whose resume, Ignatius writes, would "suit a postmodern John le Carré," profiles the new wave of global jihadists. They are younger than their forebears, self-recruited, lacking in any leadership, globally connected through the Web, and anxious for the action that they believe will make them heroes. They are, in essence, terrorist wannabes, and the absence of any overarching control or physical network makes this new generation all the more dangerous and difficult to detect. But, as Sageman shows, this leaderless movement also contains the keys to its own demise.
It's a fascinating piece that challenges many of today's conventional wisdoms about terrorism and demands a rethink of who poses the greatest threat in the years to come. Sageman will be answering readers' questions in just a few weeks. Just send any questions you have for him to letters@ForeignPolicy.com by Mar. 25 and we'll post his responses here on Mar. 31.
Justin Webb, the BBC's North America editor and blogger, drops this incendiary bomb:
Islamic terrorists want war. They want suffering - among others and their own people alike.
They would surely surmise that McCain will give them what they want. Bin Laden himself intervened with what many thought was the effect of keeping President Bush in power in 2004 with that weird tape just before the poll.
I think al-Qaeda would back McCain - that is not an argument for or against America backing him, but it seems to me that the vague assumption that the terrorists would back a lefty is lazy thinking...
This is grossly irresponsible on Webb's part. It was wrong when right-wing pundits and politicians said al Qaeda wanted to elect John Kerry in 2004, and it's wrong when left-wing pundits and politicians say al Qaeda wants to elect John McCain today. The truth is, al Qaeda doesn't really have a sophisticated understanding of the American political system -- and its leaders likely see McCain and Obama or Clinton as merely two faces of the same enemy.
Now, would al Qaeda like to see the United States stay in Iraq for another four, eight years? It's certainly possible. Iraq is a great recruiting magnet. It's also possible, though, that al Qaeda would like the United States to withdraw so that it can declare "victory" while it still plausibly can. But I don't think Justin Webb -- or anyone else -- can really say for sure which outcome al Qaeda would prefer.
Over the weekend, a police official in Iraq's Anbar Province pointed the finger at an unusual suspect: Seif al-Islam al-Gadhafi, the Western-friendly scion and heir apparent of Libyan leader Moammar a-Gadhafi.
A devastating explosion in northern Iraq was spearheaded by foreign fighters under the sponsorship of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, son of the Libyan leader, a security chief for Sunni tribesmen who rose up against al-Qaida in Iraq said Saturday.
Col. Jubair Rashid Naief, who also is a police official in Anbar province, said the Anbar Awakening Council had alerted the U.S. military to the possible arrival in the northern city of Mosul of the Seifaddin Regiment, made up of about 150 foreign and Iraqi fighters, as long as three months ago. [...]
"They crossed the Syrian border nearest to Mosul within the last two to three months. Since then, they have taken up positions in the city and begun blowing up cars and launching other terror operations," Naief told The Associated Press.
It's an accusation that comes out of left field. The explanation being peddled by DEBKAfile, an Israel-based Web site with a dubious record for accuracy, is that Seif was so outraged last September when his father chose his younger brother, Mutasim-Billah, as his successor that he began sponsoring this terrorist regiment in Iraq. According to DEBKA, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prefer Mutasim-Billah, so Moammar went along with their requests.
It seems pretty clear that this story is a bunch of hogwash. Seif, who has been working assiduously to bring about a rapprochement with the United States, has no incentive to undermine his own efforts. Moreover, it's highly doubtful that either Mubarak or Rice has that kind of influence with the notoriously mercurial Moammar. Assuming the story is baseless, what's the motive behind those promoting it? I can't figure it out.
It's only nine days into the new year, and already Musharraf is ignoring our humble advice: Find Osama. Musharraf needs a miracle to hold onto his tenuous grip on power, and there's nothing quite like delivering the most wanted man in the world to the United States' doorstep to rewrite your political fortunes, at least in Washington's eyes.
So, why is Musharraf going around saying that Pakistan is "not particularly looking for" al Qaeda's leader? In an interview with 60 Minutes, he was quick to assert that Pakistan is "operating against terrorists and al Qaeda and militant Taliban," but then claimed that he "can't say for sure" whether extremists have grown stronger in the border regions, despite squarely blaming extremists in those very border regions for assassinating Benazir Bhutto, whom he essentially blamed for her own death. This is the United States' best hope for an ally?
Commenting on the attempted terrorist attack that greeted Gordon Brown on his first day in office, one of the U.S. presidential candidates had this to say:
I don't think it was by accident that Al Qaeda decided to test the new prime minister... They watch our elections as closely as we do, maybe more closely than some of our fellows citizens do… Let's not forget you're hiring a president not just to do what a candidate says during the election, you want a president to be there when the chips are down."
Rudy Giuliani? John McCain? Duncan Hunter? Nope. 'Twas Hillary Clinton.
One of my favorite characters in Charlie Wilson's War (the book, not the schlocky Hollywood flick) is Michael Vickers, the wonkish ex-Green Beret and CIA paramilitary officer who, at the tender age of 31, masterminded the weapons and guerrilla warfare strategy used by the Afghan mujahedin to fight the Soviets. By all accounts, Vickers is brilliant, and he was critical to the success of the CIA's covert program, in which the United States funneled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons through Pakistan's intelligence services. Though the CIA never funded al Qaeda and the Taliban did not yet exist, many people blame U.S. policy—in which Vickers played such a key role—for fanning the flames of Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan that later came back to bite the United States on 9/11.
For years, Vickers toiled away on boring but influential reports for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank with close ties to the Pentagon. But as of July 2007, Vickers is now an assistant secretary of defense with an enormous portfolio: winning the war on terrorism. Vickers oversees Special Operations Command, whose budget has recently doubled to $6 billion in 2008, and he's especially concerned about... Pakistan's growing Islamic radicalism. Funny, that.
Testifying before Congress back in March 2006, before moving to the Pentagon, Vickers predicted that the future of the global war on terrorism (GWOT) would "likely be a protracted, indirect and clandestine fight in scores [of] countries with which the U.S. is not at war." He added:
The GWOT is an intelligence and special operation-intensive war. Getting this aspect of interagency organization right, and making full use of special authorities to wage the indirect and clandestine fight, is imperative. Particularly important in this regard is leveraging the CIA's Title 50 authority for [Special Operations Forces] operations through flexible detailing of SOF personnel to the Agency.
What Vickers is reportedly doing now as assistant secretary, described in Friday's Washington Post, seems to reflect the same approach:
Vickers's plan to build a global counterterrorist network... is focused on a list of 20 "high-priority" countries, with Pakistan posing a central preoccupation for Vickers, who said al-Qaeda sanctuaries in the country's western tribal areas are a serious threat to the United States. The list also includes Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the Philippines, Yemen, Somalia and Iran, and Vickers hints that some European countries could be on it. Beyond that, the plan covers another 29 "priority" countries, as well as "other countries" that Vickers does not name.
Since 9/11, there have been occasional tensions between U.S. diplomats on the one hand, and the DoD and the CIA on the other, over clandestine activities that have gone on without the knowledge of the ambassador. If Vickers is inserting more special ops teams around the world, those tensions are bound to increase.
One of Vickers's former colleagues says he "tends to think like a gangster." It's a mindset that has served Vickers well in the past, yet it carries risks. If Vickers's teams nail Osama bin Laden in northwest Pakistan, he'll be hailed as a genius. If, on the other hand, they cause an international incident...
Delivering the keynote address at Wednesday's Jamestown Foundation conference on al Qaeda, Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid expressed dismay that U.S. support for Pakistan has allowed the Taliban to regain a foothold in the Afghan border regions:
The Taliban were never defeated in 2001. They were routed and they came into Pakistan and regrouped in exactly the same place where they had set off to conquer Afghanistan in 1994.
According to Rashid, efforts to control the Taliban's resurgence in southern Afghanistan are hopeless without addressing the areas of Baluchistan and the Northwest Territories that are largely controlled by the Pakistani Taliban, a faction whose leaders are "far more ideological" than those in Afghanistan. Given that Pakistani intelligence and military forces have abetted these groups in many cases, simply providing more military aid to the Musharraf regime will probably not do the trick, he said. Rashid was particularly critical of a U.S. plan to supply equipment and training to Pakistan's Frontier Corps:
The Americans are saying now that they want to arm the Frontier Corps against al Qaeda and spend $350 million giving this Corps—[which] is made up of frontier tribesmen—helicopters and heavy artillery... With all due respect, if the American idea is to throw money at the problem and it will go away, this seems to be a prime example of utter and sheer stupidity and a complete blindness to the reality of the situation.
Who are the Frontier Corps? These are tribal paramilitary units who have been on the side of the Taliban since the 1980s... They were used by the ISI to lead the Taliban's offensive against the Northern Alliance. The reason there are so many desertions and they're so demoralized now is that the Frontier Corps are very confused. [They've] been trained for the last 25 years to do covert jihadi work by the Pakistan government and now the Pakistan army is saying, "No, you're supposed to be killing the jihadis!"
In Rashid's view, despite the trendy characterization of al Qaeda as a decentralized, transnational network, the capture of territory remains a priority for the jihadis who need "liberated areas" for training and recruitment. The chaos on the border that Pakistan has allowed to develop has provided them with just that.
A lot of blogs have posted on this Christian Science Monitor column, in which Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz writes of an encounter he had with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney:
I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that "jihadism" is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, "…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."
Romney has denied making the remark in exactly this way, though he has a history of making sweeping, controversial comments about Muslims.
Others have noted that if Romney's alleged comments are taken at face value, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad, a Sunni Muslim of Afghan descent, would not have a place in his cabinet. But as Josh Marshall put it, it's basically a "he said, he said" situation, so we don't know whose account of the conversation to trust.
But we do know something about Mansour Ijaz. Interestingly, he pops up in a footnote on page 480 of the 9/11 Commission report as a messenger to the Clinton administration from the Sudanese government, which asked him to convey a 1997 offer to cooperate on Osama Bin Laden. But Clinton's national security council saw Sudan as "all talk and little action," and didn't move on the letter. Ijaz maintains the offer was sincere, and that extradition was on the table. But Clinton-era officials such as Richard Clarke, whom Ijaz accuses of lying about his record, have disputed that account, and more or less dismiss Ijaz as a fabricator. In his sworn testimony (pdf) to the 9/11 Commission, Clarke said of Bin Laden, "Sudan at no time detained him, nor was there ever a credible offer by Sudan to arrest and render him." Moreover, the 9/11 report doesn't mention "extradition" specifically—just a vague offer of cooperation. Presumably, if there were some there there, the Commission would not have buried Sudan's offer in a footnote.
U.S. military officials have closed their investigation into who brought contraband underwear into the Guantánamo Bay prison. Despite questioning guards, medics, and prisoners' lawyers, investigators were unable to determine how the underwear—durable, stretchy Under Armour briefs preferred by athletes, as well as a Speedo swimming suit—made their way into two prisoners' cells.
After three prisoners hanged themselves in June 2006 with makeshift nooses, the prison made inmates change from briefs with wide elastic waistbands to boxer shorts made from flimsy fabric that tears when stressed.
It's easy to laugh about underwear, but it's also disturbing that prohibited items have made their way into the highly guarded and isolated prison, which houses 330 suspected al Qaeda members. First it's underwear; what's next?
When Osama bin Laden released his latest video back in early September, White House security adviser Fran Townsend dismissed the al Qaeda leader as "a man on the run in a cave who is virtually impotent other than his ability to get these messages out." A new West Point study of the organization's capabilities would seem to agree:
Its successful attacks on America, first on the embassies in Africa and then on 9/11, gave al-Qa’ida’s message an immediate global audience, but the American military response to these attacks have so seriously degraded its organizational capacities that management of that message has been virtually all that al-Qa’ida Central has subsequently been able to muster.
In other words, the organizational structure is broken, but the message is thriving. And bin Laden's savvy ability to manage the al Qaeda "brand," as the authors of the report call it, may actually be the real danger.
...al-Qa’ida’s real strength has never been as a guerrilla fighting force; rather its strength comes from its ability to transform the local concerns of Islamist activists into what this report describes as “a unifying vision of apocalyptic inter-civilizational conflict”. Because these capabilities and their proponents are still in place, al-Qa`ida continues to achieve success.
Effective counterterrorism must better address these capabilities. The tools and prescriptions needed to do so will fall largely outside the realm of the military options that have done so well against the first faction. Eroding al-Qa’ida’s brand appeal—reducing its share of the ideological marketplace —will require innovative and multi-lateral approaches with the US hand rarely seen or suspected.
Al Qaeda can't take on the full might of the U.S. military. But its ability to effectively fight a brand war with the country that created Madison Avenue might be just as remarkable. Do you think bin Laden watches Mad Men?
In June, FP had the chance to talk with Angelina Jolie about her film "A Mighty Heart." In it, she plays Mariane Pearl, wife of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Jolie discussed what she hoped viewers would get out of Marianne's story:
Her voice at this moment is so important because she is somebody who, when confronted by such brutality and terrorism, somehow kept clear and was able to see the bigger picture. She didn't jump to fear and hate, with good guys and bad guys. There are victims on both sides of conflict. She understood that she had to fight for the future of her son.
But in a Guardian op-ed running today, Daniel's father Judea Pearl argues that the film goes too far in the direction of moral relativism, particularly in drawing parallels between what happened to his son and the treatment of Guantánamo detainees:
John M. Heller/Getty
You can see traces of this logic in the film's comparison of Danny's abduction with Guantánamo (it opens with pictures from the prison) and of al-Qaida militants with CIA agents. You can also see it in the comments of the movie's director, Michael Winterbottom, who wrote in the Washington Post that A Mighty Heart and his previous film, The Road to Guantanamo, were very similar: "There are extremists on both sides who want to ratchet up the levels of violence and hundreds of thousands of people have died because of this."
Drawing a comparison between Danny's murder and the detention of suspects in Guantánamo is precisely what the killers wanted, as expressed in both their emails and the murder video. [...]
Danny's tragedy demands an end to this logic. There can be no comparison between those who take pride in the killing of an unarmed journalist and those who vow to end such acts. Moral relativism died with Daniel Pearl, in Karachi, on January 31 2002.
Having seen the film, I'm not sure that the parallels are portrayed as starkly as the elder Pearl suggests. But with a slew of war-on-terror films to be released this fall, his warning against lazy suggestions of moral equivalence deserves to be taken seriously.
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