The Washington Post beats, if not the drums, than at least the bongos of war in today's editorial:
If Pakistani forces cannot -- or will not -- eliminate the [al Qaeda] sanctuary, President Bush must order targeted strikes or covert actions by American forces, as he has done several times in recent years. Such actions run the risk of further destabilizing Pakistan. Yet those risks must be weighed against the consequences of another large-scale attack on U.S. soil. "Direct intervention against the sanctuary in Afghanistan apparently must have seemed . . . disproportionate to the threat," the Sept. 11 commission noted. The United States must not repeat that tragic misjudgment.
The Post is reacting to increasingly dire warnings coming from the U.S. intelligence community saying that al Qaeda has reconstituted itself in the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan. But the benefits of direct U.S. action have to be weighed against the strategic costs. Right now, Pakistani President Musharraf has a mandate to go after extremists: The militants holed up in the Red Mosque called for an Islamic revolution, but the Pakistani public mostly cheered as Musharraf's security forces took them down.
This is why al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri has repeatedly urged his followers to concentrate on the jihad in Afghanistan and avoid attacks in Pakistan. Zawahiri, who watched his previous organization get destroyed in Egypt during the 1990s, likely understands that the escalating campaign of terrorist bombings in Pakistan will strengthen Musharraf's hand still further. But al Qaeda would enjoy a propaganda bonanza if the U.S. started seriously mucking around in the tribal areas. And then there's the small problem that even the United States likely doesn't have the ability to sneak into the tribal wilds of Pakistan with a compact strike force, kill the bad guys, and make a clean getaway without anyone noticing. This ain't the movies. Better to give the Pakistanis the time to do it themselves.
A freelance reporter for a Beijing television station has been detained for faking a hidden camera report about street vendors who used chemical-soaked cardboard to fill meat buns, local media said. [...]
Beijing Television explained that an investigation revealed that in mid-June, Zi brought meat, flour, cardboard and other ingredients to a downtown Beijing neighborhood and had four migrant workers make the buns for him while he filmed the process. It said Zi ''gave them the idea'' of mincing softened cardboard and adding it to the buns.
Let's assume this is true. Does it let the migrant workers off the hook? Or does it provide further evidence that Chinese food-safety standards are hopelessly lax?
I ask because this incident reminds me of—bear with me here—the FBI's efforts to nab al Qaeda operatives in the United States. Undercover FBI agents have run several sting operations wherein they target people whom informants have identified as having extremist tendencies and recruit them into fake al Qaeda cells. The FBI then catches them expressing sympathy for Osama Bin Laden, buying weapons, or sending money to terrorists abroad, and then arrests them. Critics of these operations say they amount to entrapment. These people aren't really joining al Qaeda at all, the critics say, and are being prosecuted for mere "thought crimes." Supporters of the sting approach counter that at the end of the day, guys like Tarik Shah and the Lackawanna Six are making clear their intention to commit terrorist acts, so we might as well get them off the streets while we can.
If you agree with that logic, do you also think the bun-makers are guilty of knowingly stuffing buns with cardboard, and should be punished? Email Passport with your thoughts.
Bill Kristol had an interesting piece in yesterday's Washington Post Outlook section. In it, the Weekly Standard editor and omnipresent pundit claims that Bush's presidency will ultimately be successful and his actions in Iraq vindicated. A look at the "broad forest," Kristol insists, presents a much more positive picture than the typical emphasis on the "often unlovely trees." And in Kristol's forest, the growing U.S. economy, the fact that there has not been another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil, and Kristol's belief that things are looking up in Iraq is enough to put Bush in the pantheon of great presidents.
At one point, Kristol writes:
What about terrorism? Apart from Iraq, there has been less of it, here and abroad, than many experts predicted on Sept. 12, 2001. So Bush and Vice President Cheney probably are doing some important things right.
Now, Kristol leaves himself plenty of wiggle room there with the phrase "than many experts predicted" a day after September 11, when no one was quite sure whether the world would explode into a ball of fire. But the implication that there has been less terrorism abroad is simply not true.
In fact, since 9/11, terror attacks and fatalities have been on the rise around the world—not just in the Middle East, but nearly everywhere. Just look at the graphic to the right, which is adapted from FP's 9/11+5, a look at the state of terror around the world five years after 9/11 by two terrorism experts at RAND. Even without counting the Middle East, the number of attacks elsewhere in the world has soared for the years 2002-2005 over the period 1998-2001.
Or we can just look at certain years and compare. Consider that in 2001, there were 1,732 incidents of terrorism around the world; outside of the Middle East, there were 1,223. In 2006, the total number of attacks nearly quadrupled to an astonishing 6,653 incidents. Yes, many of them were in Iraq. But leave out the Middle East again, and the total number of attacks around the world still shoots to 2,113.
Or take the human toll: About 11,000 injuries and fatalities from terrorism in 2001 (and that includes 9/11). Last year? 33,034 injuries and fatalities, and not just in Iraq. Nearly 2,000 dead in South Asia in 2006. More than 100 dead in Africa. That hardly sounds like "less" terrorism to me.
Stranger still is Kristol's speculation that, had Saddam been left in power, "his connections with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups would be intact or revived and even strengthened." Connections with al Qaeda? Just this April, the Washington Post (yes, the same paper running the Kristol piece) ran an A1 article about a declassified DoD report from before the war stating that Saddam was not working with al Qaeda. What about Zarqawi, you ask? He went to Iraq in 2002, but only joined bin Laden's al Qaeda network after the U.S. invasion.
It's fine and fair to debate Bush's legacy, and he's surely done a few good things over the past six years. And Bill Kristol is certainly entitled to his own opinion; if he think Bush has been boffo, then more power to him. But Kristol is certainly not entitled to his own facts.
A leader of the Islamic State of Iraq (who the U.S. military had claimed was dead) is now threatening Iran with terrorist attacks. Omar al-Baghdadi, the apparently non-dead leader of this al Qaeda affiliate, said the following in a recent audio recording:
We are giving the Persians, and especially the rulers of Iran, a two-month period to end all kinds of support for the Iraqi Shia government and to stop direct and indirect intervention ... otherwise a severe war is waiting for you."
And he also issued a threat aimed at his fellow Sunnis:
We advise and warn every Sunni businessman inside Iran or in Arab countries especially in the Gulf not to take partnership with any Shia Iranian businessman, this is part of the two-month period."
This certainly complicates things, doesn't it? I suspect that al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the Islamic State of Iraq, which have been trying to patch up a frayed relationship of late, are focusing on a pair of enemies both groups can agree upon: Iran and the Shiites.
Here's an interesting development in Iraq: graffiti warfare. Sunni residents of Baghdad's Amiriyah neighborhood are sick and tired of al Qaeda's bullying, and they aren't going to take it anymore:
Late Wednesday afternoon, according to residents reached by phone who would not be quoted by name for security reasons, an armed group scrawled graffiti on a school wall reading: "Down with al-Qaeda, long live the honest resistance." When al-Qaeda in Iraq members came to wipe away the writing, a roadside bomb exploded nearby, killing three of them, residents said.
This story reminded me of a colorful piece by AFP reporter Joseph Krauss, who recently embedded in Samarra with an unusual U.S. Army unit. Their mission? To stir up trouble between mainline insurgents and al Qaeda, using graffiti:
On a dark street in the restive Iraqi town of Samarra a young man masked with a bandana and a baseball cap looks over his shoulder before pulling out an aerosol can and spray-painting across a wall. [...]
The young vandal is an army translator [...] charged with sowing seeds of strife between the town's two main insurgent groups, Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic Army of Iraq. [...]
Both insurgent groups tag the walls with slogans, threats, and boasts.
Al Qaeda's street artists write: "The Samarra police are infidels, so we will bring you young men who love martyrdom," and "We will destroy all those who cooperate with the Americans."
The Islamic Army scribes write much the same thing, but threaten "the occupiers" instead of the local security forces and collaborators.
[The translator's] job is to redirect the artistic impulses of each group against the other. "It's a way to destabilize their unification efforts," says First Lieutenant Charlie Hodges, who leads one of the graffiti patrols.
I doubt the U.S. military had a hand in the more recent fighting in Baghdad (would they have planned an ambush?), but I'm sure the guys in charge are watching very closely to see how to best exploit the rift throughout Sunni areas of the country.
As Blake pointed out earlier today, the most surprising bit of last night's Republican debate was Gov. Mitt Romney's declaration that the United States should "double Guantanamo" and should routinely make use of what he calls "enhanced interrogation techniques."
After the debate last night, Romney expanded on that thought in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News. It is worth watching the video in order to understand Romney's precise thinking here. It appears to be this: The nature of the enemy determines the morality with which you fight.
[W]e're dealing with terrorist nations," Romney told Hannity. "They're not following any procedures of this nature."
So neither should we, was Romney's point. Hannity then asked Romney how far he would go in torturing suspected terrorists.
I don't think any president of the United States is wise to say here's how far I'll go," Romney responded. "I think you always keep that to yourself."
We'll take that as an "I don't know." And, apparently, Romney won't be engaging in a public debate about where that line should be, either:
We're not going to project the kind of line that represents torture or not torture."
One has to wonder whether Romney understands the fundamental nature of the war the United States is fighting. It is a war of ideas. You don't win that kind of war by sinking to the terrorists' level, or by forfeiting the principles that separate enlightened, modern society from the dark, desperate world of radical Islamists.
I also worry that Romney's remarks are further evidence of how profoudly lost the Republican party is today. On the stage last night was a leading candidate for the party's nomination, droning on endlessly about his deep and profound "respect for life" —and advocating torture in the same breath. The only thing more disappointing was the room full of party faithful who seemed to miss the irony.
One of the big debates in the "war on terror" is whether and to what extent Iran is working with al Qaeda. Middle East experts like Juan Cole argue that Shiite Iran would never work with the vehemently anti-Shiite al Qaeda, whereas more hawkish terrorism analysts maintain that there is evidence that Iran has allowed a group of al Qaeda members to supervise attacks from Iranian territory. A third position, which seems to be the dominant one in the Bush administration, holds that Iran is detaining al Qaeda operatives in order to trade them for members of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq organization, a strange group of cult-like Marxists that Saddam Hussein used as a proxy force against the Iranians. The U.S military has been holding a large group of MEK members in a camp in Iraq, waiting for the Bush administration to make up its mind about these individuals.
Well, the debate just got a little more interesting. Nasser Ahmad Al-Bahri, a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden (who is apparently still alive), told Al Arabiya satellite channel (Arabic) that top al Qaeda leaders such as Seif al-Adel and Abu Hafs the Mauritanian are responsible for the "coordination file" with Iran. The reason for the alliance? Al-Bahri says it's because "our enemy is one and that is the United States." That doesn't mean, he says, that al Qaeda supports "the Iranian agenda."
Is this true? It seems to be the case that Seif al-Adel and Abu Hafs are in Iran, but this new admission is unlikely to resolve the debate over what they're really doing there. One thing to keep in mind: Al Qaeda may be goading the United States into attacking Iran. Over the weekend, a recently-recorded tape from Ayman al-Zawahiri surfaced in which the al Qaeda #2 said he wished to see 200,000 to 300,000 Americans killed in Iraq. That's not likely to happen no matter how long the U.S. military stays there, but it does give a sense of al Qaeda's current thinking.
(Hat tip: MidEastWire.com)
When she was 14 years old, Irshad Manji, a Canadian Muslim, asked her madrasa teacher, "Where is the evidence of the 'Jewish conspiracy' against Islam?"
Her teacher responded by kicking her out of the madrasa.
Since then, Manji has been using her own brain to study Islam and launch a campaign to reform her religion. Manji, who moved to Canada as a child when Idi Amin expelled the East Indian community from Uganda, has written the book The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith. Her latest endeavor is the documentary Faith Without Fear, which debuts tonight in the United States on PBS as part of the channel's series America at a Crossroads.
In 2003, the New York Times described Manji as Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare. She reads the Koran and abstains from pork and alcohol. She's also a lesbian feminist who admires Israel and supports the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
I'm intrigued by Manji's current Project Ijtihad (pronounced "ij-tee-had"). On her website, Manji says that ijtihad is Islam's long-lost tradition of independent thinking that was stomped out at the end of the 11th century. Manji wants to create a network of reform-minded Muslims who engage in critical thinking and bring about a reformation of Islam that updates it for the 21st century. If Christianity could have its Protestant Reformation, it seems possible for Islam to have one too.
Manji has her critics on both the left and the right. She also has supporters ranging from Arianna Huffington to Glenn Beck. I plan to make my own assessment tonight when I watch Faith Without Fear. I encourage you to watch the documentary too.
Agakhan Sharief has either made a foolish gamble, or is keenly aware that Osama Bin Laden remains a popular figure on the insurgency-plagued Phillipine island of Mindanao.
Sharief, a candidate for a legislative council seat in upcoming provincial elections, adopted "Bin Laden" as his nickname after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo jokingly called him the "young bin Laden of Mindanao" at a public appearance in 2002. But Sharief isn't a militant; he just looks somewhat like the al Qaeda leader, dresses in white and sports a long beard. Sharief is known locally as a "peacemaker" for his role as an intermediary between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mindanao's main insurgent group. Yet, Sharief has also expressed ambivalence about the other bin Laden's involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Given his unorthodox campaign strategy, we can probably infer that his would-be constituents feel much the same way.
Just yesterday, in a speech hammering congressional Democrats over setting a timeline for a withdrawal of U.S. troops, President Bush said:
The consequences of failure would be death and destruction in the Middle East and here in America. To protect our citizens at home, we must defeat the terrorists."
But buried in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,141 U.S. adults is a finding that spells trouble for a U.S. administration that, from the beginning, has linked success in the Iraq War to victory in the war on terror.
When asked if they thought "the United States must win the war in Iraq in order for the broader war on terrorism to be a success," only 37 percent of those surveyed agreed, while 57 percent said that "the war on terrorism can be a success without the United States winning the war in Iraq." Back in January, 45 percent of respondents viewed the Iraq war as a must-win, whereas only 47 percent thought the United States could win the war on terror without victory in Iraq.
With the caveat that the poll oversamples African Americans (who tend to oppose the Iraq War), it seems that—three months after President Bush announced he was sending more troops to Iraq—the bottom is dropping out of public support for the war in Iraq. Whatever the results on the ground, the surge has clearly backfired at home.
More than three years on, the Madrid bombs are still hurting Spain. Media outlets that support the conservative Popular Party opposition are denouncing the trial of 29 Islamists and petty criminals (including a former male stripper) suspected of the attacks, which killed 191, as a fraud. Instead, they are pinning the blame on the Basque separatist group, ETA. And it's not just the conservative media flacks: Almost one in five Spaniards now believes ETA was involved. There have been demonstrations denouncing Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and demanding the truth about the bombings. Some have even gone so far as to claim ETA was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center attack.
These are tough times for Spain. The rag-tag defendants in the trial seem unlikely terrorist masterminds, but it is almost impossible to say for sure who was behind the attack. The temptation is always to blame the devil you know, and ETA is a very well-known devil. With an election next year and the ruling Socialist Party holding a tiny lead, the conservatives are simply tapping into latent anti-ETA feeling and using it to attack the government. They should beware: The knee-jerk blaming of ETA contributed to the Popular Party's downfall after the bombs—it could backfire yet again.
An official at the Ministry of the Interior told TIME that the bomber was wearing a suicide vest and was a guard for one of the members of parliament. The blast went off just after 2 p.m. on Thursday at the cafe in the central atrium of the building just outside the main hall where politicians, staff and journalists often meet for a cup of tea or a plate of food from a buffet spread. Early reports say at least two people were killed and a dozen wounded, but the toll is expected to rise.
Many people had already left, but so far that toll has risen to eight dead, two of them MPs, and 23 wounded, according to the New York Times.
Also today: A truck bomb blew up a 60-year-old bridge across the Tigris. So now the U.S. and Iraqi militaries are going to have to clean house inside the Green Zone, and start figuring out how to defend Baghdad's many bridges from attack. All this against the backdrop of a possible collapse of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's governing coalition. Fun times.
Think separatist violence in Europe is a thing of the past? Think again.
Europol, the police arm of the European Union, today released its first Terrorism Situation and Trend Report. It makes for interesting reading. The 44-page report reviews and analyzes terrorist attacks and terrorism-related arrests in 2006 within EU member states. Nearly 500 attacks took place in the EU in 2006, most of them small incidents with limited damage. Of these, the vast majority—424 attacks—were carried out by Basque and Corsican separatist movements in France and Spain. Another 55 attacks were pulled off by left-wing and anarchist terrorists, whose focus was Greece, Italy, Spain, and Germany.
As the report observes, however, it's Islamist terror that really scares the authorities due to its focus on mass casualties. Only one Islamist attack was attempted in Europe last year, the so-called suitcase bomb plot that failed to blow up two German commuter trains in July. But that doesn't mean the threat isn't real: 257 of the 706 terrorism-related arrests in the 15 member states that provided data were of Islamists, most of them North Africans. UK officials did not fork over their data, but the report notes that public information would put the UK right up there with France, which arrested 139 Islamist terrorist suspects in 2006.
What I want to know is: What explains the differences in strategy between the separatists—"whose attacks resulted only in material damage and were not intended to kill," according to the report—and the Islamists, whose aim is clearly to kill as many civilians as possible? Is it due to the inherent differences in the causes themselves? Differences in ideology? The particular evolution of the various groups involved? Why haven't Basque and Corsican separatists decided that mass murder is the way to go? Or would the Islamists garner more sympathy by focusing on small, mostly symbolic attacks?
Mark Bowden, who we interviewed for last week's Seven Questions, has a fascinating cover story (sub req'd) in the latest Atlantic Monthly giving the inside story of how the U.S. military caught al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as told by the interrogators of a dedicated unit set up by Special Operations Command in 2005.
The title of Bowden's article, "The Ploy," refers to the gambit used by interrogator "Doc," to get Abu Haydr, a high-ranking al Qaeda affiliate captured in April 2006, to give up information that eventually led to Zarqawi's whereabouts:
We both know what I want,” Doc said. “You have information you could trade. It is your only source of leverage right now. You don’t want to go to Abu Ghraib, and I can help you, but you have to give me something in trade. A guy as smart as you—you are the type of Sunni we can use to shape the future of Iraq.” If Abu Haydr would betray his organization, Doc implied, the Americans would make him a very big man indeed.
By playing on Abu Haydr's vanity and creating the impression that he, too, was secretly eager to help save Iraq from Shiite depredations, Doc got his captive to spill the beans, bit by bit. By June, Abu Haydr was singing like a canary:
He explained that Rahman, a figure well-known to the Task Force, met regularly with Zarqawi. He said that whenever they met, Rahman observed a security ritual that involved changing cars a number of times. Only when he got into a small blue car, Abu Haydr said, would he be taken directly to Zarqawi.
And that was the key piece of information that led to the U.S. air strikes that killed the al Qaeda leader on June 7, 2006. It's clear from the article that the U.S. military is eager to show that it now has clean hands; no torture, quasi torture, or abuse was used to get Zarqawi (just the threat of sending prisoners to Abu Ghraib!). Also clear: Icing Zarqawi didn't ultimately change much in Iraq.
The students gathered each Friday night at someone's apartment and at the end of the meal they put on a show called "Friday Night Live," a takeoff on "Saturday Night Live." Mohammed, Ali said, was often in charge of putting together the comedy routines.
"Here is this man who used to be very spiritual. The only unique thing about him was that he had a sense of humor," said Ali. "He was the star. He created plays, the Islamic way. And people would laugh for hours all night. All of the students loved him."
-Babi Ali, president of Muslims for a Better North Carolina and a college friend of al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Chicago Tribune, April 3, 2007
After Google recently updated its satellite images of parts of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, much of the region still looked blotchy — the kind of low resolution that persists in coverage of, say, upstate New York. But several small squares (they stand out as off-color patches from 680 miles up) suddenly became as detailed as the images of Manhattan. These sectors happen to be precisely where the US government has been hunting for bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Turns out, Google gets its images from many of the same satellite companies — DigitalGlobe, TerraMetrics, and others-that provide reconnaissance to US intelligence agencies. And when the CIA requests close-ups of the area around Peshawar in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, Google Earth reaps the benefits (although usually six to 18 months later).
Of course, any shots of an emaciated, 6'6" man dressed in white and sporting a long beard will be long out of date. But it's fun to look around one of the wildest places on Earth nonetheless.
I don't know how many of you are die-hard fans of HBO's popular television drama The Wire, but since joining FP in December I've become an addict. The Wire is a gritty, realism-drenched look at the interplay of drugs, crime, police, and politics in Baltimore, one of the most troubled cities in the United States.
Being a Wire freak, the first thing that popped into my head when I read Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's confession was: This guy is full of it.
Why? In Season One of The Wire, Roland "Wee-Bay" Brice, a top hitman for the Barksdale drug organization, gets fingered for shooting a police officer. He then cops to multiple murders, including several that he didn't commit, in order to protect the gang.
Might Mohammed be doing the same thing? I don't doubt that he was deeply involved in numerous al Qaeda operations, including 9/11, of course. The man is a mass murderer. But it's deeply suspicious that he's confessing to so many plots—at least 31. Today's Times story offers the following tantalizing clue:
But Mr. Mohammed interrupted his representative to clarify that he was not solely responsible for a 1995 attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II during a visit to the Philippines.
"I was not responsible," Mr. Mohammed said, "but share."
But with whom? The obvious guess is Ramzi Youssef, Mohammed's nephew. He's currently serving a life sentence for his role in planning the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. But I can't help but think that Mohammed is trying to protect others here, either from among his fellow detainees or al Qaeda operatives yet to be discovered. Who are they?
UPDATE: It looks like I'm hardly alone in making this connection.
It seems like a stupid question, doesn't it?
Of course al Qaeda has a strategy, right? Al Qaeda masterminds have published long tracts spelling out the latest master plan for the glorious victory of the jihad. The best known of these is al Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri's rambling Knights Under the Prophet's Banner, which urges the global jihad to shift its focus from the "near enemy" (Arab regimes) to the "far enemy" (America). Zawahiri's goal was to get jihadists from Morocco to Indonesia to push the Great Satan out of the Islamic world so that the region's governments would lose their main protector. Other jihadi theorists may have since become more influential, but the basic "far enemy first" approach remains unchallenged, according to experts.
Beyond that, however, there's actually very little consensus on the details of al Qaeda's strategy in counterterrorism circles, just as there is no widespread agreement as to what motivates terrorists, or even what they might attack next. A recent RAND study tried to get at this last problem:
Each year, the federal, state, local, and tribal governments spend billions of dollars protecting the United States and U.S. property against acts of terrorism, with human, military,and capital resources allocated in ways that reflect the value and vulnerability of each venue to be protected. Yet those buildings, institutions,and icons perceived as being of utmost value to the United States may not be perceived as such to its potential attackers; the country, in other words, may be protecting its buffalo when really it is the goats that are at risk.
(This is an optimistic reading of how Homeland Security dollars are really allocated, but DHS is the client and you don't bite the hand that feeds ya.) The authors then go on to surmise that since al Qaeda is "a goal-driven organization," we should be able to divine its likely points of attack.
As I was reading the study, I was reminded of a famous quote from a Lou Reed song, "Some Kinda Love": "Between thought and expression there lies a lifetime." That is to say, just because al Qaeda has a written plan of action doesn't mean they're able to operationalize it. The real world is much more complicated than a piece of paper, and sometimes you just have to take the opportunities that come your way. So, in looking for patterns in the 14 terrorist attacks it studied, RAND may be prescribing a level of rationality where there is none. By the end, the authors have come to the same basic conclusion:
Thus, while a study such as this might shed light on what the adversary may be thinking, and the consequences of such thoughts, it cannot be used to rule out an attack of one form or another. The next attack may well take place in Ohio even if there are reasons to believe that Ohio (or most of the other 50 states) is not particularly favored for an attack.
Isn't that comforting?
The EastWest Institute's annual Worldwide Security Conference in Brussels this week concluded pessimistically, with the overwhelming majority of security professionals from numerous countries in attendance agreeing that the international terrorist threat is increasing. More recruits are becoming radicalized, despite the fact that intelligence agencies are getting better at thwarting terrorist plots.
A couple of highlights:
These results echo the recent FP/Center for American Progress Terrorism Index, for which over 100 security experts in the United States were surveyed. The resounding conclusion: The United States is not winning the war on terror and the world is becoming more dangerous—in places that policy makers are not even focusing on.
Speaking of Osama Bin Laden—children, avert your eyes. Here's Haaretz relaying a passage from Uri Dan's new biography of Ariel Sharon:
Speaking of George Bush, with whom Sharon developed a very close relationship, Uri Dan recalls that Sharon's delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: "I will screw him in the a**!"
Where exactly is Bin Laden? No one seems to know! Set in exotic locations around the world the readers' mission in this book is to find Bin Laden in each setting, as well as his accomplices, CIA agents, weapons of (not) mass destruction and many other local characters and things specific to each location. In this tongue-in-cheek picture book there are hours of fun scouring the delightful colour illustrations to find all of the various characters and objects, checking them off as you find them. Good luck with your mission should you accept it.
Their servers appear to have crashed, so I'll just point out this item that appears to conflict with the overall finding that Iranians are "very concerned about the danger of terrorism, reject attacks against civilians overwhelmingly and share strongly negative views of Osama bin Laden":
It is important to note, however, that slim majorities of Iranians feel that some Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians are justified and view Hamas and Hezbollah favorably.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam responded to charges that al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are holing up in its frontier areas by retorting:
In fact the only country that has been instrumental in breaking the back of al Qaeda is Pakistan."
Meanwhile, the bodies of 25 militants killed in battle in Afghanistan were repatriated to their villages in Pakistan today. Hmmm … what does that say about the existence of cross-border attacks?
GAZA CITY, GAZA - JANUARY 10: Palestinian shopkeeper Tareq Abu Dayea stands next to George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden action figures in his store. The figures come complete with nylon hair and various scale weapons.
These aren't the first action figures of their type to go on the market, but at least they're more tasteful than the Saddam hanging doll on sale in Connecticut.
Jendayi Frazer, the U.S. assistant secretary of state responsible for Africa, said today what most of us already know: that a peacekeeping force is desperately needed in Somalia. With the roots of a deadly insurgency beginning to take shape and the Ethiopian military set to withdraw within two weeks, Frazier said there's a window of opportunity "to not have Somalia be a safe haven for terrorism."
But that will require cash and troops. The United States has already pledged some $40.5 million for reconstruction and peacekeeping efforts in Somalia. But don't expect to see U.S. boots on the ground. U.S. Army Gen. William Ward, deputy commander of U.S. European Command, said today that he doesn't expect U.S. troops to go into Somalia:
Situations change but I do not see it now, and there's nothing that I've heard that implies that at all," Ward said.
It's probably best that way. As a bleak Financial Times editorial stressed yesterday, any peacekeeping force should bear an international stamp:
If the Ethiopians stay they risk uniting much of Somalia against them. If they go, as they say they soon will, they will leave a political vacuum, with Somalia's well-armed clans scrabbling over the carcass of the country. Eventually, it will almost certainly be the more disciplined but now radicalised Islamists that end up holding the ring. [...]
The future looks bleak unless an understanding is reached between the Islamists and the transitional government, with Ethiopian troops replaced by some stabilising force. That probably has to come from the United Nations, in conjunction with the African Union. Neither organisation has covered itself in glory recently, in Sudan or Somalia, and both are overstretched. But the price of failure in the Horn of Africa will be high indeed.
As if we needed another reminder of just how critical the situation in Somalia has become, Al-Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri will reportedly release a statement calling on Muslims to fight for victory there. The statement is expected shortly, according to ABC News.
Zawahiri's statement, combined with recent comments by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi that his troops plan to be out of Somalia within a matter of weeks, underscores the urgent need for an international peacekeeping force in the beleageured country.
Dear Representative Reyes:
Congratulations on your new position as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. With the sorry state of our intelligence community and the continued specter of transnational terrorism (not to mention organized crime, narco-trafficking and nuclear proliferation), yours is an important position and I’m sure you’re enthusiastic about the job. However, I couldn’t help but be more than a little concerned this weekend when I read that you, like so many other U.S. officials involved in counterterrorism, do not know the religious layout of the greater Middle East. Knowing the difference between Sunnis, Shiites and Arab nationalists will not simply make your job easier, it will make it possible. Because I’m sure you’re busy, I took the liberty of writing up a primer for you:
Following the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, terrorism expert Loretta Napoleoni filed a compelling ForeignPolicy.com exclusive disputing the contention by U.S. intelligence that his successor as leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq was Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (aka Abu Ayyub al Masri and at right). She wrote,
... Zarqawi's death has given rise to a new round of propaganda, this time over his successor. U.S. military leaders, under pressure to demonstrate both that they know the identity of Zarqawi's heir and that the link between the insurgency and al Qaeda remains strong, are once again skillfully spinning the facts.
Whoever Muhajir may be, he has reportedly released a message today celebrating the defeat of Republicans in the U.S. elections. The CIA is currently verifying the authenticity of the tape, which taunts the beleaguered administration,
We call on the lame duck [Bush] not to hurry his escape the way the defense secretary did... we haven't had enough of your blood yet... We will not rest from our Jihad until we are under the olive trees of Rumieh and we have blown up the filthiest house — which is called the White House.
President Bush says that if Democrats take over one or both houses of Congress on Nov. 7, "the terrorists win and America loses." In other words, if the Democrats win, they will pull out of Iraq and Al Qaeda will declare victory. But would Al Qaeda really consider it a victory if the U.S. withdrew its forces from Iraq? Or is the Al Qaeda cause better served by keeping U.S. forces tied down in a deadly guerilla war in the heart of the Middle East?
If the Democrats win, they will have to live up to their campaign promises and increase the pressure to withdraw. Even if the Republicans win, the pressure from the American street towards withdrawal is strong on them as well.
This poses a problem for al-Qaeda, since keeping America in Iraq has been so central to its strategy. If al-Qaeda believes that this stage has accomplished its goals, then the author thinks that it will permit the withdrawal and then reap its gains. But the author says that in his personal opinion, the time for the next stage has not yet arrived, and it would be better to keep the stage of America's being stuck in Iraq extended as long as possible. Even if America has suffered many losses, he argues, it remains very powerful and would only take a couple of years to recover from Iraq and return to the field of play. The author fears that al-Qaeda's leaders will fall prey to the temptation to move on to the next stage too early, and not intervene to keep the Republicans in power and the Americans in Iraq.
Therefore, while the author does not know what al-Qaeda wil do, he thinks that al-Qaeda should seek to delay the American withdrawal as long as possible by working to ensure that Bush and the Republican Party win the coming elections."
News reports this morning that the Pakistani military had leveled a madrassa without the help of U.S. forces seemed suspect. For starters, why go after such a politically sensitive target as a madrassa if no "high profile targets" were inside, as Pakistani officials insisted there were not.
Now it turns out there may have been good reason to be suspicious. Over at The Blotter, Alexis Debat is reporting that the madrassa raid was not only carried out by a U.S. Predator drone, but that Ayman al-Zawahiri was the target.
Maybe taking out Al Qaeda's Number Two was supposed to be the October surprise? Debat reports that Pakistani intelligence sources say they have Zawahiri "boxed" in a 40-square-mile area in Afghanistan, and he should be dead or captured in the next "few months."
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