Monday, February 19, 2007

The Return Of Al Qaeda

An article in the New York Times reports that al Qaeda is reorganizing and establishing new bases of operational control in Pakistan. According to the article:

Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda....

Officials said the training camps had yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. But groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps, the officials said, and the Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature.
The main problem is Pakistan's unwillingness to challege al Qaeda in North Waziristan, an area in which Pakistan struck deals with local tribal elders to pull Pakistani forces out of the area in exchange for the halting of attacks across the border into Afghanistan. However, the withdrawal of government forces has allowed al Qaeda to grow in strength and influence and set up new centers of operation.

While the news of a resurgent and reorganized al Qaeda is most definitely bad, there is a sliver of a silver lining. One of the major successes of the invasion of Afghanistan was the destruction of the al Qaeda bureaucratic structure than enabled it to carry out extremely sophisticated attacks, such as the simultaneous bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, not to mention 9/11. With the loss of Afghanistan as a client state, al Qaeda decentralized, making it much more difficult to locate and strike at the leadership. However, that decentralization came at a price, and al Qaeda has not been able to carry out major attacks against significant targets. Bombings of buses, hotels, and discos, while deadly and serious do not advance al Qaeda's goals as do major operations like those carried out in the 1990s. But those kind of operations are not possible with a decentralized leadership and organizational structure.

If al Qaeda is regrouping and trying to rebuild a formal operational structure, it will certainly try to escalate its attacks and refocus its target set on more lucrative and high-profile targets. However, this move by al Qaeda is a risky one, and may signal the group's frustration with its inability to carry out major attacks since the loss of Afghanistan. Returning to the pre-9/11 structure of training camps and command bases makes al Qaeda a more visible target for counter terror efforts. More sophisticated attacks leave behind a more visible footprint of communications, money trails, training camps, and centralized leadership. The US will need to pressure Pakistan to move against these camps, or force President Pervez Musharraf to allow US special forces to do the dirty work for him.


Alphast said...

Al Qaeda has just shown that this rearming and reorganising is working. They simply took over one entire province last week. According to a NATO speaker, they simply rolled in a town, disarmed policemen there and decided they ruled. And the same person said it would be hard to root them out. Which is pretty believable...

Seth Weinberger said...

It may be working for now...and re-centralizing their operations is necessary if al Qaea wants to return to carrying out large, sophisticated strikes. But, in the long run, a centralized structure makes it easier for the counter-terrorists to monitor and strike. I think it's a trade-off that the US should be willing to accept.

Gary Anderson said...

It has been reported that we are paying Al Qaida to attack Iran. Just goes to show, if this report is true, that Bush views the real prize as being Iran and its oil and is willing to deal with a mortal enemy to get to Iran.

BTW it has just been reported that Cheney got a little taste of war, a large explosion outside a base where he was. Guess he no longer is a chicken hawk. I don't know more than that at this time.

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