There is an unfortunate pattern in which countries believe that they can utilize al-Qaeda against their enemies, and never suffer the consequence for such cynicism at home. In the early 1990s, for example, Saudis both publicly and privately donated to al-Qaeda. The extremists’ jihad was fine—even honorable—many Saudis believed so long as they fought abroad and not within Saudi Arabia itself. While al-Qaeda was perfectly happy accepting Saudi largesse, within a decade al-Qaeda terrorists were striking at the Kingdom, targeting not only foreign compounds but also seeking to assassinate members of the ruling family.
Syria likewise played with al-Qaeda throughout much of the last decade, turning Syrian territory into an underground railroad for suicide bombers and other terrorists destined for Iraq. The Sinjar documents (analyzed here in an excellent report by Brian Fishman and Joseph Felter) show how al-Qaeda transited Syria with the cognizance if not direct assistance of senior Syrian officials. Today, of course, al-Qaeda-linked radicals have turned their guns on the Syrian regime. Bashar al-Assad played with fire, and his regime got burned.
I have a somewhat different take than that of Seth Mandel, who says that Stephen Hayes’s scoop on Benghazi “is probably more significant than it may have seemed at first glance, even though he didn’t provide much in the way of new information.”
My first reaction–which I spoke about on Friday during my appearance on the panel discussion on Fox News’s Special Report with Bret Baier–was that the story is explosive, largely because Hayes’s story provides much in the way of new information.
It provides fresh evidence that, in the words of Hayes, “senior Obama administration officials knowingly misled the country about what had happened in the days following the assaults [on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi on September 11, 2012].” (Emphasis added).
We now know, for example, that the early talking points were accurate–and it was only after the State Department and the White House, among others, got done revising the talking points that the truth was transformed into a false account.
You’ve got to hand it to Hamid Karzai. He is nothing if not brazen. Other world leaders might be embarrassed if caught accepting bags of cash from the CIA. Not Karzai. Instead, he is bragging to reporters that the CIA money was “an easy source of petty cash” and reassuring anyone who will listen that he will continue on the CIA payroll.
The question is: What is the CIA getting for its (read: our) money? I am not opposed in principle to the CIA paying off the leaders of other countries; it has certainly done so before. If intelligently used, cash can be a valuable part of an influence operation; it can be a vital source of support for strong pro-American leaders such as Ramon Magsaysay, the president of the Philippines from 1953 to 1957.
Ryan Crocker is quite simply the best diplomat of his generation, and not a person given to hyperbole, so when he writes that recent events in Iraq “are reminiscent of those that led to virtual civil war in 2006 and resulted in the need for a surge in U.S. troop levels, a new strategy and very heavy fighting”–then attention must be paid.
He is alarmed, and rightly so, by the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusrah Front. He notes: “These developments threaten not only to unravel the gains made since 2007, but also to energize the forces of violent extremism in the heart of the Arab world, already burning in Syria.”
In essence, he is sketching out the dire consequences of President Obama’s failure to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011, although he is too diplomatic to come out and say so.
Law enforcement officials are touting news that the Boston Marathon bombers acted alone. The source for their conclusion? Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who has averred from his hospital bed that he and his brother had no links to any terrorist organization. This may or may not be true; it’s possible that even if Dzhokhar is sincere he may not have known about links cultivated by his brother during Tamerlan’s sojourn to Dagestan last year. But even if it’s true that their bombing was not directed by foreign terrorist organizations, it was certainly inspired by them.
In seeking to explain their heinous actions, Dzhokhar cited an alleged war against Islam waged by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, claiming that U.S. troops have been responsible for most civilian deaths in those countries. This is blatantly not true (the Taliban, al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Islamist groups have killed far more civilians and they have done so deliberately, not accidentally as in the case of most “collateral damage” caused by U.S. forces). But it is a standard al-Qaeda propaganda line that the brothers swallowed–along with the more general al-Qaeda justifications for making war on “infidels.” More than that, it appears that the brothers may have gotten bomb-making instructions from Inspire, the English-language magazine published by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
News that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have arrested two Muslim men on charges of plotting to blow up a train with “support from Al Qaeda elements located in Iran” has been met with widespread and ill-deserved incredulity. Typical is this BBC report, which claims: “It is difficult to believe that there is an operational alliance between Iran, a hard-line Shia Muslim state, and al-Qaeda, an extremist Sunni Muslim outfit.”
Actually it’s not that hard to believe at all. There is copious evidence of the links between Iran and al-Qaeda, as noted by Bill Roggio in the Long War Journal: “In recent years, the US government has added several Iran-based al Qaeda leaders and operatives to its list of specially designated global terrorists, and even noted a ‘secret deal’ between the Iranian government and al Qaeda.”
The evidence of the baleful effects of the Obama administration’s shameful neglect of post-Gaddafi Libya continues to pile up.
We already know that by failing to help the pro-Western government to establish control of its country, we not only created the conditions which led to the death of our ambassador and other Americans last September 11 but also destabilized neighboring countries. The outflow of arms and fighters from Libya tipped the balance of power in Mali and allowed al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to seize control of the northern part of the country until a French intervention dislodged them (perhaps only temporarily).
As Boston was mourning its victims of terror yesterday, a Parisian suburb was planning a gala fete for terrorists. Among those slated to be honored at tonight’s ceremony in St. Denis are Allam Kaabi, convicted of assassinating Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001, and Salah Hamouri, convicted of plotting to assassinate Israel’s former Sephardi chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef. Both are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who were released in 2011 as part of the exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
Though sponsored by a private organization, the ceremony is to be held in a building owned by the municipality, thus lending the town’s imprimatur to it. And, adding insult to injury, it’s slated to be graced by a representative of Amnesty International: Evidently, this self-styled human rights organization has no problem with targeted killings of Israeli civilians, though it objects vociferously to targeted killings of terrorists.
It is ironic that the Boston Marathon bombing occurred the same day that a Washington think tank called the Constitution Project unveiled a report, signed by a bipartisan group of retired worthies, excoriating many of the tactics used to fight terrorism. The headline finding, which earned front-page coverage in the New York Times, is that “U.S. forces, in many instances, used interrogation techniques on detainees that constitute torture.”
I cannot help but agree with this conclusion: Bush administration whitewash about “enhanced interrogation techniques” notwithstanding, many of the measures employed by interrogators on a small number of terrorism suspects, such as the use of waterboarding, did amount to torture as commonly understood. Where I part company with the self-righteous commission is in its excoriation of administration officials for ordering steps that they believed necessary to defend the United States and which arguably were necessary if one believes the testimony of former officials that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were responsible for uncovering Osama bin Laden. Instead of showing any understanding for or sympathy toward the mindset of those charged with protecting us after 9/11, however, the commission writes:
Salih Muslim is the leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The U.S. government has long considered the PKK a terrorist group, a designation which Secretary of State John Kerry reinforced in his recent swing through Turkey. He has applied for a visa to enter the United States to take part in consultations with officials in Washington, but the State Department has so far been unresponsive.
Denying the PYD leader a visa makes no sense for five reasons:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has an important op-ed in today’s Washington Post, has long expressed reticence about U.S. efforts to arm the Syrian opposition. When I was in Baghdad last fall, both officials and ordinary Iraqis expressed concern about the radicalization of the Syrian opposition. That does not mean that they loved Syrian President Bashar al-Assad more: He had provided the underground railway through which for years so many al-Qaeda terrorists had infiltrated Iraq. Nor does fear of the opposition provide an excuse to enable Iranian supply of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Still, the Iraqis—like the Turks and Jordanians—are more attuned to events transpiring in neighboring Syria than are many U.S. senators. And while the senators may be acting with their hearts in the right place, the situation on the ground in Syria has changed dramatically since the debates began. Pundits are correct to question why the Obama administration felt a “responsibility to protect” in Libya, but turned their blind eye toward the suffering in Syria. The best parallel for what is transpiring in Syria, however, is no longer Libya but rather Bosnia, which had no shortage of war criminals on all sides of the fight.
Barack Obama became president in no small part by castigating the Bush administration for its errors in Iraq. Now, ironically enough, as president he appears bent on repeating the biggest Bush error of all—namely toppling an existing Middle East strongman without doing enough to build up a stable state in his wake.
Jeffrey Fleishman of the Los Angeles Times has filed a disturbing report from the southern Libyan city of Sabha that vividly shows the consequences of administration inaction. He finds, almost a year and a half after Muammar Qaddafi’s demise, a total absence of Libyan security forces. Instead ill-armed, unpaid militiamen are “battling smugglers, illegal migrants bound for Europe and armed extremists who stream across a swath of the Sahara near the porous intersection of southern Libya, Chad, Niger, and Algeria.” That is, they are battling these threats when they are not battling each other—which is a more common occurrence.
That may seem like a silly question to those whose memory of Somalia stopped with Black Hawk Down and piracy, but over the past year there has been some real progress in the east African country which has become synonymous with state failure.
Somalia has made surprising progress. Mogadishu Airport is open to real airlines, piracy is on the decline thanks to a robust international military presence and, in January 2013, the U.S. re-established formal relations with the Somali government for the first time in decades.
Responsibility for progress on the ground in Somalia rests not with international diplomats, but with AMISOM, an African Union military mission manned by Kenyans, Ugandans, Djibouti, and Burundi. Sometimes, military force matters far more than the best intentions of diplomats and UN debates.
If the standard by which we judge policymakers is the same as for physicians–first, do no harm–than Chuck Hagel’s foray to Afghanistan, his first as defense secretary, was a success. There were no big achievements to boast of but also no major slip-ups. Hagel certainly gets points for the patience he displayed with Hamid Karzai, who was even more exasperating than usual.
In recent days the Afghan president has tried to push U.S. Special Forces out of Wardak Province, a Taliban-infested area near Kabul; tried to renege on the pledge he had made to give the U.S. veto authority over prisoner releases at the major detention facility in Parwan province; and even claimed that the U.S. secretly supported the Taliban to give us an excuse to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Hagel handled it all with equanimity, replying, when asked by the press about such issues, “it’s complicated”–which is the appropriate noncommittal reply when dealing with such a prickly ally.
What to make of this Wall Street Journal report that, under a program launched by the Obama administration last year, the CIA has stepped up its assistance to the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service which includes Iraqi Special Operations units that were trained and mentored in the past by U.S. Special Operations forces? Iraqi forces are now working with American clandestine operatives to target al-Qaeda in Iraq and its Syrian offshoot, the al-Nusra Front.
On one level this is an implicit acknowledgement from President Obama that his decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq at the end of 2011 was a mistake: Contrary to his overoptimistic claims, Iraq was not, and still is not, ready to take over its entire defense. There has been a corresponding degradation of Iraq’s capacity to fight groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, which helps to account for their resurgence in the past year and now their spread to Syria.
Max Boot is absolutely right that the United States has not figured out how to treat captured terrorists, like bin Laden son-in-law and former al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. The question comes down to a dispute about whether terrorism is a legal matter to be resolved in courts, or a military matter to be resolved on the battlefield. The problem with the former is that evidence needed for a conviction would require exposing intelligence, sources, and methods that might spoil their utility to prevent future attacks or the forensic data available after an attack. A military response enables the United States government to protect its civilians and eliminate the perpetrators without compromising its own security. That al-Qaeda has declared war on America should have made the debate moot but, alas, Washington sophistication means never having to bow to common sense.
Counterterrorism requires not only military strategies, but diplomatic ones as well. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was first arrested in Turkey, but then released despite U.S. requests that he be extradited to the United States. It was Jordan which complied with the extradition request.
Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. Special Forces to leave Wardak Province following reports—rejected by U.S. forces—that they were involved in the disappearance of nine people. Karzai’s decision—and the apparent willingness of U.S. forces to go along with it—really do signal the beginning of the end. U.S. forces will withdraw not with a mission accomplished, but in defeat. Political and military claims to the contrary are nonsense, and show a profound ignorance of Afghanistan and Afghan history more than a decade into our latest involvement in that country. The defeat need not have been though; it was far more a political decision on the part of the White House than the result of any military weakness.
As my AEI colleague Ahmad Majidyar—hands down the best analyst of Afghan politics there is in the United States right now, and someone not limited by security to ISAF headquarters or our many Forward Operating Base or otherwise sucked into the military-information bubble—notes Wardak is the gateway to Kabul, the path which Taliban fighters use to infiltrate Kabul to carry out spectacular attacks. The security situation in Wardak has been declining in the past year. The Taliban have prioritized moving into Wardak as foreign forces leave.
Yesterday, Jonathan remembered the 20th anniversary of the first attack on the World Trade Center by pointing out that, while we’ve come a long way since 9/11, we are at risk of putting the dangers of al-Qaeda and radical Islam “in our collective rear-view mirrors.” It was also 20 years ago that Senator Daniel Moynihan warned of the dangers of “defining deviancy down.” Today, our strategy against al-Qaeda is to win by defining victory down, and focusing only on the damage we do to its so-called core. That wrongly elevates drone strikes from a tool into a strategy, ignores the recruiting appeal of the Islamist ideology that is at the heart of the danger posed by al-Qaeda, and neglects the fact that we are not very good at anticipating how al-Qaeda’s franchises and allies will grow, cooperate, and spread. Last year, very few analysts worried about Islamist militants in the Maghreb; today, they control half a country.
Perhaps most troubling is the fact that, as Jonathan points out, “here in the U.S., cases of home-grown Islamist terror continue to crop up.” My colleague Jessica Zuckerman has chronicled the 54 terrorist plots against domestic targets that have been thwarted since 9/11. The latest featured a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, Raees Alam Qazi, and his older brother. It “adds to the large number of terrorist attacks that could be considered to be homegrown.” It is hard to believe that a country which has thwarted about a plot every other month for over a decade, watched the Muslim Brotherhood take over Egypt, and seen an anniversary attack on its consulate in Benghazi could become complacent. It is even harder to ignore the political savvy of the Obama administration and the appeal of its fantasy that the war is over.
Exactly 20 years ago on this date, a terrorist attack at the World Trade Center took the lives of six people and injured more than a thousand others. The tragedy shocked the nation but, as with other al-Qaeda attacks in the years that followed, the WTC bombing did not alter the country’s basic approach to Islamist terrorism. For the next eight and a half years, the United States carried on with a business-as-usual attitude toward the subject. The lack of urgency applied to the subject, as well as the disorganized and sometimes slap-dash nature of the security establishment’s counter-terrorist operations, led to the far greater tragedy of September 11, 2001 when al-Qaeda managed to accomplish what it failed to do in 1993: knock down the towers and slaughter thousands.
All these years after 9/11 and the tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden, are there any further lessons to be drawn from that initial tragedy? To listen to the chattering classes, you would think the answer is a definitive no. Few are marking this anniversary and even fewer seem to think there is anything more to be said about what we no longer call the war on terror. But as much as many of us may wish to consign this anniversary to the realm of the history books, the lessons of the day the war on America began still need to be heeded.
İslam Dünyası or “Islamic World” is the Turkish language edition of Al Qaeda’s magazine. I had previously referenced it here when, late last year, the magazine called for attacks on the United States. The latest edition is now available, at least in Jihadi chat rooms. What is most interesting is that it provides biographies for three slain Turkish fighters, two of whom were killed fighting against NATO in Afghanistan, and the third of whom was killed fighting for radicals in Syria.
According to SITE monitoring, which translated the biographies, one of the three grew up in Istanbul, and two grew up in Ankara. All were from poor families and began taking Islam classes in Turkey.
The reason why this is important is simple: The Turkish government has long acknowledged that Turks were active in Al Qaeda and its affiliates (under the group Taifetul Mansura), but always claimed that Turkish Jihadists were Diaspora Turks radicalized in Germany. Now it looks like this isn’t the case, and the real problem is in Turkey itself.