The joy with which residents of Kabul have greeted a championship boxing match in their city–won by Hamid Rahimi, a German of Afghan extraction–is further evidence that there is little desire in Afghanistan for a return to Taliban rule. The Taliban, after all, were the crackpots who banned boxing, music, kite flying, and other forms of entertainment. They did allow soccer matches, but would come out at halftime to execute or amputate their victims–a poor alternative to marching bands and cheerleaders.
Amid all of Afghanistan’s problems, its people are embracing professional soccer, boxing, and other amusements that would be unthinkable under Taliban control. Admittedly, Kabul is hardly representative of the entire country–it has always been the most Westernized of Afghan cities. But cities like Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad and even Kandahar are no more friendly to the resumption of Taliban control. The Taliban do have some support in the Pashtun countryside, but even there the Taliban’s draconian edicts–such as forbidding schooling for girls–go too far even for most conservative farmers.
We already knew about the cable Ambassador Chris Stevens sent out on September 11, describing the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi. Today FNC’s Catherine Herridge reports on a different, classified cable sent from the Benghazi consulate on August 15, warning that al-Qaeda training camps were proliferating in the area and the consulate could not withstand a coordinated attack:
Summarizing an Aug. 15 emergency meeting convened by the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, the Aug. 16 cable marked “SECRET” said that the State Department’s senior security officer, also known as the RSO, did not believe the consulate could be protected.
“RSO (Regional Security Officer) expressed concerns with the ability to defend Post in the event of a coordinated attack due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support, and the overall size of the compound,” the cable said.
According to a review of the cable addressed to the Office of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Emergency Action Committee was also briefed “on the location of approximately ten Islamist militias and AQ training camps within Benghazi … these groups ran the spectrum from Islamist militias, such as the QRF Brigade and Ansar al-Sharia, to ‘Takfirist thugs.’” Each U.S. mission has a so-called Emergency Action Committee that is responsible for security measures and emergency planning. …
While the administration’s public statements have suggested that the attack came without warning, the Aug. 16 cable seems to undercut those claims. It was a direct warning to the State Department that the Benghazi consulate was vulnerable to attack, that it could not be defended and that the presence of anti-U.S. militias and Al Qaeda was well-known to the U.S. intelligence community.
FNC’s Catherine Herridge reports that the FBI and National Counterterrorism Center told lawmakers the Benghazi assault appeared to be an al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-affiliated attack in a Sept. 13 briefing, contradicting a briefing by CIA Director David Petraeus that took place the next day:
Two days after the deadly Libya terror attack, representatives of the FBI and National Counterterrorism Center gave Capitol Hill briefings in which they said the evidence supported an Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-affiliated attack, Fox News has learned.
The description of the attack by those in the Sept. 13 briefings stands in stark contrast to the now controversial briefing on Capitol Hill by CIA Director David Petraeus the following day — and raises even more questions about why Petraeus described the attack as tied to a demonstration. …
On Capitol Hill, Petraeus characterized the attack as more consistent with a flash mob, where the militants showed up spontaneously with RPGs. Petraeus downplayed to lawmakers the skill needed to fire mortars, which also were used in the attack and to some were seen as evidence of significant pre-planning. …
Fox News is told that Petraeus was “absolute” in his description with few, if any, caveats. As lawmakers learned more about the attack, including through raw intelligence reports, they were “angry, disappointed and frustrated” that the CIA director had not provided a more complete picture of the available intelligence.
Officials have already speculated that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was involved in the Benghazi attack, but CNN reports al-Qaeda in Iraq may be linked as well. AQI has been regaining strength since U.S. troops withdrew last year:
U.S. intelligence believes that assailants connected to al Qaeda in Iraq were among the core group that attacked the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, a U.S. government official told CNN.
That would represent the second al Qaeda affiliate associated with the deadly September 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. …
The latest intelligence suggests the core group of suspects from the first wave of the attack on the Benghazi mission numbered between 35 to 40. Around a dozen of the attackers are believed to be connected to either al Qaeda in Iraq or al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the government official said.
The attack had two waves: The first targeted the main compound where Stevens and another diplomatic official were believed killed. A second stage a few hours later involved an annex building approximately a mile away.
The White House was informed that Libyan militant group Ansar al-Sharia took credit for the Benghazi attack just two hours after it happened, according to emails obtained by Reuters. Yet the Obama administration maintained it was a spontaneous reaction to the Muhammad video, and downplayed the role of any militant groups for two weeks after the attack. As of today, the administration has never even told us Ansar al-Sharia claimed credit. We had to find out from the investigative press:
A third email, also marked SBU and sent at 6:07 p.m. Washington time, carried the subject line: “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack.”
The message reported: “Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”
While some information identifying recipients of this message was redacted from copies of the messages obtained by Reuters, a government source said that one of the addresses to which the message was sent was the White House Situation Room, the president’s secure command post.
Other addressees included intelligence and military units as well as one used by the FBI command center, the source said.
“What I would not have had done was left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down.” So said President Obama in Tuesday night’s debate. And he was speaking the truth, as readers of Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor’s fine new book The Endgame can attest, even though Obama was ostensibly committed in 2011 to maintaining a continuing U.S. troop presence in Iraq.
Gordon and Trainor note that Obama steadily whittled down the number of troops he was willing to keep in Iraq. Commanders wanted more than 20,000 initially, but the president eventually was willing to provide fewer than 5,000. And he insisted on such strict conditions in Status of Forces negotiations—the Obama administration demanded that the Iraqi parliament ratify any grant of immunity to U.S. troops even though there was no legal or political requirement to do so—that Iraqi leaders got a clear signal that the U.S. wasn’t committed to their country. That made them less willing to compromise in negotiations. And Obama did not give enough time to those negotiations in any case—they only began in the middle of 2011 even though the last such negotiations, in 2008, had taken nearly a year. Then, when the negotiations ran into obstacles, Obama pulled the plug and trumpeted the return of the troops.
Sen. John Kerry, national security sage, writes the following in an Obama campaign memo today (h/t Fox News):
Under President Obama’s leadership, we have devastated al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only has the United States taken out Osama bin Laden, but we have devastated a large majority of al-Qaeda’s core group of leaders. And today our nation is safer because these terrorists have been eliminated. But there is still more work to do. …
President Obama kept his promise to re-focus our efforts on the real reason we went to Afghanistan after 9/11 – to decimate al-Qaeda and prevent a return to the safe haven they had there. Now that we’re accomplishing those objectives, the President has a plan to end the war in 2014, and our troops are already coming home. After over a decade at war, the President has a plan to use the savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to do some nation-building here at home.
Not only is AQ not decimated in Afghanistan, it’s rebuilding strength as U.S. forces withdraw, Fox News reports:
We’ve been seeing some interesting “scoops” about Benghazi on the eve of the foreign policy debate. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported that there’s “no evidence” al-Qaeda had any ties to the consulate attack. No evidence? That’s funny, considering the group behind the attack, Ansar al-Sharia, is viewed as al-Qaeda’s face in Libya, according to a Library of Congress report from this summer. Also, the intelligence community reportedly intercepted phone calls in which Ansar al-Sharia leaders bragged to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb leaders after the attack. Also, the State Department has designated Ansar al-Sharia a new alias for al-Qaeda in Yemen, etc.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius reported yesterday on CIA “talking points” that supposedly back up the administration’s initial “spontaneous reaction” story. But this isn’t much of a scoop or a story; these talking points were actually reported on weeks ago, and, according to Reuters, didn’t appear to match the actual intelligence.
At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn writes:
Are you safer now than you were four years ago? That’s the most important question that needs to be answered in Monday night’s foreign policy debate. Unfortunately for President Obama, there’s ample evidence that the answer is no. His administration killed Osama bin Laden, but the war on terror is still very much alive. And while the Benghazi attack has been getting most of the attention lately, it’s just the latest symptom of a much more systematic national security problem for this administration.
Here are some questions that are indirectly related to Benghazi that would be interesting to raise at Monday’s debate. And since it’s never a good idea to ask a question at a debate that you don’t know the answer to, the answers to all of these are already known:
One of the more frustrating exchanges in the vice presidential debate this past week was the one about Afghanistan. Vice President Biden thinks he won the point by insisting that the United States was simply pulling out: “We are leaving Afghanistan in 2014, period. There is no ifs, ands or buts.” By contrast, Paul Ryan’s position was more nuanced, expressing a clear desire to end the American military role in the war there but criticizing the administration’s decision to announce a firm deadline for the pullout that has told the Taliban that all they need to do to triumph is to just wait for the U.S. to bug out. Ryan has the better argument, but at a time when fatigue with foreign wars is high, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Biden’s position might be more popular.
That sentiment reflects not merely the wish to extricate U.S. troops from a bloody and difficult task but a desire to ignore what happens to Afghanistan and its people and to treat the conflict as irrelevant to American interests. That position was more fully articulated in today’s lengthy lead editorial in the New York Times. The piece, titled “Time to Pack Up,” takes the position that the United States should not even wait until 2014 to abandon Afghanistan but flee within the next 12 months leaving the country to the tender mercies of the Taliban. Ironically, the Times underlines Ryan’s fears about what the administration is about to do in Afghanistan. The paper, which in this case probably speaks for most liberals on the issue, treats the Taliban’s eventual victory as perhaps regrettable but unavoidable. They concede defeat to the Islamists but seem to think that admitting this will strengthen rather than hurt American interests in the region. They could not be more mistaken.
Much attention has been focused in recent days, and for understandable reasons, on the emergence of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists as a serious threat in Libya. Indeed Lt. Col. Andrew Wood of the Utah National Guard, who led a security assistance team in Libya, testified yesterday that its “presence grows every day. They are certainly more established than we are.”
Libya is hardly alone, however. There is also growing evidence of al-Qaeda’s reemergence in Iraq. The Associated Press reports that “the insurgent group has more than doubled in numbers from a year ago — from about 1,000 to 2,500 fighters. And it is carrying out an average of 140 attacks each week across Iraq, up from 75 attacks each week earlier this year, according to Pentagon data.” There are said to be as many as ten al-Qaeda in Iraq training sites in the western deserts of Iraq.
We already heard that the Obama administration had intercepts linking one of the suspected leaders of the Benghazi attack to al-Qaeda on day one, but the extent of the intelligence wasn’t clear. Now Reuters adds another piece to the puzzle, reporting that the Obama administration received about a dozen intelligence reports tying the attack to AQ “within hours”:
Within hours of last month’s attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, President Barack Obama’s administration received about a dozen intelligence reports suggesting militants connected to al Qaeda were involved, three government sources said.
Despite these reports, in public statements and private meetings, top U.S. officials spent nearly two weeks highlighting intelligence suggesting that the attacks were spontaneous protests against an anti-Muslim film, while playing down the involvement of organized militant groups.
It was not until last Friday that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s office issued an unusual public statement, which described how the picture that intelligence agencies presented to U.S. policymakers had “evolved” into an acknowledgement that the attacks were “deliberate and organized” and “carried out by extremists.”
A tipping point in the ongoing efforts by the Obama administration to downplay the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya may have been reached this weekend. After weeks of placidly regurgitating the White House spin on the Libya attack, the headlines on the front page of the New York Times showed that even the leading liberal cheerleader for the president understood the game was over: “Shifting Reports on Libya Killings May Cost Obama; An Opening for Romney; Intelligence Aides Say Attack on Compound Was ‘Organized.’”
That sums the situation up nicely, but the Times has it slightly wrong about the “Opening for Romney” it references. A proper understanding of what we have learned in the last 18 days is not that Mitt Romney’s campaign may have been given an opportunity to exploit the president’s shortcomings, but that the poor conduct of the administration in the aftermath of the Libya attack may have been motivated by their cynical political efforts to cover up a disaster of their own making. The refusal to talk about terror comes from a strategy in which the president’s re-election rests in part on promoting the idea that Obama won the war on al-Qaeda the day Osama bin Laden died. It isn’t Romney who has been playing politics on Libya but the president and his handlers.
For over a week, the Obama administration has tried to dodge questions on the Benghazi attack by saying it’s waiting for information to come in from the FBI. But apparently the FBI still hasn’t made it to Benghazi — at least not as of last night. Instead, CNN reports that the bureau just arrived in Tripoli, and hasn’t been to the scene of the attack that happened over two weeks ago:
More than two weeks after four Americans — including the U.S. ambassador to Libya — were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, FBI agents have not yet been granted access to investigate in the eastern Libyan city, and the crime scene has not been secured, sources said.
“They’ve gotten as far as Tripoli now, but they’ve never gotten to Benghazi,” CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend said Wednesday, citing senior law enforcement officials.
Last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that an FBI team had reached Libya earlier in the week.
Josh Rogin reports that a top administration official conceded what had long become obvious during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing yesterday:
The Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was in fact “a terrorist attack” and the U.S. government has indications that members of al Qaeda were directly involved, a top Obama administration official said Wednesday morning.
“I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy,” Matt Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said Wednesday at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, in response to questioning from Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) about the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
White House spokesman Jay Carney just held a press briefing that was equal parts absurd and horrifying. Even as American embassies are mobbed by radicals, and our flags are torched and replaced with Islamist banners, Carney continued to repeat — almost as if he were trying to convince himself — that the riots are purely a reaction to a low-budget anti-Islam Youtube film. Nothing to do with the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Nothing to do with anti-American sentiment. Nothing to do with support for al-Qaeda or Islamic terrorism.
“Let’s be clear: these protests were in reaction to a video that had spread to the region,” said Carney. “We have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack.”
“The unrest we’ve seen around the region has been in reaction to a video that many Muslims find offensive,” added Carney. “It is not a response to 9/11.”
Yesterday, when most of the mainstream media busied themselves pounding Mitt Romney for having the chutzpah to denounce the initial apology for American freedom of speech issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, they were missing a much more important story. As Islamist attacks on the U.S. escalated throughout the Middle East, it became apparent that the Obama administration’s recent bout of back slapping celebration over its foreign and defense policy was completely unjustified. Not only were the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department sleeping while terrorist forces plotted a full-scale assault on our mission in Benghazi, Libya but other al Qaeda operatives were at work throughout the region plotting mischief.
As the New York Times reports today, the assault on the U.S. embassy in Sana, Yemen was apparently fomented by one Abdul Majid al-Zandani, whom they describe as, “a onetime mentor to Osama bin Laden” and someone who, “was named a ‘specially designated global terrorist’ by the United States Treasury Department in 2004.” Would it be considered in bad taste to ask why, if the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy is such a raging success, such a person is still on the loose? Equally interesting is the answer to the question of how it is that in Libya, a country where American influence is supposed to be currently strong, this administration found itself surprised by the appearance of armed foes. Though Democrats spent the last week furiously patting themselves on the back for having such a tough and successful leader at the helm, it appears that not only is the country just as unpopular in the Middle East as it was when George W. Bush was president, but that the security situation there may be rapidly unraveling. Though no one in Washington is allowed to say the phrase “war on terror” anymore, it appears that Islamists have no trouble in continuing their war on America.
On this, the latest anniversary of 9/11, there is an understandable tendency to compare the Al Qaeda attack on American soil with the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. While the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon was actually deadlier than the attack on Pearl Harbor, there is a significant difference between the two events: the latter was the work of a nation state, the former the work of a non-governmental organization. Al Qaeda is not, of course, entirely independent of nation states—it needs shelter somewhere, meaning in some nation state, especially for training and higher-level command and control structures, and it benefits from alliances with certain states, such as Taliban-era Afghanistan or Iran or, possibly, Pakistan. But it is not state-directed and even overthrowing the state that gave its leadership shelter—the Taliban-run Afghanistan—has not put an end to the organization. It has simply migrated to Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, and other spots where there is not a strong government willing and able to keep the terrorists out.
This may be to belabor the obvious, but the difference between Imperial Japan and Al Qaeda is worth contemplating on this anniversary because it helps to explain why there has not been a neat and final resolution to the conflict once known as the Global War on Terror. Quite simply, it is difficult to imagine the leaders of Al Qaeda ever signing instruments of surrender as the leaders of Japan did on the deck of the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. And even if, by some remote chance, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor, did sign a peace treaty, it would be disregarded by many fanatics who claim to fight in Al Qaeda’s name. Al Qaeda is not a rigidly organized, tightly hierarchical structure that can impose discipline on its followers. It is, rather, a loose-knit network over which its leaders exercise only limited control.
Perhaps it’s because we’re in an election season or perhaps it’s that more than ten years have passed since 9/11, but either way the New York Times has dropped its pretense of solemnity when noting the anniversary of the most deadly attack on the American homeland. Though it’s taken a while, the day of reflection and remembrance is now just another tawdry news “peg” on which to hang sordid partisan accusations.
The accusation itself? Oh, nothing new—George W. Bush is to blame for 9/11, naturally. Places like the Nation are labeling today’s Times op-ed by Kurt Eichenwald a “bombshell,” but that’s only so if you’ve been living in a bomb-shelter. Eichenwald’s main revelation is no revelation at all—just a cynically timed cut-and-paste job. He writes that the oft-cited “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” intelligence document given to Bush a month before 9/11 “is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.” Taken together, Eichenwald maintains, “ the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed.” So Bush is even more to blame than you thought he was.
Today is the day when Democrats are touting at their convention all of President Obama’s foreign policy achievements. Iraq will be mentioned frequently but only in the context of “ending the war.” Of the endgame in Iraq, little will be said—and for good reason: By not achieving an accord to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011 (for want of will on his own part, I would argue), President Obama has effectively abandoned this country where the U.S.—with the support of Obama’s own secretary of state and convention speaker John Kerry, among other Democratic heavyweights—made such a heavy commitment over the course of the past decade.
In The Daily Beast, Eli Lake speaks with one of those we left behind —Sheikh Ahamd Abu Risha, brother of the slain sheikh who started the Anbar Awakening that turned Sunnis against Al Qaeda and helped the U.S. to avert a looming defeat. Four years ago candidate Obama visited Iraq and told Abu Risha and other tribal leaders that the U.S. would never leave them in the lurch. Lake writes:
“President Obama said he would not forget all the sacrifices that were made,” he said. “Now we look back at that meeting and we think it was political propaganda. What he said, we don’t see it happening”….
He said U.S. military leaders assured him he would receive regular visits from senior figures and diplomats to discuss the relationship that began in Anbar back in 2006 and 2007. “There is no contact right now,” he said. “They don’t visit at all. Ever since the United States withdrew, we haven’t gotten anyone to visit.”