Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Whirlwind

Information gathered in connection with the recent arrest of al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, while helpful to officials working to combat the terrorist organization, also provides evidence of a trend warned about by foreign policy experts, counterterrorism experts, and this site on more than one occasion (relevant portions of those prior posts will be re-incorporated below - if I'm boring you by repetition, I apologize, but it is only because this is such an important point).

The New York Times and Reuters are reporting that recruitment efforts by al-Qaeda over the past several months has proceeded at a brisk pace. The Times, citing two senior intelligence officials, reported that:
A new generation of al Qaeda operatives appears to be filling a vacuum created when leaders were killed or captured.

Using computer records, e-mail addresses and documents seized after the arrest of Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan last month in Pakistan, intelligence analysts say they are finding that Al Qaeda's upper ranks are being filled by lower-ranking members and more recent recruits.
These revelations also raise significant questions about claims made by Bush administration officials regarding the alleged successes in neutralizing al-Qaeda's senior leadership. As reported by Reuters:

The development, the newspaper said, presents a more complex picture of al Qaeda's status than President Bush presents on the campaign trail, where has claimed that much of al Qaeda's leadership has been killed or captured.

Among other things, it suggests that the organization has retained some of its centralized command and communications structure, using computer experts to relay encrypted messages.
These discoveries confirm what appeared highly predictable, even intuitive, to many. Just as the 22 year CIA veteran and counter-terrorism expert identified only by the moniker Anonymous declared in his book Imperial Hubris, "Bin Laden saw the invasion of Iraq as a Christmas gift he never thought he'd get," a boon to recruitment beyond his wildest dreams.

But really, how could these events play out in any other way? Compounding our inability to make progress in any major policy area of concern (including the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and the overall economic and political inequality in the Muslim world), we invaded Iraq (a second Muslim country after Afghanistan), failed to provide adequate justification for this invasion (no WMDs, no ties to al-Qaeda, slim chances for democracy), without a comprehensive plan for reconstruction (looting, crime, insurgency, infiltration of foreign elements), and then publicly, and in a despicable manner, mistreated large numbers of Iraqi civilians (Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, collateral civilian casualties).

Considering all of those factors, how could al-Qaeda not have experienced a surge in applications? And the evidence of just such a trend has been observed by a wide variety of bi-partisan and non-partisan sources, from Zogby polling data and Richard Clarke, to other top intelligence officials and the
International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).

The IISS, a non-partisan think tank located in Great Britain, in its annual survey of world affairs, issued a glaring condemnation of the effect our military efforts have had on al-Qaeda. According to the IISS, the mismanagement of the war in Iraq has actually hurt the efforts of the war against radical Muslim terrorists.

The IISS echoed the sentiments that the war in Iraq has provided Osama Bin Laden and other radicals with a recruitment tool that well exceeded their means and ability to concoct on their own. Furthermore, the enormous costs of the Iraq campaign (already in excess of $200 billion), the alienation of crucial allies, the steady stream of images of dead and mutilated civilians, images of tortured, abused and murdered detainees, and the use of the language of crusades by Bush and other senior military officials "has arguably focused the energies and resources of al Qaeda and its followers while diluting those of the global counterterrorism coalition that appeared so formidable" after the Afghan intervention, the IISS survey said.

And there is evidence of the ramifications of Iraq being felt as far away as the India/Pakistan border. As reported on CNN, an incident last month in the embattled region of Kashmir is the first sign of the unfortunate status of Iraq. Just as Lebanon was in the 70's, Afghanistan in the 80's and Chechnya in the 90's, Iraq has become the new training ground for international jihadists. Scores of young radicals have poured in to the lawless, stateless vacuum that has existed since the toppling of Saddam in order to establish their jihadist bona fides and to learn the skills of jihad, guerilla warfare and terrorist planning and execution. A country once devoid of radical Islamists, is now awash with their ranks, and apparently they are mobile and their tactics are cross pollinating.

The incident was reported as follows: Five Indian policemen died when a motorcade of VIPs came under attack by suspected Islamic militants in the Indian part of Kashmir.

According to the Inspector-General of Police P.L. Gupta, "The car carrying the policemen was totally destroyed by an explosion, apparently caused by an improvised explosive device." [emphasis added]

Sound familiar?

This somewhat
obvious turn of events has also been observed in polling data from Zogby and other groups that shows a burgeoning support for al-Qaeda in the Muslim World at the same time as the opinion of America has been plummeting. "What we're seeing now is a disturbing sympathy with al Qaeda coupled with resentment toward the United States, and we ought to be extremely troubled by that," said Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland professor who commissioned one of the surveys.

To deny these realities for political gains is more than just political rhetoric, it is a national security liability of enormous proportions. It is high time the Bush administration owned up to the fact that the invasion of Iraq as a component in the war against the growth, popularity and capabilities of radical Islamist terrorists has been an abject failure, provoking debilitatingly counterproductive outcomes. Not that I'm holding my breath for this admission, but I remain hopeful that the American people realize just how incompetent the Bush administration has been in its role as national security steward, despite the persistent sterotypes of Democrats and Republicans in this arena.

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