STREET LITERATURE ON USAMA BIN LADEN PART II: The Soviet-Afghan Years
Aboul-Enein, Youssef, Infantry
Usama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda movement represent major challenges to American military planners, and as such, any material written about him and his organization should be analyzed and studied with great care. The May-June 2006 edition of Infantry featured an analysis of street literature highlighting the strategic evolution of Bin Laden and his organization (See "Street Literature on Usama Bin Laden: A Review of Cheaper Arab Biographies found in Arab Alleyways," pages 22-24). The response from readers desiring more analysis of pro-Bin Laden street literature has been overwhelming. Requests have come in from the Pentagon to war colleges and even colleagues from Naval Station Rota in Spain. As a result, part two will focus on a 1991 booklet that mythologizes his Soviet-Afghan war years (1980-1989).
In major Middle East capital cities, one can find a host of street literature about Bin Laden, but between the wild claims of his abilities to fight Soviet forces and other Afghan jihadist groups are kernels of knowledge that offer a realistic assessment of the Al-Qaeda leader, his health, his psychology, his world view, and the evolution of his military tactical prowess. Such street literature is one of the least known means by which Islamist militants influence public opinion, by offering those wanting to go beyond satellite television a means of reading in detail the mythology, the manipulation of Islamic history and texts as well as what a young impoverished man on the street can do to join the jihadist cause. U.S. war colleges should assign translated excerpts of these street biographies of Bin Laden. These books can range from less than 100 pages to more than 400 pages and have permeated Arab streets since the early '90s; war colleges and Special Forces schools can extract excerpts of this material as a basis for a robust discussion and assessment of one of America's major adversaries.
These books can be obtained from street vendors in prices ranging from 50 cents to $3. This review will look at an earlier piece of Bin Laden street literature that details his Soviet-Afghan War years. Usama Bin Laden Yarwi Maarek Massadah Al-Ansar Al-Arab bee Afghanistan (Usama Bin Laden Narrates the Battles of the Arabs of Massadah Al-Ansar in Afghanistan) was published in 1991, by Manar Al-Jadid Press in Cairo. The author, Essam Daraaz, was among those Arab jihadists who left Egypt to report on Usama Bin Laden's jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. His talent lay not in combat but in propaganda, journalism, and chronicling the Arab-Afghan movement in Afghanistan. He is perhaps one of the earliest individuals to convince Usama Bin Laden of the need to publicize his movement to globalize his network and reach among the Arab street. The 93-pages detail the early phases of Usama Bin Laden's vision to bring Arabs to the fight against the Soviets, and the network he developed that would evolve into Al-Qaeda today. This was a time when it was acceptable for Arab jihadists to be associated with Bin Laden and when Arab regimes all too gladly got rid of violent radicals by exporting them to the Soviet-Afghan war. It was hoped they would never come back alive. Like many street publications, the dates are unclear and the tactics discussed are not crisp; there are also no maps that would aid the reader in following the engagements of Bin Laden's group. The dates covered are Bin Laden's phase where he jetted between Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan from 1980 to 1984, and the years he settled in Afghanistan more permanently during the Soviet-Afghan War from 1985 to 1989.
Bin Laden's Gradual Involvement in the Soviet-Afghan War
According to the book, Bin Laden arrived in the region 17 days (January 1980) into the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but never made it to Afghanistan. His first foray into the jihadist movement was to arrive in Lahore, Pakistan, connect with Jamiat Al-Islamiyah and through them provide money to the most radical of the Mujahideen factions led by Gulbudin Hekmetyar and Burhannudin Rabbani. …