Al-Qaeda's Waiting Game

By Scheuer, Michael | The American Conservative, May 21, 2007 | Go to article overview

Al-Qaeda's Waiting Game

Scheuer, Michael, The American Conservative

Bush isn't winning in his battle against our real enemy.

AMERICANS TEND TO FORGET that while we were surprised by the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda was not. The attacks' exact date was known to bin Laden and two or three others only six days before Sept. 11,2001, but they had long known the attacks were coming. Thus al-Qaeda was able to move important operatives, archives, materiel, and other assets out of Afghanistan in advance.

The al-Qaeda fighters who stayed to fight the U.S.-led coalition came from the organization's insurgent arm-which is al-Qaeda's largest component -and, according to the U.S. military, they turned in an excellent combat performance before withdrawing to Pakistan and elsewhere. U.S.-led forces, therefore, were never fighting remnants but a professional insurgent force that had no intention of standing and dying in the face of overwhelming American power. Al-Qaeda commanders applied to the letter Mao's guerrilla-war lessons and their own experience fighting the Red Army.

So al-Qaeda got out of Afghanistan in good shape and with little need to regroup, if regrouping is defined, as it has been by U.S. officials, as a thoroughly defeated military force trying to pull its fractured pieces back together. Al-Qaeda simply moved from one safe haven to another-from Afghanistan to Pakistan's Pashtun-dominated border provinces. From there, with the Taliban, it began to plot the reconquest of Afghanistan. Sayf al-Adl, then al-Qaeda's military commander, has written that bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and company concluded that it would take about seven years to re-establish Taliban rule. Al-Qaeda made its plans on that timetable and sent many of its insurgent fighters home to rest until they were needed. Far from regrouping, al-Qaeda decided to disperse and wait. Al-AdI adds that many of these fighters were in tears when they learned they would not immediatery fight the U.S. military. Presumably their tears have now turned to grins.

Beyond failing to defeat or even permanently impair al-Qaeda Central-the forces commanded by bin Laden and alZawahiri-we now confront a substantial number of al-Qaeda franchises, 29 of whom have publicly declared their presence in such places as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Egypt

Terrorism experts typically describe these franchises as replacing the alQaeda threat that the military claims to have mopped up. This is incorrect. AlQaeda Central remains in business and able to attack the United States. The franchises form a second tier of threats in their local areas. In other words, where there was once one threat, there are now many. The proliferation of these franchises also underscores bin Laden's startling ability to continue inspiring and instigating Islamiste to jihad despite his infrequent media appearances.

Thus the United States and its allies are not experiencing a resurgence of al-Qaeda and Taliban action, with the suggestion of spontaneous, unplanned attacks that designation carries. Rather, we are witnessing the early to early-middle phases of a long-planned campaign to reclaim Afghanistan for Islam. America's opponents are not swinging wildly at us but are progressing along a path they have delineated with patience, common sense, and professionalism.

Capitalizing on the swell of antiAmericanism that the Iraq War provoked across the Muslim world, alQaeda has plenty of manpower and has imported the tactics of roadside bombing and suicide attacks perfected by its forces in Iraq. And because of the 200506 run-ups in oil prices, al-Qaeda's Arab benefactors are flush with cash. What this means for the United States is that al-Qaeda will be at the Taliban's side when, over the next several years, U.S.led forces are evicted from Afghanistan and Mullah Omar once again unfurls the prophet's banner over that country.

And this may be the least of it. American defeat on the ground in Afghanistan could well be accompanied by another massive al-Qaeda attack inside the United States.

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