How Big A Threat is al Qaeda?
Posted by Michael Cohen
I am without a doubt the worst vacation blogger ever - but here I am at the San Diego airport reading this fascinating article from the Guardian about al Qaeda and I just HAD to write something.
Here a couple of its key conclusions:
- al-Qaida is under heavy pressure in its strongholds in Pakistan's remote tribal areas and is finding it difficult to attract recruits or carry out spectacular operations in western countries
- "Core" al-Qaida is now reduced to a senior leadership of six to eight men, including Bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to most informed estimates. Several other Egyptians, a Libyan and a Mauritanian occupy the other top positions. In all, there are perhaps 200 operatives who count.
- Lethal strikes by CIA drones – including two this week alone – have combined with the monitoring and disruption of electronic communications, suspicion and low morale to take their toll on al-Qaida's Pakistani "core"
- European Muslim volunteers faced a chaotic reception, a low level of training, poor conditions and eventual disillusionment after arriving in Waziristan last year.
- The most significant recent development is evidence that al-Qaida's alliance with the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan is fraying
- The failure to carry out spectacular mass attacks in the west since the 2005 London bombings has weakened the group's "brand appeal" and power to recruit.
This is really fascinating, particularly the stuff about the number of core al Qaeda operatives. Do we really have 60,000 troops in Afghanistan to fight a core group of 200 al Qaeda operatives? I suppose it's true, as one person cited in the article mentioned that you only have to get lucky once, but a) didn't AQ already get lucky once and b) does anyone really think it is a wise allocation of huge amounts of American resources and 65,000 troops to combat the terrorist aspirations of 200 core operatives of al Qaeda?
But this thing about this article that I find most interesting is the notion that al Qaeda is having a difficult time bringing in new recruits. I think this goes to show the intelligence of the American people in electing an African-American Muslim who was born in Kenya to hold the nation's highest office. U.S.A! U.S.A!
But jokes aside, allow me to ask a question - if al Qaeda is having a hard time finding new recruits is a long-term US military intervention in Afghanistan going to help or hinder that process? I tend to think it plays right into AQ's hands, just as nearly everyone agrees the Iraq war did great things for the organization's recruitment efforts. If the goal of the US mission in Afghanistan is to disrupt, defeat and dismantle al Qaeda, wouldn't a long-term military presence in the country actually run counter to that goal.
And while I'm not completely sure what to make of these reports of fraying in the Taliban/al Qaeda alliance I find it harder and harder to believe that if the Taliban are able to take over Afghanistan again they are just going to give a desiccated, unpopular and exhausted AQ carte blanche to operate in the country - and this invite a robust US military response. I get that religious orthodoxy is religious orthodoxy, but even zealots aren't that stupid.