By Kamran Bokhari
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia historically has played a major role in the development of jihadism. Key pillars of the Saudi state — oil, Wahhabism (a conservative form of Sunni Islam) and the strength of tribal norms — were instrumental in facilitating the rise of Islamist extremism and terrorism around the world prior to 9/11. These same pillars allowed Riyadh to contain al Qaeda within Saudi Arabia in the wake of the insurgency that kicked off in the kingdom in 2003-2004. After this success on the home front, Riyadh is still using these pillars to play an international role in counterjihadist efforts — a role welcomed by the United States.
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
For the past several years, Stratfor has published an annual forecast for al Qaeda and the jihadist movement. Since the January 2006 forecast, it has focused heavily on the devolution of jihadism from a phenomenon focused primarily on al Qaeda the group to one based primarily on al Qaeda the movement. Last year, Stratfor argued that al Qaeda was struggling to remain relevant and that al Qaeda prime had been marginalized in the physical battlefield. This marginalization of al Qaeda prime had caused that group to forfeit its position at the vanguard of the physical jihad, though it remained deeply involved in the leadership of the ideological battle.
By Dr Robert Crowcroft
By far the biggest fiction in international affairs is the alleged centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian problem to achieving 'world peace' (which itself surely rates as the second biggest fraud). There is a widespread assumption in the West that resolving the disputes between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people who live on its border carries great importance. Indeed the peace process is usually seen as a key component – if not the key component – of winning the battle against Islamism by discrediting its narrative. The argument goes that the sight of Muslims being oppressed by non-Muslims (not oppressed per se, you will note) deeply antagonises the Islamic world; Muslims feel the need to take up arms, not only against Israel but the rest of us too. British government documentation appears to buy in to this. 'The pursuit of a final settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict remains a top priority for the Foreign Secretary and the Government', David Miliband stated when at the FCO. And of course we are all familiar with the vision for 'two states, living side by side in peace and security'. Thus, peace between Israel and the Palestinians will allegedly give a huge boost to stability across the Middle East; Muslims around the world will be less sympathetic to 'extremism'; and we will all be on the road to peace.
By George Friedman
It is August 2010, which is the month when the last U.S. combat troops are scheduled to leave Iraq. It is therefore time to take stock of the situation in Iraq, which has changed places with Afghanistan as the forgotten war. This is all the more important since 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq, and while they may not be considered combat troops, a great deal of combat power remains embedded with them. So we are far from the end of the war in Iraq. The question is whether the departure of the last combat units is a significant milestone and, if it is, what it signifies.
The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 with three goals: The first was the destruction of the Iraqi army, the second was the destruction of the Baathist regime and the third was the replacement of that regime with a stable, pro-American government in Baghdad. The first two goals were achieved within weeks. Seven years later, however, Iraq still does not yet have a stable government, let alone a pro-American government. The lack of that government is what puts the current strategy in jeopardy.
By Scott Stewart
The drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq has served to shift attention toward Afghanistan, where the United States has been increasing its troop strength in hopes of forming conditions conducive to a political settlement. This is similar to the way it used the 2007 surge in Iraq to help reach a negotiated settlement with the Sunni insurgents that eventually set the stage for withdrawal there. As we've discussed elsewhere, the Taliban at this point do not feel the pressure required for them to capitulate or negotiate and therefore continue to follow their strategy of surviving and waiting for the coalition forces to depart so that they can again make a move to assume control over Afghanistan.
Indeed, with the United States having set a deadline of July 2011 to begin the drawdown of combat forces in Afghanistan — and with many of its NATO allies withdrawing sooner — the Taliban can sense that the end is near. As they wait expectantly for the departure of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Afghanistan, a look at the history of militancy in Afghanistan provides a bit of a preview of what could follow the U.S. withdrawal.
By George Friedman
It has now been nine years since al Qaeda attacked the United States. It has been nine years in which the primary focus of the United States has been on the Islamic world. In addition to a massive investment in homeland security, the United States has engaged in two multi-year, multi-divisional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, inserted forces in other countries in smaller operations and conducted a global covert campaign against al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups.
In order to understand the last nine years you must understand the first 24 hours of the war — and recall your own feelings in those 24 hours. First, the attack was a shock, its audaciousness frightening. Second, we did not know what was coming next. The attack had destroyed the right to complacent assumptions. Were there other cells standing by in the United States? Did they have capabilities even more substantial than what they showed on Sept. 11? Could they be detected and stopped? Any American not frightened on Sept. 12 was not in touch with reality. Many who are now claiming that the United States overreacted are forgetting their own sense of panic. We are all calm and collected nine years after.
By Chris Newton
It has been a long, strenuous, and difficult summer in the Ministry of Defence. As part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), it and the entire defence community has been grappling with two fundamental questions about the future. What will the future strategic environment look like? And what does this mean for our Armed Forces? There are those commentators who can, with a remarkable degree of confidence, say that they can predict what the future character of conflict will look like. Future conflict will be similar to the wars we have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, and 9/11 was a significant date that heralded a new kind of warfare.
But is this certainty in predicting the future justified when history always teaches us to expect the unexpected? History does not follow a linear, pre-determined path; it is about men and women making choices between alternative futures and scenarios. A gunshot in 1914, for example, completely destroyed an entire European and world order. So we should at the very least be open to alternative scenarios and future pathways. Moreover, there is another significant date has passed us by that could signal the change the world is about to face, and we could risk harming our future security and prosperity if we choose to ignore its significance.
By Scott Stewart
Sept. 11, 2010, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was a day of solemn ceremony, remembrance and reflection. It was also a time to consider the U.S. reaction to the attack nine years ago, including the national effort to destroy al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in order to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. Of course, part of the U.S. reaction to 9/11 was the decision to invade Afghanistan, and the 9/11 anniversary also provided a time to consider how the United States is now trying to end its Afghanistan campaign so that it can concentrate on more pressing matters elsewhere.
The run-up to the anniversary also saw what could have been an attempted terrorist attack in another Western country. On Sept. 10 in Denmark, a potential bombing was averted by the apparent accidental detonation of an improvised explosive device in a bathroom at a Copenhagen hotel. The Danish authorities have not released many details of the incident, but it appears that the suspect may have been intending to target the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which has been targeted in the past because it published cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed in 2005. Groups such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have tried hard to ensure that the anger over the cartoon issue does not die down, and it apparently has not. It is important to note that even if the perpetrator had not botched it, the plot — at least as we understand it so far — appears to have involved a simple attack plan and would not have resulted in a spectacular act of terrorism.
Yet in spite of the failed attack in Denmark and all the 9/11 retrospection, perhaps the most interesting thing about the 9/11 anniversary in 2010, at least from an analytical perspective, was what did not happen. For the first time, the al Qaeda core leadership did not issue a flurry of slick, media-savvy statements to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. And the single statement they did release was not nearly as polished or pointed as past anniversary messages. This has caused us to pause, reflect and wonder if the al Qaeda leadership is losing its place at the ideological forefront of the jihadist cause.
When it comes to anniversaries, al Qaeda has not always seized upon them as opportunities for attacks, but it has long seen them as tempting propaganda opportunities. This first began in September 2002, when the group released numerous messages in a multitude of forms to coincide with the first anniversary of 9/11. These included a one-hour video titled "The Nineteen Martyrs," referring to the 9/11 attackers; a book released by al-Ansar media telling the story of the 9/11 attacks; an audio tape from al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri; a statement from al Qaeda's "Political Bureau"; and a statement from al Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Then, on Oct. 7, 2002, Al Qaeda released a message from Osama bin Laden to the American people to commemorate the first anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
Globalisation tells us that the world is 'shrinking' and interdependence is increasing. I will deal with that claim in greater detail below, but for now the point must be made that all of this is based upon an assumption that there is, in the first place, a 'world' or a 'global' system that can be studied politically. In fact, that is a very big claim indeed. World politics is regional politics. The globe is divided into regions (North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, South Asia and East Asia) and sub-regions, and states pay minimal attention to things that happen elsewhere. Only the US is genuinely 'global' because of its military and economic presence. But how many educated Europeans know the name of the Japanese prime minister, or pay attention to Columbian politics? Who would invest Japan with greater significance than France, despite Japan being a much more important country? Very few. And who can really blame them? The problems of those areas remain remote.
David Miliband, when Foreign Secretary, announced that 'power is moving to a global level'. In truth, the idea that there even is a 'global level' is a fallacy. International institutions lack real power, and only have it when the states they consist of can agree to do something; more often than not they are paralysed by those states. The rulings of the United Nations Security Council are mostly gesture, lacking in bite. Anyway, the most effective international bodies – like NATO, the EU or the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation – are regional, not global. Rhetoric aside, regional politics are what matters. Since the Cold War, the major states have continued to negotiate with one another directly and solve problems between themselves, with the most powerful having the most influence. The collapse of the bi-polar framework saw more states become increasingly relevant. What that means, far from offering any support to globalisation, is that the traditional bases of international relations have been reinforced, not weakened.
By George Friedman
Bob Woodward has released another book, this one on the debate over Afghanistan strategy in the Obama administration. As all his books do, the book has riveted Washington. It reveals that intense debate occurred over what course to take, that the president sought alternative strategies and that compromises were reached. But while knowing the details of these things is interesting, what would have been shocking is if they hadn't taken place.
It is interesting to reflect on the institutional inevitability of these disagreements. The military is involved in a war. It is institutionally and emotionally committed to victory in the theater of combat. It will demand all available resources for executing the war under way. For a soldier who has bled in that war, questioning the importance of the war is obscene. A war must be fought relentlessly and with all available means.
But while the military's top generals and senior civilian leadership are responsible for providing the president with sound, clearheaded advice on all military matters including the highest levels of grand strategy, they are ultimately responsible for the pursuit of military objectives to which the commander-in-chief directs them. Generals must think about how to win the war they are fighting. Presidents must think about whether the war is worth fighting. The president is responsible for America's global posture. He must consider what an unlimited commitment to a particular conflict might mean in other regions of the world where forces would be unavailable.
A president must take a more dispassionate view than his generals. He must calculate not only whether victory is possible but also the value of the victory relative to the cost. Given the nature of the war in Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama and Gen. David Petraeus — first the U.S. Central Command chief and now the top commander in Afghanistan — had to view it differently. This is unavoidable. This is natural. And only one of the two is ultimately in charge.
Dr Robert Crowcroft
The facts of the latest terrorist plot against the West are still hazy, but what we do know is this: simultaneous attacks have been planned against several European cities, including London and probably sites in France and Germany. These attacks were to be modelled on the effective 'commando raids' in Mumbai in 2008, in which groups of terrorists wreaked havoc with automatic weapons and killed hundreds of people. India has still not recovered. And the plot was led by senior Al-Qaeda figures in Waziristan. The intelligence services think that the plot was in the 'final stages' before being launched, that it would have been a 'spectacular', that British Muslims were once again involved, and that the purpose was an old-fashioned suicidal rampage. The plot seems to have been disrupted by American drone strikes in Pakistan, killing the brains of the plot.
There are two points here. One is the absolute centrality of the United States to any sensible security strategy for Britain. I will try not to even get into what this latest American intervention to protect our citizens says about the perspectives of those like Labour leader Ed Miliband (who wants a more 'independent' foreign policy) and his ally Sadiq Khan (who thinks the US alliance is 'poison' for Britain). All I will say is that I look forward to the day when the likes of Miliband and Khan sign up to defend the country with their lives if the Americans decided a whining ally isn't worth having. As a university teacher, when confronted by anti-American students I routinely stop seminars and pose the question whether they, personally, would be willing to kill in order to defend the realm. The bewildered look on their faces when I do so tells me that they have never contemplated an activity that throughout human history as been the norm for most males. But the fact that people in this country can lead such a sheltered existence is due only to Britain's alliance with the United States and our possession of nuclear weapons. Surely it isn't beyond us as a society not to mess it all up.
The second point is that given the inability of Islamic terrorists to match, or better, the 9/11 atrocities over the past nine years, from their perspective this kind of attack would appear to be the most sensible kind of approach to take. All they need is a few guns and a rampage can be launched. With Mumbai-esque operations there is less of a need to do the kind of things that increase the risk of detection – like buying chemicals and cooking explosives in suburban kitchens. The blunt (and frightening) truth is that if I was an Islamic terrorist, settling on a 'commando raid' rampage would now look a far more profitable means of spreading fear and chaos than attempting to stage so-called 'grand' terror attacks.
Will home-grown terrorists head in this direction? If they do, the prospects for social peace in this country will be poor. It is significant that this plot emanated from Pakistan – where Islamic extremists are at least familiar with the concept of 'strategy'. We should be grateful that, so far, domestic extremists have proven even more inept at waging an insurgency against Britain than was the IRA – and they were shockingly bad, to say the least. Instead those British citizens who turn to terrorism have been more inclined to gesture and feel-good exhibitionism about killing the infidels than with actually getting on and killing then. The 7/7 bombings were the only significant Islamist attack on these shores since 9/11, due to not only the diligence of law-enforcement agencies but also the incompetence of domestic terrorists. If more British Muslims come under the operational sway of those people abroad who actually understand how to run an insurgency, then terror attacks could become a more frequent occurrence.
Take the 2005 attack on the Tube and Tavistock Square. Brutal? Yes. Strategically effective? Absolutely not. The purpose of an insurgency is to win the support of a particular part of the population (in this case, the wider British Muslim community). To do that, they need to be radicalised (here, made not only sympathetic to, but willing to actively assist, the Islamist causes). And to be radicalised, the majority of the population must be persuaded to take repressive measures against them (in other words, turn the non-Muslims against the Muslim minority). From this perspective, 7/7 was a dismal failure. The plotters were glorified exhibitionists. Contrast it with the Chechens who conducted the horrendous Beslan school siege in 2005. Now they had an eye for strategy. And compare it with the Mumbai atrocities as well. The reaction of the British public to rampaging, random attacks against the vulnerable or major national hubs doesn't bear thinking about. At the very least, racial tensions in this country would increase markedly.
The terrorists, therefore, have important decisions to make. If they become more cunning and with a greater eye for strategy, then our stable society will find itself in danger. And so we have important decisions to make too: about whether we will stop rubbishing the relationship with the United States, and what we are going to do to prepare for attacks like Beslan or Mumbai. Because it is almost certain that, sooner or later, they will happen.
Robert Crowcroft is a specialist on British politics and defence.
By Chris Newton
In order to prevail over Al Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, democratic countries need to win the support of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan, the moderate Islamic community, and its own electorates. This is the crucial battleground in the 'War on Terror'. However, many academics and commentators have concluded that the Islamists currently have the advantage in this area. Just as the situation in Iraq in 2006 demanded a review into US military strategy, the situation today requires just as important a review into the west's approach to strategic communication. This article examines the flaws in the current approach and provides suggestions as to how the west can establish a better 'strategic narrative'. It predominantly takes a UK perspective.
Losing the war of words?
Scholars and analysts have not rated the west's efforts so far on this front. Indeed, the various opinions polls suggest that British public support for the war in Afghanistan is waning. Why? As David Betz suggested in an article on propaganda in 2008, there Islamist strategic narrative is more coherent than the west's. The Islamists tell a story of victimhood which its audience can relate to. It combines elements of truth, such as the Abu Ghraib incident, with fiction into an emotive narrative of western persecution and aggression. It disseminates its message across the world, using the internet and the media effectively. And as a result, regardless of how preposterous their claims are, the coherence of their argument makes it compelling to its target audience.
The western narrative, as David Betz showed, lacks coherence and is rather confused. The different objectives for the Afghan mission, ranging from getting rid of Al Qaeda to the elimination of poppy crops has confused people as to why we are really there. And given that the main military part of the 'War on Terror' is taking place in a distant land, the audience finds it difficult to relate Afghanistan to security in the UK and the west. What makes it even harder for a western narrative to gain currency is that so many of the public are cynical towards politicians and are consequently susceptible to anti-democratic, anti-capitalist, and anti-war narratives. This is because of the disintegration of unity and a lack of self confidence within western countries, especially the UK. Moreover, Islamist ideology is only one narrative that the west has to tackle in addition to the established narratives of Marxism and emerging narratives put forward by authoritarian rulers.
But is the west really doomed to fail here? David Betz contrasts the west's performance in the war on terror with western societies' marketing and public relations activities in business, fashion, and popular culture. Why can't we translate this success to the area where we need it most – war? In domestic politics, politicians hire public relations professionals to develop its own narratives about the state of the country and how they will change things. Political party offices hire people to monitor the words and actions of their opposition and they develop material that highlights inconsistencies and hypocritical actions. But for some reason, governments and news organisation are extremely poor at communicating to the public the inconsistencies of the Al Qaeda narrative.
By George Friedman
The U.S. government issued a warning Oct. 3 advising Americans traveling to Europe to be "vigilant." U.S. intelligence apparently has acquired information indicating that al Qaeda is planning to carry out attacks in European cities similar to those carried out in Mumbai, India, in November 2008. In Mumbai, attackers armed with firearms, grenades and small, timed explosive devices targeted hotels frequented by Western tourists and other buildings in an attack that took three days to put down.
European security forces are far better trained and prepared than their Indian counterparts, and such an attack would be unlikely to last for hours, much less days, in a European country. Still, armed assaults conducted by suicide operatives could be expected to cause many casualties and certainly create a dramatic disruption to economic and social life.
The first question to ask about the Oct. 3 warning, which lacked specific and actionable intelligence, is how someone can be vigilant against such an attack. There are some specific steps that people can and should take to practice good situational awareness as well as some common-sense travel-security precautions. But if you find yourself sleeping in a hotel room as gunmen attack the building, rush to your floor and start entering rooms, a government warning simply to be vigilant would have very little meaning.
The world is awash in intelligence about terrorism. Most of it is meaningless speculation, a conversation intercepted between two Arabs about how they'd love to blow up London Bridge. The problem, of course, is how to distinguish between idle chatter and actual attack planning. There is no science involved in this, but there are obvious guidelines. Are the people known to be associated with radical Islamists? Do they have the intent and capability to conduct such an attack? Were any specific details mentioned in the conversation that can be vetted? Is there other intelligence to support the plot discussed in the conversation?