Al Qaeda 3.0
If international terrorism has a global headquarters, it is probably to be found in the barren mountains of Waziristan lining the ungovernable north-west frontier of Pakistan.This is the beginning of a very long article which ends with a conclusion that the war is a stalemate. I think that in terms of militarily significant losses al Qaeda is actually way behind. It has lost most of its original core leadership and many of its new leaders. While there is still a tendency of many in the media to exaggerate al Qaeda's accomplishments in Iraq, it is very much on the defensive and on the run. It has lost all of its sanctuary basis From Fallujah, to Tal Afar to Ramadi. Right now its forces have retreated to Diyala province to make forays into Baghdad. Its biggest lass has been of its rat lines from Syria into Iraq through Anbar province.
Here, British officials believe al-Qa'eda's core leadership, headed by Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has regrouped and found refuge.
For several years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, they were engaged in little else than avoiding capture and fleeing the American-led offensive in Afghanistan.
Today, by contrast, they are probably secure enough to give strategic direction to al-Qa'eda cells across the world. Once, al-Qa'eda was best thought of as a "franchise" operation: a brand name adopted by numerous terrorist groups operating independently of the key leaders around bin Laden, who British counter-terrorism officials call "core al-Qa'eda".
But this assessment is probably outdated. "Core al-Qa'eda" is believed to have reasserted itself and decided on several key objectives. First, bin Laden and his allies are actively seeking to establish networks in the Maghreb countries of North Africa.
Last September, an Algerian terrorist organisation styling itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, known by its French acronym GSPC, decided to merge with al-Qa'eda. Its fighters have waged a brutal Islamist insurgency in Algeria for the last 15 years.
Significantly, this move was revealed not by the GSPC but in a taped message from Zawahiri. "Osama bin Laden has told me to announce to Muslims that the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat has joined al-Qa'eda," said Zawahiri.
He added that France, Algeria's former colonial power, would be a key target. "This should be a source of chagrin, frustration and sadness for the apostates [in Algeria's regime] and the treacherous sons of France," said Zawahiri, promising a blow against the "French crusaders".
The GSPC then said: "We pledge allegiance to Sheikh Osama bin Laden. Our soldiers are at his call so that he may strike who and where he likes."
British officials say that "core al-Qa'eda" regarded this move as a coup. They believe the leadership's second key objective is to expand into Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.
The sudden emergence of Fatah al-Islam, the extremist group now fighting Lebanon's army in a Palestinian refugee camp outside the city of Tripoli, could be the result. Fatah al-Islam's leader, Shaker al-Abssi, has proclaimed his support for bin Laden.
But his group has also been linked to Syria's regime which al-Qa'eda despises as an "apostate" dictatorship. It is too early to say whether "core al-Qa'eda's" strategy of expansion into the Levant is bearing fruit - but British officials believe that an effort is being made. Another Sunni extremist group, styling itself Asbat al-Ansar, is active in south Lebanon and has more definite links with "core al-Qa'eda".
With the loss of these rat lines it is now using its Damascus hub to distribute religious bigots to battle in Lebanon and Jordan. The media has been misreading this necessity as a new strategy to send "trained" fighters outside Iraq. But the al Qaeda in Iraq websites tell a different story of a shortage of candidates for martyrdom operations, which reflects the loss of the rat lines.
Al Qaeda in Iraq is also being openly rejected by the Iraqis and the Anbar salvation movement is spreading to other provinces.
The dispersal into North Africa is part of al Qaeda's grand strategy of attacking everywhere in an attempt to avoid a concentration of force by the US and its allies. However, it does not have enough people in any of those locations to sustain its efforts enough to justify a reconcentration of force. In the meantime al Qaeda is creating more new enemies among the Muslim population all the time.
The problem in the tribal areas of Pakistan is one that does need to be addressed. Since Pakistan does not have the resources or will to go into the area, then it is probably to we and our allies will eventually have to go in there. This will create a lot of new enemies from the tribal areas where people band together against outsiders. This suggest that the force should be so large and strong that it will over whelm the opposition or small enough to evade detection while finding bin Laden. Zawahiri appears to be less obvious these days other than cowering in front of a video camera while strutting and posturing.
The isolation of leadership has made command and control difficult and US signal intelligence has made its leaders reluctant to communicate. This will continue to make it difficult for al Qaeda's leaders to control operations. As the recent take down of a large operation in Saudi Arabia has shown these new leaders are not ready for prime time against alert opposition.