Gringo Lost

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Posts Tagged ‘al Qaeda

Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom

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Just so everyone knows, that headline doesn’t belong to me. It’s from the cover of [reportedly] al Qaeda’s new English-language magazine “Inspire,” which the group is using to recruit and propagandize Westerners. Bear in mind, this rag doesn’t have to reach a wide readership to be effective. Instead, it only has to find the mind of a lone self-starter such as Fort Hood attacker Nidal Hasan or attempted Time Square bomber Faizal Shahzad.

The magazine is available online for downloading but I didn’t want to post a link from my website for two reasons. 1) I’d rather not propagate this kind of message. And 2) speculation is the document has become a cyber-battleground between jihadists and cyber-attackers using the platform to infect terrorist networks with trojan viruses. But for those interested, supposedly the magazine includes an interview with Abu Basir (formerly Nasir al-Wuhayshi), a leader of AQ in the Arabian Peninsula. And a message from Ayman al-Zawahiri. Stimulating reading, I’m sure (sarcasm).

Written by gringolost

July 3, 2010 at 1:43 pm

America’s disappearing strategy

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Strategy is like magic. Both the magician and strategist use art and science to wow their audience by seemingly pulling off the implausible. It’s not the rabbit emerging from the hat that is magic, it’s the process making it happen that is magic. The same goes for strategy. So when President Obama makes “Disrupting, Dismantling, and Defeating Al-Qa’ida and its Violent Extremist Affiliates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Around the World” a key component of this year’s National Security Strategy (NSS), he is missing the point. That is a goal, not a strategy.

Of course, it is intriguing that the U.S. would even feign interest in publishing its national security strategy for the entire world to see but that’s not the point. The point is no matter which document you read, whether the Quadrennial Defense Review, this year’s NSS, the NSPD (for G.W. Bush) or PPD (for Obama), there is hardly any coherent plan in any of these so-called “grand strategy” documents. All these documents get strategy wrong. They fail to recognize how strategy is more than just stating a goal; it is establishing preferences, prioritizing interests, and employing the available means in a coherent plan to achieve those interests.

Going back to the previous example, the NSS aims to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa’ida … through a comprehensive strategy that denies them safe haven, strengthens front-line partners, secures our homeland, pursues justice through durable legal approaches, and counters a bankrupt agenda of extremism and murder with an agenda of hope and opportunity.” These statements are hyperbole more than strategy. The U.S. should strengthen partners and secure the homeland anyway, regardless of any al Qa’ida threat.

A better strategy against al Qa’ida would recognize that the organization has morphed into an ideological program that can be adopted by self-starters who want to carry out homegrown terrorism. America’s strategy has to distinguish between what it wants to do and what it can do against these types of organizations. Fighting a global amorphous threat requires infinite reach and infinite resources. Without these, the U.S. must prioritize and seek defenses where it knows it can protect. Extending itself in distant theaters only exposes America to greater security risk.

In addition to violent extremism, there are two other areas where the NSS falls woefully short: Iran and North Korea. Admittedly, these challenges are hard. But if the U.S. wants Iran to “live up to its international responsibilities” it must recognize that Iran has different perceptions of these responsibilities. As well, the U.S. must recognize that Iran has sufficient leverage over American policy in the region that it can avoid certain amounts of coercion. The U.S. should make a sober assessment of itself to see exactly what it can coerce Iran to do. Trying to alter Iran’s behavior beyond America’s capability to do so is really just wasting time. The same goes for North Korea and the developing problems on that peninsula. The U.S. is severely handicapped in what it can make North Korea do. The U.S. must reassess its position in that region as well.

Lastly, the national security strategy should include only those things which are absolutely imperative. Needlessly adding peripheral interests complicates planning. Thus, while interests such as countering nuclear proliferation, combating terrorism, and securing cyberspace are all a must. It is less true that growing America’s space capabilities, opening foreign markets to trade, or cutting carbon emissions are essential to national security. To be sure, these are all valuable goals but they do nothing but add complexity to the already difficult task. Likening it to magic, the objective of strategy is to draw in the audience with one hand while the other performs the important functions which make the trick work. By overloading America’s national security strategy it can ruin the trick.

Taxing Marjeh, yet another way to “win” Afghanistan

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Joshua Foust from Registran.net writes in the NYTimes and World Politics Review that the best way to push out militants and establish effective governance in Marjeh is to establish a working tax and property rights system run by the Afghan government. Foust believes the Taliban’s system of taxation should be mimicked by ISAF. Foust writes that this approach can be more effective in winning the population over than just simply establishing rule of law through government in a box:

This presents an incredible opportunity for the newly installed government to establish a sustainable set of governance institutions. Rather than following the established ISAF model of focusing on law-and-order, which has at best a mixed record, Haji Zahir and his ISAF sponsors should focus first and foremost on establishing a stable tax regime, including checks and balances necessary to minimize the predatory behavior that ruined the previous government’s reputation.

I only have one comment to this proposal (which isn’t wrong in its own right but still will not work): Taxing Marjeh might sound like a great idea but it is just another great idea in many that can only postpone the inevitable. Whether it’s establishing rule of law, a tax system, alternative crops, building roads, etc etc… the only way out of this is to compromise on what’s not essential (governing Afghanistan) and focus on what is essential (separating the Taliban from al Qaeda).

This comment was posted to Foust’s Registran blog here.

Written by gringolost

March 3, 2010 at 9:20 am

Why people join terrorist groups

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Last week NYTimes Magazine ran the story The Jihadist Next Door which chronicled the radicalization and self-recruitment of Omar Hammami, a member of the terrorist group al Shabaab in Somalia.

Hammami, who grew up in Alabama a product of a middle-class family in a two-religion household, began his radicalization while in high school. According to the story, during his sophomore year in 2000 Hammami defended Osama bin Laden after a classmate suggested bin Laden be shot dead for his involvement with the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

“What if I said that about Billy Graham?” said Hammami to his classmate, a Christian.

“Billy Graham is a peaceable preacher,” said the classmate “Osama bin Laden is a terrorist.”

In reply, Hammami said “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

From here, the article takes the story of Hammami and reveals some insight into how individuals go from unlikely beginnings to become international terrorists.

In my opinion (*not a psychologist), Hammami had some behavioral traits that are fairly common amongst Islamic radicals who resort to terrorism. Specifically, recognition and popularity amongst Islamic peers seemed to drive Hammami’s participation in violent jihad. Reportedly, Hammami’s feelings towards the conflict in Somalia and the suppression of the Islamic armed group al Shabab hardened his resolve to fight. Paraphrasing from the article:

By 2006, Hammami had become convinced that “jihad had become an obligation.”  And further, he wanted to help his “captive brothers and sisters” while helping himself “obtain the highest rank available” as a Muslim. In August 2006 Hammami wrote “where is the desire to do something amazing? Where is the urge to get up and change yourself — not to mention the world and other issues further off?”

Eventually, Hammami would travel to Somalia and join up with al Shabaab, which brings me to my next point: along with notoriety, I feel individuals become radicalized because they embrace conflict and have a proclivity towards merciless adventurism. In essence, they are jihad adrenaline junkies. I think this trait is shared amongst other jihadists, like the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Thus along with the ascetic of traditional Islamic life, these radicals also enjoy the popularity and adventure that violent jihad can give them.

Written by gringolost

February 3, 2010 at 7:11 pm

A Strategy To Die For?

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75 U.S. military personnel died in Afghanistan last month during Operation Enduring Freedom.  More than 900 have lost their lives since that war began over 8 years ago.  Of the dead, almost 350 occurred in the last 6 months.  A potential decision by President Obama to increase troop levels will result in yet more unnecessary American, NATO, and Afghan civilian deaths.

Increasing America’s troop presence in Afghanistan will be the most irresponsible decision Obama has made as president. It is time to re-focus our mission there and re-direct attention to where it belongs, the homeland.  Already top military leaders – to include General Petraeus and General McChrystal – have said that al Qaeda cannot stage attacks against the U.S. from Afghanistan.  Maintaining this level of security only requires an operational capacity to do counter-terrorism in Afghanistan.  Supplying a counter-terrorism mission will require far fewer resources in terms of both troops and dollars spent.

For relatively cheap, the U.S. can conduct drone attacks, special operations, and train Afghanistan’s own security forces.  Each of these has been done since the war’s beginning.  In 2002 and 2003, these missions were done with less than 20,000 troops in theater – at a cost of less than $20 billion a year.  Roughly Operation Enduring Freedom costs American taxpayers $1 billion a year to sustain each 1,000th American military service member in Afghanistan.  Obama’s plan to add an additional troops will likely push the costs of Operation Enduring Freedom over $100 billion a year.

How long can the U.S. spend so much?  Most estimates are that “victory” is still years ahead.  Yet, it has already been 8 years of “nation-building” and, at best, we can say the Karzai-led government is a weak and corrupt ally.  To paraphrase the old proverb: with allies like these, who needs enemies? Obama must re-think his definitions of success, unless the U.S. is to get bogged down in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.

Al Qaeda has not re-established Afghanistan as a stronghold since October 2001. That was some sort of victory; maybe it’s the only sort of “victory” needed. Operation Enduring Freedom needs to be concentrated, not expanded.

Instead of trying to build a government in Afghanistan, Obama should focus on what’s a priority to every American. Namely, America.

The Department of Homeland Security’s 2010 budget tops in at just around $50 billion. That’s half of what we’re likely to spend in Afghanistan.  Tax revenues for Afghanistan’s own government barely surpass $700 million a year; still Washington chooses to devote American debt to a cause that has no clear end-point. With a record budget deficit of nearly $1.6 trillion, Afghanistan does not deserve the resources.

The argument that a troop increase in Afghanistan will help us meet some sort of strategic victory is tenuous when placed against what we are defending ourselves from.  A large troop presence in Afghanistan destabilizes Pakistan by pushing militants into the tribal areas and providing ample propaganda for Muslim separatists.  Aside from the Taliban and al Qaeda, a destabilized Pakistan is the last thing anyone in the world wants.

Meanwhile, trying to garrison Afghanistan when we cannot do the same to Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, or Yemen will be fruitless against a terrorist enemy not bound by territory. An honest assessment would show that protecting the homeland should start at home, and not 8,000 miles away. Knowing this, it is time to re-direct many of our finite resources back to the U.S.

The Obama administration should strengthen efforts to protect against cyber-warfare and espionage. Resources should be devoted to border enforcement and towards forming a better immigration process that increases the U.S. government’s ability to keep track of who exactly is inside the country. The Coast Guard should be enlarged.  And lastly, all efforts to increase security at airports, seaports, and other points of entry must be taken.  If we cannot afford any of these measures, then partial blame must go to an obtuse Afghan war strategy with no end in sight.

U.S. aid package to Pakistan meets with disapproval (in Pakistan)

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Last week, the Kerry-Lugar Pakistan aid bill was passed by congress. The bill will grant $1.5 billion a year to the civilian-side of Pakistan’s government over the next 5 years.  Conditional to the aid package, Pakistan must meet certification requirements that would focus on Pakistan’s counter-terrorism/insurgency goals, while also increasing America’s embassy presence.

Conditions embedded in the bill have angered Pakistan’s military, but can the U.S. actually measure if the conditions are being met?

Here are the certification requirements (conditions) as per Sec. 203, sub-section (c) of the bill:

The certification required by this subsection is a certification by the Secretary of State, under the direction of the President, to the appropriate congressional committees that—(1) the Government of Pakistan is continuing to cooperate with the United States in efforts to dismantle supplier networks relating to the acquisition of nuclear weapons-related materials, such as providing relevant information from or direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks; (2) the Government of Pakistan during the preceding fiscal year has demonstrated a sustained commitment to and is making significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups, consistent with the purposes of assistance described in section 201, including taking into account the extent to which the Government of Pakistan has made progress on matters such as— (A) ceasing support, including by any elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency, to extremist and terrorist groups, particularly to any group that has conducted attacks against United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan, or against the territory or people of neighboring countries;

(B) preventing al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e- Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, from operating in the territory of Pakistan, including carrying out cross-border attacks into neighboring countries, closing terrorist camps in the FATA, dismantling terrorist bases of operations in other parts of the country, including Quetta and Muridke, and taking action when provided with intelligence about high-level terrorist targets; and

(C) strengthening counterterrorism and anti-money laundering laws; and (3) the security forces of Pakistan are not materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan.

(Emphasis added, with a focus on the last sentence)

Pakistan’s military has organized its objections to the bill, seeing within it a concerted effort by the U.S. Congress to influence Pakistan’s internal affairs.  Of special note to Pakistan’s military is the last conditionality of the bill (stated above), which reads “the security forces of Pakistan are not materially or substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan.”  But this is not a concrete and measurable requirement.

Putting aside the military’s complaints, it remains to be seen how the U.S. could actually measure its own certification requirements.  Besides this, there really is nothing in the wording of this bill that hasn’t been accepted either tacitly or outright by Pakistan already.

To think Pakistan would refuse $7.5 billion in aid over principle is possible but, in reality, why would they refuse the aid package if the U.S. cannot effectively measure Pakistan’s level of compliance.

This post was re-posted at Fletcher Reflections.

U.S. to Pakistan: “Taliban and al Qaeda are in Quetta.”

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Pakistan to U.S.: “America, you so crazy!”

Reporting from Islamabad:

Pakistan has dismissed the U.S. accusation about the presence of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan in southwest Pakistan, and termed it “baseless,” Pakistani intelligence agencies and officials said.

Denial impedes recovery.

Written by gringolost

October 6, 2009 at 12:31 pm

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