Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 14, 2010

Al-Qaeda: A victory is unnecessary and would never be achieved

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 14, 2010

The Sunday Telegraph includes an interview with Sir David Richards, new chief of the British Defence Staff, that is worth Yanks (and others) reading.  The story is headlined: Why we cannot defeat al-Qaeda

Please don’t stop with the headline.  Click on the link and read the Telegraph’s report.

An excerpt:

The general subscribes to the notion that such an ideologically-driven adversary cannot be defeated in the traditional sense, and to attempt to do so could be a mistake.

“In conventional war, defeat and victory is very clear cut and is symbolised by troops marching into another nation’s capital.

First of all you have to ask: “do we need to defeat it (Islamist militancy)?” in the sense of a clear cut victory, and I would argue that it is unnecessary and would never be achieved.”

It is a bold statement and he quickly adds: “But can we contain it to the point that our lives and our children’s lives are led securely? I think we can.”

Education, prosperity, understanding and democracy, he argues passionately, are the weapons that would ultimately turn people away from terrorism, although he admitted that to believe that such an undertaking could be achieved “within the time frame of the Second World War would be naive in the extreme”.

He also warns that while the threat from al-Qaeda is currently based in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, it is unlikely to remain so in the future.

Sub-Sarharan Africa is also potentially at risk from militant Jihadists and the challenge now, Sir David believes, is for those countries to be identified and helped.

Back in January in a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies Sir David also made the following point,

Having learnt the lessons taught by AQ, the Taliban and many other non-state actors, and thought how to exploit them perhaps on an ‘industrial’ scale, why would even a major belligerent state choose to achieve our downfall though high risk, high cost traditional means when they can plausibly achieve their aims, much more cheaply and semi-anonymously, using proxies, guerrillas, economic subterfuge and cyber warfare?

I perceive US defense officials and military leadership largely agree with Sir David, but when they say so their comments are either ignored or sensationalized.  Such a schizophrenic response does not easily  produce a thoughtful and efficacious national strategy. 

Last Monday, November 8, a new 23 minute video surfaced featuring Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  According to the Associated Press the message in Arabic includes Awlaki’s admonition to, “Don’t consult with anybody in killing the Americans,” he said. “Fighting the devil doesn’t require consultation or prayers seeking divine guidance. They are the party of the devils.”

Al-Awlaki is a citizen of the United States, born in New Mexico.  He is currently thought to be somewhere in Yemen.  More information on the Awlaki video is available from the SITE Intelligence Group.

In his lectures and other pronouncements al-Awlaki increasingly departs from Qu’ranic guidance and Islamic tradition.  To discourage seeking divine guidance is far outside what most Muslims will recognize as their faith, especially in this season of Hajj. To discourage prayer when the taking of human life is involved is specifically suspect. 

Much more in the Islamic mainstream is the Fatwa on Suicide Bombings and Terrorism by Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri.  In this scholarly finding the Pakistani Muslim leader declares “terrorism as forbidden, and an act of rebellion and brutality, and indeed of infidelity.” Dr. Qadri was in Washington DC last week (I was not).  Some of his remarks can be accessed via webcast archives at Minhaj, his religious foundation.

It is interesting that if you search for “al-Awlaki” using the Google news function at least 999 news stories are spawned for the video launched on November 8.  Inputting “Qadri” into the same function generates no links related to the Georgetown University speech given on the same day.  What might this mean for our ability to perceive something close to reality?

Al-Qaeda remains dangerous.  But whether the counter-terrorist goal is victory or containment, in either case our most effective partners are faithful Muslims who recognize the self-aggrandizing heresy of the terrorists.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

November 14, 2010 @ 8:10 am

Too important an issue to be left to the Generals! Threats and hazards to US. So will religion or economics be the biggest threat to our democracy [Republic]throughout this century? Or perhaps corruption and ignorance? Most systems of governance have difficulty with internal reform. Most militaries are reformed only by defeat. Most non-state actors with grievances are defeated by having those grievances addressed.
With the US dropping towards 30 in quality of life for nation-states what does this say about US leadership? Ignorance in the Congress, the Executive Branch, the military, the economic leadership, and the general public of foreign affairs, foreign cultures (our own also), and lack of language ability or efforts to understand others has led to de facto and destructive isolationism as the foreign policy of the US. Harping about the multilateral organizations which we largely fund demonstrates repeated the US lack of skill in our foreign service and other political leadership. We continue to ignore and destroy our “soft” power even while our “hard” power is thrown away on unweening ignorance and hubris in on our leaderships desire to appear “manly” and have “cojones”!

Is there no sublety in our leadership that can be found to help understand our current conundrums. I find it fascinating that a new elected Republican Senator from Florida, largely elected because of the so-called TEA PARTY, has already repudiated that TEA PARTY as guiding his votes and interests. This is a man to watch. “Cuba Libre”!

Comment by S. Francis Thorn

November 15, 2010 @ 12:13 am

Mr. Palin,

Thank you for discussing this topic.

I also read the article regarding Sir David Richards. Although I had a slightly different interpretation.

Where the General sees parallels with WWII, so do I. It is with appeasement. England is weak…and so is much of Europe.

Of course I may be exaggerating. After all, stalwart and muscular efforts in education, prosperity, understanding and democracy have defeated Fascism in the past…

The enemy should pay attention – as the article indicates – the General is very passionate about these weapons!

Also, might your analysis regarding our military leaders’ unwillingness to openly agree with General Richards comments be too harsh? For example, both the outgoing and the incoming Commandants of the Marine Corps have publically railed against repealing DADT; even though their civilian Commander, DOD Secretary Gates, supports it. Not to mention General Shinseki’s infamous troop level disagreement with Secretary Rumsfeld… or General McChrystal…

Evidence suggests that if our Military leaders don’t like something they will say so. Could it be possible that they just flat out reject General Richards’ assertion?

In regards to Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri laudable Fatwa, who do you think the intended audience is? Muslims…non-Muslims…both? If these teachings are considered mainstream Islam, should it require a clarifying Fatwa? Additionally, why is this document published out of London? Why not select a publisher in Riyadh?

In regards to Islamic teachings, it seems the folks in Oklahoma didn’t get the memo…

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 15, 2010 @ 6:42 am

Mr. Thorn:

Thanks for the chance to clarify: Within the military, intelligence, and foreign policy communities — in the US and elsewhere — there is a robust and healthy debate regarding appropriate CT strategy. I perceive this debate is either ignored or sensationlized by the mainstream media in the United States, which does not contribute to a meaningful strategy emerging.

The Qadri fatwa was originally published in Urdu and English. It has since been published in Arabic. I perceive the principal target audience was young Pakistani’s in particular and young Muslim’s in general. (It is not a coincidence that terrorist attacks on Sufi institutions in Pakistan have increased, Qadri is Sufi.) Dr. Qadri’s particular “school” of Islam is especially strong in Pakistan and among the Urdu-speaking diaspora.

I am not sure I understand your question regarding the need for and role of fatwas. Each morning I both read and write Christian meditations. The disciplined renewal of religious understanding is common to most faith traditions.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 15, 2010 @ 7:18 am


As we see in the National Security Strategy, Counter-Insurgency Strategy, and more, there is a broad understanding of the need for “soft power.” But — as you suggest — for the last generation we have invested much more in the intellectual capital and tools needed to exercise hard power. I also wonder if our ability to effectively focus either our hard or soft power is related to the informal, decentralized, asymmetric character of today’s threats. Moscow helped us focus by working so hard to focus power in Moscow. In comparison, we were decentralized and spontaneously reorganizing. The United States is even stronger than when we won the Cold War. But our adversaries now hold the comparative advantage in terms of flexibility.

Comment by AQ: The Perception of the West

November 15, 2010 @ 8:42 am

Over the weekend, discussion focused on AQ as well as AQ’s supposed inroads and affect on Turkish and Iranian relationship.

There seems to be some misunderstanding as to Turkish and Iranian (“Brutes of Tehran”) leadership which needs clarity for Turkey has been supported a great deal by the US as a key participant in Middle East stability and all must understand that both the Turks and “Brutes of Tehran” are adversaries and competitors, yet the reality is that misguided perceptions affect relationships and AQ and the “fundamentalists” utilize every opportunity to take advantage to promote itself and disharmony.

The fact is that “fundamentalists” are gaining some ground in Turkey, enough for us to be concerned and to discuss as well as AQ and the “fundamentalists” in Egypt where shortly a government transition may very well lend itself to AQ and fundamentalists taking charge in the next coming months and cause much disarray in the Middle East, at least here at the coffee shop among those (soldiers) now in their 90’s who kicked the doors in to the concentration camps and who were special ops and inside German lines, express dismay at expanding government here and disregard for the well being of amn everywhere by bureaucrats, all very much an expressed concern.

What seems to provoke much discomfort here on Main Street USA is the fact that while those for example at State Dept decision-maker desks make serious determinations as to US policy abroad with regard to AQ and others, for the most part many of these – youngsters – were born after the Beatles made their infamous visitation, after the Kennedy assasination and Viet Nam….have had little challenge to mold them into mena nd women who understand the priorities of Life and often the tough road to assure survival of the fittest….

….and yes, acknowledgement of their commitment to study of global history, culture, and politics and these good intentioned young professionals – junior diplomats at best – have few wrinkles to show….While we refer to them as wet-behind-the-ears, yet respect each of them for their discipline to study and ambition, they are out of touch and it is important that we invite older, more experienced people to the State Department decision-making in setting US posture, policies and a “change” to transforming our perceived weakness into others understanding just how inherently strong we are as a nation, a people.

A people, our beloved Republic founded on Judeo-Christian principles, not Muslim or other, forefathers who cautioned as to government becoming too involved and for certainty, the necessity for we the people to protect our Constitution from Barry’s Goldman Sachs boys and absurd stimulus packages and a spiralling budget deficit, always blaming the other guy and never man enough (woman enough in the case of smug-smiled Pelosi who we must admit has survived among the good ‘ol boys in their Congressional playground) to admit how out of touch most are with the people.

A people, yes, charitable to a fault, yet understanding that we as a nation must depict ourselves with strength and leadership among a host of nations, not the third world nation we are quickly and intentionally being transformed into – We are a nation of people who must address its own dysfunctions within – insistence of immigration law enforcement, visa coordination, addressing real concerns for Mexico and how we can work together and support and encourage Mexico which is integral to our own success and stability here in this hemisphere!

The reality which affects all of us is that America is faltering both economically and for certain, politically.

Executive leadership is led by a junior Senator/community activist who has obvious little affiliation to the core of who and what America is and must do to be taken seriously. Shame on both sies of the aisle for you have been “entrusted” by voter and have taken oath to protect and you have failed for your knowledge to bring valued solution is evident and a result of your inexperience and self-agenda as priority.

AQ, Hamas, Hezbollah will all be dealt with and it will come soon and it will be dealt with by the fast deployment Army of Germany and a downsized ten (10) EU nation composition all relying on Germany. Never underestimate AQ, yet AQ should never underestimate Germany.

The US has lost its footing globally and unless we elect a President who can be taken seriously, we will not affect the quickly turning pages of history which will lead to Egypt falling shorty into the hands of “fundamentalists” and AQ will be even further inspired.

This ongoing olive branch to the Muslim community and Muslin appetite of Barry Obama again as we saw in Indonesia and the ongoing question of the display and authentication of his birth certificate, his administration comprised on Goldman Sachs folks and much more lend to disharmony and lack of confidence in American executive leadership by Americans. We need not appease the Muslim community and more than my own Hellenic (Greek) community or anyone else. It is time for the Muslim community, 1.5 billion and growing to stand up to AQ and the “fundamentalists” and take back their Koran and its meaningful teachings of Love and respect for all and taking back their neighborhoods and making it clear that it is not the infidels who are so much the concern, but they who use the precious word of the Koran to harm and even commit cold-blooded murder of civilians, even other Muslims!

Sir David is for the most part on the mark in many of his assertions and it is time to tspe out of this world riddled with so much corruption and certainly misundertandings and misperceptions of others and mend fences from within and to outsiders and join hands and utilize the gifts God has given us in utilizing the technology within our grasp to make great strides in enhancing mankind’s abilities and thwart those who rape not only in the Congo, but in so many ways, allowing these self-serving thugs to use religion and spiritual teachings to misguide and manipulate, to abuse those who mostly young – like our State Dept folks and further wrongful agenda not at all in the best interests of mankind.

By failing to respect our differences and failing to be attentive to another, stubborn in our ways, intolerant of others, a great number of local, state, national and international leaders, impressed with themselves and serving their own agenda, almost everywhere losing sight of what public service is really about and certainly not about themselves, the disharmony and peril we are all besieged by internally and externally will inevitably bring us to global strife and much despair. It is unfortunate, however we – mankind – will again engage in War and with 21 century weapons, the cost will be far more than ever before – placing mankind on the brink of destruction and only God’s hand to stop extinction!

God Bless America!

Christopher Tingus
PO Box 1612
Harwich, MA 02645 USA

Comment by Dan O'Connor

November 15, 2010 @ 10:29 am

In terms of a purely military victory, defeating Al Qaeda is not likely. Defeating an ideology with a purely military or hard power solution is not likely. Continuing in this light; our soft power capabilities have eroded, whether it is due to our inability to project effective capability, our growing economic duress, or our waning influence.

What would victory look like? Are we able to define it? Is AQ fighting an effective proxy war against us using the Taliban? Is their greatest strength their use of time and geography or is it our inability to adapt our greatest weakness? If both are correct, what a huge gap of reality to overcome.

In a purely demographic debate; As of mid 2010, if we accept the Pew Forum’s estimate 1.57 billion as the most reliable estimate than just over 20% of the worlds population is Muslim. If you take conventional wisdom and use the 1% are radicalized or whatever term one would like to use, that yield would be 15,700,000 radicalized Muslims bent on destroying the West, specifically the United States.

That volume would make it the 62th largest country in the world. Of course, it is not a state sponsored entity and therefore, immune to large degree, to much of the hard/soft power we execute as a Nation. So unable to define winning and unable to shape our response causes problems.

Also, one can see a Chamberlainesque attempt of “appeasement” in the UK of the growing Islamic push back and support for Al Qaeda and its franchises… I suspect somewhere in the middle of the reporting there is a few kernels of truth, but by and large, then news media in the UK is similar to the U.S. ; TRYING TO SHAPE A POINT OF VIEW IN LIEU OF REPORTING. Perhaps an overstsatment on my part, but it does play into the equation.

And, depending on ones persuasive appetites, an argument can be made for the “soft jihad” and using our civil rights as an instrument of empowerment against ourselves, but this all flavors the argument.

Our ability to bring truly unprecedented violence and force to a particular place is without peer. That is also our Achilles heel if you will. In one aspect, our commitment to total war is thwarted by its ineffectiveness in this type of battle. We are not a Nation that has the stamina for a prolonged death by a “thousand cut fight”. So having a military capability without peer has gained us less influence than we may have hoped for.

How close we got to UBL in Tora Bora also extends the debate. In hindsight it becomes apparent that lack of meaningful intelligence, naïve belief on our part, poorly chosen allies, and dubious military tactics fumbled a golden opportunity to capture bin Laden as well as many senior Al Qaeda commanders. Some of this is a reality of the region, but it all is part of the discussion.
Read Jawbreaker: The attack on bin Laden and al-Qaeda and Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for Usama bin Laden.

Our war planners must learn from the lessons of Tora Bora: know which local leaders to trust, know when to work with allied forces on the ground, and know when to go it alone. How likely they learn remains to be seen.

In Kill Bin Laden, a former Delta Force commander, has written that bin Laden escaped into Pakistan on or around December 16, 2001. Fury gives three reasons for why he believes bin Laden was able to escape: (1) the US mistakenly thought that Pakistan was effectively guarding the border area, (2) NATO allies refused to allow the use of air-dropped GATOR mines, which would have helped seal bin Laden and his forces inside the Tora Bora area, and (3) over-reliance on native Afghan military forces as the main force deployed against bin Laden and his fighters. Fury states that the Afghan forces would usually leave the battlefield in the evenings to break their Ramadan fasts, thereby allowing the al-Qaeda forces a chance to regroup, reposition, or escape.

Delta Force and CIA Paramilitary Officers traveled to Tora Bora after the CIA pinpointed bin Laden’s location in that area. We were perhaps within several hundreds of meters of bin Laden’s suspected position, but withdrew because of uncertainty over the number of al-Qaeda fighters guarding bin Laden and a lack of support from allied Afghan troops.

December, 2001.

What a long, strange trip it has been.

Fast forward to today; Marines from Camp Pendleton whose deaths in Afghanistan were recently announced were killed by an Afghan soldier.
“Initial reporting indicates that while conducting routine security post operations, shots were allegedly fired at the Marines by an Afghan National Army soldier, who then fled the scene,” said a statement released by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has asserted that the Afghan soldier has defected to their ranks and is being protected. So what defines progrress?

This is the sticky, asymetric reality we face in these type of engagements; nebulous, open ended, COIN operations that cost lots of money and attrit our folks two or three at a time.

Alea iacta est…So deeper across the Rubicon we drive… what is victory and what is defeat?
Thanks for the post Phil. I am sure it will garner more responses.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 15, 2010 @ 10:45 am

Phil! Thanks for the comment. Hard power definitely can be focused–targeting?
But I also think soft power could be more focused–World class events–Indonesian Tsuanami and/or Haiti? In Haiti Norway has now given a check to Cuba to help with medical support. US has complicated NGO apparatus largely subject to governmental corruption in getting supplies and distribution. And of course my theme–Haiti is a domestic disaster and all world wide seeing US not really show up or showing up to ill effect–manipulating governance in Haiti, and not for pro-democracy reasons. Largest recent soft power demonstration–Katrina?

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