As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Al Qaeda Slump

It's going to be a real blow to neocon efforts to frighten their way to victory, once they recognize that they may have to find a new enemy.

Osama bin Laden's 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, according to government and independent experts monitoring the organisation.

Speaking to the Guardian in advance of tomorrow's eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, western counter-terrorism officials and specialists in the Muslim world said the organisation faced a crisis that was severely affecting its ability to find, inspire and train willing fighters.

Its activity is increasingly dispersed to "affiliates" or "franchises" in Yemen and North Africa, but the links of local or regional jihadi groups to the centre are tenuous; they enjoy little popular support and successes have been limited.

This has a host of implications on our foreign policy moving forward:

• The article credits CIA drone strikes in part, although I do think they increase the amount of extremist activity in general. But there have always been extremists; Al Qaeda provided a durable network. Once which is foundering. And if the demand for extremism dries up with the lack of a durable network, then ultimately the entire project will topple upon itself.

• Of greater benefit is monitoring and law enforcement techniques, which have been proven effective in disrupting "core Al Qaeda," which is down to 6 or 8 people and maybe another couple hundred on the margins. To the extent that these techniques work, they are not labor-intensive, involve global cooperation and do not have a role for the US military to any strong extent. You do not put 100,000 troops in the field to deny 8 men safe havens. Much of the intelligence, in fact, is coming from relatives and friends, suggesting that giant military apparatuses are not required to deal with a movement that has become broadly unpopular.

• The Pakistan campaign is really helping disrupt Al Qaeda, as the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban have turned on the unit, probably because it's giving them so much trouble.

This all adds up to yet another reason why we have no need continuing escalation in Afghanistan. The local Taliban hate Al Qaeda and would not be likely to offer them safe havens should they topple the central government, which is unlikely outside the areas where they have ethnic solidarity. In Pakistan they're simply on the run. There's a better chance of Al Qaeda consolidating in a place like Somalia than Afghanistan. They don't exist there right now, and no group fighting for control wants them in place. So why are we still fighting there?

Nancy Pelosi said today that there's no support in the country for a further escalation. If people truly understood the lack of a threat from Afghanistan, how our presence has inflamed the insurgency, and how we can through a variety of containment, law enforcement and intelligence techniques maintain national security without a military footprint, that support would drop even further from the perilous point it's at right now.

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