Since the brutal attack in Boston a few weeks ago, the word terrorism, without being preceded by the word "cyber," unfortunately returned to our lexicon. For those who have spent the better part of the past decade obsessed by the al Qaeda terrorism threat, there was much in Boston that looked very familiar.
Two men who have spent an even longer time watching the evolution of the al Qaeda threat, Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of the London-based newspaper, Al-Quds al-Arabi, and Phil Mudd, a former CIA analyst, Deputy Director of the agency's Counterterrorist Center, and Deputy Director of the National Security Branch at the FBI, have both written important and well-argued books that have a direct relevance to the al Qaeda inspired attack in Boston, the ongoing evolution of the al Qaeda threat and the U.S. intelligence community's current and future capacity to understand the ever-changing nature of that threat.
Abdel Bari Atwan's book, After Bin Laden - Al Qaeda the Next Generation, as its title connotes, seeks to explain the characteristics of "Al Qaeda and Associated Movements," or AQAM as he likes to call them, in the wake of bin Laden's death.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Atwan makes a compelling case that while the death of Osama bin Laden and the decimation of al Qaeda Core's top leadership has hurt the central organization that was based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the movement and ideology, with its worldwide presence via regional associated movements, is as much of a menace to the West as ever and undiminished in its goal of a global caliphate.
Mr. Atwan spends considerable time discussing the poorly named "Arab Spring," the successive revolutions which occurred across the Arab world and the relationship that these events have with indigenous al Qaeda-associated movements that have their own deep roots in some of the very states that saw their governments topple, sectarian conflicts break into the open, and civil wars erupt.
While many of us in the West hoped that the revolutions in the Arab states would herald better governance and the opportunity for homegrown secularists with their own domestic legitimacy to rise, Mr. Atwan saw a different future - one where Islamist parties would dominate the ballot box and armed Islamists or AQAM would have a role to play as well.
Mr. Atwan takes the reader on an impressive tour of the Islamic world, with chapters and sections on almost every country and region from Arabia to Uzbekistan. While some of the background history that he provides on each country or region is old news to regular readers of the New York Times international section, they do provide the context in each locale for Mr. Atwan to make his most provocative argument - al Qaeda-associated movements are poised for a comeback when either the Islamists or secularists fail in their efforts of good governance, regardless of whether it is in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Nigeria, North Africa, Sinai, or Central Asia. While the situation in each country is distinct, in general, regional al Qaeda-type violence certainly seems unabated and potentially is on the upswing in countries like Iraq, Nigeria, Mali and Syria.
Mr. Atwan is at his best when explaining the tribal dynamics in such places as Yemen, where different alliances among the tribes and their long standing dissatisfaction with any central government make them a natural ally of al Qaeda-associated movements, who also seek to challenge the central government, are armed, and espouse an austere form of Islam that is not foreign to the locals. Mr. Atwan draws similar astute insights about local dynamics when considering the prospects for growth for al Qaeda in the states of North Africa or the Islamic Maghreb.
Unlike many who follow jihadist groups, Mr. Atwan did not neglect the unstable Russian Caucasus region, including Chechnya and Dagestan -places now etched in the American consciousness. While some may not have understood the centrality of the Caucasus in the al Qaeda narrative, Mr. Atwan captures not only its importance, but also its worldwide links to jihadists in Pakistan, the Middle East, and even Europe.
With such a broad array of al Qaeda-associated threats gathering across the globe, and a sporadic, hard to characterize, homegrown threat now having proven its capability to kill, one is likely to worry how the United States will confront this multi-faceted threat matrix.
Fortunately, we have Philip Mudd, who ate, slept, and dreamt this threat for the better part of this past decade from within various parts the U.S. counterterrorism bureaucracy, to provide a unique perspective on how the United States is organized to confront this threat. What gives Mr. Mudd's book, Takedown - Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda, its arc is his career trajectory within a counterterrorism bureaucracy that was constantly evolving to catch up to and ultimately try to stay ahead of a rapidly evolving al Qaeda threat.
For an outsider, Mr. Mudd provides unique insights as to what it was like on a day-to-day basis working in the CIA Counterterrorism Center and FBI National Security Branch and how those entities functioned, faults and all. Mudd's descriptions of his encounters with senior policymakers and agency heads like Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and FBI Director Robert Mueller could easily have been found in a typical Bob Woodward book about inside Washington. However, Mr. Mudd is a gentleman and takes the high road in his recollections. The book is less about "takedowns" of particular terrorists and much more a story of Mr. Mudd's experiences inside the U.S. national security apparatus, embedded in explanations of the functioning of the U.S. counterterrorism community's threat bureaucracy.
Mr. Mudd's vantage point from inside the different organizations at particular points in time allows him to explain how the al Qaeda threat looked to the U.S. government at various points during the last decade. This perspective is quite important and in many ways sets up the findings of Mr. Atwan's book about al Qaeda post-bin Laden.
Mr. Mudd served as a National Security Council staffer when the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred, after which he returned to CIA where he found himself at the rapidly growing Counterterrorism Center. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community was concerned primarily - and rightly - with al Qaeda Core in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how to understand the hierarchy and network that supported it. So, the arrests, capture, and subsequent interviews of senior al Qaeda leaders such as Abu Zubayda and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed provided the intelligence community with information that could help potentially thwart plots or provide insights on other plotters and was, as Mr. Mudd describes it, "gold" for intelligence analysts.
As progress was being made against al Qaeda Core in the Af/Pak region, the United States mobilized for the Iraq War. Mr. Mudd describes how, suddenly, the al Qaeda-linked insurgency in Iraq that rose up in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion became an important focus and required an expansion of resources at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center. Moreover, the phenomenon was not confined to Iraq after 2003 - but rather, an al Qaeda threat was spreading through South East Asia, North Africa, Turkey and Europe, as evidenced by attacks in these areas.
Although Mr. Mudd does not provide the detailed historical context or local dynamics that Mr. Atwan focuses on to explain this geographic proliferation of the al Qaeda threat, he does focus on one element that is a key common factor among all the al Qaeda associated groups regardless of where they are - ideology. This ideology is not only anti-Western, but also requires the overthrow of Middle Eastern regimes, and thus "attacks are meant to spark a revolution, not an end in themselves."
Furthermore, Mr. Mudd explains that it was during this time period (2003-2006) that the U.S counterterrorism community felt an acute sense of "surprise and unknowing" given the geographic sprawl that characterized al Qaeda attacks during this time. As time wore on, though, the intelligence community began to dedicate analysts not solely to al Qaeda Core but rather to these geographically disperse regions that now seemingly housed al Qaeda problems. Interestingly, what Mr. Mudd describes happening at the national level was also happening at the NYPD Intelligence Division, and we too had to both widen the aperture of our analytic lens and devote more resources to a broader and more diverse al Qaeda threat during those years.
Once Mr. Mudd moved to the FBI, on loan from the CIA, he gained insight into the threat that was increasingly manifesting itself in the West and ultimately struck in Boston - the homegrown threat, comprised of "loose clusters of youths, typically kids who were angry and thought other members of their communities weren't serious about opposing what they saw as a U.S. or Western crusade in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere." These men had little if any operational links to al Qaeda, but rather were inspired to act by the group's ideology.
As the reader finishes both books, the authors veer off into very different directions. Mr. Mudd makes no predictions as to what the threat will look like in future years, but gives the impression that the terrorism threat management bureaucracy in the United States had become more streamlined and regularized, or "far more well-oiled and less jumpy, than in the first years," suggestive of a higher level of functionality and capacity to thwart future al Qaeda plots.
Mr. Atwan, however, paints a picture that unfortunately does not bode well and in some ways challenges the assertions that the U.S. intelligence community has adequately evolved enough to face the diffuse, de-centralized al Qaeda threat that we face today. In Mr. Atwan's world, various al Qaeda-type groups coordinate and collaborate across huge swaths of the earth and take advantage of the chaos and instability of the post-Arab Spring Middle East. New post-revolutionary governments, whether Islamist or secular, may face protestors and al Qaeda-type terrorists who work together, if they falter or fail to deliver the changes that were promised.
Mr. Mudd is clearly right in that the U.S. intelligence community now has the bandwidth and regional expertise to adequately focus on a diverse and dispersed al Qaeda threat. However, the ability to better understand the threat and the ability to roll it back are different processes (intelligence analysis vs. counterterrorism policy execution). Unfortunately, greater and deeper insights do not assure American counterterrorism success, especially when Mr. Atwan makes a compelling case that we face a future of many ‘al Qaedas' who have metastasized in hard to get at places, are unlikely to be completely defeated on the battlefield, nor collapse because of infighting, nor be successfully rendered impotent via U.S.-led decapitation strategies. Thus, despite the U.S. intelligence community's increase in terms of both breadth and depth of expertise, the longest war will probably go on longer, and we may have to be content with an American strategy that can keep the regional al Qaeda franchise threats in check, but cannot eradicate them.
Mitchell D. Silber is the Executive Managing Director of K2 Intelligence and was the Director of Intelligence Analysis for the New York Police Department from 2007 to 2012.
ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images
Close observers of Afghanistan are not likely to be surprised by recent allegations contained in a United Nations report that the Afghan National Security Directorate, the CIA's leading counterterrorism partner in South Asia, used whips and electric shocks to squeeze confessions out of suspected insurgent detainees. There are many ways to describe the directorate, or NDS as it is locally known, but a model of modern intelligence gathering and investigative efficiency is not one of them.
The report, which was quietly published on the website of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on Sunday, details a grim pattern of abuse and mistreatment in NDS prisons, and has put yet another dent in NDS's reputation at a time when the Afghan intelligence agency has never been more vulnerable. A key partner in the ongoing U.S. quest to contain transnational terrorism in South and Central Asia, NDS seems to have fallen on very hard times of late. Yet, few in Washington appear ready to confront the implications of NDS's downward spiral, a trend that seems to be accelerating as NATO marches toward the exit.
Last week, in an unprecedented show of force at least half a dozen Taliban fighters charged the gates of NDS headquarters in central Kabul, set off a suicide truck bomb and nearly blasted their way straight into the central nervous system of the Afghan intelligence agency. Some 32 civilians and security personnel were injured, and at least one NDS officer was killed on the spot. The attack might have been a little less demoralizing, however, had it not been for another purported Taliban assault in Kabul only a month earlier on an alleged NDS safe house in central Kabul that severely wounded the agency's well-known chief, Asadullah Khalid.
Both incidents beg a couple of questions that US, NATO and Afghan officials must all be asking themselves these days. First, just how safe is an Afghan intelligence agency safe house if a suicide bomber can gain entry and blow up the director of said intelligence agency? And, what do the latest assaults mean for NATO's transition out of the country? Like many things in Afghanistan, the answer is both simple and complex.
In the "simple" column: Asadullah Khalid, the newly ordained head of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, probably has about as many enemies-personal and political-as he does friends. The December 6 attack on Khalid was the fifth in as many years. A two-time governor who served in the volatile and politically pivotal provinces of Kandahar and Ghazni, Khalid is a high roller with deep ties to mujahideen elites. His close associates run the gamut from hardcore Islamist conservative Afghan elites such as Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a cagey Pashtun commander who trained 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, to Ahmed Wali Karzai, the late and legendary glad-handing southern brother of President Hamid Karzai.
Originally from Ghazni, a part of Afghanistan whose political, ethnic and religious paroxysms most closely parallel that of Florida, Khalid has counted coup in innumerable Afghan skirmishes spanning from the late 1980's to the present. Before President Karzai appointed him governor of Ghazni in 2002, Khalid served as head of NDS's provincial affairs department, and, several of his colleagues aver, was a first runner up to replace NDS's first director, Engineer Arif Sarwary when Sarwary stepped down in 2004. Instead, however, Karzai's inner circle eventually decided in 2005 that Khalid would be a better fit as governor of the president's home province, Kandahar.
It was in Kandahar that Khalid burnished a reputation for applying tough tactics to insurgent detainees after Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin alleged in testimony before the Canadian parliament in November 2009 that Khalid "personally tortured people" in a "dungeon" beneath his residence. Khalid has repeatedly denied the Canadian claims.
An ethnic Pashtun who also briefly served as minister of borders and tribal affairs before his appointment to NDS, Khalid has rejected similar allegations lodged in the British high court late last year. Khalid's denials aside, the most recent UN report on NDS torture practices would certainly seem to bear out a persistent pattern in the Afghan presidential palace of ignoring the obvious when it is convenient to do so.
In the "complex" column, a combination of hubris, insouciance, and vanity peculiar to many of Kabul's leading powerbrokers seems to have left Khalid especially vulnerable to violent fissures that are slowly rendering the once relatively effective Afghan intelligence agency ineffective and deeply compromised. Shortly before the bombing, Khalid coupled his denials of involvement in torture with equally vehement and venomous anti-Taliban rhetoric. During his testimony before Afghanistan's lower house of parliament before his appointment was confirmed in September, he alternately promised to exterminate Taliban outliers who refuse to accept Karzai's reconciliation terms and to support cross border operations into Pakistan in response to cross border shelling by the Pakistani army along the country's eastern border.
Khalid at one point purportedly took control of the CIA-backed Kandahar Strike Force, an aggressive local militia that was accused in 2010 by Afghan officials of assassinating the southern province's local police chief. Not long after his adventures in Kandahar, Khalid got involved in backing a controversial anti-Taliban uprising in Ghazni by provincial locals. Not exactly the best way to win friends and influence people in a tough neighborhood where the biggest house on the block is owned by the Pakistani military, a key supporter of the Afghan Taliban.
All of the above without doubt made the NDS chief especially susceptible. But there are two other critical factors that also played important roles in the attack on Khalid and the one-two-punch assault on NDS headquarters a month later. The first factor is factionalism. Factionalism within the official state Afghan security services has been a fact of life since they were created, but the phenomenon has worsened considerably since the onset of NATO's transition out of the country, and it has not left Afghanistan's chief intelligence agency untouched. Karzai has hired and fired a total of four NDS chiefs since 2002, including two within the last two years -- Khalid and Karzai's former personal security chief Rahmatullah Nabil. Each changing of the guard has been followed by purge and counter-purge of various networks affiliated with the new chiefs, leaving deep wells of mistrust, particularly between the largely non-Pashtun retinue of NDS officers allied with the Northern Alliance and Pashtuns affiliated either with Sayyaf, warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or others of a more Islamist bent.
Meanwhile, growing concerns among NDS leaders about increased infiltration of insurgents and Iranian and Pakistani double agents within their ranks has resulted in the reported arrests of a little more than a dozen NDS officials in the last year. These problems have been known for sometime but only really started turning heads at the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) when in April 2012 the NDS failed to accurately analyze scads of tips about an impending attack on Kabul that was billed as one of the largest in the entire war. Conflicts between Pashtuns and the primarily Panjshiri Tajik dominated officer corps of the NDS have been cited as among the main reasons that information about that attack did not reach the right people at the right time in Kabul.
The second factor is Khalid's personal blind spot. At 43, Khalid cuts quite the dashing figure, and a one-time colleague of Khalid told me recently that he is known amongst his peers as having a predilection for a bit of flash and panache. Indeed, the guesthouse where the suicide bomber struck is situated in one of the tonier areas of the capital, and for several months before the incident in question and well before Khalid's appointment to NDS it was thought to be his personal playhouse. Neighbors recall hearing raucous music blaring out of the so-called NDS safe house Khalid had occupied and some distinctly recall the party until dawn atmosphere that the property frequently appeared to witness on Thursday nights. It is unclear whether the NDS chief was mixing business with pleasure at the house, but it is undeniable that his address, his presence and his seeming love of loud music was well known to most in the neighborhood well before the bombing.
Some of Khalid's associates also apparently knew in advance that the intelligence chief had been expecting a very special visitor the day of the bombing at the house. As one longtime friend of Khalid's explained -- and several media outlets have reported -- the suicide bomber was a former Taliban prisoner who was allegedly acting as a messenger for Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura.
Like his one time colleague and elder statesman, former president and High Peace Council chairman Burhanuddin Rabbani, it seems Khalid could not resist the temptation to amplify his political profile as leading dealmaker cum peace negotiator. So when the freed Taliban prisoner arrived at Khalid's guest house cum safe house in the Taimani neighborhood of Kabul Khalid hardly expected the young man to come bearing a bomb in his underpants. But, much like Rabbani's assassination in October 2011, it was that close "personal touch," that dealt the big blow.
All this will, of course, require a lot of chewing over in the coming weeks and months ahead as NATO continues its accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. As for Khalid, he'll have plenty of time to think it through while he convalesces at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. And, at least he won't be lonely while he's meditating on his future and the prospects for NDS; Khalid has already received visits from President Obama, Leon Panetta, and, naturally his old friend Hamid Karzai in recent weeks.
And, perhaps while Khalid gets some rest and everyone's giving the latest turn of evens with NDS good long think, NATO and U.S. officials will finally sit down to hash out what to do next with America's top partner in the fight against terrorism in South and Central Asia. The White House in particular, might want to consider whether it can continue to tie America's fortunes to intelligence outfits like NDS without first figuring out how (and whether it's possible) to help governments like Karzai's to clean these agencies up. The Obama administration might also want to calculate the overall impact of its continued uncritical support for regimes that employ torture to ensure state security and how that might in the long-term hinder its efforts to unring the bell rung by a panicked Bush administration the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. If anything the most recent series of attacks in Kabul should have demonstrated to Washington, it is time for a serious rollback and reset where NDS is concerned.
Candace Rondeaux lived and worked in Afghanistan for nearly five-years, first as the Afghanistan-Pakistan bureau chief for The Washington Post and more recently as senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Kabul. She is a research fellow at the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School in New York, and she is currently writing a political history of the Afghan security forces from 2001 to 2014.
Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 - Seth Jones
The Al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West - Mitchell D. Silber
What is the nature of al-Qaeda? Is it an organization with tight leadership structures and command and control, or is it an idea that takes harbor in the hearts and souls of disenfranchised or disillusioned young men and women seeking some greater meaning to their lives? Over time, the importance of these two schools of general thought has waxed and waned with various academics, authors, pundits and practitioners alternatively concluding the importance of one over the other largely depending on the nature of the latest plot to be disrupted. Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 by Seth Jones and The al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West by Mitchell D. Silber offer different insights into this question, while reaching largely similar conclusions about what al-Qaeda is and how it has targeted the West.
Both of these books were published over a decade after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington bloodily thrust al-Qaeda into the public consciousness, meaning they are able to look back at a considerable amount of data. While Jones' is the more narratively satisfying book, telling a story of al Qaeda around the world, there are omissions in the text that reflect its heavy American focus. Silber's, on the other hand, is a case-by-case analysis that lacks a narrative storyline, but the accounts of the plots in question are drawn from primary sources that make them some of the most factually accurate versions yet told of the various plots, and bring new and interesting insights useful to analysts and researchers.
Gathering information from court documents, press, personal experience, and interviews the books focus on two different theses that ultimately reach the same goal. Silber sets out to find, "what is the "al Qaeda factor" in plots against the West?" For Jones, the central question is "what factors have caused al Qaeda waves and reverse waves?" "Waves" are "surges in terrorist violence" and "reverse waves" are "decreases in terrorist activity." The underlying aim of both is to understand how it is that al-Qaeda has targeted the West, and to what degree we can ascribe responsibility to the core organization.
Silber argues that there is a distinction to be drawn between those plots he characterizes as "al-Qaeda command and control," "al-Qaeda suggested/endorsed," and "al Qaeda inspired." As the definitions quite clearly imply, in each case there is some semblance of a connection to al-Qaeda or its ideas, but there is a distinct difference between the cases in which individuals sitting in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have provided direction, and those in which individuals internalized al-Qaeda ideas to try to carry out plots (or al-Qaeda-like ideas, given the inclusion of the 1993 attempt by Ramzi Yousef to bring down the World Trade Center, something he did after having been trained in Afghanistan and having plotted with his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but prior to Mohammed's swearing of bayat (allegiance) to bin Laden). The end result, however, of all three types is the same: a plot, or attempted plot, to attack the West in support of al-Qaeda's ideology. The cases offered are a laundry list of some of the most prominent plots targeting Europe, North America and Australia.
Jones' thesis is instead that al-Qaeda's violence has come in waves, the product of more or less intense and effective focus by counterterrorism forces. Identifying three key prongs to an effective counterterrorism strategy - a light military footprint, helping local regimes and authorities in their counterterrorism efforts, and exploiting al Qaeda's tendency to massacre civilians - Jones draws upon events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as al-Qaeda plots in America, Spain and the United Kingdom, to map out how these waves have crested and broken against determined counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda's ability to shoot itself in the foot, as in the wholesale butchery by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), is highlighted as an example of where the group goes too far and causes a local resurgence from which American forces were able to profit. It also serves to highlight how al-Qaeda Central can lose control of affiliates and suffer as a result. AQI's butchery not only appalled the general public, but it also led a number of scholars to write about the group's brutality and the numbers of Muslims that it wantonly killed whilst claiming to be targeting the West.
Here we can see how the organization would have liked to have tighter control, but was unable to maintain it. As the ideas it has been advancing take root, they increasingly find themselves being used by groups that take them in directions that detract from the original strategy of using terrorist attacks to stimulate the broader ummah into rising up. In some cases, like the Madrid bombings of 2004, the inspiration approach seems to work, as a group loosely connected to -- but not directed by -- al-Qaeda managed to carry out a successful attack on the West. In Iraq, on the other hand, where a local affiliate became too bloodthirsty, massacres of civilians led to the "Anbar Awakening" against al-Qaeda.
While al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is not the focus of attention in either book, he lingers as a background presence, his letters and writings surfacing as he tries to assert authority over the network he has created. In Jones' book we see others in the organization finding his leadership somewhat lacking. Jones quotes a letter in which top al-Qaeda operative Saif al-Adl expresses anger to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about how Osama "‘had failed to develop a cogent strategy for what would happen after the September 11 attacks." In Silber's text, bin Laden features even less, mentioned only as being aware of the 9/11 attacks (though plotting is described as being led by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) and as meeting with some of the members of the ‘Lackawanna Cluster,' a group of Yemeni-Americans who prior to 9/11 travelled to Afghanistan and trained at al-Qaeda camps. Some of these young men heard bin Laden speak, and soon afterwards concluded they were not interested in doing any more training.
One of them, Sahim Alwan, was invited to speak to bin Laden directly, and the al-Qaeda leader asked why he was leaving and more generally about what Muslims in America were like. But, as Silber points out, while this presented an opportunity for the group to recruit the men, "it did not happen." Both authors conclude that bin Laden was important primarily as a figurehead. As Silber writes towards the end: "regardless of the nature of his precise operational role in the organization, in the ten years since 9/11, he had become a legendary and mythical source of inspiration to individuals in the West who aspired to join his movement, regardless of whether they were in London, New York, Toronto or Madrid."
But the larger figures in these books are the operational leaders underneath bin Laden. Coming from authors with deep involvement in American counter-terrorism efforts, the books are highly tactical in their approaches. Silber's is written from the perspective of a man who has spent many years tracking al-Qaeda's threat to New York as Director of Intelligence Analysis for the NYPD, while Jones writes as a researcher at RAND, drawing heavily on interviews with key players from the American counter-terrorism community, including Bruce Hoffman, Philip Mudd, Art Cummings, and John Negroponte.
Both authors conclude that al-Qaeda Central has tried and failed repeatedly over the years to launch attacks against the West. September 11 was a thundering success in this regard, but since then, while we have seen surges of terrorist violence around the world linked to al-Qaeda affiliates, the core organization's ability to effectively launch attacks has clearly been stymied by effective counterterrorism efforts. Heavy pressure means less time for people to be trained properly, and this means less effective operators and a reduced capacity to attack.
And while the spread of extremist ideas is important, it is not always going to produce great cells. While the Madrid group or the Hofstad Cell in Holland were reasonably productive cells that connected with peripheral al-Qaeda figures and led to results like the Madrid bombings or the murder of Theo van Gogh that impressed al-Qaeda, the Duka family in New Jersey or Russell Defreitas in New York (both highlighted in Jones' text) produced half-baked plots like the effort to blow up the fuel pipeline to JFK airport with no proper training that are hardly the sort of activity that al-Qaeda would want to be associated with.
Both books are useful in painting a methodical picture of how al-Qaeda has tried to attack the West, but where they are maybe less effective is in identifying how it is that these individuals can be prevented from ever going down the path of seeking meaning in al Qaeda's ideas. Jones does suggest finding ways to exploit the inconsistencies in al-Qaeda's narrative in order to undermine their capacity to recruit, but the fact is that more than a decade since the group's official creation, people are still being drawn to the flame. This suggests that we have still not figured out how to offer an appealing alternative narrative, and that the ideas that al-Qaeda advances are still able to draw recruits.
Jones's Hunting in the Shadows could be described as an official history of sorts of al-Qaeda from the U.S. government perspective. This makes it a different beast to Silber's The Al Qaeda Factor, in which a much more coldly analytical process draws a clear conclusion about the ‘al Qaeda factor' in various terrorist plots.
Jones and Silber both conclude that it is becoming ever harder for al-Qaeda to effectively connect with and re-direct these recruits back home to carry out terrorist plots. Taking this conclusion a step further, we may assume that over time this sort of pressure will wear the network down. But if they are able to harness individuals drawn to them more effectively and enable a further wave of terrorist violence, the al-Qaeda ideology may survive longer. The solution advanced in both of these books, and echoed by the U.S. counterterrorism community, is to maintain heavy pressure through drone strikes as well as support to the host governments, and continue to focus on disrupting the groups' capability to launch attacks on the West.
Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming 'We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen' (Hurst/Columbia University Press).
On Wednesday August 29, the dismissal of Afghan intelligence chief, Rahmatullah Nabil was officially confirmed. The news, which first began circulating some 48 hours earlier on BBC Persian, was met with shock by many Afghans in the capital city of Kabul.
A majority of the members of the lower house of Afghanistan's parliament were so outraged by the news that they immediately began drafting a demand letter to President Karzai to ask him to clarify the logic behind the dismissal, so widely respected was Nabil's tenure.
Some Members of Parliament (MPs), including the acting speaker of the house Haji Zahir Qadir, a Pashtun strongman from eastern Afghanistan, went further, demanding that Nabil be reinstated as the head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
Around the capital, many social media outlets published opinion pieces expressing the widespread fear that Nabil's dismissal would be disastrous for the national security of Afghanistan.
Many Afghans wondered why in a time of growing insecurity, evidenced by the increase in terrorist attacks in and around the capital, the president would deal such a blow to the nation's main defense against the insurgency.
According to Nabil himself, his dismissal was routine. President Karzai, he indicated, wanted to change the NDS head every two years, and because he was aware of this he did not contest the action.
Other high-ranking officials corroborated Nabil's account, although they would not go on the record.
The official account, however, fails to reconcile the fact that Nabil only served some eight months in the position. Also notably absent from the statement about the dismissal was the fact that Nabil's appointment was approved by an overwhelming majority of the lower house: 208 out of a total of 249 votes. It is the apparent inconsistency between the official account and the reality that has perplexed so many Afghans and left them wondering whether there are other unstated reasons that led to Nabil's dismissal.
Nabil's accession to the highest ranks of the Afghan government was not typical to say the least. Unlike most high-ranking officials, he had no family connection to President Karzai. He began his ascent to the top serving as a junior staffer in the Presidential Palace, eventually making his way to the top of the President's Protection Force (PPF), where he served for six years. During that time he remained a virtually unknown figure outside of the innermost presidential circle.
Inside sources say that because of his quiet efficiency in the PPF, Nabil was President Karzai's first choice to replace his predecessor at the NDS, Amrullah Saleh, who had resigned over disagreements with Karzai.
According to those who have worked closely with Nabil, he is widely respected for his frankness and honesty, traits that are not always apparent, as he is reluctant to promote himself and his achievements.
Nabil also refuses to take ethno-centric positions, making him something of a lone ranger in a capital often consumed by tribalism and clannishness. While many Afghans who have watched him closely have taken comfort in his lack of ethnic or sectarian partisanship, his objectivity may have left him vulnerable, without the type of inside supporters on whom he could rely to promote his cause inside the president's inner circles.
Moreover, prior to Nabil's dismissal he had intensified efforts to rout out suspected Pakistani and Iranian spies at the highest levels of the Afghan government, making him a possible target of some of Afghanistan's neighbors and their emissaries inside the country.
Earlier this month some Pakistani senior officials went so far as to accuse the NDS of plotting to attack strategic targets inside Lahore and Islamabad. Although there was no proof offered to support these claims, the Pakistani reaction itself may have been telling. Whatever it was the NDS under Nabil was doing, it was enough to ruffle the feathers of these various Pakistani officials.
Some Afghan analysts believe that it was the pressure that such outside powers were able to exert on the Afghan leadership via their domestic interest groups that led to Nabil's demise.
Other Afghans believe that Nabil's departure is just one of many upsets that are slated to take place. In the past month, rumors of other possible high-ranking changes have surfaced daily on Facebook, Twitter, and in other media. On August 4, for example, president Karzai issued a decree that replaced Nabil by Asadullah Khaled, the current minister of tribal affairs; Interior Minister Bismillah Khan by Mojtaba Patang, deputy minister of Afghan Public Protection Forces will replace; Bismillah Khan is named as the minister of defense; while there are speculations that further changes will occur with the president's chief of staff, Karim Khorram, will replace Fazal Ahmad Manawi, the head of the Afghan Independent Commission (IEC); and Manawi will be made Attorney General.
This long list of changes is seen to be the beginning of a broad transformation of the country's political landscape that will culminate in the presidential elections of 2014. From this perspective, Nabil's dismissal is regarded as part of the president's survivalist overhaul, which some see as his attempt to block what should otherwise be a stable and democratic transfer of power. They see an Afghan president trying to concentrate power in the hands of the Karzai or Popalzai clans, a move similar to what Vladimir Putin did in Russia with Dmitry Medvedev.
In this scenario, there is speculation that President Karzai is looking to Qayom Karzai as his successor, or if he meets with too much opposition, perhaps paving the way for an alternative Popalzai or Kandahari president.
Whether he will be successful in his power grab is another question. Already, the president's aspirations for 2014 are being challenged by many opposition figures, and by his fellow Pashtuns, some of whom have criticized him vociferously. Haji Zahir Qadir and other leading Pashtun figures outside the Kandahar region, for example, are his loudest critics. If these voices gain support, President Karzai's ploys could backfire and move the Pashtun center of power from the south to the east or in between.
As beloved as Nabil may be in many circles, the National Directorate of Security itself still looms as a dark force in the minds of many Afghans. Ten years of democratic rule have not been sufficient to erase the deep memories of what the organization was like during the previous eras of communist, warlord, and Taliban rule.
To change that image, many believe that it is critical that the NDS cleanse its ranks and replace them with younger, more educated Afghans who do not have the same blood on their hands that many of their elders do. These are the types of changes that Nabil was attempting to make in the organization, the types of changes that earned him the respect of so many that yearn for a more modern and progressive Afghanistan, one that protects their rights and provides them opportunities as citizens, regardless of ethnicity, sect, or tribal affiliation.
They point to the hard work he was doing in places like Ghazni to rout out the Taliban and the insurgents who have been wreaking havoc on the general population there. His plan was to motivate Afghans to join the fight against the Taliban and other extremists in the heartland, and outside Afghan borders.
To many Afghans, Nabil's dismissal is more evidence that they are losing the battle for their country, and a painful betrayal by a democratically-elected president who now seems bent on hurting the country if that will allow him and his kind to keep their monopoly on power. It's a sad time for Afghan patriots and a sadder one for Afghanistan as a whole.
Waliullah Rahmani is an expert on international security and terrorism. He is currently running the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies.
When Zabiuddin Ansari was handed over to the Indian authorities several weeks ago, it was big news - at least in India - as a result of the information he was expected to provide to the authorities there about the 2008 Mumbai attacks. As previous posts have illustrated, his story also provided valuable insights into the nature of the jihadist threat to India, the state of India-Pakistan relations, and the importance of international counterterrorism cooperation to contain the threats posed by Pakistan-based and supported militants. The most important angle according to some observers, however, was the fact that Ansari was arrested by the Saudi authorities, who subsequently handed him over to India despite Riyadh's historically close alliance with Islamabad. While at first glance this could suggest a wider geopolitical realignment, the reality is more nuanced. Though Pakistan is in no danger of being completely abandoned, its continued tolerance of militant groups makes even its staunchest allies skittish.
Pakistan remains the only nuclear-armed Muslim nation and, crucially, it's a Sunni Muslim nation, which makes it an essential Saudi ally in the event that Shi'a Iran acquires a nuclear capacity. Furthermore, the Saudi royal family has depended directly on the Pakistan Army for protection at times and Pakistani soldiers continue to play an important role in Saudi Arabia. It's very difficult to imagine India supplanting Pakistan in these areas. Saudi engagement with India began as part of a wider endeavor in which it sought to develop new markets for oil, expand economically where possible, and forge stronger political ties in Asia to augment the traditional U.S.-Saudi relationship and balance against Iran. However, it would be naïve to think India is ready to line up in lock-step against Iran any more than Saudi Arabia is prepared to abandon its alliance with Pakistan.
Nevertheless, Riyadh's decision to hand over Ansari despite his possessing a Pakistan passport and over the vociferous objections of the Pakistani authorities is a significant event and indicative of several important trends. First, it marked an important turning point in Saudi-India counterterrorism cooperation that could only have occurred amidst improved bilateral ties between the two countries. Second, it suggests increasing concerns within the Kingdom about Pakistani militants in general and Lashkar-e-Taiba specifically, as well as Pakistan's ability to control them. This is related to a more troubling trend for Pakistan in which its continued support for militant proxies has put strains on relationships with even its closest allies who fear the repercussions for their own internal security.
Playing the Field
In January 2006, Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud visited India as part of a four-country tour that also included a stop in Beijing. This was the first visit to India by a Saudi king since 1955, after which bilateral relations quickly froze as a result of Cold War politics. At the time of the landmark 2006 visit, Saudi Arabia provided only a trickle of oil to India, but soon after became its number one crude oil source. Although oil remains the lifeline of the relationship, the two countries' interests now extend beyond black gold. Trade between them has boomed, as have Indian investments in Saudi Arabia, where more than 1 million Indians work, making them the biggest expatriate community in the Kingdom. There is significant cultural exchange as well owing largely to the fact that India has the second-largest Muslim population in the world, many of who are interested in Saudi Arabia as the host of Islam's two holiest sites.
The Delhi Declaration signed during King Saud's visit heralded a "new era in India-Saudi relations" in which both countries would develop a broad strategic vision. As such, it served as a major building block for the relationship, which has since expanded to include notable security-related issues. In 2006 the two leaders initially intended to sign a mutual legal assistance treaty pertaining to criminal matters, which often serves as a precursor to an extradition treaty. Instead, they signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Combating Crime designed to deal with terrorism and transnational crime. Although it appeared comprehensive on paper and covered a range of issues, perceptual disagreements over the concept of terrorism meant that in reality there would be limited cooperation.
By 2010, when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Saudi Arabia, bilateral relations had improved significantly. Prime Minister Singh and King Saud signed the Riyadh Declaration, which set the stage for actual counterterrorism cooperation, as well as signing a separate extradition treaty. Earlier this year the two countries boosted defense ties and further deepened counterterrorism cooperation when Indian Defense Minister AK Antony visited the Kingdom. According to Indian officials, Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism issues has improved significantly in the past six months. By this time, Saudi officials had already had Zabiuddin Ansari in custody for more than half a year.
Ansari traveled to Saudi Arabia on a Pakistani passport in the name of Riyasat Ali to launch a recruitment campaign for future attacks against India. As detailed in the previous post, India-U.S. counterterrorism coordination appears to have enabled Ansari's identification and ultimately led to his arrest by Saudi authorities in May 2011. However, Riyadh was reluctant to hand him over to India for fear of upsetting Pakistan, where officials surely recognized the damage he could cause in the court of public opinion. In the past, any suspected militant traveling on a Pakistani passport would be sent back to Pakistan. In this instance, Pakistani pressure to reclaim custody of Ansari appears to have been intense, but so too was Indian and American pressure to secure his handover.
Riyadh ultimately demanded a DNA profile and other evidence from India to establish Ansari's Indian nationality. New Delhi was able to fulfill these requirements, but Pakistan could not show credible proof that Ansari was one of its own. The ability to make a strong legal case for handing him over and improved bilateral ties between Riyadh and New Delhi were undoubtedly important factors. But baser security concerns likely also were at play.
Running Hot and Cold
Saudi Arabia proved a reluctant contributor to the international effort against al-Qaeda and associated movements after 9/11. This remained the case until the Kingdom suffered directly from al-Qaeda attacks beginning in 2003. However, it remained relatively tolerant of Lashkar-e-Taiba. This owed to Saudi Arabia's relationship with Pakistan, but also resulted from Lashkar's position vis-à-vis the Kingdom.
Some Lashkar leaders have ties to Saudi Arabia dating back several decades, and these men often view Saudi Arabia as the best Islamic state, even if it is not an ideal one. In other words, their attachment to the Kingdom extends beyond its mere utility as a fundraising and support base for militant activity. Similarly, Lashkar leaders' strong commitment to spreading Ahl-e-Hadith (or Salafi) Islam via non-violent activism and their decision to eschew revolutionary terrorism in favor of pan-Islamist jihad makes the group more palatable than al-Qaeda to the Saudi state. Several Lashkar watchers, including this author, have speculated that the group distanced itself from al-Qaeda circa 2003 as a result not only of pressure from Islamabad, but also Riyadh.
Lashkar's relationship with al-Qaeda - the Central organization and its affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula - remains a dynamic one, but interlocutors in Pakistan and the United States have told the author that cooperation between the two has increased of late. Meanwhile, the wider narrative generated by the 2008 Mumbai attacks is that Lashkar is becoming a global threat. Regardless of whether one agrees with this assessment, it would be surprising if American and Indian officials did not make the case that an overly permissive environment could spell trouble for Saudi Arabia, and not too difficult to imagine their counterparts in Riyadh entertaining the notion seriously. Acute concerns about Lashkar exist against the backdrop of Pakistan's unwillingness or inability to reign in the group or others like it as well as growing disquiet over possible jihadist influences on elements within the Pakistan Army.
Putting Ansari in Perspective
Saudi Arabia broke a taboo when it handed over Zabiuddin Ansari and, as should be evident, this has significant implications. Saudi authorities are holding additional Indian militants, and they're willingness to deport these men will be an important means of gauging the constancy of the trends highlighted in this post. However, it must be noted that all of these men are Indian - Riyadh is yet to begin evicting Pakistani operatives, much less arresting and deporting them to India. In short, this hardly spells the end of Lashkar operations in the Kingdom, though as the previous post observed the terrain there has become somewhat less hospitable.
In the zero-sum world of India-Pakistan relations, Ansari's handover was an unquestionable win for New Delhi. In addition to the intelligence gleaned and validation offered regarding the 2008 Mumbai attacks, India also scored a diplomatic victory, albeit with U.S. support. Amidst the focus on signals intercepts and direct action, U.S. diplomatic engagement is often overlooked. In this instance, Indian officials have confirmed it was critical to securing a favorable outcome.
Finally, this event should cause concern in Islamabad and Rawalpindi about the degree to which continued tolerance of groups like Lashkar is creating unease among even its closest allies. China too has evinced concern - rarely and diplomatically, but nevertheless publicly - about the potential for Pakistan-based militants to threaten its own internal security. Saudi Arabia has now gone a significant step further. Neither country is about to abandon Pakistan, but nor is their commitment to Pakistan as absolute as some of its leaders might publicly claim or privately wish to believe.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He recently returned from an extended research trip to South Asia examining internal security issues and is spending the summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a public policy scholar.
MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images
This is the third in a series of four posts examining the lessons and implications drawn from the arrest of Zabiuddin Ansari, who played a key role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The first examined the variegated nature of the jihadist threat confronting India today. The second explored the impact of Ansari's revelations regarding the persistence of that threat as well as his affirmation of Indian allegations regarding the Mumbai attacks on the renewed India-Pakistan engagement.
As previous posts made clear, Zabiuddin Ansari is likely providing Indian authorities with all manner of information, which will be picked over and analyzed during the coming months. One fact is immediately clear, however, and that is the Pakistan security establishment remains unwilling to end its support for non-state proxies. In the absence of a policy that succeeds in convincing, cajoling or compelling Pakistan to change its behavior, it has become essential to devise mechanisms to mitigate the external threats from Pakistan-based and Pakistan-supported militants. Even if Pakistan were to make an unambiguous effort to dismantle the militant infrastructure on its soil, such mechanisms would still be necessary in the near term. While a host of states have pursued unilateral measures, calls for international cooperation to manage these threats have also increased. Ansari's story illustrates the importance of this cooperation as well as its limits.
The U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism is more than a decade old, but counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries really accelerated after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The U.S. government only began paying greater attention to Lashkar and its Indian affiliates in the wake of those attacks, while American forensic assistance to India in building a strong case that they were planned in Pakistan catalyzed a willingness in New Delhi to work more closely with Washington. In addition to infusing the U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism with new life, the two countries also launched a Homeland Security Dialogue Ministerial in May 2011. Although ample room still exists for improvement, officials in both countries agree that cooperation has increased during the last few years.
Crucially, in the last several years, the United States, India, and the United Kingdom all took steps to facilitate counterterrorism efforts in Bangladesh. Lashkar has networks throughout South Asia and stretching into East Asia, but Bangladesh has historically been the most important staging ground for attacks against India. The group began building up its networks there in the mid-1990s, and Indian operatives played an important role in this effort from the outset. The growth of the indigenous Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) provided another mechanism for supporting attacks in India, which other Pakistan-based groups (including the original HuJI) could attempt to leverage for this purpose as well. Even more important than its role as a staging point for attacks, Bangladesh became an important place of refuge for Indian operatives as well as a transit point to and from Pakistan for men, material, and money. Ansari was among those who took advantage of its role in this regard, fleeing to Bangladesh in 2006 before ultimately moving on to Pakistan.
Since the mid-1990s, control of the government in Dhaka has alternated between the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, with a military caretaker government in place from late 2006 through early 2009. The Awami League historically has been friendlier to India and less tolerant of Islamist-cum-jihadist actors than the BNP, but at different times both parties have been guilty of turning a blind eye to jihadist activities aimed at India.
Bangladeshi authorities began cracking down on domestic jihadists like HuJI-B after 2005 when some of them launched a series of bomb blasts across the country. In 2008, the Awami League won a landslide election in which it campaigned on closer ties with India and a promised crackdown on Islamist militancy. Meanwhile, New Delhi was reaching out to improve relations with Dhaka, while the United States offered valuable military and counterterrorism assistance as part of its push to degrade jihadist networks in South Asia. In 2009-2010, Bangladesh counterterrorism efforts expanded to include foreign elements as well. Indian, Bangladeshi, British, and American interlocutors with whom the author met during a recent visit to Dhaka all stressed that since 2010 Bangladesh has become less hospitable terrain. Officials from India and Bangladesh also agreed that counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries coupled with U.S. assistance contributed to this improvement, a view shared by independent experts.
The Persian Gulf, however, has remained fertile soil in terms of a support base for South Asian militancy. U.S. counterterrorism efforts vis-à-vis the Gulf have focused primarily on terrorist threat financing, which is understandable given that a host of jihadist groups rely heavily on fundraising networks there. What is often overlooked is the role the Gulf can play as a logistical and recruitment hub; for Lashkar, its Indian affiliates, and other Pakistan-based groups interested in launching attacks against India. For these reasons, this author has maintained that in terms of containing and degrading the threat from South Asian militancy, particularly Lashkar and its Indian affiliates, greater focus needs to be given to monitoring and infiltrating Gulf-based networks that could be used to recruit operatives or provide logistical support for terrorist attacks.
Recruitment efforts typically focus on Indian Muslims working in the region as part of a diaspora presence that numbers over 1 million. The presence of a Pakistani diaspora, coupled with the large number of South Asians who travel annually to Saudi Arabia for legitimate religious purposes, enables militants to blend in with the masses and makes the Gulf an opportune place for operatives to meet. Several Pakistan-based militant groups have ties with Saudi Arabia dating back to the 1980s, while the Indian crime boss-cum-terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, currently sheltering in Pakistan, has provided access to additional networks in places such as the United Arab Emirates. Finally, Riyadh's close relationship with Islamabad meant that anyone found engaging in militant activities was simply sent back to Pakistan provided he was traveling on a Pakistani passport. That is, until Zabiuddin Ansari's arrest in May 2011.
Ansari's arrest and subsequent deportation is an example of how such cooperation should work and the impact it can have. As typically is the case, the details of precisely how Ansari's presence was detected in Saudi Arabia are somewhat opaque. It appears he used an alias known to Indian intelligence to set up a website to inveigle new recruits, but according to Indian officials with whom the author spoke, it was U.S. intelligence that initially zoomed in on him. If so, this suggests that information sharing between the two countries coupled with U.S. capabilities to monitor Internet traffic led to his identification. It is clear that once Ansari's identity was confirmed, the United States asked Saudi authorities to detain him, and then worked in tandem with their Indian counterparts to ensure he was not returned to Pakistan despite carrying a passport from that country. It was more than a year before Ansari was turned over to the Indian authorities.
Saudi Arabia's willingness to deport Ansari to India came despite significant Pakistani protestations - a decision which will be explored in the final post of this series. Three points are important here. First, to reiterate, Ansari's identification, arrest and subsequent deportation to India were the result of greater international counterterrorism cooperation. Second, Ansari appears to be providing Indian authorities with a trove of intelligence about Lashkar and IM operations in Pakistan, India, and possibly the Gulf, which they have pledged to share with the United States This is likely to enable additional monitoring and infiltration of Lashkar and IM networks as well as assisting ongoing investigations. Third, the fact that the Gulf is no longer a guaranteed safe space for operations could have an impact on how militants conduct activities there.
None of this spells the end of the threat posed by Lashkar, the Indian Mujahideen, or other militants based in Pakistan. Bangladesh is a far less viable logistical hub than in the past, but gains there are reversible without continued vigilance. Further, although Ansari's arrest and deportation is significant, the Gulf has not suddenly become a no-go area. Finally, international cooperation is primarily a means of threat containment and mitigation. It is no substitute for action in Pakistan. Such a policy shift is unlikely in the near term, but in addition to reducing the efficacy of Pakistan-based or supported militants, international cooperation should send a message to Pakistan that it risks inviting further isolation.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He recently returned from an extended research trip to South Asia examining internal security issues and is spending the summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a public policy scholar.
Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who allegedly helped the CIA track down the world's most wanted man in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, is undergoing a 33-year jail term on charges of lending financial and physical support to a banned militant outfit in Khyber, one of the seven tribal districts partly overrun by the Taliban and their supporters. Afridi's punishment -- which many see as merely retribution by the Pakistani government (as opposed to a normal court proceeding) for his cooperation with the United States' intelligence community -- came exactly a year after he was subjected to secret Pakistani interrogations and under the legal auspices of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).
The colonial-era law has been under serious criticism from civil society representatives in Pakistan and human rights organization both inside the country and abroad because a number of its clauses are in violation of basic human rights. Although the elected Pakistani government has boasted of introducing reforms in the tribal areas and amending the FCR, Afridi's "trial" has exposed the grim reality of a judicial system where an individual can be sentenced while denied the proper recourse to defense. However, the illegitimacy of these charges against Afridi only masks a far more complex state of affairs.
Before being whisked away by Pakistani intelligence agents on May 23, 2011 in the outskirts of the tribal Khyber Agency and his subsequent court appearance a year later, Afridi had already once experienced something similar when he was brought blindfolded to the warlord Mangal Bagh of Lashkar-e-Islam.
It must have been déjà vu.
In 2008, he was arrested and presented before Mangal Bagh under the shadows of guns and bayonets and was asked to explain why he did not provide medical treatment at the time to Lashkar-e-Islam militants after battle. Afridi was lucky, at least at that time, that one militant testified before Mangal Bagh that the doctor had treated him well when he (the militant) visited the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital in Dogra after receiving a bullet injury. The statement saved Afridi's life but his family had to procure a payment of two million rupees, roughly $20,000 U.S. dollars (obviously a hefty sum for an average Pakistani family) to win his release.
In 2008, Afridi stood alone before a warlord without any counsel and without any right even to speak in self-defense. The judge, the counsel, and the plaintiff were one person -- Mangal Bagh. Four years later, Afridi found himself faced with a similar situation. This time he was presented before an officer of the Pakistani state. But again he found himself without counsel and without a chance to speak in his own defense. And this was the court of the Assistant Political Agent (APA), who charged him for his "close links with defunct Lashkar-e-Islam and his love for Mangal Bagh."
If it was really a "love", then much better to call it "love under duress", as living and serving in Bara, a town located less than 15 miles from Peshawar and a fiefdom of Mangal Bagh, requires one to have ample courage and strength.
The clear and cruel paradox in Afridi's case is that the state of Pakistan found him guilty of involvement in anti-state activities by "providing medical assistance" to militants of the very group that charged and punished him before for not sufficiently aiding their efforts -- and who subsequently robbed him of his family's wealth. If payment of a ransom to save one's life -- or the lives of his family -- from a group of thugs and its elusive leadership is an anti-state act, then roughly half of the tribal area's population could be charged under the offense and punished along the lines of Afridi.
Furthermore, if we applied the same investigation process used against Afridi to some in the state security agencies then it wouldn't be hard to establish links between certain sitting members of parliament from FATA and militant outfits. It was the Bara-based Lashkar-e-Islam that issued a fare list for transporters and a code of conduct for candidates contesting the 2008 general elections from the Khyber Agency. Interestingly, no state security agency, not even the powerful army involved in the tribal areas over the past 10 years, seemed to notice Magal Bagh and his army of volunteers running a parallel state by imposing fines, forcing people to pray five times a day, punishing men for walking bareheaded, kidnapping people for ransom, and carrying out executions.
The more pertinent question one must ask is whether Afridi's "links" with Manal Bagh was the real charge against him? It has been clear from the time of his arrest soon after the May 2 raid in Abbottabad and the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden that the answer is definitively "no". That Afridi, being a citizen of Pakistan and employee of the state, worked for a foreign intelligence agency is in no way an act that could be defended. But for reasons well known, he was not tried under those charges. Rather, he was implicated in a low-hanging fruit charge of a ludicrous association with a group that once abducted and fined him two million rupees -- thus raising more questions about Pakistan's sincerity in fighting militants in the country.
The two verdicts handed down to Afridi -- one by Mangal Bagh in 2008 for not providing medical assistance to his men, and the second by the Pakistani state in 2012 for "providing medical and financial assistance" to militants -- are enough for the international community to understand the dilemma of tribesmen sandwiched between the state security agencies and the militants.
For years, tribesmen have looked to their government and state security agencies for protection against the groups of thugs operating in their areas, and have at times taken up arms to fight. Yet they find scant change in their circumstances. Is it little wonder that they invariably surrender and sometimes even agree to "support" militants, in the way Dr. Afridi did?
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Khattak has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has also written for Christian Science Monitor and London's Sunday Times. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
A recent wave of complex attacks in Kabul, Paktia, Logar, and Nangarhar has stirred strategic debate about the future of the war in Afghanistan. But they also pose tactical and operational questions closer to home. Security officials and police throughout the West have long worried about complex attacks like the assault that kicked off the Taliban's latest offensive. The mostly professional response by Afghan security forces and NATO troops demonstrates the limits of complex attacks, but the intelligence failures that allowed them to occur illustrate the general principle that sound tactics are only one part of the greater operational picture.
Since the 2008 Serena Hotel attack, Kabul has been plagued by repeated complex urban assaults. Deadly gun and bomb attacks in Pakistan and India have also become an unfortunate fact of life in the last decade. Counterterrorism planners, however, focus most on the 2008 Mumbai attack. Mumbai has powerfully shaped police and intelligence services' perception of future terrorist threats. In part, police have married specific training to combat complex attacks to existing prevention and response measures for "active shooters" in crowded areas. Police envision Mumbai while in practice trying to stop killers like the Virginia Tech shooter.
There is little novelty to the Mumbai attacks or armed assaults writ large. Terrorists have always sought to effect attention-grabbing assaults in public places. Adam Dolnik's work on modern hostage operations and armed assault marks the sicarii and hashashin sects of antiquity as the earliest terrorists employing assault techniques for strategic purposes. The Cold War saw numerous armed attacks, including deadly attacks by the Japanese Red Army and Palestinian groups throughout the 70s and 80s. The rise of religious terrorists also fueled strikes on targets ranging from Egypt's Luxor resort to the Oasis residential complex in Saudi Arabia. Mumbai is not the only target terrorists have hit in India; the Red Fort and even Parliament has been attacked.
Unlike the Tet Offensive, an abject failure of its own professed strategic ends with a high (unintentional) symbolic power, the explicit goal of the complex attack is televised gore for strategic effect. Attackers-prepared by fanatical beliefs--fight to the death as suicide commandos, although not all necessarily seek death as the terminus of the operation. In turn, the operational design of complex attacks synergizes disparate killing technologies and finds tactical harmony in off-the-shelf command and control systems. Just like military special operations, attackers aim to gain and maintain relative superiority early on. Body counts and media attention are the primary metrics of tactical success, and hostage-taking and barricading elongates the duration of the raid. Complex attacks, however, require a degree of preparation, training, and coordination that cannot simply be downloaded from a jihadist chat room. Logistics, discipline, and operational deception differentiate group threats from individual attackers like the Fort Hood killer.
Mumbai exemplifies these deadly operational trends. The terrorists used cell phones, blackberries, and satellite phones to coordinate their operations in real-time in cooperation with an offsite handler. They continued killing until Indian forces wiped them out to a man, inflicting a toll of 165 dead and 304 wounded. With an open-ended goal of killing and gaining attention, their operations could be tactically fluid. An attacker can change a scenario from an "active shooter" operation that triggers an immediate police response to more drawn out barricaded hostage siege, or detonate explosives to generate more casualties. Both happened during the course of the Mumbai assault. The attackers also effectively disguised their preparations and tactical ingress from Indian intelligence until it was too late.
Complex attacks pose significant difficulties for law enforcement command and control. As John P. Sullivan has observed, police are optimized to respond in a piecemeal manner to calls for service. Police also concentrate in space, whereas distributed attackers like the Mumbai teams concentrate in time over large urban expanses. A distributed assault strains police resources and fragments the response, putting in question the ability of police command and control to keep pace with rapid events.
Since 2008, police and counterterrorism elements have developed new operational methods and intelligence collection methodologies. Mumbai-style attacks targeting Europe have been foiled. In the United States, police in major metropolitan areas are broadly familiar with the complex attack template due to their extensive experience with active shooter response. This training has been mainly tactical, as elite units are unlikely to be the first responders. Regular police must be prepared to deny attackers relative superiority. It remains to be seen, however, whether the command and control problems involved in suppressing an attack that might unfold over a large metropolitan region have been resolved.
The Kabul strikes, despite breathless media coverage, did not constitute a Mumbai or a Tet 2012. The attack, mounted by the Haqqani Network, featured 40 attackers in Kabul and smaller attacks in Paktia, Logar, and Nagarhar. Afghan security forces, with air support, intelligence, and logistics support from NATO, handily suppressed the assault. Though Afghan and NATO tactics during past armed assaults have sometimes been haphazard, the Haqqani Network's operatives did not inflict anything close to the damage the Mumbai attackers wrought nor survive for as significant a duration. Insurgent adaptation is often hailed, the Afghans and NATO have also roughly adapted through years of hard fighting. But a focus on tactical professionalism hides more disturbing operational failures.
First, as Thomas Ruttig noted, the scale and distribution of the attack across multiple provinces with heavy NATO presences is without precedent in the current conflict. The Afghan and NATO failure to observe the sophisticated reconnaissance, planning, and logistics phases of the operation is also a serious intelligence failure. The attackers adapted to sophisticated intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and NATO tactics, but the Afghan government did nothing to enhance security at the unoccupied buildings Kabul attackers often use as fortified high ground. NATO and the Afghans were still taken by surprise despite having forewarning of a general offensive, and the attack once again demonstrated the ability of a handful of armed men to briefly hold an entire city hostage and dominate the news cycle.
So will we see a complex attack in a major Western city? The jury is still out. There's a world of difference between operating in a South Asian warzone like Afghanistan or a troubled state with a history of terrorism like Pakistan and causing havoc in a Western city. Kenneth Boulding's "loss of strength gradient" applies to non-state actors too, as actors based halfway around the world face substantial challenges in projecting force into heavily fortified and intelligence-protected cities in the Western heartland. Could local networks gain a foothold? Complex attacks depend heavily on training and logistics networks that present plenty of rich intelligence targets, and if "jihobbyists" training in backwoods forests get snapped up by the FBI, the prospects for more serious operations appear dim. The failure to realize Mumbai-style attacks in Europe, an operational environment with greater potential for extremist penetration than the United States, also suggests some cause for skepticism.
However, one lesson from the sophisticated assault on Mumbai is the increasing leveling power of technology in empowering destructive small groups. In London and other cities wracked by political turmoil over continuing economic issues, mostly unarmed rioters augmented with peer-to-peer technologies created urban paralysis. The emerging informatization of public infrastructure in the West paradoxically enhances the vulnerability of Western cities to new forms of disruption. Even if a denuded al-Qaeda and affiliates lack power projection abilities today, it would be unwise to foreclose the possibility of future urban assaults and disruption by it or other potential adversaries.
Debates about the future aside, the cities of South Asia will continue to burn as urban assaults continue unabated. The terrorist attacks in Kabul, Mumbai, and Pakistan constitute gruesome evidence of the important role of sound command and control and intelligence in dealing with the urban adversary's potential for operational disruption in crowded cities.
Adam Elkus is a PhD student at American University in the School of International Service and an editor at the Red Team Journal. He is also an Associate at the Small Wars Journal's El Centro profile, and blogs at Rethinking Security.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Real enemies will whisper about you. The murmursand hisses to discredit Ali Soufan have echoed through the community of opinionmakers and terrorism experts, and have even reached me. Shortly before Soufan's book, The Black Banners, was published, aproducer from a major media outlet spoke with me. "Was it true that Soufan had been a low-levelFBI employee, who could not speak with authority about the nature of theterrorist threats to the United States because he lacked the necessarysenior-level perspective? Wasn't he exaggerating his knowledge and role? Wasn't he a bit of a self-promoter?" theproducer asked.
I could not help but smile to myself as Ilistened; the same character assassination had happened to me when my own bookon interrogation and the War on Terror came out. I had been kept off a number of programs as aresult. I also knew that Soufan already hadbeen targeted this way several years earlier when his name first became public.I told the producer that Soufan's career and mine had overlapped on manyoccasions, and although we had never to my knowledge met, in many instances Iknew first-hand that Soufan's description of events and policies were accurate.
Soufan was an FBI special agent for eight years, arare native Arabic speaker in a professional FBI culture that was shaped byformer Marines, often Irish Catholic and working class, and which hadtraditionally viewed counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism work as secondtier specializations. CIA culture, too, although white collar rather than blue,viewed these specializations as adjuncts to the "real" work of espionage, whichwas to steal secrets and recruit spies from our historic enemies in the SovietUnion, North Korea, or Iran. It wouldprove an ironic twist that the Bush Administration also viewed terroristthreats as small-bore issues. Until 9/11,that is, after which the Bush Administration subjected us all to eight years oflarge-bore, misguided, and muscular obsessions. But, Soufan, the FBI officerswho had worked the first World Trade Center bombing case, and especially hisoriginal mentor, the head of the FBI's New York office, John O'Neill (killed onSeptember 11, 2001, at the base of the World Trade Center towers,) had long understoodthe seriousness of the jihadist threat from the mid-1990s-as had the ClintonAdministration and many in the CIA. Soufan quickly found himself playing a keyrole in the FBI's counterterrorism efforts, and spent a frantic decade tryingto piece together enough information to stop the Muslim terrorists trying tokill us.
TheBlack Banners at first seems to lose the reader inan endless series of incomprehensible names, unrelated dates, places, andcases. But what emerges from Soufan's welter ofdetails and minor episodes is his answer to one of the critical questions abouthow the U.S. should protect itself from terrorism.
Should counterterrorism work be approached as acriminal matter, or as a war which considers terrorists neither enemycombatants nor criminals? The issue, ofcourse, became instantly politicized after 9/11, as the Bush Administrationturned U.S. counterterrorism efforts into the "War on Terror," in so doingjustifying the jettisoning of habeascorpus, the utility of U.S. civilian courts for terrorism cases, and varioushistoric constraints on what American intelligence, military, and lawenforcement officials could do. Soufan's involvement in investigating most ofthe major al-Qaeda attacks and plots that have afflicted us, from the "BlindSheik" of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, to al-Qaeda's attackagainst the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, tothe long struggle to find Osama bin Laden, makes clear that painstakingcriminal and intelligence work-classic FBI investigations, relying on andshaped by the legal requirements of U.S. law-led to the perpetrators in waysthat made prosecution possible and, even more importantly, identified terroristorganizations, individual terrorists, and their plans and intentions.
Even as a sense of reassurance grows with eachharried, scrambling response Soufan and his colleagues make to new threats andincomprehensible bits of information our anger grows, too, as we become awareof a second critical theme of The BlackBanners. Certainly before 9/11, andeven after the reforms of the 9/11 Commission to the intelligence andcounterterrorism communities, the FBI and CIA were afflicted by bureaucraticinfighting, pettiness, and parochialism, while political leaders exploitedterrorist threats to serve political objectives not always related to thethreats themselves. Soufan relates what many in the intelligence communityexperienced: "Prior to the Iraq war,when there was a lot of pressure on the FBI from the White House to produce a"link" between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, the 9/11 Team's assessment, againand again, was that there was no link. The White House didn't like that answer, and told the bureau to lookinto it more and ‘come up with one.'" These vices may well have kept us fromstopping the 9/11 attacks and from far more quickly destroying al-Qaeda than wehave.
We share Soufan's repeated frustration with whatthe FBI and CIA called "the Wall." Neither agency shared information fully with the other, out of acombination of bureaucratic rivalry, mutual disdain, and honest belief thatlegal constraints forbid the sharing of information. I lived this self-harmmyself in the years prior to 9/11 with some of Soufan's New York FBIcolleagues, as one of them told me he would not share information I neededbecause I was a CIA officer, and he could not "compromise the source." I evenresponded, "but we are on the same team!" And so, our counterterrorist operation fizzled.
It is important that one bear first-hand witnessto our failings, as Soufan does. We shouldsit on the bathroom floor and cry with him after the 9/11 attacks, inheartbreak and anger, believing that we could have stopped the attacks and hadbeen done in by our own failings. "I threw up....my whole body was shaking....I wasstill trying to process the fact that the information I had requested aboutmajor al-Qaeda operatives, information the CIA had claimed they knew nothingabout, had been in the agency's hands since January 2000..." And what can one feel but the astonishment andcontempt Soufan relates when he was told in June 2001 that the Bushadministration had decided for political reasons to misrepresent the factsabout the Cole investigation, and toclaim the attack had not been the work of al-Qaeda and was, in any event,"stale." "Maybe to them," Soufan writes in understated anger, "but not to us,not to the victims and their families, and certainly not to bin Laden andal-Qaeda." Less than three months later the administration's Cold Warriorswould no longer be able to decide that the president could not "risk[political] capital going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan."
The third theme of The Black Banners is the most disturbing, poignant and effectivesection of the book: Soufan's growingdisgust at how the interrogation methods developed and imposed on theintelligence community by the Bush Administration undermine our principles,break our laws, and do not work-indeed, how they actually hinder ourintelligence work. Soufan and hiscolleagues in the FBI had been successfully interrogating terrorists for yearsbefore the sudden introduction of "enhanced interrogation techniques"-"torture"is the word a layman would use. We seeconvincing, devastating proof in his detailed descriptions of how, in caseafter case (e.g., Jamal Al-Fadl, Abu Jandal, Abu Zubaydah, Khaled bin Rasheedand on and on) he and his colleagues successfully interrogated al-Qaeda membersby "establish[ing] rapport" with them, by talking about religion, or family, bysharing a taste for sweets, or by laughing with them, if necessary, rather thanby intimidating and physically abusing a detainee. He describes his and his colleagues'consternation when confronted with the snake oil salesmen who peddled andimposed "enhanced interrogation techniques"-a pseudo-expert the CIA brought into oversee interrogations, whom Soufan gives the appropriately menacing andfoolish sobriquet "Boris"-who had never conducted an interrogation, knewnothing about terrorism, and who knew nothing about intelligence work. "Why is this necessary" Soufan asked whenfirst confronted with such measures as sensory deprivation, overload, orhumiliation, "given that Abu Zubydah is cooperating?" As "Boris" tinkered with ever-increasinglyharsh, and ever-ineffective, ways to break detainees, Soufan and his colleaguestried to oppose them, but as was the case with everyone involved in theinterrogation program (myself included,) failed. Soufan and the FBI formally ceased anyinvolvement in the case. "I can nolonger remain here. Either I leave orI'll arrest [Boris]." It is tellingthat, to my knowledge, four individuals with first-hand experience ininterrogations during the "War on Terror," have spoken out about enhancedinterrogation methods: two Air Forceofficers (Steve Kleinman and another officer writing under the pseudonymMatthew Alexander), an FBI officer (Soufan), and a CIA officer (myself). All ofus, independently, make the same points: interrogation must be based on rapport; enhanced interrogation methodsare ineffective, counterproductive, immoral, illegal, and unnecessary, and theyhad nothing to do with obtaining much, if any, information not otherwiseobtainable. It is only apologists forthe Bush Administration, or Bush Administration policymakers themselves, whoassert that "enhanced interrogation techniques" are legal, or work. Soufan is devastating about thesemethods: "The person or persons runningthe program were not sane....the interrogation was stepping over the line fromborderline torture. Way over the line.""In FBI headquarters, the situation was clear....What Boris was doing wasun-American and ineffective."
The book on occasion manifests a characteristictypical of many memoirs: if only they had listened to me, well, we would havedone everything right. The damning factsin Soufan's book, though, are powerful. Yes, the FBI and CIA did so much right, but got so much wrong. The Bush Administration was purblind andarrogant, from dismissing terrorism at first, to down-playing the Cole case for political reasons, toinstituting ineffective, and illegal "enhanced interrogation" techniques. Well, I was there, too. Soufan's and my workoverlapped-we served with the same people, in the same places, dealt with thesame "Wall" imposed by the same people in the CIA and the FBI. We worked with remarkable men and women, whogave their souls to stopping the terrorist threats facing the UnitedStates. We reacted precisely the same ways to the same challenges, in almost literallythe same words, to what we experienced about terrorist threats, enhancedinterrogation and bureaucratic infighting. Soufan knows exactly what he is talking about, and does us all a serviceby having set it down in The Black Banner.
Glenn L. Carle is a former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, and spent 23 years in the Clandestine Servicesof the Central Intelligence Agency. He is also the author of TheInterrogator: An Education.
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Recently, both The Washington Post and the German magazine Der Spiegel have reported on meetings between U.S. officials and representatives of the Taliban that have taken place in Germany to discuss some form of peace negotiations.
Talking to the Taliban makes sense, but there are major impediments standing in the way of a deal.
First, who exactly is there to negotiate with in the Taliban? It's been a decade since their fall from power, and the "moderate" Taliban who wanted to reconcile with the Afghan government have already done so. They are the same group of Taliban who are constantly trotted out in any discussion of a putative Taliban deal: Mullah Zaeef, their former ambassador to Pakistan; Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, their foreign minister; and Abdul Hakim Mujahid, who was the Taliban representative in the United States before 9/11. This group was generally opposed to Osama bin Laden well before he attacked the United States.
Bin Laden told intimates that his biggest enemies in the world were the United States and the Taliban Foreign Ministry, which was trying to put the kibosh on his anti-Western antics in Afghanistan. And today the "moderate" already-reconciled Taliban don't represent the Taliban on the battlefield, because they haven't been part of the movement for the past decade.
Peter Bergen is the director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation and the editor of the AfPak Channel.
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In the wake of the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a daring raid by U.S. SEALs in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad on May 2, the threat from the Taliban in Pakistan has shown no signs of flagging. An increasingly important element of the Taliban's strategy over the last several years has been to exacerbate sectarian rifts across the entire country, which allows the group to expand its reach, increase the pressure on overburdened law enforcement agencies, and undermine the state's legitimacy and authority.
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As the dust settles from the daring U.S. raid on Osama Bin Laden's lair in Abbottabad, a cantonment town just a few hours from Islamabad, serious rifts are obvious between Pakistan and America. Both countries need each other for a host of different reasons, and, at the same time, resent this mutual dependency that has locked both in a deadly embrace.
In the aftermath of the bin Laden raid, U.S. officials and citizenry alike want to abandon Pakistan, and indeed, the bin Laden affair was the most recent in a string of revelations that cast doubt on Pakistan's reliability as a partner in the war on terror. Pakistan's government, armed forces and citizens are no less vexed with the United States after the raid for equally valid reasons. And it is well past time for both Americans and Pakistanis to consider each other's views and come to an accommodation.
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On September 2, 2010 an airstrike conducted by Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan's Takhar province killed a man named Zabit Amanullah and nine of his companions. NATO forces in Afghanistan believe the raid killed a Taliban deputy governor called Mohammed Amin, but there is ample evidence that all those killed were in fact civilians who were caught in the crossfire of a military intelligence case of mistaken identity.
I began investigating the Takhar air strike as soon as it happened because I knew Zabit Amanullah, who had previously worked with me as a human rights researcher. With the help of another Afghan friend who had acted as Amanullah's security focal point, by the following day, I had discovered the identities of those civilians killed in the attack. It took me six months to find the real Mohammad Amin and work out the relationship between him and Zabit Amanullah. Special Forces helpfully supplied the Afghanistan Analysts Network, which recently released an authoritative investigation into the Takhar airstrike, with the sketchy biographical details they had on Amin. I sought the help of contacts within the Taliban in northern Afghanistan to find the real man who matched their profile.
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Up in the north of England, a trial is being heard against a group of men allegedly at the core of a cell recruiting and radicalizing individuals to fight in Afghanistan. The group, part of an ongoing trickle of people from the U.K. attracted to fighting in South Asia, is notable because it counts amongst its ranks a white convert, the latest in a long line of such individuals who have been drawn to militancy in South Asia. These reports of white converts in the region are naturally of particular concern to Western security services: their capacity to blend effortlessly back into the West makes them highly attractive weapons for groups seeking to launch terrorist attacks.
Back in mid-2009, an older moderate Muslim convert in London told me that his theory behind converts in terrorist cells was that they played a key role as catalysts. The presence of a convert, usually a zealous individual who had moved from a troubled past as drug addict or petty criminal to Islamist extremist, would reinforce the group's internal dialogue and help push them deeper into their militant ideologies.
Bin Laden in charge
U.S. counterterrorism officials said yesterday that the Navy SEALs who killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden seized his "meticulous" handwritten diary along with other documents and electronic information, showing that bin Laden was in operational control of al-Qaeda, communicating with his lieutenants, offering suggestions to diversify targets, and calculating the number of Americans that would need to die before America would depart the Middle East (AP, Independent, CNN, AFP). Bin Laden also reportedly retained a singular focus on the West, a position that caused tension with other members of al-Qaeda (Post).
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
On September 2, 2010, ten men in northern Afghanistan were killed in an air attack that was a targeted killing, part of the U.S. Special Forces ‘kill or capture' strategy. The U.S. military said it had killed the Taliban deputy shadow governor of Takhar, who was also a ‘senior member' of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU): one Muhammad Amin, as well as "eight or nine other insurgents."
Many Afghans, including senior government officials, were incredulous. Many knew the man who had actually been targeted -- who was not Muhammad Amin, but Zabet Amanullah. He had not fought for the Taliban since 2001 and had been out campaigning for his nephew in Afghanistan's parliamentary elections with more than a dozen other men, mainly extended family members. That very morning, as per usual, he had called in to the district police chief to check on security before the election campaign convoy set off. The strike was an "obvious mistake," said the provincial governor, Abdul-Jabar Taqwa. "He was an ordinary person and lived among normal people," said the Takhar Chief of Police, Shah Jahaan Nuri. "I could have captured him with one phone call."
U.S. Special Forces got the wrong man, but despite overwhelming evidence, they have remained adamant that they were correct.
U.S. Navy Ensign Haraz N. Ghanbari/ISAF Regional Command (South) via Getty Images
The successful U.S. SEAL strike against Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, just blocks from the Pakistan's West Point, raises questions about whether the Pakistani military and intelligence are part of the solution or part of the problem of international terrorism. Not only does the U.S. need to learn what the Pakistani military high command and ISI knew and when they knew it, but the U.S. also has to ask a series of questions about bin Laden's heavily fortified compound, such as:
To answer these questions and others, Pakistan's government needs to convene a special independent civilian parliamentary public inquiry, like the Watergate hearings or the 9/11 Commission. The commission's representation should reflect the parliament's party makeup, including both opposition and government parties, and ideally be chaired by a member of the opposition. It should have subpoena powers for the appearance of military and civilian government officials, and well as all bin Laden-related government documents from the military and ISI. Its findings should be made public. This is the only way to enable greater civilian authority over the country's counterterrorism efforts, drive more effective and transparent programs, and keep spoilers from undermining the cause.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
The extraordinary and dramatic killing of America's Most Wanted Man has brought confusion, embarrassment, triumph, regret and a resounding cold shoulder to the Pakistani people from the international community. A senior Pakistani diplomat told me, "Maybe it's time to accept that, in great power games, we don't matter." This comment could be a public relations exercise to wash Pakistan's hands of any responsibility for Osama bin Laden's death and the ensuing militant backlash. But it's clear that a solo operation on Pakistani soil by U.S. Navy SEALs is a reality check for unassuming citizens who have let the Pakistani Army's budget fuel theirs and the army's delusions of grandeur.
It's hard to blame Pakistanis for the utter bewilderment they are experiencing after the death of bin Laden. Pakistan's leaders seem dumbfounded by the whole operation, and a lack of a coherent public message from the government, the military, and the intelligence service the ISI has only hindered the average Pakistani's desire to find a defensible position on the issue. Pakistanis are left with many questions and few answers.
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ISLAMABAD -- After a team of helicopter-borne U.S. Navy Seals stormed a compound in the densely populated Bilal Town neighborhood in the Pakistan Army town of Abbottabad, Osama bin Laden was dead. Pakistan was notified after the operation. The U.S. Congress and citizens alike are dumbfounded that America's archenemy was hiding in the plain sight of the Pakistan military and intelligence rather than in the mountainous frontier of the tribal areas. Former President George W. Bush famously declared that the United States would smoke him out of his cave.
However, Abbottabad is far from a cave. The small city is about a three hour drive from Islamabad, reached through roads that trace the modest altitude climb. The town is a hilly and verdant spot where many Pakistanis retreat for the summer when the plains are scorching. It's near some of the famous hiking spots such as Natiagali. Abbottabad is covered in most guidebooks for Pakistan, including Lonely Planet. Most notably, the hill-town is also home to Pakistan's Military Academy and indeed, Bin Laden's massive, albeit non-luxurious, lair was a mere kilometer from this prestigious institution and the security that accompanied it.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
News of Osama bin Laden's death broke last night just in time for this morning's papers to carry on their front pages his wiry-bearded ascetic's face and their own triumphant headlines. Thus the latest, but surely not the last, in the grim pageant of spectacle that has marked our decade of the Global War on Terror: apocalyptic Manhattan, bombs over Baghdad, the naked figures of Abu Ghraib, and killer drones buzzing over the western Himalayas.
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The United States and Pakistan are bound by mutual if asymmetric dependence, which generates considerable resentment among our peoples and governments alike. The Pakistan-U.S. relationship sometimes feels more like an arranged marriage than a love match: both stay in it because of larger considerations, and begrudgingly acknowledge or even outright deride the other's concerns and priorities.
This is not new: it has been the case since the partnership was renewed in the wake of the events of 9/11. The Raymond Davis affair -- in which a CIA contractor shot and killed two Pakistani men he said were trying to rob him in Lahore in late January, causing a national outcry from Pakistanis worried about armies of American spies ravaging the country -- has again brought these long-standing bilateral troubles to fore. The crisis has revealed the apprehensions, recriminations, and anger that are rife on both sides. But Raymond Davis is a symptom, not the cause, of deep tensions between America and Pakistan.
LAHORE -- This much is clear about the latest convulsion in U.S.-Pakistan relations: an American man, operating under the name of Raymond Davis, shot and killed two men in Lahore in the populous province of the Punjab. After the event, an "emergency vehicle," presumably from the U.S. consulate, rushed to rescue Davis and careened into a crowd. The as yet unidentified driver of the rescue vehicle killed a third person. Davis is currently being held in Pakistani custody in Lahore. He has been added to Pakistan's exit control list while his status is being determined in Pakistan's courts, which precludes his exit from the country.
The U.S. government maintains a simple account: he was an employee of the U.S. consulate in Lahore who shot two men in self defense. Since he has "diplomatic immunity," he should be released under the Vienna Convention immediately. President Obama has himself argued that he should be released for these reasons. Concurrent with Obama's appeals for the man's diplomatic immunity, U.S. Senator John Kerry travelled to Pakistan this week to resolve the ever more complicated row. With such high-level demands, the very credibility of the U.S. presidency is at stake. This is not lost upon Pakistan or its citizens.
Pakistan has its own stylized, yet starkly divergent, account from that heard in the United States. Whereas Raymond Davis is a niche topic of the chattering classes in Washington D.C. in the United States, he is the mainstay of conversation across all stratum of Pakistani society and has become a national obsession in Pakistan's print and television media. Pakistanis have called for the hanging of Davis in public rallies.
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The curious case of Raymond Davis is still being played out in Pakistan with all the cloak-and-dagger intrigue befitting a James Bond novel, and today American president Barack Obama himself got involved. Washington has been consistently loud and clear in its message to Islamabad: a Pakistani refusal to hand over the 36-year-old former Special Forces officer who shot and killed two Pakistani men in what he claims was self-defense will be the mother of all deal-breakers for bilateral ties. On trial in Pakistan is not Raymond Davis, however, nor only the already bottomed-out reputation of the United States -- the credibility of the government of Pakistan is also at stake.
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At a recent event on Pakistan co-sponsored by Brookings and the U.S. Institute of Peace, several panelists cogently stressed the need for greater transparency on the parts of Washington and Islamabad as a necessary step in forging better relations.
Inevitably, the sad story of Pakistan's F-16s emerged during a panel discussion. In the early 1980s, the United States agreed to sell Pakistan F-16 fighter jets. This decision was taken when the United States worked closely with Pakistan to repel the Soviets from Afghanistan. The F-16 was the most important air platform in Pakistan's air force and it was the most likely delivery vehicle of a nuclear weapon. When nuclear proliferation-related sanctions (under the Pressler Amendment) came into force in 1990, the U.S. government cancelled the sales of several F-16s. Pakistanis routinely cite this as hard evidence of American perfidy to underscore the point that Washington is not a trustworthy ally.
With the lapse of time, many American and Pakistani interlocutors alike rehearse redacted variants of this sordid affair for various purposes. But I was dismayed when a U.S. official (speaking in his personal capacity) did so at the U.S. Institute of Peace event. He stressed, with suitable outrage, that the United States unfairly deprived Pakistan of the F-16s it purchased, demurred from reimbursing Pakistan when sanctions precluded delivery, and even charged Pakistan for the storage fees while the United States sought a third-party buyer for the planes. This particular individual has a long-standing relationship with South Asia and extensive experience in the region, which made the stylized telling all the more troublesome.
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ISLAMABAD -- Advocates of the current U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan deploy false choices and flawed assumptions to defend the status quo. Proponents of "staying the course" delegitimize the pursuit of better options for ending this deadly nine-year war by reducing the debate to a dubious binary: maintain a long-term counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign against the Taliban or leave Afghanistan after ignominiously "cutting and running." It is time to reframe this public discourse over the costly status quo and consider a new way forward.
Vice President Joe Biden, who is currently in Afghanistan and headed to Pakistan shortly, has argued, among others, that a policy of "Counterterrorism Plus" will more effectively secure genuine U.S. security objectives. He's right.
This approach calls for a much smaller deployment of forces that would focus upon al-Qaeda, including continued drone attacks on al-Qaeda and international militants both in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas. Proponents of such a plan argue for continuing the training mission of Afghan National Security Forces with a dedicated focus upon sustainability as well as continued and long-term initiatives to develop civilian capacity in the Afghan government. Obviously, this implies a sustained -- albeit a different and perhaps smaller -- U.S. presence in Afghanistan. This is not "cut and run."
brutal assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer by a man in his security
detail is being tied to a courageous stand he took opposing the nation's
antiquated blasphemy laws and supporting a Catholic woman, Aasia Bibi, accused
But there is another important position Taseer has taken that should be emphasized: he was one of very few Pakistani politicians who honestly and openly recognized the existence of the "Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab," sometimes called the "Punjabi Taliban," comprised, through the years, of an alphabet soup of sectarian militant organizations: Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HUM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), among others, inspired by an intolerant brand of Sunni Islam called Deobandism.
Remember last month, when all the news was atwitter about the prospect of meaningful negotiations with the Taliban in Kabul? The story was moderately shocking: a senior Taliban figure was being flown around the region, talking directly with General Petraeus, President Karzai, and other senior figures in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan government. The driving force behind coverage of those negotiations was New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, who wrote that NATO had provided air transportation and secure road travel for Taliban leaders to visit Kabul for the negotiations.
Almost precisely one month later, Filkins and Carlotta Gall are writing the exact opposite.
In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.
"It's not him," said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. "And we gave him a lot of money." ...
The fake Taliban leader even met with President Hamid Karzai, having been flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace, officials said.
Think about this for a moment: a man whose identity no one was able to verify was flown, by NATO, for face-to-face meetings with high-ranking members of the coalition (though Karzai denies having met Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the impersonated Taliban leader in question). We don't know what his intentions were, nor do we know what information he may have stolen for whatever his ultimate goals are. We can speculate all we want about what really happened: the impostor was out to grab cash ("we gave him a lot of money," one U.S. official lamented), he was an ISI agent sent to penetrate the negotiations process, and so on. But no matter how we spin it, this is hugely embarrassing for ISAF, for the war, and for any prospects of ending it soon.
JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
There's a duel afoot in a pocket of Pakistan's wild west, or northwest to be precise, that is ripped straight from the set of any gunslinging, saloon-door swinging, shootout-in-a-dusty-street American movie about its own once-lawless frontier territory.
The Taliban and their opponents in the tribal village defense committee, or lashkar, of Bara Bandai in the Swat Valley are engaged in a dueling poster campaign, pinning ‘wanted' posters of each other across the village in a psychological war of the words.
ALLAM KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
On Tuesday, the CIA offered a startling admission: The agency's internal system of vetting and security broke down, failing to protect its agents from betrayal at the hands of the informant-turned-suicide-bomber who killed seven CIA officers and contractors in Afghanistan last year. The report, presented by CIA chief Leon Panetta, details how the agency did not follow its own guidelines for vetting sources and protecting itself from countermeasures from hostile entities.
Panetta's admission is a sharp departure from his defense of the agency last January, when he angrily defended the CIA from charges that "poor tradecraft" allowed Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian al Qaeda sympathizer, to detonate a suicide vest at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Chapman in Khost Province. "This was not a question of trusting a potential intelligence asset," he wrote at the time, "even one who had provided information that we could verify independently."
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On September 30, NATO helicopters killed two and injured four soldiers from Pakistan's paramilitary organization, the Frontier Corps (FC), when NATO aerially attacked the FC border post within Kurram agency. According to NATO's command in Kabul, two ISAF helicopters were pursuing insurgents from the Afghan side of the border. Curiously, the Frontier Corpsmen thought it would be prudent to issue "warning shots" when the helicopters entered Pakistani airspace. Unfortunately, the NATO helicopter crew shot two rockets in self-defense. NATO claims that the FC troops were mistaken for militants and that the tragedy could have been avoided had there been better coordination between NATO and Pakistan's military. A similar situation occurred in June of 2008; however, in that case the innocence of the soldiers remains very much in dispute with the Department of Defense insisting it was a legitimate action against a hostile target.
Within hours of last Thursday's helicopter strikes, the Pakistani government retaliated by shutting down the Torkham border crossing, which lies north of Peshawar on the Grant Trunk Road. Torkham is the crossing through which a majority of non-lethal NATO supplies pass into Afghanistan from Pakistan, once they are offloaded from ships based in Pakistan's port city of Karachi. The other main crossing into Afghanistan, at Chaman linking Baluchistan and Kandahar, has remained open.
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images, 2010