Version/ Public Release 0.8.8 posted on Monday, April 17, 2001. Version/ Public Release 1.0.2 posted on Friday, September 14, 2001 and scored 50 % by graduate professor with academic experience ("incorrect understanding of al-Qaida (the freedom fighter)" and "not having correct understanding of freedom fighter and terrorist.") Version/ Public Release 1.1.3 posted on Monday, February 18, 2002. Version/ Public Release 1.7.3 being approved and edited for post by Thursday, May 27, 2006 (unknown.) In Place Of updated on Thursday, October 8, 2009.
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Al Qaida: Entrapaneurship and Modular Terrorism
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Should we prepare for big wars or small ones? After Afghanistan and Iraq, the answer might seem obvious, but the truth is harder and more expensive: both.
Great armies and navies are always tempted to fight the last war, especially if they won it. The British Army entered World War I wedded to the "up and at 'em" infantry advances of Waterloo—even though by the turn of the century the Maxim gun had made such tactics tantamount to suicide. Truly fearsome militaries prepare to fight the next war. Think of how the German Army used planes and tanks in a coordinated blitzkrieg to outmaneuver the Allies at the outset of World War II.
But what if a military must prepare to fight not one war, but two very different kinds of war? That is the challenge facing the world's greatest superpower at the beginning of the 21st century. The American military must continue to ready itself for high-tech warfare; it must still be able to fight "big wars" against rising powers like China. At the same time, it must anticipate what military planners blandly term "low-intensity conflict" but what Rudyard Kipling more aptly called the "savage wars of peace"—small, asymmetrical conflicts against determined partisans with wicked low-tech weapons like IEDs, the improvised explosive devices that have cost America so dearly in Iraq.
The tension over which war to prepare for has created a generational divide in the American military, particularly the U.S. Army, between old bulls who want to focus on all-out combat, drowning the enemy in precision firepower, and young upstarts who believe that in today's messy world of failing states, firepower is not enough—it is necessary to win hearts and minds. Many of the combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, who are among the most capable and experienced young officers America has had in a generation, fall into the latter camp. But the uncomfortable fact is that the U.S. military may not have the resources to be able to fight both kinds of war with any assurance of victory. Though political leaders have barely begun to address the problem, the shape, size and funding of America's armed forces is one of the most pressing issues the next president will face.
The end of the cold war was supposed to give the winning superpower a breather. In 1999, the then presidential candidate George W. Bush spoke of his desire to "skip a generation" of weaponry, to move to a shiny new age of high-tech warfare in which sensors, satellites and computers would replace manpower. Among military planners, phrases like "network-centric warfare," "digitization" and "the transparent battlefield" were all the rage. The new thinking was given a partial test after 9/11 when the military invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's push to employ a faster, leaner, more-wired force worked well. In Afghanistan, Special Forces working with local warlords used their laptops to call in precise airstrikes and topple the Taliban; in Iraq, Gen. Tommy Franks could boast that "speed kills"—and Baghdad fell in less than three weeks.
Then came disaster. In Afghanistan, American forces and their unreliable allies were not able to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban survived to fight another day. The growing insurgency in Iraq overwhelmed U.S. forces and left a good portion of the American people and their elected representatives believing that the war was a lost cause. The military seemed caught by surprise, its high-tech forces unable to defeat a shadow army that wired bombs with garage-door openers and the sort of cheap electronic gizmos that could be purchased from RadioShack.
In retrospect, the military's unpreparedness seems puzzling. According to the Congressional Research Service, since the end of the cold war in 1990 the U.S. military has been deployed 88 times—to fight in a series of savage little wars of peace from Somalia to the Balkans to Sierra Leone. Didn't the Army learn anything from the experience?
The answer is yes and no. The older generation of officers—the generals who run the show—were trained to fight the Soviet Army as its tanks powered through the Fulda Gap in Germany. These officers were steeped in tank battles and artillery duels, and although the Big One never came, they did get a chance to fight a conventional armored conflict against the Iraqi Army in 1991, crushing Saddam Hussein's forces in less than 100 hours. After the gulf war, the Army shrank in size by about 40 percent. The officers who advanced to the top ranks tended to be conventional warriors; the outliers and mavericks—the few who knew other cultures, had trained Third World armies and had studied the small wars of the colonial era—were confined to the ghetto of Special Forces or let go altogether. The men who ran the lightning invasion of Iraq and the long, botched occupation that followed tended to be Desert Storm vets who knew little or nothing about counterinsurgency warfare.
Now, however, a younger generation of officers has been bloodied in the city streets of Iraq, fighting against hidden foes. (Some of these same officers were deployed on nation-building missions to the Balkans or Africa or Haiti in the 1990s.) In Iraq, these young captains and majors and lieutenant colonels have had to desperately improvise, to make up tactics as they go along. Naturally, some are furious at their higher-ups for sending them to war so unprepared. In May 2007, one of them, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, wrote a blistering piece in Armed Forces Journal called "A Failure of Generalship." He painted the Army's high command as a bunch of none-too-bright conformists. The promotions system, he wrote, "does little to reward creativity and moral courage." On the contrary, to move up, an officer "must only please his superiors." Yingling pointed out that no one seemed to be taking the fall for failure in Iraq.
He had a point: Gen. George Casey, who presided over the downward spiral between 2004 and 2006, was rewarded by being made Army chief of staff. By contrast, Gen. George Marshall, in his first year as Army chief of staff under FDR in the run-up to World War II, fired 34 generals and 445 colonels from an Army half the size of today's force. After war came in December 1941, he further relieved 17 division commanders. So why no comparable purge during the Iraq War, which has already lasted longer than World War II? More was at stake during 1941 to 1945, of course, but it is also true that the commanders in Iraq were following the policy decreed by Bush and Rumsfeld. The failure of imagination started at the top. True, more officers should have challenged their civilian bosses, but that is rarely the way in a U.S. military obedient to civilian control.
Under the twin pressures of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has dramatically changed its training for officers and soldiers. Now, at its National Training Center at Fort Irwin in California's Mojave Desert, infantry units are plunged into a nightmarish theater in the round: a network of a dozen "Iraqi" villages, complete with several hundred "Iraqis"—the leading roles played by a cast of Arabic-speaking extras supplied by a contractor.
But the real test of the Army's commitment will be whether the military retains and promotes the experienced young officers coming off the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. "One of the challenges we have as senior leaders is that ... we have to change the Army," says Gen. Raymond Odierno, the former No. 2 in Iraq who was recently named vice chief of staff of the Army. "We have to make sure we don't lose this." His boss in Iraq, counterinsurgency guru Gen. David Petraeus, says that the military is beginning to make accommodations for officers who are repeatedly deployed and can't take the war-college courses needed for promotion. Still, young officers were dismayed to see some of Petraeus's own "brain trust" of smart colonels passed over for promotion in recent years. The fact that Petraeus was brought back to Washington, D.C., last fall to oversee the most recent promotions board was taken as a sign that the Pentagon leadership recognized those frustrations.
But simply tipping the balance over to small-war fighting isn't the answer, either. The U.S. Army last week published a critique of the Israeli military's performance in its fight against Hizbullah in Lebanon in 2006. It concluded that the Israelis, preoccupied with counterinsurgency efforts in Gaza and the West Bank, had neglected training for conventional combat and paid a heavy price. Yet if the U.S. Army needs to prepare for both Big War and Small War and nation-building postwar, how can it juggle the competing demands of each?
Counterinsurgency and nation-building in particular are labor-intensive; there is no substitute for boots on the ground. The current U.S. Army is stretched to the limit: after their third or fourth tours in Iraq, young officers are fretting about their stressed families. Partly because the Army has been decentralized to be able to fight in smaller, more-mobile units, there is a serious shortage of captains and majors. The minimum requirements for enlisting are dropping, allowing in more and more teenagers who never finished high school.
Some experts think that the active Army needs to nearly double to 800,000 or more troops. But where will the money come from? Every soldier now costs, on average, roughly $125,000 a year. At the same time, the centerpiece of the Army's current plans for the big war out there sometime is the high-tech "Future Combat System," a $300 billion family of vehicles networked into an all-seeing whole by sensors, UAVs and satellites. It will be up to the nation's political leaders to decide whether to make some hard choices or try to convince the voters that they need to pay for it all. Too bad this is a topic that is rarely discussed during the presidential campaign.
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This year Al-Qaeda celebrates its 20th birthday, having outlived the Bush administration. It may even outlive the Obama administration as well, despite all the all the manpower and resources that have been allocated to the war in Afghanistan.
Abdel al-Bari Atwan, the editor-in chief of the Al-Quds Al-Arabi, told Arabic News Broadcast (ANB), “Al Qaeda continues to strengthen and expand despite the 8 years of search and destroy, which shows that the US has lost, not al Qaeda”.
Atwan said that Al Qaeda has managed to drag the US into wars of attrition. He explains, “when I met bin Laden in November 1996, he told me ‘I can’t fight America inside America, but if I manage to drag America to Arab and Islamic countries, then I can win because I would be fighting it in our land.’” The US so far has spent $918 billion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at a time when its economy is in serious crisis.
Osama bin Laden’s latest audiotape message confirms that he views the war in Afghanistan as an opportunity to fight a war of attrition against the US. Bin Laden said in the tape, which was aired on September 13, “If you [Americans] stop the war, then fine. Otherwise we will have no choice but to continue our war of attrition on every front just as we have worn out the former Soviet Union for ten years until it disintegrated.”
“Continue to fight for as long as you wish,” bin Laden warned. “You are fighting a desperate war that you can’t win.” He also observed that Obama was "powerless" to halt the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and must rethink his policy on Israel.
Dia Rashwan an Egyptian expert at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told Al Jazeera English that Al Qaeda became an enfranchised enterprise after the war in Afghanistan. Radical Islamic groups - such as the Algerian Salafi Group for Combat and Islamic Call, and the Tawhed and Jihad group of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi in Iraq -- joined Al-Qaeda by simply declaring allegiance to the organization.
Atwan agreed with that assessment. He said before the war in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda was confined to “a cave in Tora Bora,” but now has presences in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Europe, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and North Africa. And the list is growing.
This makes it extremely difficult to defeat Al-Qaeda because it requires defeating many Al-Qaeda-franchised groups on many war fronts, Rashwan said. While Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups were weakened in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, other Al-Qaeda groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Africa were strengthened.
Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Asia Times bureau chief, told Al Jazeera English that “Al Qaeda is no longer an Arab organization. Now it is more of a South Asian organization because a big number of men from this region [“Tribal area”, in Pakistani] joined the organization”.
Therefore, defeating Al-Qaeda can only be achieved by defeating its ideologies.
Atwan said that Western media, and even some Arab media, have mistakenly concluded that Al-Qaeda was weakened because it failed to carry out attacks inside in the West in recent years. Rather, it is a new strategy by Al-Qaeda, which no longer considers carrying out attacks inside the West and the US a priority, especially after the election of Barack Obama.
Atwan told ANB, “without a doubt the election of Barack Obama put Al-Qaeda in a very awkward position. So far Obama’s policies have deprived Al Qaeda from many justifications that Al-Qaeda was using to fight the US.” He added, “Obama is an American president that wants to reconcile with the Muslim world. His father was a Muslim. He gave a speech in Cairo in which he spoke about mutual respect and interests.” Obama, in effect, has managed to pull the rug from under Al-Qaeda by his reconciling speeches.
Atwan added, “this was like an earthquake that shook all Al-Qaeda’s plans, and ideologies.” This explains the change of Al-Qaeda strategy, which was evident in Bin Laden’s latest audio recording.
Osama bin Laden said in the audiotape, which was aired on Al Jazeera English on Sep 13, that he wanted Americans to stop their support for Israel. Bin Laden said, “Are your children, money, jobs, homes, economy and reputation more important to you than the security of the Israelis, their children and their economy? Should you choose your security and stopping war, this would require you to hold accountable those who are meddling in our security on your behalf. We are ready to respond positively to this option on solid and fair bases.”
This is a big change from bin Laden’s previous messages, in which he threatened bloody attacks against western and Arab countries.
Bin Laden even had an intellectual suggestion to the American people, urging them to read books by professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt to find out for themselves about the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in the US.
Dia Rashwan also saw a dramatic change in tone. He told Al Jazeera English, “I think that Osama bin Laden changed his speech compared to previous speeches. For example, Osama bin Laden spoke about September 11 attacks without saying ‘Ghazwa’ which means conquest; he only said 9.11. He never mentioned his 19 martyrs, his heroes. For the first time, he is making a distinction between bad and good American administrations.” In this case, the bad administration was that of former President George Bush’s.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Vice President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, saw it in another way. He told Al Jazeera English, “Bin Laden referenced John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and their assassinations. He argued that once a train is on its tracks, it can’t leave those tracks. His argument is that if Obama deviates too much from the Bush administration, then he can get assassinated. In essence… regardless of if you like [Obama] more than Bush, the nature of the US is not going to change. That is a very defensive stance vis-a-vis Obama.”
Bin Laden’s focus on the Palestinian plight in his latest speech may have also been intended to offer a new image of Al-Qaeda in contrast to the bloody one that has been imprinted in the minds of Muslims worldwide. Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups were responsible for a great deal of bloodshed not only in western countries but also in Arab and Muslim countries, including Iraq and Algeria.
Giving up its rhetoric about using violence against Arab regimes, and confining its armed attacks against American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan at least temporarily makes Al-Qaeda appear less extremist. Bin Laden hopes this will reestablish its legitimacy, clearly eroded after Obama’s election.