How’s al-Qaeda doing? You decide
If an analyst in al-Qaeda”s intelligence services or a journalist friendly to al-Qaeda were asked to compile a roundup of news stories from 2007 that supported his sympathies, here is what he would write. It would be a reasonably effective and sophisticated bit of open-source reporting (or what some might even call disinformation) that would be carefully slanted to the author”s agenda, and al-Qaeda might itself publish or distribute the article as evidence of the decay of the West.
Leaving aside the claims and rhetoric of al-Qaeda and their sympathizers, this analyst or journalist might gather together the following facts available in the media to forward to his friends and colleagues. So, let us assume, for the moment, that our imagined author has completed his task and has forwarded the data below to his editors or al-Qaeda superiors. We invite the readers to peruse the following information and then form their own assessment of al-Qaeda”s end-of-2007 viability and accomplishments.
The US enemy
. US deficit-spending on defense and homeland security continues to increase, with spending in Iraq alone now approaching US$12 billion per month. A former senior Ronald Reagan administration official, who is now vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International), has said, “The US government is in a weakened financial position to respond to another major terrorist attack …”
. Polls in 2007 showed that 26% of US Muslims under 30 years of age believe that suicide attacks are sometimes necessary in defense of Islam. In addition, 15,000 US Muslims are attending this year”s pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, a large proportion of whom are young professionals; this is the demographic cohort that is al-Qaeda”s most important recruitment pool.
. US public opinion continues to run heavily against continuing the war in Iraq and most of the 2008 presidential candidates favor ending the war; none talk of victory.
. Eighteen of the 19 US presidential candidates support maintaining the status quo in US foreign policy toward the Muslim world, especially regarding Saudi Arabia and Israel. One of the leading candidates has surrounded himself with neo-conservative advisers who lobbied for the US invasion of Iraq.
. Both US parties and most US media are attacking and trying to limit or end the rendition program run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which has captured numerous senior al-Qaeda leaders and has, according to CIA chief General Michael Hayden, saved American lives.
. US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said in July that al-Qaeda had successfully regrouped and was capable of attacking in the United States. He added that al-Qaeda has a network of supporters there, and that the threat from homegrown terrorists is growing.
. The US-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan continued to shrink in 2007, with, for example, South Korea and Japan withdrawing from Afghanistan, and Poland and Australia announcing they would withdraw their combat forces from Iraq in 2008. Prime ministers who supported the US invasion and occupation of Iraq were replaced or defeated for reelection in Britain, Poland and Australia.
The European enemy
. The July 2007 attacks by Muslim doctors in Britain were not militarily effective, but both successfully defeated the British intelligence services” multi-layered detection capabilities.
. The Danish and German governments broke up al-Qaeda-related cells in 2007 and claim that those arrested had ties to the main al-Qaeda organization in South Asia. In addition, the European Union”s counterterrorism coordinator said in November that al-Qaeda is now the biggest security threat to Europe.
. In November, the chief of Britain”s MI-5 security service said his officers knew of 2,000 al-Qaeda-linked individuals who are operating in the United Kingdom. That total is 400 more than the number provided by the MI-5 chief”s predecessor one year earlier.
. Europeans continue to denigrate Islam, publishing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad depicted as a dog and honoring the books of Salman Rushdie, an author whose work blasphemes the Prophet Mohammad.
Affairs in the Muslim world
. In Iraq, al-Qaeda continues to suffer from manpower losses and even more from the lingering negative impact of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi”s religious excesses and indiscriminate violence. Some US generals claim that al-Qaeda has been permanently defeated in al-Anbar province; other US generals say al-Qaeda has moved its forces from Anbar to Diyala province and northern Iraq. US officials believe if al-Qaeda can be defeated in Iraq, they can establish stability in the country. There is still no functioning central government in Baghdad and Shi”ite-Sunni tensions continue to simmer.
. In Egypt and Jordan, the governments have cracked down on Islamist political groups and leaders – jailing hundreds – and have passed measures limiting the Islamists” participation in elections and government. The US government has not sought to moderate or stop these actions.
. In Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf is trying to hold his country together. He is being threatened on the one side by rising Islamist militancy and on the other by the West”s insistence that he permit elections and a return to democracy, practices which have in the past paved the way for civilian politicians to loot the country”s economy.
. In Afghanistan, the Taliban gained control of more territory in 2007. The success of their insurgent campaign – US forces suffered more killed in 2007 than in any year since 2001 – forced US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in December to urge North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries to deploy more combat forces in Afghanistan. The number of non-Afghan Islamist fighters entering Afghanistan was steadily increasing at the end of 2007, as was the number of suicide attacks in the country. The strength of the Taliban insurgency has also moved some NATO leaders to suggest that Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai”s government consider dealing with elements of the Taliban for peace. Afghan heroin production set new records in 2007 and the drug is now entering the United States in unprecedented amounts.
. Polls in the summer of 2007 showed that 76% of Muslims worldwide agree with al-Qaeda”s claim that US foreign policy is meant to undermine or destroy Islam.
The affairs of al-Qaeda and its allies
. Al-Qaeda”s senior leadership suffered no serious losses in 2007 and Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Yahya al-Libi and other senior leaders published an increasing number of timely audio and video tapes. By mid-December, al-Qaeda”s as-Sahab Productions had disseminated 92 videos, as compared to 58 releases in 2006.
. Al-Qaeda”s insurgent training camps in South Asia have been re-established and are now sending trained fighters to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Levant and Europe.
. In 2007, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group publicly joined al-Qaeda and pledged its loyalty to bin Laden. In addition, al-Qaeda-in-Lebanon actively engaged the Lebanese army in battle during 2007, and al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb carried out a series of successful attacks during the year. Israel”s government claims al-Qaeda is now well established in Gaza.