September 10, 2010


Pentagon papers offer insight into al-Qa'eda's hidden world of terror (Anton La Guardia, 22/02/2006, Daily Telegraph)

The contract is one of thousands of documents captured by US forces, mostly in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past four years of the "global war on terror", and stored on a Pentagon database known as Harmony.

An initial sample of 28 have been declassified and published by the Combating Terrorism Centre (CTC), part of the US Military Academy at West Point, with the promise of many more to come.

They provide a fascinating glimpse into the workings of Osama bin Laden's organisation. For example, according to the CTC, the material "provides several tools for identifying and exacerbating existing fissures" within al-Qa'eda.

The declassified Harmony papers include documents that set out the internal structure of al-Qa'eda and illuminate disputes over tactics. They also analyse past failures such as the crushing of an Islamist uprising in Syria in 1982, speculate on new regions for jihad and discuss the use of the internet.

Many were clearly written before the September 2001 attacks and the fall of the Taliban. However, some reveal dismay over the loss of al-Qa'eda's bastion in Afghanistan.

One hitherto unknown writer, Abdel-Halim Adl, wrote to a man identified only as "Mukhtar" in June 2002 complaining of Osama bin Laden's stubbornness and "the capture of a large number of brothers". He said: "We will become the laughing stock of the world."

He urges al-Qa'eda to "stop rushing into action and take time out to consider all the fatal and successive disasters that have afflicted us during a period of no more than six months". All too often little is known about the documents - such as when they were written, who read them and how they were obtained. [...]

The job descriptions and qualities of al-Qa'eda members are set out in detail.

To qualify as "emir", the leader (presumably bin Laden) should not be "too anxious to be an emir", must have "adequate knowledge to qualify him to carry out the responsibilities" and must have "comprehension of jihad".

The chairman of the military committee must be, among other things, older than 40 and "a university graduate, preferably from a military academy". The head of the personal guards "must not be one from one of the Gulf countries or from Yemen", perhaps reflecting a fear of penetration by intelligence services.

One bundle of documents includes a long series of questions submitted by recruits to bin Laden, usually referred to as Sheikh Abu Abdallah. They range from appeals for news about jihadi action to requests for religious rulings.

It is unclear how much of this formal structure reflects the reality of al-Qa'eda in its heyday and whether any of it has survived the dispersal from Afghanistan.

If al-Qa'eda was once regarded by western intelligence agencies as a "holding company" for Islamic extremist groups, the leadership hiding along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan is now seen merely as a "franchise". The "core" al-Qa'eda no longer directs operations, but splinters, associates and newly-formed groups adopt the "brand".

Al-Qa'eda, meaning "The Base", has recreated its home in cyberspace, from where propagandists motivate recruits and commanders share tactics.

Mr Brachman said he "strongly" believed that some extremist groups, such as al-Qa'eda's branch in Saudi Arabia or Jemaah Islamiya in south-east Asia, still used formal contracts.

Al-Qa'eda's attention to publicity and the potential of the internet are apparent from an early date.

A memo to bin Laden penned by "Abu Huthayfa" in Kandahar in June 2000 stresses the importance of a better propaganda effort. He praises bin Laden as a "star", but complains that al-Qa'eda suffers from "a political vacuum".

He bemoans the lack of information about al-Qa'eda's role in driving the US out of Somalia, the failure to launch the "World Islamic Front against the Jews and Crusaders" and ignorance as to who was behind the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

He says al-Qa'eda should copy the tactics of Hamas in recording a video testament before suicide bombings.

Abu Huthayfa highlights a recurring obsession of the jihadi movement: its failure to win popular support and overthrow any Arab regime.

He notes the "failure of the experiment" in holy war in Libya.

Failure is the central theme of Abu Musab al-Suri, the nom-de-guerre of Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, particularly his detailed analysis of the Islamist uprising in Syria that was crushed by the late Hafez al-Assad in 1982.

One of the President's great failures in the WoT is to not be as dismissive of Islamicism as Reagan was of Bolshevism. In particular, it would be helpful if he gave a speech detailing just how central the United States was to driving the Soviets from Afghanistan, thereby destroying one of the most cherished myths of the jihadis.

[originally posted: 2/22/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 10, 2010 11:15 PM
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