Winning: Why Some Arabs Think Al-Qaeda Is Winning


September 9, 2006: Who do Islamic terrorists fight in this war? The first question to ask is, what war? The war that the United States calls the "war on terror", or what many Arabs call a war against Islam. Many Moslems view it this way, after seeing the US-led coalition forces destroy Moslems' homes and kill their children in Afghanistan and Iraq. This attitude is encouraged by Islamic radicals, nationalists and Arab media. The United States also adds fuel to the fire by backing Israel in its efforts to defend itself against Palestinians, which angers the many Arabs who have been raised on anti-Israel propaganda.
Therefore, al Qaeda uses the anger of Arab and Moslem world to spread its propagandas. Al Qaeda is no longer working as organization; it's now an intellectual organization disseminating its ideas among all Moslems via Internet Web sites. In this way, the terrorists recruit many skilled youths from all Arab countries, as well as the overseas Moslem communities (some 30 million people in Europe and the Americas).
Al Qaeda is fighting this war on three fronts: the Western-American front, the operational front and the strategic-political front.
The Western-American front. The United States doesn't deserve much credit for the fact that, despite determined efforts to prevent terrorist attacks, there have been successful Islamist attacks in Spain and Britain since Sept. 11, 2001. To many Arabs, this is a significant achievement. Al Qaeda makes much of that fact that al Qaeda broke up the American alliance with Spain because of the Madrid bombings in March 11, in which Spain decided to withdraw its troops from Iraq, and shook the first US ally by the recent London attacks that led to increased demands by the British public that Britain to withdraw its forces from Iraq,
On the American side, one of the most deep-seated of these problems is the US government's tendency to treat this war as a law enforcement issue. Following a recommendation of the Sept. 11 commission, Congress sought to tackle this problem by creating a national security service within the FBI to focus on preventive intelligence rather than judicial evidence. This has proved to be a major vulnerability. The FBI has admitted that it not monitor any Islamist unless there is a "criminal predicate." Thus the large Islamist support infrastructure that is known to exist in the United States is free to operate until its members actually commit a crime! Supporters of al Qaeda see this as another victory.
Turning to the operational front, al Qaeda's objectives were to control the Arabian Peninsula by preventing the United States from operating in the region. The September 11 attacks demanded that the U.S. attack terrorist bases, and this was done without delay. The offensive in Afghanistan destroyed al Qaeda there and got rid of the Taliban government. It was a brilliantly executed operation. In the succeeding years, however, the Taliban and al Qaeda have been able to regroup, rebuild and go back on the offensive, because they are able to establish secure bases in the tribal areas along the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Then there was the invasion of Iraq. Here again the combined military operations of the United States and Britain were successful in defeating Iraqi forces and removing Saddam Hussein and his regime. But in the aftermath of that victory, grave blunders were made. There was a total misunderstanding of the requirements for successful occupation.
In fact, al Qaeda believes it has benefited from the U.S. decision to keep the initial invasion force small and agile. The terrorists also have taken advantage of disbanding all Iraqi security forces and civil service with no real US plan to fill the resulting vacuum. What al Qaeda didn't understand was that the U.S didn't have the capability to put a larger force into Iraq, because so many units had been disbanded in the 1990s. Al Qaeda was disappointed with the Iraqi armed forces and police being disbanded, as these two forces were led, down to the lowest level, by men selected mainly for their loyalty to Saddam Hussein and Sunni Arab supremacy.
Al Qaeda, and many Arabs, believe that the American military forces in Iraq are consuming practically the entire defense budget and stretching the Army to its operational limits. In reality, the U.S. has managed to maintain morale, and actually expand spending on new equipment and weapons, via the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. American troops are obtaining valuable combat experience, killing large numbers of the enemy, and keeping American casualties down to historically low levels.
The third front, the strategic-political, is seen as favorable to al Qaeda because Islamic radicals in in Yemen and Saudi Arabia have, since 2003, began making attacks in their own countries. But after a year of terror attacks in Saudi Arabia, government security forces gained the upper hand, and little is heard from al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia anymore. The terrorists managed to turn public opinion against them. The Islamic terrorist attacks in Iraq and Jordan eventually turned Arab public opinion against al Qaeda. In order to maintain the morale of its core supporters, al Qaeda spins all of this as a victory, something only their true-believers support.
Al Qaeda also claims victories in Somalia, Pakistan , India, Indonesia , Malaysia, Egypt, Algeria and Jordan, because Islamic terrorists are making attacks there. Al Qaeda believes that these attacks will bring ultimate victory, despite the fact that these attacks are increasing popular hostility to the Islamic radicals.
Al Qaeda encourages its followers in all these Islamic countries by claiming their terrorism is tying down all the American armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, so al Qaeda has nothing to fear from American intervention. Al Qaeda plays down the effectiveness of local security forces which have, in nearly all cases, crushed Islamic radicals like al Qaeda.
Finally, in reviewing progress on the three fronts of this war, even you can see why pro al Qaeda Arabs can cannot yet conclude that the United States is not winning or that it cannot win without some significant changes of its policy, particularly in the Middle East. -- Mohamed Al-Azaki


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