The latest taped message from Osama bin Laden is coming after a bad year for al Qaeda. His call for a boycott of Iraqi elections was ignored not once, but three times. A recent missile attack in Pakistan has killed some key al Qaeda staff. Now, Osama bin Laden is in the position of trying to rally support for an organization that has suffered numerous defeats since its greatest success (the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington D.C.) and its most recent success. This was the attacks in Spain, which caused the Spanish government to give in to terrorist demands, but not the attacks last year in Britain, which simply made the British more hostile to the terrorists.
Part of doing this is his vow to not be taken alive. He's also trying to build up the notion that Iraq is making al Qaeda stronger (sounding a lot like the anti-war movement and certain politicians). In many ways, though, al Qaeda is on the ropes. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, al Qaeda has lost. Much of the senior leadership is in custody or dead. Out of eight training camp commanders, five are dead or in custody.
In Iraq, many big fish have been captured or killed, including Nidal Arabiyat Agha Hamza, one of the top bomb-makers for Abu Musab al Zarqawi, and Abdul Hadi Daghlas, Zarqawi's WMD expert. At least two of Zarqawi's deputies (Mahi Shami and Abu Waleed Saudi) have been killed. The best generals need a good staff, but Zarqawi, who has shown poor target selection in the past, and has caused al Qaeda to be hated by the Iraqi Sunni Arabs, which was previously its main source of support in Iraq.
Also, al Qaeda has been losing potential havens in the Horn of Africa, due to American efforts there. In many cases, the American efforts don't involve combat, but instead involves what had been derided as "nation-building" six years ago. In many cases, American forces have drilled wells, treated sick animals, helped build libraries and hospitals, and assisted in developing coordination for natural disasters.
In a very real sense, the war on terror has featured very few successes for al Qaeda. The only real success the organization has had since the September 11, 2001 attacks were the March, 2004 attacks in Spain that toppled the government of Jose Maria Anzar. Even then, that operation's success was arguably due more to the mismanagement of the aftermath by the Spanish government, which blamed the attack on Basque separatists, than to any effort on al Qaeda's part. Osama bin Laden is presently losing by a number of measures. If he were winning, he wouldn't need to be blustering via pre-recorded tapes. Instead, his only hope is that the anti-war movement will weaken American resolve before the Americans can get him. - Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)