Counter-Terrorism: Where Al Qaeda Excels


August 1, 2008: The movement of al Qaeda's main effort from Iraq to Pakistan does not involve large numbers, and the numbers have declined since the terrorists began urging new recruits to head for Pakistan. For several years, about a hundred foreign volunteers (usually for suicide type attacks) entered Iraq each month, brought in via an al Qaeda network in some Arab and European countries. Money is collected there, often under the guise of an Islamic charity, to pay for airfare, fees (some of the operatives along the way are basically mercenaries) and bribes (to get past border controls of countries trying to stop this traffic).

Now, only a few dozen al Qaeda recruits are getting to Pakistan each month. It's more expensive to get to Pakistan, compared to Iraq, and the government does not make it easy. There's also been a decline in cash contributions. Al Qaeda was beaten in Iraq, after years of saying they were winning. Al Qaedas mass murder campaign in Iraq killed mostly Moslems, and this was unpopular among potential donors. The violence in Iraq used the idea of "al Qaeda" to unite many very different Islamic militant groups, and the same concept is being used in Pakistan. Here there are tribal militias, operating as vigilantes against real or imagined sins against Islam. In the cities there are many different groups. Some are at war with another Islamic faction, others simply wish to impose their religious beliefs and practices on all other Moslems. But many do not want to be associated with al Qaeda, because of the groups reputation of violence towards Moslem women and children.

Local politicians (in Pakistan and Afghanistan) would like to blame much of the unrest on outsiders, and al Qaeda certainly fits the bill. But al Qaeda is a relatively small operation, and most of the Islamic radicals in the area are locals. Using religion as a tool to gain political and military advantage is an old problem, especially in Moslem countries. In general, Moslems like to play down this aspect of their religion, preferring to call Islam, "the religion of peace." But too many Moslem clerics, and ambitious politicians, are all too willing to exploit the militant and violent aspects of Islam. This is especially true along the Pakistan-Afghan border. But al Qaeda is a much smaller player in the region than its media coverage wound indicate. Al Qaeda is much better at playing the press than it is at doing anything else.



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