Thursday, July 12, 2007

Al-Qaida stronger, partly because of Iraq

I had occasion today to have a long phone conversation with Brian Michael Jenkins, founder of the terrorism center at the Rand Corp., on news reports about the forthcoming National Intelligence Estimate, which according to news reports says that al-Qaida has reconstituted its central leadership in the "badlands" along the Afghan Pakistani border, is more effective than it was a year ago, and may be stronger than at any time since 9/11. Fascinating. I would love to have recorded it and posted it (with prior permission, of course), but I just thought of the idea now, and I would have to search in forgotten closets to find my phone recording gear.

Anyway, since the Estimate itself is still classified and apparently not finalized, Brian said he couldn't comment on it directly. But he did say that according to his own sources al-Qaida does seem to have proven remarkably adaptable and reslilient and has taken big steps toward reconstituting what passes for headquarters. More significant, however, is that the jihadist movement is larger than ever, and radically decentralized. Bin Laden (or Zawahiri) may be better positioned to carry out or coordinate actions, but al-Qaida serves more importantly to inspire and motivate more or less self-directed terrorist afctivity than by what it does itself.

It also seems to be the case that there is more "chatter" in terrorist circles than usual, often a precursor to an attempted action.

Perhaps more important to my thesis that the Iraq invasion was a diversion from more useful actions against jihadism, he said that "Iraq has become the academy of advanced terrorism." In a fighting organization, he said, learning is a function of frequent operations. The Irish Republican Army in its heyday might have undertaken several operations a month. In Iraq there are hundreds a day -- not all done by the same people, of course, but the key is that terrorists there are getting hands-on experience. Moreover, most of the activity in Iraq is undertaken in an urban environment, as contrasted to training in remote, beyond-rural training exercises in Afghanistan back in the day.

The NIE reportedly discusses a stream of jihadists going back and forth between Iraq and Europe, with Germany especially concerned, though it doesn't say anything dramatic is imminent. But Brian Jenkins believes we will be seeing the fruits of the Iraq war in terms of terrorist activites in Europe (and perhaps the U.S.) for the next 10 or 15 years.

Glad to have brightened your day.

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