A Political Researcher Advises: “Treat them as criminals”

The United States has the necessary instruments to defeat al Qaeda; it just needs to shift its strategy, says Seth Jones, the lead author of a new study about terror for the Rand research center which counsels the Pentagon.

So why hasn’t it done so?

Towards the end of his thesis, Jones answers his own question.

He describes al Qaeda as a “strong and competent organization” both before and after 9-11. Its goals, says the report, are uniting Muslims to fight the United States and its allies, overthrowing regimes in the Middle East friendly to the West and establishing a pan-Islamic state, or caliphate.

According to the Rand researcher, al Qaeda is no longer a “loose and weak, scattered terror organization.” He thus challenges the definition favored by most American experts – more out of political motivation than profound military analysis.

The report’s central proposition is that the use of military force by the United States or other countries “should be reserved for quelling large, well-armed and well-organized insurgencies (like in Iraq or Afghanistan), while terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors.”

This finding suggests that terrorism has no battlefield solution.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s al Qaeda and terror experts challenge Seth Jones on four points:

1. Treating its combatants as criminals misses the whole point of al Qaeda, whose be-all and end-all in Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq is fighting America and the West and all they stand for to the finish. They too apply the epithet of “criminals” to their infidel enemies.


Al Qaeda fields quasi-military forces – not criminals


2.  However barbaric, cruel and inhuman the terrorist crimes perpetrated by al Qaeda in Southwest Asia, North and East Africa and Saudi Arabia, their tactics against the forces seeking to destroy them are not criminal but quasi-military, even though they may at times use local criminal elements as accessories.

3.  Their intelligence techniques are likewise quasi-military. Al Qaeda has built highly-developed “humint” (human intelligence) networks which operate successfully without sophisticated electronic systems, satellites, drones or aerial surveillance – although their electronic fingerprints have been detected poaching on satellites directly or through sympathizers.

Their intelligence has demonstrated high skills in terrorist attacks in Western cities, from 9/11 in the United States, through Baghdad, Madrid, London, Istanbul and Kabul. No run-of-the-mill crime organization maintains military intelligence networks on this scale, except possibly the crime rings partnered by national spy agencies, like in certain Middle East, Asian and former Soviet countries.

The Rand researcher’s conclusion that “the United States can defeat al Qaeda if it relies less on force and more on intelligence to root out the terror group’s leaders” is essentially correct – as far as it goes. Except that in America’s eight-year war on terror, the intelligence contest between the West and al Qaeda has ended at best in a draw and more realistically in a hands-down for the Islamists.

It is a fact that no American or other Western agency has been known to successfully penetrate al Qaeda, whereas the terrorists have managed to plant agents in more than one branch of Western armed forces and intelligence.

None of al Qaeda’s top-line leaders has been captured. And most of the second-ranking captives were deliberately sacrificed to cover more valuable assets or make way for a new leadership generation.


Who decides on the time for a massive manpower move?


In the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources, Western intelligence still has very little notion of how al Qaeda’s apparatus manages to shift hundreds – or even thousands – of fighters from one part of the world to another, or who decides on these migrations. Could well-organized, efficient logistic mechanisms be invisibly at work? Or perhaps a highly developed collective migratory urge, which tells hundreds of jihadists scattered in different places when it is time to move on to the next battlefield and where it is situated.

Almost ten months before President George W. Bush‘s troop “surge” in Iraq, al Qaeda starting moving manpower from the threatened arena to Pakistan and Afghanistan. A strategic decision had been taken (by whom?) that the time had come to return to the first roots of the jihad.

4. The researcher Seth Jones’ determination that “The United States can defeat al Qaeda if it relies less on force and more on policing and intelligence to root out the terrorist group…” is according to our counter-terror experts statistically correct.

But it is not borne out by military facts on the ground.

“Based on an analysis of 648 terrorist groups that existed between 1968 and 2006, the research found that that 43 percent of the cases ended in a transition to the political process, but this process is unlikely with al Qaeda…

“The second most common way… seen in about 40 percent of the cases, is through police and intelligence services apprehending or killing key leaders. …By contrast military force was effective in only 7 percent of the cases. “


Police fight crime, special military elite units fight terror


Islamic terror has been around long enough for the experts to discover from experience in the field that terrorist organizations can only be fought by the military – not police.

The task of fighting al Qaeda and similar groups, especially in densely populated areas, calls for military elite, commando units or special forces established for the purpose, often acting under cover. Both need the support of specific, localized intelligence and counter-intelligence.

Police forces, in contrast, are designed to fight crime – not terror – as the Iraqi police can affirm after failing to quell al Qaeda in one town and village after another, even when led by American and British police officers.

Therefore characterizing terrorists as criminals is a fallacy.

Police crime-fighters in two world capitals, London and Jerusalem, have failed to bring radical Islamic terror in those and other cities under control, especially when they lack intelligence. In British towns, terrorism is simmering under the surface and in Jerusalem, Palestinian terror burst out of control in a recent wave of attacks.

The Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin warned the Israeli government this week that the 270,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem have made their districts lawless enclaves where terrorists and arms traffickers thrive under three radical Islamic terrorist groups, Hamas, Hizb al-Tahrir and al Qaeda.

For years, local police forces have not dared set foot in those enclaves. Neither has the government ever briefed Diskin’s internal intelligence service to provide them with support, on the model of the Israeli Defense Forces special operations units which routinely root out terrorists on the West Bank. They act on pinpointed intelligence.

The London Metropolitan Police could not have been expected to run undercover agents among the al Qaeda networks of the African Sahara, whence explosives were smuggled into the UK for the July 7, 2005 attacks on the city’s transport system, but a military intelligence or undercover outfit might have got close enough to obtain a timely tip-off that could have saved 52 lives.

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