Claims of the Network’s Near Defeat Are Premature
CIA director Michael Hayden said last week that al Qaeda is on the verge of suffering a strategic defeat in Iraq and that US and Iraqi forces are succeeding in shutting it down.
In an interview with FOX News on May 30, Hayden acknowledged that the process could still reverse, but he credited military and intelligence efforts, “along with public disgust for the group’s tactics,” with putting al Qaeda operatives in serious trouble.
He went on to speak of “clear elements of clear defeat in Saudi Arabia… In about 2003, there were a series of terrorist activities which the Saudi government responded to very vigorously.”
The CIA director repeated this upbeat assessment to the Washington Post, summing them up with the comment: Al Qaeda has suffered “significant setbacks” globally.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter terror experts find that close examination of al Qaeda’s paths produce a far less rosy picture.
In Iraq, they are lying low, but not beaten
Fierce battles with al Qaeda are in their second month in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and its environs. US and Iraqi forces claim to have wrested the city, Iraq’s third largest, from al Qaeda, after their victories in Basra in the south and Baghdad’s Sadr City. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources, none of the three rebellious cities has been totally subdued. The situation is more aptly defined as a simmering ceasefire which can blow up at any moment.
Monday, June 2, al Qaeda units in Mosul succeeded in guiding a bomb truck through the Iraqi checkpoints posted on almost every street and reach the town’s police headquarters where the army command is located. The blast killed 13 people and injured 50.
Some 3,500 al Qaeda fighters are left in and around Mosul, even after the capture of 1.500 by Iraqi and US forces. They continue to receive regular consignments of weapons, ammunition and fresh fighting strength from al Qaeda networks based in Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Our experts estimate that beating al Qaeda in Mosul will consume the rest of 2008 and even spill into 2009.
In other parts of Iraq, al Qaeda cells have gone underground, or else laid their arms aside and joined their families. This has happened in Baquba, capital of Diyala province, Ramadi, Falujja, Baghdad and Yusufiyeh. But most experts agree that, while American military pressure and the Sunni Awakening Councils drove these operatives to withdraw, they cannot be said to have been strategically defeated.
Al Qaeda traditionally holds to the old Islamic jihadi maxim: When confronted by a solid wall, don’t batter your head against it, but withdraw and wait for the first crack.
American war planners employed the tactic of the solid wall; al Qaeda responded by lying low and biding their time for a more advantageous moment. When American troops start drawing down, for instance, they will return to the battlefield.
The Saudis let them rampage – outside the kingdom
In Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda discontinued its terrorist operations after 2003 largely because of efforts Saudi intelligence and security services invested, in cooperation with undercover American intelligence and guidance agents in the Arabian Peninsula.
None of those elements would concur with Hayden’s definition of a “clear strategic defeat of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia.”
Interior minister Prince Nayef designed a policy to deter al Qaeda from building new terrorist networks in the kingdom while otherwise permitting many of its activities.
He allowed preachers close to al Qaeda to take office at the mosques. They are even allowed to promote al Qaeda doctrine, provided they omit mention of the royal house and its members as targets of attack and refrain from criticizing royal policies. These preachers may call publicly on young Saudis to undertake suicide attacks in other parts of the Middle East.
This policy has had some important results:
1. Saudi security agencies tap the preachers for the names of Saudi youngsters caught in al Qaeda’s net. By using the preachers as informers, the authorities command a channel for cautioning young jihadis that the long arm of the royal government will reach those who stray into extremist by-paths.
2. These preachers-informers have amassed great power and climbed to high positions in the Saudi national clerical establishment. Al Qaeda therefore owns more clout in the Saudi ulema than ever before.
3. Those preachers and other sections of the Saudi ulema are willing to provide funds and other help for young Saudis wishing to study at Muslim medressas in other parts of the Middle East and Europe, although they all recognize their true mission, which is to become suicide killers.
The government in Riyadh turns a blind eye to this outward movement of terrorists because it keeps them outside the kingdom’s borders.
4. They are allowed to cross into Yemen to the south, where they join al Qaeda units or terror networks supported by Iran.
5. Fund-raising on a huge scale takes place in thousands of Saudi mosques, charities and religious foundations on behalf of “Islamic Confrontation Organizations,” a euphemism for al Qaeda. An estimated $600 to $800 million is raised every year to oil the wheels of Osama bin Laden’s terror movement.