Monday, October 15, 2007

How Osama Bin Laden Beat George W Bush

Of all the terrorism "experts" that get trotted out on the news, Peter Bergen is one of the best. Richard Clarke is the best, but Peter is a close second. His book Holy War Inc is probably the most informative book on Al Qaeda written. He has written a very insightful article which sheds some light to some disastrous policy decisions that Bush has made that has strengthened Al Qaeda.

I've only excerpted a small portion of a large article, but the whole articles is very informative and worth the read. Some of the information is kind of old news (Tora Bora) but Peter provides a lot of background information that gives new insights.

How Osama Bin Laden Beat George W. Bush

Omar bin Laden, the fourth son of the Al Qaeda leader, cuts a striking figure. In one photo, he stares out from beneath an Adidas baseball cap, his beard closely trimmed--an entirely different look from his father's seventh-century aesthetic. He wears jeans and sits next to his much older wife, a pale-faced British woman with pig tails, whom he divorced a mere five months into their marriage. While his father would not approve of his lifestyle choices, few men know the terrorist mastermind so well. When the Sudanese government exiled bin Laden in 1996, Omar was part of the small contingent that flew in a jet to Al Qaeda's Afghan sanctuary. He spent nearly five years living in the notorious training camps that bin Laden assembled.

But, between his departure from Sudan and his marriage, something happened to Omar: He turned against his father. I caught a small glimpse of his anger when I spoke with Huthaifa Azzam, the son of Palestinian cleric Abdullah Azzam, one of Osama bin Laden's most important mentors. In 2003, Huthaifa had accompanied Omar on a Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, where they spent four days together living in the same tent, performing religious observances, and talking about life in Afghanistan. Omar heaped abuse on his father for attacking the United States. "It's craziness. ... Those guys are dummies," he said. "They have destroyed everything, and for nothing. What did we get from September 11?" In fact, these attacks had driven a permanent wedge between father and son. Soon after planes struck New York and Washington, Omar left Afghanistan in disgust. And, in the years since, he appears to have had no contact with his father.

When Omar fled the Al Qaeda training camps, the organization was in disarray. A 2002 letter written by an Al Qaeda member--and addressed to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the operational commander of the September 11 attacks--gives a sense of just how demoralized the group was:

Consider all the fatal and successive disasters that have afflicted us during a period of no more than six months. Those observing our affairs wonder what has happened to us. Today we are experiencing one setback after another and have gone from misfortune to disaster. ... I say today we must completely halt all external actions until we sit down and consider the disaster we caused. The East Asia, Europe, America, Horn of Africa, Yemen, Gulf, and Morocco [terrorist] groups have fallen, and Pakistan has almost been drowned in one push.

Al Qaeda's cadres were right to be dispirited. The United States appeared to have soundly defeated the terrorist organization. As Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown professor and one of the world's leading authorities on terrorism, told me, "It's difficult to recall the extent to which it was believed that a decisive corner had been turned in 2002 as a result of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. We believed not simply that Al Qaeda was on the run, but that it had been smashed to bits."

But that was five very long years ago--five years during which Al Qaeda has not only survived but also managed to rebuild at an astonishing clip. The group's leadership has reconstituted itself and now operates rather comfortably along the largely lawless Afghan-Pakistan border. Last year, it came close to downing ten U.S. airplanes using liquid explosives--an attack that would have rivaled September 11 in magnitude. Al Qaeda has continually massacred Iraqi civilians over the past three years and has managed to keep the country locked in the grip of sectarian violence. Swathes of Afghanistan are in danger of reverting to Islamist control. The largest Algerian terrorist group announced last year that it was putting itself under Al Qaeda's umbrella--and has subsequently launched a series of attacks in North Africa against Western targets. Britain's domestic intelligence chief said last November that 30 terrorist plots were underway in her country--some of which would involve "mass-casualty suicide attacks"--and that Al Qaeda's Pakistan-based leadership was giving direction to its British followers "on an extensive and growing scale." Last month, Al Qaedalinked militants who had trained at camps in Pakistan were arrested in Germany, where a prosecutor said they had acquired enough chemicals for what would have been "massive bomb attacks" targeting Americans in the country. In a small but telling sign of its restored confidence, Al Qaeda's production arm has cranked out a record number of videos and audiotapes this year. To top things off, according to Hoffman, the group's "determination to strike the United States from abroad again remains undiminished." And it may be getting closer to doing just that: A recent National Intelligence Estimate noted that Al Qaeda "has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability."

America's most formidable foe--once practically dead-- is back. This is one of the most historically significant legacies of President Bush. At nearly every turn, he has made the wrong strategic choices in battling Al Qaeda. To understand the terror network's resurgence--and its continued ability to harm us--we need to reexamine all the ways in which the administration has failed to crush it.


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