19 March 2010

Hitting the target, but missing the mark

Or: Something President Obama is doing right, but not fully.

From Hot Air came a post on Leon Panetta talking about how Predator strikes are damaging al Qaeda and that al Qaeda may have to go to a 'lone gunman' form of terrorism.  Part of the  problem with al Qaeda is that it is not a highly centralized system for terror attacks: Hambali, as an example, didn't need bin Laden or Zawahiri to approve his operations which have killed many in Indonesia.  The highly integrated, top-down directed attacks are a hallmark of al Qaeda, but so are car bomb factories set up by purely local operatives in Iraq.  For every Red Mosque in Pakistan you get a no-name, small mosque in the Caribbean or South America generating small amounts of income and recruits.  al Qaeda went from core group systems, in the early 1990's, that had to work with other groups to stage attacks (like the 1993 WTC bombing) and then took a page from Aum Shin Rikyo's Sarin Gas Attack in Tokyo to plan and execute tighter and nastier plans.  Yet their small scale capability inside Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir demonstrate purely local terrorism and their branching out to Hambali and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines shows the affiliate/franchise type of operation, with the attacks in Madrid being of that type and hard to directly trace to anyone.

Keeping that in mind, I responded at HA thusly, all spelling and syntax errors kept intact for the amusement of the audience:

It is damned good that the Predator strikes are happening in coordination with the Pakistani take-downs. These are not unrelated as someone realizes that you cannot win a ground war from the air: you need ground forces for clean-up and to take advantage of a disorganized foe.

That is a strategy, the Predator strikes are tactics for the Af-Pak theater.

Of greater worry in Af-Pak is the non-al Qaeda, non-Taliban, cross-functional ‘Shadow Army’ that is becoming a cross-terrorist organization able to garner support from local groups and regional operators, like Gulbudden Hekmatyar. In targeting aQ/Talibe we are letting this new cross-group go unmolested as it has diverse means of support beyond the external. It is good that some of the most capable of the aQ/Talibe/Mehsud organizations are being taken down and out. I have heard nothing on Hekmatyar’s organization that stretches from China to London.

In Yemen we also have some on-the-ground support from the government, but it has proven to be an incompetent government willing to let known terrorists go either officially or unofficially through not following up prison escapes. Like the leader of the USS Cole attack. Again that is trying to use the air assets to enable the ground assets, but the coordination is not so hot there.

Then there is the slow return of al Qaeda to Somalia via the Islamic Courts Union. They seem to have gotten help from terrorists coming from… the US, Minnesota in particular. When we worked with the Ethiopians on getting the ICU chased out by utilizing air and naval assets, we unfortunately left open the quick jaunt to KSA where many ICU members fled to. Too bad we couldn’t get KSA’s cooperation on doing anything about that. Additionally the Somali minority in places like Northern Kenya have proven to have good hiding places and recruiting agents for the ICU/al Qaeda.

The ‘lone gunman’ strategy is not new to al Qaeda, either. Part of my looking at low-level activities when many low-level operatives were caught before doing anything is seeing why these who are not ‘professional’ can be quite dangerous with a minimal amount of help. And not via high value items or training, either. President Bush did a good job going after some of the most noxious enablers and helping others to do so, like Victor Bout and Monzer al Kassar, both extremely able supporters for the right cash or cause. They are just examples of the big ticket traffickers, and for each of those there are ten or so at the next rung who might not be able to get you SAMs but can get you Chinese attack helicopters.

After that things get dicey in the Caribbean as al Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood (often working together), KSA radical clerics, Iranian clerics and some splinter groups have targeted that area for recruitment and new ‘lone gunman’ style operations in the past. While they may seem more comical than effective, stopping a small splinter group planning on hijacking a LNG carrier and detonating it in Hartford or possibly Boston is not only chilling but a typical ’small unit’ operation of under 5 people with only a few weapons and modicum of explosives necessary to rupture the containment of the LNG. Be a nasty thing to wake up to, a few square blocks of waterfront Hartford or Boston gone flat.

‘Lone gunman’ does not mean low casualty and does mean much more inventive, if less well skilled. They don’t have to be ‘Professionals’, just able and effective… once. It is not al Qaeda’s preferred mode of operations, but they have done with it in the past to ‘lie low’. They really do mean to wage war upon us, and all of civilization so as to get their way. They declare themselves enemy of mankind and want to be its rulers. Never forget these things.

al Qaeda does not operate alone and while it contributes some functionality to the terror organizations in Pakistan, it is not their leader.  The 'Shadow Army' has stood up from components of the Taliban, al Qaeda, Mehsud family fighters (or Lashkars), Lashkar e Toiba (or whatever their current name is), plus parts of Gulbudden Hekmatyar's Hizbi-i-Islami being run out of a refugee camp in Pakistan.  Together they offer cross-functional cooperation for operations, training, personnel and funding.  Saudi funds that used to go directly to al Qaeda now see a number of other, smaller groups, getting funding as well as that heading to al Qaeda (usually in the form of supplies, not direct cash).  When any group can offer 'suicide bombers for hire', which the 'Shadow Army' can do, for commercial venues (such as attacking the guy who owns a competing business across town) you are no longer in the great and lovely world of top-down, leader led terrorism.  You are now in local, retail terrorism.

You can go after the chain, but the links reassemble into different chains when the main one is attacked.  It doesn't matter if it is cocaine smuggling from S. America, Heroin smuggling from China, emeralds from Kashmir, murder for hire in Pakistan, car bombs to go in Iraq, radical Mosques in London, or sending supplies to Mexican Syndicates and Gangs to get favor and entrance to the US: these are not indicative of a large-scale, big operation organization but one that can capably shift from wholesale to retail warfare.  What's worse is that you can't dry up their supply houses as it is 'Just In Time' production.

Who said these guys couldn't learn anything from the West?

Stopping terrorism is a local affair, done through Counter Insurgency (COIN), and that has been successfully applied in Iraq, Colombia, Philippines, and Sri Lanka.  Although terror operations are not kaput in ANY of those Nations, the forces of the nation states involved have the upper hand.  Pakistan is starting its bloody attacks on terror groups, but the question is: from what angle?  Is it the 'end all this terrorism' angle or the 'lets get rid of groups we can't control to empower those we can'?  For the past 50+ years it has always been the latter, and nothing going on contradicts that view today.  The attacks on Kashmir and India have not stopped nor have their Pakistani support bases been attacked, and since many of those groups operate in BOTH Afghanistan and Kashmir/India, the idea of stopping some near border facilities close to Afghanistan and not addressing those in the rest of the Nation puts the question in doubt. 

Afghanistan is starting to realize that the US may just 'cut and run' and hang everyone in the region out to dry, which will be the case until a long-term accommodation with the Pashtuns can be done.  That will require the generally ungovernable border provinces of Pakistan plus some of the family/clan lineages in Afghanistan to finally come to an agreement on either having the Pashtuns:  a) settle as a Pakistani Province, b) settle as an Afghan province, or, c) become their own mini-state.  This is as full provinces or a Nation State, no more of this 'tribal lands' deal and being able to foster and get away with murder whenever you please.  That border is not written in stone, but in an old British document that put a 100 year timeframe on solving the problems of the Pashtuns.  The Pashtuns ran out the clock on the British Empire.

Predator attacks are all well and good: I applaud them as one of the very few laudable things that President Obama has done.  It is, unfortunately, minimum compared to his campaign rhetoric.  You cannot win a ground war from the air, and we are not intent on breaking up the entire terror complex of which al Qaeda is one section and not even the largest section nor even the largest section involved in Afghanistan.  The most virulent, yes, the largest, no.

And the further away you get from semi-competent ground support, going from Pakistan to Yemen, the further away you get from effectiveness.  In case it has been missed, drone attacks and missile attacks without ground forces is seen as weakness by terrorists as you are unwilling to get your hands dirty to stop them.  Friends and allies can be a great help in that, doing some of the dirty work that needs to be done... and it would be a damned good idea to stop talking them down in Europe and elsewhere and implore them to get in the fight a bit more.  Say, by removing our bases in Nations with overly restrictive ROEs or ones with the population unhappy that the US wants to go after these international war criminals.

As a side-light, when did war crimes get trumped by mere civil criminality?

That didn't work up to 2001 and the only thing that has worked since then is pulling terrorists out of the general human population.  KSM even dared us to do our duty under the Geneva Conventions, which is not to get him a nice life-time cell, but to execute him for waging war and being part of no army and accountable to no nation state.  When these beasts can taunt us to do our duty as they are not afraid of it, and we are afraid of doing our duty, we are no longer civilized but decadent.

Using Hellfire missiles to wipe out a few terrorists, here and there, is great retail COIN, semi-functional on the strategic scale and pretty damned useless on the global scale given how these operations morph when attacked.  So far we don't have a global COIN strategy.  Bush didn't have one and Obama is clueless on what the concept means.  Breaking al Qaeda is necessary but not sufficient to the job we are getting handed, as al Qaeda as it was is no longer the way it is.  Its next structure to replace the current one is already in-place... and working very well at the retail level and ready to go wholesale in a different form.  Losing top-level effectiveness will not help when low-level diversity, spread and ability to cross-work shows up.

Its already done that in the 'Shadow Army'.

It can easily do that for groups with joint aims, if different goals.

The aim of al Qaeda has always been on the United States.

And the shadow of the US falls stronger the closer you get to home... look for conflict nearby and you just may see a new 'Shadow Army' arise of different form but with the same virulence and aims, which is to bring war and disorder to the US so as to bring it down, not in a Statist grip, but in the fullness of blood from our bodies.  They seek not to crush our souls, but our very lives from this Earth.

And Predator strikes aren't stopping that any time soon.

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