Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

>> Saturday, September 20, 2008

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Never herd of them? That is not surprising as their existence is probably something that the Bush administration would rather not talk about. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is the Al Queda linked insurgent group that is operating in northern Africa. Their story is an important one because it addresses the apparent trend in intentional terrorism of franchising. John McCain would like people to believe that Iraq is the central front on a battle against the terrorists. This is becoming an even more dangerous belief to hold as evidence mounts that "the fly paper theory" he espouses is hopelessly flawed. Instead Iraq acts as a training and testing ground. Want to test something against a traditional military? Spend some time in Iraq testing and then go home to carry it out.

Think of Al Qeda as the parent corporation. Instead of profits their goal is asserting their brand of Islam over any one they can. To do this they crate franchises much like McDonalds or KFC might. They lend their name and their knowledge to local insurgent operators who wish to carry out attacks against government or American targets. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is one of those franchises. Their story was covered in a July edition of the NYT.

Their nationalist battle against the Algerian military was faltering. “We didn’t have enough weapons,” recalled a former militant lieutenant, Mourad Khettab, 34. “The people didn’t want to join. And money, we didn’t have enough money.”

Then the leader of the group, a university mathematics graduate named Abdelmalek Droukdal, sent a secret message to Iraq in the fall of 2004. The recipient was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and the two men on opposite ends of the Arab world engaged in what one firsthand observer describes as a corporate merger.

Today, as Islamist violence wanes in some parts of the world, the Algerian militants — renamed Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — have grown into one of the most potent Osama bin Laden affiliates, reinvigorated with fresh recruits and a zeal for Western targets.

Just from this three paragraph quote several things are made clear. The first is that clearly fighting in Iraq did not reduce the potential for terrorists it increased it. AQI did not exist prior to our invasion and so it would not have been there in 2004 to help revive the nationalist insurgency in Algeria.

The Times makes clear that this insurgency was dying. There were a number of factors that were working against it including a lack of legitimacy among the Muslim clerics in Algeria. The government had almost defeated them. It was AQI who rescued them enabling them to recruit and to raise money. Now they are in a much stronger position,

Their gunfights with Algerian forces have evolved into suicide truck bombings of iconic sites like the United Nations offices in Algiers. They have kidnapped and killed European tourists as their reach expands throughout northern Africa.

Last month, they capped a string of attacks with an operation that evoked the horrors of Iraq: a pair of bombs outside a train station east of Algiers, the second one timed to hit emergency responders. A French engineer and his driver were killed by the first bomb; the second one failed to explode.

What is also apparent is that although these groups carry the name and the blessing of Al Queda they are much more autonomous. Killing the number three man under Bin Laden will do nothing to affect these groups. Body counts are not the way to measure these battles. Killing one person does nothing if you are not fighting the underlying causes of recruitment. This is apparent in the Algerian battle with AQIM.

The Algerian government killed or captured an estimated 1,100 militants last year — nearly double the number in 2006, according to the State Department. But the group has begun using sophisticated recruitment videos to replenish its ranks with a new generation of youth that the State Department says is “more hard-line.”

The AQ franchising is also occuring because of the way that the US conducts its war on terror. We have been lumping different terrorist and insurgent groups together. Part of the political strategy to gain support at home was to make it seem like they were all part of the same organization. This has apparently been a self fulfilling prophecy. As other groups felt the pressure there was a bandwagoning effect.

In his comments to The Times, Mr. Droukdal confirmed that Mr. Zarqawi played a “pivotal role” in the merger, along with other intermediaries. Mr. Droukdal explained his wrath toward the United States, saying: “We found ourselves on the blacklist of the U.S. administration, tagged with terrorism. Then we found America building military bases in the south of our country, and conducting military exercises, and plundering our oil and planning to get our gas.”

In the US versus THEM strategy where distinctions are erased between insurgents, nationalists, islamacists, and terrorists those groups are going to be pushed together to combat the US. We have homogenized them.

The other thing to understand about this group is that they are not unique. Their story is important because they are representative of the way AQ works now. The franchises are taking the tactics learned from the fighting in Iraq and are applying them elsewhere.

Led by Mr. Droukdal, 38, an explosives expert who joined the insurgency 12 years ago, the group has shifted to tactics “successfully employed by insurgents and terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan,” according to the State Department.

In adopting these Qaeda-style tactics, it staged at least eight suicide bombings with vehicles last year, including two sets of attacks in central Algiers on the 11th of April and December, dates that now fill Algerians with dread. It dispatched the country’s first individual suicide bomber, who singled out President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria.

The group has also stepped up its use of remote-controlled roadside bombs, and there are increasingly deadly clashes with militias armed by the government to fight the militants.

The most recent evidence of this was just the other day with the embassy bombings in Yemen.

The use of two vehicle bombs — one to breach the perimeter of a compound, a second to drive inside and explode — is a tactic used by the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. [...]

He said a new, less-compromising generation of al-Qaeda leaders emerged, many of them moving into action after escaping from a Yemeni prison that year, he said.[...]

The Yemen bombings were just the latest high profile attack by a group trained and tested in Iraq. We have seen similar groups of Iraq trained fighters linked to AQ in Morocco, Jordan, Somalia and Afghanistan.

So what we have now really is a global war on terror and it is of our own making. Had we simply stayed in Afghanistan and finished the job there we would not have seen this Iraq blow back. Iraq is the central training ground for insurgents. The entire idea that we can gather all the terrorists in one place and kill them all was stupid. Terrorists can be trained and recruited and there numbers are not fixed.

While it is possible for the terrorists to cause a backlash and to turn the indigenous population against them i would not count on this being a frequent occurrence after the lesson learned in Iraq. We are seeing in Afghanistan that the neo-Taliban is able to shift the blame for the deaths of civilians onto the US by getting us to retaliate while they slipped away. It is like any sport, the second person is always called for the foul.

As a result of our actions in Iraq we have seen an evolution and increased sophistication in the way AQ works. They have become a bad infection that survived the first course of treatment and came out resistant. To combat it we need a new comprehensive strategy run by people not beholden to neocon ideas about the world. I doubt this will come from McCain. Ask yourself, given all this does the surge vindicate McCain's decision to launch the war?


O-le,O-le, O-le, O-le! O-le, O-le!

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