Al-Qaeda at Year’s End 2007: What Do the Facts Say?
Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 4 Issue: 42
If an analyst in al-Qaeda’s intelligence services or a journalist friendly to al-Qaeda were asked to compile a roundup of news stories from 2007 that support his sympathies, here is what he would write. It would be a reasonably effective and sophisticated bit of open-source reporting (or what some might even call disinformation) that would be carefully slanted to the author’s agenda, and al-Qaeda might itself publish or distribute the article as evidence of the decay of the West. Leaving aside the claims and rhetoric of al-Qaeda and their sympathizers, this analyst or journalist might gather together the following facts available in the media to forward to his friends and colleagues. So, let us assume, for the moment, that our imagined author has completed his task and has forwarded the data below to his editors or al-Qaeda superiors. We invite the readers of Terrorism Focus to peruse the following information and then form their own assessment of al-Qaeda’s end-of-2007 viability and accomplishments.
The U.S. Enemy:
• U.S. deficit-spending on defense and homeland security continues to increase, with spending in Iraq alone now approaching $12 billion per month. A former senior Reagan administration official, who is now vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs (International), has said “the U.S. government is in a weakened financial position to respond to another major terrorist attack…” (The Price of Liberty: Paying for America’s Wars, 2007)
• Polls in 2007 showed that 26 percent of U.S. Muslims under 30 years of age believe that suicide attacks are sometimes necessary in defense of Islam. In addition, 15,000 U.S. Muslims are attending this year’s pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, a large proportion of which are young professionals; this is the demographic cohort that is al-Qaeda’s most important recruitment pool (AP, May 23).
• U.S. public opinion continues to run heavily against continuing the war in Iraq and most of the 2008 presidential candidates favor ending the war; none talk of victory (Detroit News, December 13).
• 18 of the 19 U.S. presidential candidates support maintaining the status quo in U.S. foreign policy toward the Muslim world, especially regarding Saudi Arabia and Israel. One of the leading candidates has surrounded himself with neoconservative advisers who lobbied for the U.S. invasion of Iraq (New York Daily News, September 16; New York Times, October 25; timesonline.co.uk, December 13).
• Both U.S. parties and most U.S. media are attacking and trying to limit or end the rendition program run by the CIA, which has captured numerous senior al-Qaeda leaders and has, according to CIA chief General Michael Hayden, saved American lives (AP, April 16; Los Angeles Times, December 16).
• U.S. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said in July 2007 that al-Qaeda had successfully regrouped and was capable of attacking in the United States. He added that al-Qaeda had a network of supporters there, and that the threat from homegrown terrorists was growing (www.dni.gov, July 17, 2005).
• The U.S.-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan continued to shrink in 2007, with, for example, South Korea and Japan withdrawing from Afghanistan, and Poland and Australia announcing they would withdraw their combat forces from Iraq in 2008. Prime ministers who supported the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq were replaced or defeated for reelection in Britain, Poland and Australia (www.koreatimes.co.kr, August 30; www.bloomberg.com, November 1; New York Times, November 24; Los Angeles Times, November 25).
The European Enemy:
• The July 2007 attacks by Muslim doctors in Britain were not militarily effective, but both successfully defeated the British intelligence services’ multi-layered detection capabilities (Daily Telegraph, July 7).
• The Danish and German governments broke-up al-Qaeda-related cells in 2007 and claim that those arrested had ties to the main al-Qaeda organization in South Asia. In addition, the European Union’s counterterrorism coordinator said in November 2007 that al-Qaeda is now the biggest security threat to Europe (AFP, www.economist.com, September 6; Deutsche Welle, November 6).
• In November 2007, the chief of the UK’s MI-5 security service said that his officers knew of 2,000 al-Qaeda-linked individuals who are operating in the UK. That total is 400 more than the number provided by the MI-5 chief’s predecessor one year earlier (Daily Telegraph, November 6).
• Europeans continue to denigrate Islam, publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad depicted as a dog, and honoring the books of Salman Rushdie, an author whose work blasphemes the Prophet Muhammad (www.timesonline.co.uk, June 16; www.cnn.com, October 16).
Affairs in the Muslim World:
• In Iraq, al-Qaeda continues to suffer from manpower losses and even more from the lingering negative impact of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s religious excesses and indiscriminate violence. Some U.S. generals claim that al-Qaeda has been permanently defeated in Anbar Province; other U.S. generals say al-Qaeda has moved its forces from Anbar to Diyala Province and northern Iraq. U.S. officials believe if al-Qaeda can be defeated in Iraq, they can establish stability in the country. There is still no functioning central government in Baghdad and Shiite-Sunni tensions continue to simmer (AFP, USA Today, November 20; Reuters, December 8).
• In Egypt and Jordan, the governments have cracked down on Islamist political groups and leaders—jailing hundreds—and have passed measures limiting the Islamists’ participation in elections and government. The U.S. government has not sought to moderate or stop these actions (Reuters, March 24; www.newsvote.bbc.co.uk, November 20).
• In Pakistan, President Musharraf is trying to hold his country together. He is being threatened on the one side by rising Islamist militancy and on the other by the West’s insistence that he permit elections and a return to democracy, practices which have in the past paved the way for civilian politicians to loot the country’s economy (AP, November 1; Dawn (Karachi), November 22).
• In Afghanistan, the Taliban gained control of more territory in 2007. The success of their insurgent campaign—U.S. forces suffered more killed in 2007 than in any year since 2001—forced U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in December to urge NATO countries to deploy more combat forces in Afghanistan. The number of non-Afghan Islamist fighters entering Afghanistan was steadily increasing at the end of 2007, as was the number of suicide attacks in the country. The strength of the Taliban insurgency has also moved some NATO leaders to suggest that Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai’s government consider dealing with elements of the Taliban for peace. Afghan heroin production set new records in 2007 and the drug is now entering the United States in unprecedented amounts (Miami Herald, January 6; Los Angeles Times, November 11; VOA, November 14; Financial Times, November 18; Reuters, December 11).
• Polls in the summer of 2007 showed that 76 percent of Muslims worldwide agree with al-Qaeda’s claim that U.S. foreign policy is meant to undermine or destroy Islam (www.worldpublicopinion.org, April 24).
The Affairs of al-Qaeda and its Allies:
• Al-Qaeda’s senior leadership suffered no serious losses in 2007 and Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Yahya al-Libi and other senior leaders published an increasing number of timely audio and video tapes. By mid-December 2007, al-Qaeda’s as-Sahab Productions had disseminated 92 videos, as compared to 58 releases in 2006 (IntelCenter, December 14).
• Al-Qaeda’s insurgent training camps in South Asia have been re-established and are now sending trained fighters to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Levant and Europe (Washington Post, September 9).
• In 2007, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group publicly joined al-Qaeda and pledged their loyalty to bin Laden. In addition, al-Qaeda-in-Lebanon actively engaged the Lebanese Army in battle during 2007, and al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb carried out a series of successful attacks during the year. Israel’s government claims that al-Qaeda is now well-established in Gaza (www.ynetnews.com, April 15; Al-Ra’y al-Amm, September 6; IntelCenter, November 3).
So ends our hypothetical analyst/journalist’s year-end review for 2007.