Understanding how al Qaeda functions and interacts with other groups
I’ve had an awful lot of emails from you all asking me about how al Qaeda functions and why I take the position I do on matters such as radicalisation trajectories, how people come under al Qaeda’s authority and why it is so important to delineate it from the Taliban and differentiate between al Qaeda’s core, franchises and its human base. It’s too big to cover in a blog post. In fact it’s almost too big for my dissertation. But this is where most of it is contained and unfortunately I can’t publish before I submit for many reasons I’m not at liberty to discuss here but one rather compelling reason I can discuss is that if I do my supervisors will have me for dinner.
However, having said that I have decided to place here one item from my dissertation because I think it will assist in helping people to understand these differentiations and hopefully answer a lot of your questions. As they say a picture is worth a thousand words ( and in my case probably many more because I ramble on so much!)
This diagram has really helped me to narrow down the focus of my thesis over the past few years and get to the heart of the matter.
What I am about to post here is a translated diagram from my thesis of a chart Abu Walid al Masri did, which is a broad outline of how al Qaeda functions and interacts with other groups. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve seen put out by a senior militant.
It’s been crucial to verify my line of argument in my thesis. I think it will be very useful to those of you out there wanting to get a better idea of how al Qaeda works. Because like many things with al Qaeda, there is tremendous continuity in how it operates. Having a resource like this also provides a baseline to determine what has changed in terms of how it operates.
I also think in terms of the Al Qaeda- Taliban relations debate and also more generally in terms of delineating exactly what al Qaeda is, this document provides some much needed clarity.
As you all know I have strong feelings on the importance of delineating exactly what is al Qaeda so you can really target it. Obviously the other groups its interacts with too are important, but getting at the al Qaeda core cadre — those 200 or so people that constitute it and manage to keep replenishing at that level–is key to any successful strategy.
To do so requires understanding exactly who constitutes that core, how they fit into the leadership hierarchy, what their responsibilities are, how they carry them out and how they deal with external groups and the human base in al Qaeda’s orbit.
So as I said I’ve decided to share this translation. I ask that you properly attribute it to me if you make reference to it. Also I might add that I will find out if you don’t (since this has never before been published) and I will hunt you down and complain very loudly and publically.
Some quick notes follow after the translated chart. If you want the original without the watermark let me know. Here is a link to download a clearer copy of the file. Sorry still new at figuring out how to get images up etc.
Well first things first, there is the obligatory conspiracy theory with Israel at the top, but this doesn’t impact upon the credibility or accuracy of the depiction of al Qaeda that follows it. I have verified the accuracy of this chart so you’re looking at the the best insider depiction of how the group operates that I have seen in a long time, probably ever actually.
As I said I can’t really go into too much here in a short blog post but the points I would reinforce from this are:
- It shows that al Qaeda’s relationship with other groups and organisations requires no oath of allegiance be provided to bin Laden. There is also no provison of management services from al Qaeda’s core cadre. This means the command and control relationship is extremely limited if existing at all. Al Qaeda essentially buys support.
- Military training is the common nexus point here and so the key vulnerability. This is why I keep harping on about delineating who is who because of the opportunities this offers up for particular types of targeting…
- Note the two different streams of oaths of allegiance and three different manifestations of command and control stemming from bin Laden (and more generally the al Qaeda senior leadership). As I’ve already noted, relationships with groups and other organisations has the most limited C&C and no oath.
- The Blood cadre have the strongest links and ties via oaths. This is al Qaeda core, which has stayed consistent at around 200 people, which was al Qaeda’s core size pre 9/11. They haven’t expanded their core, but they have managed to replenish it. This is what causes me the most concern and what I think has been overlooked in most analysis of the group, as I have repeatedly posted about on this blog.
- The blood core operate under a different oath to those who are volunteer recruits or in the combat groups, which is where it gets tricky. Again I explain all of this both in terms of how it works on the ground and the doctrinal underpinnings of different oaths and their operational manifestations in my thesis. But simply put this is a critical difference and one that has important implications for analysis especially in relation to command and control issues.
So in lieu of being able to answer the questions you are asking or respond better to comments (both of which I really do enjoy getting I might add) I humbly offer up this, which I hope you find useful.
Ok I’ve had virtually no sleep so I need to go have a nana nap before trying again to get some tech support from ZA about my data disaster.