Can we stop the hysteria about AQAP please?
Greetings everyone. Allthingsct is officially back on deck for 2010.
Tonight’s cynical Friday task is some myth busting in relation to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, especially since the Xmas Day plots have spawned a good deal of misinformation as to the nature of AQAP, its capacity and the *new* threat it poses.
I wrote back in September that I thought AQAP had reached a position similar to what it had in 2003, and as such it would seek a broader operational ambit and permission for external attacks against N America, as it did in early 03. All the indicators were there.
How did I know that? Well for starters I watched AQAP congeal online in early 02 and I have their founding documents, their guidelines, objectives and rules of conduct and lists of what detachments they formed–right down to the oath recruits were to take. I’ve watched them ever since because I find the group fascinating and so its history is the last section of my PhD. Because I’ve watched them since then, I know that this is not the first time AQAP has tried to attack in N America. It’s not even the second time. Both of these earlier plots are mini case studies for the last section of my thesis.
And with al Qaeda what is old inevitably becomes new again.
By the way, both of the earlier plots would have been much much bigger than this–had they come to fruition. What this shows is that AQAP has still not reached the capacity it had in its earlier campaign, when it was allowed by its HQ to launch external attacks. But it is fundamentally the same organisation, with many of the same key players still active. They’re just not the ones fronting the media end of things. It’s not back up to the same size yet, but with AQ now sending operatives back to the Peninsula from Af-Pak it could conceivably reach those numbers again.
It’s also not the first time AQAP has recruited an operative from the UK or another western location. I saw them recruit from the UK in 02 and people in other locations over the following years and they’ve never stopped.
What often gets missed in analysis of AQAP is that the organisation was not decimated by the campaign against it in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It did get damaged, but was also told by its HQ to cool it, lay low and/or redeploy. So it was also a case of squeezing the balloon. Now, the balloon is being squeezed in Af-Pak against AQ core, as it was in late 01/early 02, and AQAP, as it did then, again rises to fill the space.
And it’s only just starting. Of course there is the question of capacity this time around and whether they are allowed to pursue further attacks. We already know some of what they are looking at because this operational guidance went out recently. It’s the usual. Buses and trains in the west (along with a few other target classes) are right up there on the list. *As they were last time*.
Bottom line: There is very little that is new here. AQAP has always had an external attack capacity and sought to use it. It has always recruited internationally.
The only *new* thing here is the type of device used and reaction to the plot. But even in terms of IED’s, AQAP has always been on the sharp end of the stick when it comes to innovation. That’s because it has a great core of IED engineers who cycle in and out of the organisation. But that’s not new either. That core was developed in 02-06.
My bug bear is that that there’s an awful lot of people covering AQAP now (especially after the Xmas Day plot) and offering advice to government without a grounding in what this organisation is, where it came from, what it has done previously, how it has changed since its earlier campaign, what it is now and how it fits into the bigger picture of AQ. The problem is that without historical background people see change instead of continuity, they see a new threat instead of an extension of an existing one or they miss things all together.
And when this type of commentary influences decision makers and also creeps beyond AQAP into the issue of Yemen more generally it is extremely concerning, especially when it essentially calls for opening another front in Yemen and escalating US involvement. The lesson of Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan has not been learnt, and it is rapidly becoming the greatest failure of the war on terror: the failure to learn that lionizing al Qaeda only further empowers it. Add this to calls for greater US involvement, especially in a country like Yemen and with the sensitivities this entails, and you have the perfect propaganda recruitment recipe for al Qaeda.
Up next when I can dredge up my full archives is a post on Abu Dujana al Khorasani…whose history, according to my archives, suggests he was a little more AQ involved than being a web administrator.