I finally managed to sneak some time to have a read of Alex and Felix’s report Separating the Taliban from al Qaeda: The Core of Success in Afghanistan. Most of my regular readers have probably already read the report, but for those of you who haven’t I would strongly recommend you read it.
They raise a number of important issues, but what stands out the most for me is the issue of the younger generation rising through Taliban ranks and the risk of ideological contagion. As Alex and Felix note, there is some room to negotiate with the older generation of leaders. However, failing to fully pursue this opportunity now, does not bode well for the future; where a younger, more radical generation will gain more power, and sideline the older generation.
A quick comment since I’ve just been tidying up some thesis stuff relating to an article I just caught on FP while sneaking a quick coffee break.
It is interesting, but if you are going to talk Haqqani and his history the first stop for reading absolutely should be Abu Walid al-Masri’s books, and his series profiling Haqqani in the Taliban magazine (who he has known since the beginning of the first Afghan War, and arguably through whose links the AQ-Haqqani relationship developed).
AQ was not really as affiliated with Haqqani as it was with Sayyaf and then Hekmatyar.
It’s actually why some former mujahideen have commented on AQ’s lack of combat experience during the first Afghan war viz other groupings. Those who wanted to fight went to join Haqqani, or at least tried to go fight with him. He was not a fan of untrained numpties trying to go to the frontlines. Those who remained with Sayyaf and co did not see as much action. AQ was in areas first under Sayyaf, and then Hekmatyar. AQ also declined to assist a training effort Abu Walid and Haqqani along with some others were trying to establish circa 86. Instead OBL went off and established al-Masada, against everyone’s advice. And the two AQ guys who were close to Haqqani, Hafs al Masri and Ubaida al Banshiri (because they fought with him in 84 I think it was), went off to Jaji to “minimise the damage” after a meeting was held in Islamabad about how to deal with OBL’s actions. After the Jaji battles, AQ went to Jihad Wal, which was Hekmatyar’s turf and OBL payed him rent to establish training camps there, which remained in operation until the US missile strikes in 98.
For those interested in Haqqani’s marriage links (mentioned in the article). He married into a Yemeni family, if memory serves. It’s in the books somewhere.
To me the question is not about the historical links because they were not that strong, but rather what factors have contributed to them being friends with benefits now. And on the basis of this how strong these links are and under what conditions they will endure, and what might cause them to fragment in the future. I am also interested in whether this relationship has strengthened in recent times, why this might be the case, and the role generational change may have played in this process. For example Haqqani’s sons and where they fit. They are mixing in a very different milieu than what existed in Afghanistan either under the Taliban or during the first Afghan war and so the potential for ideological bleed over is stronger. The question here though is whose ideology? I could go off on a tangent and talk the IMU and IJU but this is all I have time for tonight.
Also recommended reading is Sirajuddin Haqqani’s town hall meeting this year. His responses, or lack thereof in some instances, really put the spotlight on a few of these areas. I didn’t save a copy but it should be floating around out there and for those of you with OSC access I imagine it got translated.
Ok that’s the coffee break over, back to the thesis for me.
I’m inclined to think this is not propaganda and that to the best of their ability they will follow through. They have had some good lead time for preparation; this strategy was outlined and ratified last year. The timing is interesting but makes sense for a number of reasons.
I may end up eating humble pie for making that call — in which case I will happily oblige. But the signs do tend to point to them doing as they say they will.
Thanks to @IbnSiqilli for bringing this to my attention.
You can find the download links here.
They’re not exactly the most detailed responses. Although he’s done well to dodge a lot of questions I thought for sure would trip him up. However, what is still the most interesting to me is what isn’t said, and what has been omitted. And of course, the very careful use of words when dealing with some of the trickier questions I suspect they thought they couldn’t really get away with not answering.
Would love to look at this in more detail. Alas it is back to the thesis for me.
WaPo article I just came across. Some excerpts below
“The bad guys have figured it out,” one U.S. official in Kandahar said. “I’ve never seen them go after implementing partners this way. We’ve got to reevaluate now what we’re doing.”
The U.S. official said it would be foolish to think that the attacks were independent of one another. “This can’t be coincidental,” he said. “This is what they’re doing now.”
A senior U.S. military official in Kandahar said the military is “looking hard at these incidents” for signs of a pattern and to figure out whether targeting contractors has become a tactic. As more U.S. troops arrive and Afghan forces improve, it was to be expected that insurgents would go after more vulnerable targets, the official said, especially “as we focus on improving governance.”
I’m in the middle of a hellish edit so I’m not in the mood to mince my words.
Who’s briefing these guys? Or rather who isn’t? Does anyone bother with OS reading these days?
Here’s a suggestion. Read the Taliban magazine. Read Abu Walid al Masri’s work. Because a move to this type of targeting strategy was announced LAST YEAR. And with a fair amount of detail to boot.
It’s not like it’s hard to find or written in code. It’s out there for all to see.
Abu Walid has released his response to my answers to his questions. I don’t have time to post a translation (since I am so woefully behind already on things I need to post). But for those of you interested, you can find it on his blog here.
I’ll put a page up on my blog later and add posting a translation to the list of things I need to do once I get my head above water.
Anyway, I’d like to thank him for his response, and once the thesis is done and dusted I plan to respond–although this won’t be for some time.
Speaking of Abu Walid, he has also released a response to someone challenging the authenticity of his information in relation to the Taliban’s disassociation from al Qaeda. There’s some interesting historical detail in there. You can find that response here.
Clearly I have dropped the ball with postings on my blog, because it’s full thesis panic stations at allthingsct and I have spent today with the trusty textas and butchers paper trying to map out what the hell I was on about when I wrote this chapter last year. If I didn’t know better I’d swear I wrote the chapter while imbibing in one too many glasses of wine. Sadly, I can’t even blame that.
So it is with frustration that I am reading the news but not able to post on what is going on. You can, however, rest assured that I am still regularly shrieking at the computer screen and keeping a list of things to rant about at a later date. But I digress.
Anyway, apologies to anyone sending me emails. My inbox is overloaded–much like my brain. So unless it is urgent I am not replying.
Ok, back to writing for me.
It seems I missed Abu Walid al Masri responding to some more questions about the relationship between al Qaeda and the Taliban.
I don’t know who posed these questions or any more details but his answers are fascinating. They provide more insight into the state of the Taliban-al Qaeda relationship prior to the fall of the Emirate.
Abu Walid’s response to question three is particularly fascinating. He says that at the Taliban’s last Shura meeting (held in the days before the fall of the Emirate) two thirds of attendees condemned bin Laden and al Qaeda and held them responsible for the war.
He also says that there was disengagement from al Qaeda at this time, for the reasons I note Abu Walid also mentioned in his article on the capture of Baradar.
There’s more in his response, but this was what struck me as particularly interesting.
Folks Abu Walid al Masri’s response to my questions for the BBC Radio interview I did last week are up. The topic was militant use of the internet. The response is in Arabic, and I’ve copied it onto my blog for safe keeping.
You can find it here, where I’ve also included the original link to his blog. [update: links are fixed. I was checking out microsoft's new translator program which @lewisshepherd pointed out to me and had too many windows open, accidentally copied original from there with wrong hyperlinks. all fixed now]
The translation will go up on the weekend. It’s just being tidied up.
I don’t have a link to the radio piece yet, will chase that up tonight/tomorrow.
The questions are now in and I think close today for the upcoming forum ‘town hall’ meeting with Sirajuddin Haqqani. There is no indication of how long it will take him to respond to the questions posed by forum readers.
The questions make for fascinating reading as to the issues on the mind of those in the forums. Below is a pretty random list of some of the issues covered off and the questions posed. One thing that strikes me about the questions readers are asking is that these types of questions are normally posed to a Sheikh/senior figure with authority. It’s been something AQ usually only does, so I find this quite fascinating and it will be very interesting to see how Haqqani answers the questions, some of which are seeking guidance on issues outside his scope of operations/authority.
Ok, to the list of questions
- the impact of recent arrests
- the attack by Abu Dujana al Khorasani
- the difference between Pakistan Taliban and Afghanistan Taliban
- whether Haqqani or the Pakistan or Afghan Taliban support global jihad and an extension of their operations into the global realm
- his opinion on other militant groups in Iraq, Somalia, the Arabian Penisula, Kashmir, Turkestan, Sudan, Morocco, Algeria
- lots of questions about Hamas and general questions about whether the Taliban wish push beyond jihad in Afghanistan to liberate Jerusalem
- position on Iran, questions about Baluchistan
- position on Hekmatyar
- position on Pakistan
- the David Rhode escape
- the US soldier held captive and prisoner exchanges more generally as well as recent claims about exchange for Siddiqui
- his position on elections in Afghanistan after a US withdrawal
- the role of women in the Afghan jihad
- jihadist media and his exposure to it
- position on China
- position on using drug money to fund jihad
- whether the Taliban will demand reparations after US withdrawal
- whether he is getting support from groups in the Arabian Peninsula
- whether Mullah Omar has authority to approve attacks outside of Afghanistan and whether he would globalise the jihad
- his position in relation to Mullah Omar and bin Laden
- the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda–quite a few questions on this
- whether or not bin Laden would be put on trial by Omar if he returned to Afghanistan under new Taliban rule (clearly this reader has read Abu Walid’s work
As I said earlier, many of these types of questions are normally thrown at al Qaeda leaders, as the defacto leaders of global jihad, so I find it fascinating that Haqqani is being asked similar questions.
I wonder whether this is because they genuinely think he has this authority or because he is more accessible (especially since AQ’s As Sahaab has totally gone down the toilet courtesy of Adam Gadahn taking over the reins) and Q&A’s with al Qaeda have been few and far between. Although having said that, there was one a few months ago. These questions to Haqqani weren’t quite at the level of that Q&A in terms of explicitly seeking fatwas, but they are moving in that direction.
How he responds to these I think will be telling and will reveal how this particular wing is setting itself up, with an eye on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and what comes next. Haqqani will have to be careful because a lot of these questions fall firmly into al Qaeda’s ambit and bin Laden is not at all fond of strategic competition. Mind you with Sahaab the way it is and bin Laden’s absence from the scene and Yahya and co being unusually quiet, AQ may not be able to do much about this. Or alternatively we may see it put something out in the future that attempts to put it firmly back in the mix in relation to the issues that are being raised in this Q&A. If I were AQ I’d be seriously worried about my brand value and strategic control when my adherents are asking a group with a thus far local agenda all about my ambit of global jihad. This leads me back to Sahaab being down the toilet and AQ having a serious strategic communication problem of late.
Anyway, that’s just my off the top of my head thoughts on the matter. I wish I had time to write something more considered about this, but I’m knee deep in chapter edits. Link is below (in Arabic for those interested)
I’ve been reading through the earlier chapters of my thesis today trying to cull words and quite frankly would prefer to stab myself in the eye with a pen. However, I digress.
Anyway, I came across this quote from an interview by Robert Kaplan in 1988 with an old mujahideen commander from the first Afghan war, who was executed by the Taliban in October 2001.
You want to know why it’s dumb to attack Jalalabad? Because it’s dumb to lose ten thousand lives. There’s no way the mujahidin can take the city now. It’s surrounded by a river, mountains, and minefields. And if we do take it, what’s going to happen? The Russians will bomb the shit out of us, that’s what….
And if they don’t bomb the shit out of us, then we have Jalalabad and they have Kabul—parity, two Afghan governments. Then there will be pressure for us to negotiate. No, we must take no cities. Take everything but.
The last three sentences struck me, and to my mind, little has changed in mujahideen strategy since then. The Taliban may carry out attacks in the big cities, but they too follow this strategy. Of course after a US withdrawal this would no doubt change, but until then this strategy will stand.