That Waziristan training video
Okay the blog just ate the post I spent an hour doing. I am V. cranky and going off to have a quiet chards before I throw stupid laptop off balcony. I will reconstruct comments tonight. in the meantime can *anyone* please illuminate as to why when I use Mozilla the blog won’t take the posts and eats them but when I use Microsoft explorer (which I would rather stab myself in the eye with a pen than have to use all the time) it seems to work. full post coming later as best I can remember.
UPDATE: here is the reconstructed post with many swear words uttered at computer.
Okay attempt number two to post about this video. I forget half of what I wrote so apologies for that.
First things… I can’t get out of my head that I have seen some of this footage before, especially the compound. Although, I may have dreamt it. Often do dream of things like this, as am sure many of you do. I do miss the dreams of analysts notebook charts. Actually I just miss charting things full stop. Especially doing some good telco analysis. (sigh) But please let me know if you have seen it and put me out of the misery of obsessing about where I might have seen it. I’ll even offer a round on me somewhere at a conference sometime. It’s driving me mad. But I digress.
Ok onto the video. Well first things first and of course with the caveat it may not be new…
I think this video is significant. We never did get to see the inside of an AQ training camp in Afghanistan. Or any other camps for that matter. And what it reinforces to me is how rudimentary these camps are. Of course, this doesn’t mean they aren’t effective. Smaller camps can mean more personalised attention, which if we are talking about building bombs is never a good thing.
However, because they are mobile they might not be able to run recruits through the whole ambit of courses like they used to. But having said that and bearing in mind the most recent information we have about training camps in this area, it does seem that people are able to cycle through, albeit with possibly longer waiting periods. Add in the need to hide and it seems that attrition might be more of a factor these days than it was in Afghanistan – at least if recent reports are anything to go by. Though this can always be an attempt to secure a get out of jail card too.
One reader commented on how basic the course seemed to be. I agree; what we saw was basic. But anything more sophisticated would not be shown, for obvious reasons of intel gathering about capabilities. But also because al Qaeda exercises a brand control of sorts. Certain types of training and instruction are not available in online material for a very good reason. AQ does not want other groups seizing the initiative without its involvement. The same can be said for other groups who put out online material (and here I note that AQ is not the primary producer of online training materials). This type of brand control also has C&C implications. I briefed Defence on these differences a little while back.
Of course, it is possible this just was the basic course, as it appears to be, so one needs to be careful reading too much into this one particular example.
But what it does suggest to me is that the rotation through the courses as described in the most recent info we have continues, albeit with longer wait times and smaller numbers. What this then shows is that the membership trajectory into AQ via participation in certain courses remains. Unless, of course you are singled out by people for accelerated membership or participation due to your utility or skill set, or in the case of someone like Vinas, you are able to get someone to effectively lobby on your behalf and jump the line. None of this is new. In fact, the continuity is striking.
So Al Qaeda is maintaining the same types of training programs with the same purposes. And roughly the same numbers as its smallest camp sessions in Afghanistan. Here I note that its training class size in Afghanistan was 15- 30, with smaller groups for more advanced training. The question is how regular this training is? I also wonder how much impact the hiding has on radicalisation trajectories. In Afghanistan they could march around and do drills. Here they can’t. I guess they probably now place more emphasis on the austerity (which was striking in this video) because this is such an important part of radicalisation.
There were clearly foreigners in this mix, as an astute reader pointed out with the French language newspaper. This appears to be first level training. It is used primarily for vetting. There is another level of training above this for entry into al Qaeda and/or going to the battlefield. While the presence of foreigners in the mix does not negate the possibility they were headed to the battlefield, given al Masri’s speciality it is likely they were being run through a course with EO in mind.
But the important question for me is whether this *was* al Qaeda training. Al Masri has always been an independent figure who contracted out training for money. Al Qaeda has always had a hard time controlling him. But they needed his expertise. My initial take on this video is that it reinforces that he retained his independence. This does not however mean that he didn’t fall under AQ C&C in some areas relating to his training or operations he may have supported, but it does mean he was still free to go about his business. This I think has important implications for how we understand AQ and in particular, how we contextualise its organisational health and its EO C&C. I have a piece coming out about this shortly.
I think before his death he was contracted out to do basic IED training for EO as well as probably advanced training and via that played a role in C&C in EO, which is why he was mistakenly identified as heading it.
What I want to know is now he is dead who is doing this training? We know who is doing kidnapping and assassinations training, but we don’t know who has taken over this training. Is it being contracted out? Is it now in house? I’ll bet Vinas and a few others have some answers to these questions…
I’m also interested as to why this was not released into AQ footage. I suspect because it was in a way independent of them. I do note whoever released this tape was either there or got it from someone who was because they were able to point out al Masri. He was standing behind the dude giving the speech and also in some shots walking into buildings. They did a good job hiding his artificial limb. He was also taller than I thought but he was standing on a hill so they other guy could have also been short.
Some other things that struck me…the nice little emblem design made of bullets. Clearly, these boys have some time on their hands. This supports what we know about training and periods of waiting.
I’d be interested to see whether or not AQ has a constant stream of recruits. It didn’t in Afghanistan and people often had to wait around until there were enough people to run a course. Speaking of running courses, although I noted the class size was generally smaller, it’s not that much smaller. Class sizes ran from 15-30 people in Afghanistan, depending on the type of training and the level. While the basic courses probably had more people, it is still nonetheless interesting that in the midst of a drone campaign and being on the run that AQ can keep up via its own training or that it contracts out, class sizes not too much smaller than its classes in Afghanistan.
And the last thing that strikes me about this video is the use of compounds. I noted in an earlier post that we have to be careful publicising that AQ has loads of camps because compounds like this are *camps* and might only be used once. So we need to be careful not to lionise AQ’s capabilities as it only compounds radicalisation, but alternatively we can’t dismiss this type of training as being basic and inconsequential. It’s a fine line to dance.
I’d be interested in the thoughts of others in relation to this tape. And I apologise, I wish I could retrieve my earlier posting—it was much better than this but I’m going off memory.