The Jihad Fracture Widens
By Ray Robison
Despite the impression created by the dominant media, global jihad is showing signs of serious trouble. Bad news always tends to crowd out the good, of course, and this natural tendency is magnified when the press is as politicized and one-sided as it is today. Last March I postulated that the Global Islamic Jihad Movement had begun to fracture. ( The assertion was controversial with disagreement and agreement found oft times from the same sources. The most notable response was an interview conducted by Bryan Preston at Hot Air with CIA veteran Dr. Tefft.
It was a great interview and I welcome diverging opinions (that are supportable with evidence, not bumper sticker arguments) so I update here not as a rebuttal but to enhance the previous debate.
In March my hypothesis was supported by two essential elements. First, that reporting from Pakistan showed friction among al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic Party of Gulbudden Hekmatyar. Second, that funding to these groups was drying up due to the loss of state sponsors. While these groups (representative of, but not the entirety of global jihad) continue to receive private donations and surely some rogue regime funding, the loss of Saddam, Libyan, Pakistani and the U.A.E. support could only increase their woes.
In the last few months independent war reporting from Iraq has discussed the “anbar awakening.” The term refers to the move by Sunni tribal chieftains in the al Anbar province to reassert power by fighting al Qaeda, allying with the Coalition and somewhat with Iraqi government forces. Even the mainstream media has begun to catch up and has reported the new development.
Recent reporting from Pakistan shows a similar but not so friendly development. There is little question that the new power broker of the Taliban, Maulvi Nazir is outwardly anti-U.S. and pro-al Qaeda. Yet at the same time he has adopted a “not in my backyard” stance as his Pashtun forces have killed and run off “Uzbeks” a colloquialism for al Qaeda used to refer to Arab and other foreign fighters (Pashtun and Uzbek ancient rivalries contribute to this designation). It is the age old story of infighting for power but this time it benefits the U.S. by reducing al Qaeda support and capabilities. The Sydney Morning Herald, in a fascinating series of interviews with different elements involved in the saga, quotes a Pakistani Governor about the treatment of “foreigners” – Arab jihadists:
“Virtually all of the tribes are ready to fight the militants. Yesterday the southern tribes held a jurga [council] and decided that any foreigner was to be shot dead and any tribesman supporting the foreigners would be banished from the area or killed too. They have declared jihad and their plan is to annihilate any of the foreigners who refuse to leave.”
As a matter of fact, this sounds a lot like what is happening in Iraq. While this certainly does not make the Taliban leader a friend, it is much better to have the enemies killing each other off. It provides solid evidence that al Qaeda is losing a foothold in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. The earlier reporting from the region predicted bin Laden might leave the region and now we might have a better idea why.
Just as the Iraqi Sunnis have decided to wrest control from al Qaeda, it would appear the tribal chieftains of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are doing the same. Not quite an awakening but it appears al Qaeda has overstayed its’ welcome again. Interestingly, a new study from the West Point Combating Terrorism Center identifies this same phenomenon in the horn of Africa among the regional tribes during the 90’s and notes it as an exploitable weakness.
Could this be a covert US strategy?
However, care should be taken in rejoicing at the thought of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters killing each other off. Nazir opposes al Qaeda because it currently seeks to aim jihad at the Pakistan government which brings heat on the tribal areas (admittedly a slow burn), whereas Nazir would much rather have the warfare directed at coalition forces in Afghanistan, which doesn’t particularly threaten Pakistani government survival and keeps the internal pressure off. Nazir has publicly claimed he would welcome bin Laden into his region if he capitulates to tribal governance. Yet it should be realized that Nazir knows Usama would never accept such terms and the offer is likely nothing but an effort to show that he is not a U.S. proxy.
According to the Asia Times, Nazir is a former pupil of Maulana Fazlur Rahman. I discussed the Maulana in the “Fractured Jihad” article as one of the most dangerous men on the planet because of his proximity to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and leadership of the government opposition plus leadership of international terrorism. (My book Both In One Trench highlights his connection to Saddam.)
Previously I noted reporting that Nazir was on the outs with al Qaeda, a very positive development. This claim finds more confirmation in India’s popular news website Rediff.com
“Old fundamentalist leaders of the 1980 Afghan war vintage such as…Maulana Fazlur Rahman… no longer command the kind of influence and obedience they commanded in the past.”
His loss of jihadist credentials may mean the end of significant support for al Qaeda.
There is also substantial reporting of a purge within the Taliban of anyone suspected of spying. Whether the Taliban spy plague is real or a finely tuned disinformation campaign against the Taliban, the good news is that they are killing more of their own. It’s a win-win for us.
In addition, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Islamic Party of Afghanistan is having a rough time. Afgha.com declares that Hekmatyar’s party is in the death throes of starvation. I am not familiar with the site but the facts in the article seem to be supported by other reporting (with one notable error, Hekmatyar was declared a terrorist long before 9/11 by the US State Department). The article reads like a laundry list of jihad follies from internal warring, to warring with other jihad groups, to a continuous degradation of his party leadership via assassinations. Considering that Hekmatyar has recently began a media blitz to show his relevance, it is quite likely he is very weak, but still dangerous.
As well as more signs of bitter infighting, the financial strain is starting to show publicly. The well regarded Counterterrorism Blog reported a few days ago about an al Qaeda leader on al Jazeera Television begging for cash donations. Evan Kohlmann at the blog calls the man al Qaeda’s declared leader in Afghanistan, Shaykh Mustafa Abu al Yazid. Interestingly, al Yazid claims to be calling for financial support of the Taliban. Which begs the question, if one of the new Taliban commanders (possibly the dominant leader of the most powerful faction) is openly fighting al Qaeda (as several outlets have reported), then why is al Qaeda doing fund raisers for them?
There are a couple of possible answers. Most obvious, I think, is that it may be a case of false advertising. The money is not meant for the Taliban, and al Qaeda leadership realizes that AQ has become unpopular and dangerous to support. Which would be nice confirmation that its popular support is drying up due to excesses against Iraqi Muslims. It could also mean that as usual there are divisions even within the Taliban, and that al Qaeda still works with some clans and fights others. Either way it’s good news for us.
Just as a coherent Iraq policy as heralded by Petraeus has made quick gains, a similar methodology in the Northwest Pakistan frontier border region might work. For all we know recent developments might not be just good fortune but evidence of a working covert policy.
Of course if the latter is the case we will probably not know for many years. Such is the case with much of the War on Terror, and another systematic reason why press coverage is biased toward the unfavorable.
I mentioned in the original “fractured” article that captured documents show Saddam had basically contracted a hit on US Forces in Somalia (using al Qaeda precursor groups) and was thus responsible for the Battle of Mogadishu. (Something I should have made clear then is that he was not solely responsible, but the documents indicate that he paid the bills.) This was easily the most contentious issue of the “fractured” article and for those who did not see my follow up, here is the link. The short version is that subsequent to that article the government released new al Qaeda documents which link up solidly to where the Saddam documents left off, providing a timeline and a human linkage from Saddam to the al Qaeda training in Somalia.
Ray Robison is a former army officer, a former member of the ISG, and co-author of the new ebook Both In One Trench: Saddam’s support to the Global Islamic Jihad Movement and International Terrorism