Friday, September 15, 2006

Al Qaeda's command and control

It's nothing more than a hunch, but I believe we underestimate the level of communication that al Qaeda's traditional leadership maintains. Such a bias would fit into our techno-centric conception of war, whereas the runner at Marathon tells us there are many ways to quickly spread information or orders.

Earlier in the week, al Qaeda Number Two Zawahiri said, according to the Guardian:
Western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are "fighting their last battles", al-Qaida's deputy leader says in a new video apparently timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

"You shouldn't bother yourselves with defending your forces in Iraq and Afghanistan because they are doomed to defeat and are all but defeated, fighting their last battles," Ayman al-Zawahiri says in the 76-minute recording.

"Rather, you should reinforce your defences in two regions. The first is the Gulf, from where you will be expelled, God willing, after your defeat in Iraq, at which point your economic ruin will be achieved. The second is Israel, because the jihadi reinforcements are getting closer to it."
There was a botched raid on the US embassy in Syria this week. Now this in Yemen, AP:
SAN`A, Yemen -- Suicide bombers tried to strike two oil facilities in Yemen with explosives-packed cars, but authorities foiled the attacks and at least four bombers were killed, officials said today.

An Interior Ministry official said the targets were an oil refinery in the northeast province of Mareb and an oil storage facility at the Dubba Port in Haramut province, scene of a 2002 attack on the French tanker Limburg.

The official did not elaborate on the foiled attacks.

But another security official said two suicide bombers advanced toward the refinery in Mareb. One attacker engaged security guards protecting the facility before his car exploded, the official said. The second car blew up moments later, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Qatar-based television station Al Jazeera said the gunmen were apparently planning to use four cars in the two suicide attacks.


This from Syed Saleem Shahzad in the Asia Times Online:
Months later, these men have not even come close to being captured. That leaves the questions unanswered: How (and from where) do they manage to relay their instructions into the battlefield? Asia Times Online has learned that this year alone, international intelligence operations in Afghanistan have spent millions of dollars trying to find out, even as fighting in the past month has been the heaviest ever.

Significantly, the Taliban are now drawing increasing support from the Afghan population. These additional numbers have allowed them for the first time to conduct their own large-scale search operations against NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) troops in the south.

As a result, NATO this week requested additional troops, with no success. The alliance, which took command of military operations in southern Afghanistan on July 31, had wanted 2,000 extra soldiers to reinforce the 19,000-strong International Security Assistance Force.

Throwing more troops into a conventional battle (artillery and air strikes especially) might not be the best way to go as long as there remains a basic lack of understanding of where the enemy's command center is and how the mujahideen receive orders. What is known is that among the rank and file of the mujahideen there is a strong system of communication, with instructions flowing freely and quickly.

And despite claims by coalition forces to the contrary, the Taliban are not obsessed with taking control of provinces or districts. They abandoned that tactic at the end of July, and a lull in fighting followed.

Since then, the new policy has been that the local population join in the fight against NATO, especially hunting down its convoys.

What is worth noting is that what is happening in Afghanistan has happened before, against the British many years ago and against the Soviets more recently. This latest battle against a foreign invader is being fought as a classic Afghan war, although the sequence of events is somewhat different.

In the past, resistance leaders migrated to neighboring states early in the campaign. This time it is happening much later. Previously, command councils were formed at the end, and the mass mutiny started earlier. This time it is the other way around.

Of one thing the Taliban are convinced, blindly some might say: Afghan tradition dictates that foreign forces will be resisted to the last. Further, the Taliban believe that by the end of the spring offensive, Mullah Omar will again declare himself head of the Islamic Emirate of Taliban for a final battle against the foreigners.
In the beginning of our 3rd Generation wars, we strike at the enemy's air defenses and command and control assets. There is good reason for the latter, as all of our subsequent attacks are enhanced if the enemy cannot chat. We're lagging behind on this goal against al Qaeda and the Taliban.


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