Thursday, March 6, 2008

Daniel Byman on Al Qaeda's Future, post-Iraq

Key graph from the august Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog:

Yet today Al Qaeda in Iraq—though not the Al Qaeda core—is on the run. Sunni tribes and “concerned local citizens” groups are killing or arresting many of its cadre and transforming parts of Iraq from sanctuaries to hunting grounds. In addition to improving the chances for a semi-stable Iraq, these blows have tremendous implications for the future of the organization outside Iraq. At the very least, Iraq will be a less useful base for salafi-jihadists to plot attacks in neighboring countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which they have done for several years now. Iraq will also be less of a draw and training ground for young radicals from the Middle East and Europe, who have flocked to Iraq since the 2003 invasion to fight the United States. Would-be fighters may come to see Iraq as a place where local Sunnis will pursue them mercilessly rather than as the center of the anti-U.S. struggle.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Stirrings in South America

Robert Kaplan explains what's really going on between Colombia and Venezuela.

Really Catching Up

Nothing in the space for quite a while. I blame that on simple laziness. Notable press clippings follow:

1. "Violence Leaves Young Iraqis Doubting Clerics," Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, 4 March 2008

After almost five years of war, many young people in Iraq, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach.

In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives.


Religion had moved abruptly into the Shiite public space, but often in ways that made educated, religious Iraqis uncomfortable. Militias were offering Koran courses. Titles came cheaply. In Mr. Mahmoud’s neighborhood, a butcher with no knowledge of Islam became the leader of a mosque....An official for the Ministry of Education in Baghdad, a secular Shiite, described the newfound faith like this: “It was like they wanted to put on a new, stylish outfit.”

This sentiment sounds a little like Marc Sageman's thesis in his book Leaderless Jihad.

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2. "U.S. Plan Widens Role in Training Pakistani Forces in Qaeda Battle," Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, New York Times, 2 March 2008.

The United States military is developing a plan to send about 100 American trainers to work with a Pakistani paramilitary force that is the vanguard in the fight against Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas, American military officials said.

Pakistan has ruled out allowing American combat troops to fight Qaeda and Taliban militants in the tribal areas. But Pakistani leaders have privately indicated that they would welcome additional American trainers to help teach new skills to Pakistani soldiers whose army was tailored not for counterinsurgency but to fight a conventional land war against India.


American officials are also taking a number of other steps to help increase Pakistan’s long-term ability to battle a newly resurgent Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in the tribal areas.

At the request of Pakistan’s new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Central Command two weeks ago sent a four-member intelligence team, led by a lieutenant colonel, to work closely with Pakistani intelligence officers in Islamabad. The Americans are helping with techniques on sharing satellite imagery and addressing Pakistani requests to buy equipment used to intercept the militants’ communications, a senior American officer said.

The United States is also helping to establish border coordination centers in Afghanistan just across the Pakistan border, where Afghan, Pakistani and American officials can share intelligence about Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups in and around the tribal areas.


That document, titled “Plan for Training the Frontier Corps,” envisions a combination of Special Forces and regular Army troops working with the Frontier Corps in basic marksmanship, infantry skills and counterinsurgency techniques, Defense Department officials said.

Until recently, the Frontier Corps had not received American military financing because the corps technically falls under the Pakistani Interior Ministry, a nonmilitary agency that the Pentagon ordinarily does not deal with. But American and Pakistani officials say the Frontier Corps is drawn from Pashtun tribesmen, who know the language and culture of the tribal areas, and in the long term is the most suitable force to combat an insurgency there.

American and Pakistani officials acknowledge that it will take several years to build the Frontier Corps into an effective counterinsurgency. American officials say they have seen some Frontier Corps members wearing sandals on patrol and wielding barely functional Kalashnikov rifles with little ammunition.