Spain and Al Qaeda…

The American Prospect has a good interview with Jessica Stern, terrorism expert at Harvard University and author of “The Ultimate Terrorists” and “Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill.” While all signs seem to point to al Qaeda, she brings up an interesting point that al Qaeda might be recruiting from within ETA. But regardless of whether ETA was involved or not, if last week’s bombing did influence the Spanish elections, this is hardly a good day for democracy.

The American Prospect has a good interview with Jessica Stern, terrorism expert at Harvard University and author of The Ultimate Terrorists and Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. In the interview, she speculates on possible linkages between ETA and al Qaeda. While all signs seem to point to al Qaeda, she brings up an interesting point that al Qaeda might be recruiting from within ETA.

Do you think that there is a relationship between the two groups?
I have to wonder whether there’s cooperation between ETA and Al Qaeda, and what this relationship might consist of. Al Qaeda is pragmatic and likes to avail itself of local operatives, expertise, and languages. They especially like to recruit locals. Al Qaeda has a large presence in Spain, so looking for partners like ETA would be at the top of their list.
We know that the majority of people in Spain oppose the war in Iraq, so it makes me wonder whether some members of ETA have been infiltrated by the Al Qaeda network. There’s also the chance that Al Qaeda might be recruiting within ETA.
I think the pragmatism of terrorist groups is emerging as they mature, as is a willingness to cooperate with organizations that would seem to be promoting completely different agendas. Also, sometimes we see that as possible terrorist organizations get closer to achieving their ostensible objective, zealots remain and carry out unprecedented attacks (as happened with the IRA). It’s not impossible to imagine that ETA could have done this even though it would be unprecedented for them.
Reports have said that Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for this bombing. Are these reports credible?
No. The group claiming to speak for Al Qaeda is notoriously unreliable — they even claimed responsibility for last summer’s blackout. Intelligence officials really don’t know anything about the group.

At any rate, I think it’s far more likely al Qaeda or at least an Islamist group is responsible. My initial suspicions — that ETA and al Qaeda may have been in league — are feeling less sure now with more and more evidence pointing to bin Laden’s network emerging daily. Also, a Qaeda attack fits in with my hypothesis that a spring offensive from both sides in the terror war is in the works. I wrote that al Qaeda would attempt to destabilize or overthrow the Saudi regime, destabilize Pakistan and/or weaken U.S. resolve with massive attacks within the country, possibly with WMD. Well, now add a fourth option: crack away at the U.S. alliance by forcing its European allies — Spain, Poland, Britain and Italy, for the most part — to withdraw from Iraq. Why is this important?
Two words: logistics and manpower.
The war on terror and Iraq are linked, although not in the way that President George W. Bush would like. They’re linked because much of the U.S. military is tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, Spain’s 1,300 troops certainly weren’t adding much to the firepower there, but they were of significant symbolic value. If Spanish Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero makes good on his promise to pull Spanish troops out by June 30, that will adversely affect the ability of the U.S. to get other countries to help out after the sovereignty hand-over on June 30 — even with U.N. support. That means the bulk of the security responsibility in Iraq will continue to fall on the U.S. far into the foreseeable future with a hampering of its operational capacity elsewhere. The U.S. military, as powerful as it is, simply can’t keep up with Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti and now North Africa. Al Qaeda is counting on this.
But back to Spain. I’m of two minds on this. One the one hand, I thoroughly support the democratic process and there is no doubt that despite a horrific bombing, the people of Spain had their voices heard loud and clear. The war in Iraq was immensely unpopular in Spain and it strikes me as stunningly arrogant for a purportedly democratic government to go against the wishes of so many of its citizens. On the other hand, I’m a full-blown supporter of the war against al Qaeda. I was at my desk working at 8:46 a.m. when the first plane snarled low over my neighborhood and slammed into the north Tower. I watched those buildings fall to the ground from my rooftop and saw my neighborhood turned into an armed camp for a week afterward. I know mass terror. I’m against anything that gives al Qaeda breathing room — which is why I opposed the Iraq war.
It was a horrible, needless distraction. There were no significant ties between Saddam’s government and al Qaeda. It was unlikely there were any Qaeda forces in Iraq prior to the fall of Baghdad — except for Ansar al-Islam in the area controlled by the Kurds outside of Saddam’s control. As far as being a threat to the United States, he was prevented from moving into two-thirds of his country, he was weakened by international sanctions and he had enemies on all sides: Turkey, Kurdistan, U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and Iran. He had no weapons of mass destruction to give to al Qaeda even were he inclined to do so. Hell, even the rationale that he was a very bad man — a fact not in dispute — is taking a shellacking because all the mass graves seem to date from when he was either a U.S. puppet thug or immediately after the 1991 Gulf War in which the U.S. encouraged the Shi’as and the Kurds to rise up, only to have the rug pulled out from under them. They ended up in mass graves, in no small part due to the United States’ reluctance to act on their behalf.
Iraq was a colossal blunder that has costs thousands of lives and billions of dollars. There is, as yet, no end in sight.
But the fact of the matter is that the U.S. is now in Iraq and in need of allies if it hopes to prosecute the war on terror successfully. Billmon has a typically insightful take on this:.

I understand, and emotionally sympathize with, the desire of many readers to see Sunday’s election as a victory for the Spanish people — or for the progressive left, or for both. I, too, am glad the neo-Francoists of the Popular Party got the boot.
But as much as I might like to, I can’t apply that particular coat of sugar to the results, because I still think that something significant (and ominous, from an American point of view) has happened here: A well-timed terrorist attack has directly and dramatically influenced the results of a national election in a major country allied with the United States. What’s more, it has caused, or at least contributed to, a decisive defeat for a ruling party that had aligned itself closely with the current U.S. strategy for fighting terrorism — which, like it or not (and of course I don’t like it at all) includes the occupation and pacification of Iraq.

One the one hand, the Spaniards can argue that they have unyoked Iraq from the greater war on terror, which is how it should have been all along. On the other, now that the world’s go-to guy on fighting Islamic fanaticism is tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, is this really the time to pull up stakes and say you’re on your own? I wish I had a decent answer. But I feel the Spanish, while remaining true to themselves as a democracy, may have just emboldened the real enemy.
PS: Back from Japan finally, but will, unfortunately, miss SXSW. My apologies.

An email received, questions asked

An email I received today from a soldier’s wife asks some hard questions as to why America is in Iraq. The author has good reason to be concerned.

I received this email today:

Well, I was going to post a comment, but it just didn’t seem appropriate because I didn’t really have anything to add. I’m a military spouse, and this is the first time I’ve ever even heard of your website. My husband, who happens to be a Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune, was deployed last Saturday (whoever picked that date should be shot, I swear! :)) back to Iraq. Since I can’t get a straight answer out of his command, or the military in general, let alone any government official (huge surprise there…). I was wondering if you could offer some insight into exactly why we are sending thousands of troops back into Iraq this month. I understand that their purpose, ostensibly, is to relieve those that have been on the ground for a year now, but I thought that we would be receiving some relief from other countries’ troops, and that now that we were no longer officially on a wartime footing, the number of our troops in Iraq would be decreased, not increased.
Anyway, call me crazy (or maybe I just misunderstand), but the entire situation lacks any sort of sense that I can detect. A transition of power is all well and good, but if it’s to be anything other than a puppet government, shouldn’t the UN be directing it, not GWB?
Any input would be appreciated…
Julia [Last name withheld by request]

Julia has agreed to allow me to post her email and my response. Here it is.
First of all, I hope your husband will be OK. I’m so sorry he shipped out on Saturday (Valentine’s Day), and it seems that the military has the mother of all bad timings. My best friend in the world has also been mobilized (He’s Army Reserve) and he’s due over there in early March. He has two daughters (5 and 3) and a lovely wife. They mobilized him a week or so before Christmas, and gave him five days to get his affairs in order.
Anyway, on to your question: Yeah, it’s the largest troop rotation since WWII, and it’s to spell the guys who have been there for a year. But your question is more about why isn’t anyone helping us out. Well, there are several reasons:

  1. Bush alienated so many allies in the run-up to the war that they’re disinclined to support us now, especially if, like France and Germany, they have massive majorities in their populations opposed to the war. Even if France and Germany wanted to help out (and there are growing signs that they do) it will be very difficult for them to do so without sparking massive protests in the streets of Paris and Berlin. They’re democracies, after all, and they do have to listen to the voters on occasion.
  2. Rumsfeld blew it and put in too few men when the Americans first went in. That initial mistake is a root cause of the main problem: a lack of security. Many foreign governments don’t want to send their soldiers to fight a war — again one that their people probably opposed. Peacekeeping is one thing, fighting a war is another.
  3. The Bush Administration has not evidenced a willingness to trust the U.N. — not without reason. The U.N. probably isn’t in step with American goals in Iraq, which were not WMD or freeing the Iraqi people, but far more about maintaining a strategic base of operations in the heart of the Middle East from which to pressure Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Check out Why Iraq? as to my theories on this.

As to why there’s an increase in the number of troops, it’s got to do with overlapping and training the new guys. But there are also some thoughts that the 200,000+ that will be in Iraq during the rotation will be for a spring offensive against the insurgents. We’ll see what happens.
Best wishes, and give my respect and regards to your husband, please.
thank you,
By publishing Julia’s letter, I’m hoping to spark a dialogue among the readers, so she might gain a deeper insight.

Military Strapped, General Angry

The 2005 Bush budget includes no funds for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, which means the services will have to make do until a supplemental appropriation comes through. Also, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker failed to say to the Senate Armed Services Committee if he supports the invasion of Iraq. His silence speaks volumes.

Shameful. Because President Bush’s 2005 budget didn’t include any spending for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military will run out of funding at the end of September unless Bush requests a supplemental appropriation.
Now, this is an important story, and shows the depths of dishonesty to which this administration will sink when it comes to cooking the books. Or maybe it’s just incompetence. Congress approved two administration requests last year totalling nearly $166 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, which were _not_ popular — especially that $87 billion Bush asked for. The president is going to have to come back and ask for more money, and if he waits until the end of September that won’t go down well with the voters. Joshua Bolten, the White House budget director, said a supplemental bill could be as much as $50 billion.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the Army is spending $3.7 billion a month in Iraq and $900 million a month in Afghanistan.
But the most interesting part of the story came when committee chairman Sen. John Warner, R-Va., asked the joint chiefs if they had any doubts about the intelligence they had before the war. The story says, “Three said they still support the decision to go to war, in spite of questions being raised about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction at the time U.S. troops invaded.”
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael W. Hagee, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper and Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, all said they supported going to war despite doubts about the intelligence regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Gen. Schoomaker didn’t “address the issue,” the story says.
That’s interesting. The general in charge of the branch that’s taking it on the chin in Iraq declines to state he supports his commander-in-chief’s decision to go to war? He wasn’t on active duty at the time, yes, but if he supports the decision, he wouldn’t be criticized for saying, “I wasn’t on active duty when we went to war, but I support the decision now that I’m in charge of the Army.” No one in the White House would fault him for that. But he can’t criticize his commander-in-chief, even implicitly; it’s not allowed under Title 10, Section 888, Article 88 of the U.S. Code.

Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

So rather than risk court-martial or a demand for his resignation, he shuts up, begs off. I think with the lack of financial support from the White House, and the less than full-throated defense of the president’s policies from one of his joint chiefs, Bush has made some enemies in the services.
Hardly surprising. To date, one U.S. soldier is missing and 535 are dead in Iraq. Exactly 100 have died in Afghanistan. More than 2,600 soldiers have been wounded, and that number is likely much higher. Most of those casualties have been U.S. Army, and now the Bush White House forces the Armed services to dip into their maintenance and modernizing funds to fight two hot wars? That maintenance and modernizing money is used to replace old weapons with new ones. It’s to replace tires, boots, damaged bullet-proof vests and pay for ammunition. It’s not money for sexy, new, expensive weapons system — it’s money that keeps American soldiers alive. Schoomaker knows this, and his silence speaks volumes.

U.S. vs. al Qaeda: Spring offensives planned

Both the United States and al Qaeda are planning spring offensives. America because it can, and al Qaeda because it must.

The United States is planning a spring offensive against al Qaeda and Taliban positions in Afghanistan, and a spokesman for the U.S. military said America’s armed forces are “sure” they can catch Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar “later this year.” Unfortunately, al Qaeda likely has a spring offensive of its own in the plans.
But first, confirmation of the American plans from Stratfor:

Former Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence Chief Lt. Gen. Hameed Gul (Ret.) has told the daily _Nawa-I-Waqt_ that reports of a planned U.S. offensive against al Qaeda in the spring were true. Gul said CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid had asked countries bordering Afghanistan for permission to carry out operations within their borders. Gul implied that Pakistan had not granted its consent. In further comments, he said Washington would postpone elections in Afghanistan in order to conduct this operation and had been pressuring Islamabad regarding its nuclear program to coerce its cooperation.

Pakistan has already apparently taken the lead on this offensive. On Jan. 13, according to the _Pakistan Daily Times_, about 250 commandos from the Pakistani military’s elite Special Services Group (SSG) along with regular infantry troops were shifted from North Waziristan to the Wana area in South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, notes Stratfor.
The goal of both America and Pakistan will be to root out al Qaeda’s entrenched positions in the lawless Northwest Territories. Ideally, Pakistani troops will be used for the bulk of the fighting, and this is the reason for Gul’s denial to the United States.
However, Pakistan’s refusal should be seen as a net gain for both countries. The United States has apparently been planning this offensive for some time, and with the Bush administration’s history of unilateral action at the expense of other countries’ sovereignty pretty well known, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has some cover for going into a region hostile to outside control. He can’t be seen by his people as acquiescing to the Americans’ wishes, so he denies them access and moves his own troops into the region as a show of strength and sovereignty. He knows full well that the United States will move into Pakistani territory anyway, and his thinking is that there’s not a lot the Pakistanis can do to stop Washington. At the same time, because Pakistan is making an effort to to root out bin Laden and his jihadists, the White House can’t accuse Musharraf’s government of not stepping up to the plate. And — bonus! — any pressure on Pakistan’s nuclear program from Washington will probably ease a little bit. The upshot? Washington gets to act against its real enemies without destabilizing Musharraf, and he doesn’t look like a patsy to his own people. Also, Islamabad gets to keep the Bomb, a source of great national pride in Pakistan.
With this strategy, the goal is to have the war against al Qaeda wrapped up some time in 2005.
But back to bin Laden. What will be al Qaeda’s response? Three things: It will to 1) destabilize or overthrow the Saudi Arabian royal family (a long-held goal), 2) destabilize Pakistan or 3) weaken U.S. resolve by massive attacks inside the United States, possibly with WMD. These strategies could be — and likely will be — used together.
In Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda could build on its string of bombings and attacks to such a degree that the survival of the current regime in Riyadh is in doubt. The U.S. would be forced to intervene, using the military hardware it has and will have in Iraq once the March rotation is in motion. (Riyadh is already on high alert for terror attacks during the hajj.) If al Qaeda can bog down the United States by causing it to stretch its already thin forces in Iraq into Saudi Arabia, it will strengthen its hand in Pakistan, too.
By destabilizing Pakistan — the two recent assassination attempts against Musharraf are probably just the first of many to come — al Qaeda makes the United States’ war infinitely more difficult. With Musharraf in control, the U.S. can cut backroom deals that allow it to operate in Pakistan to attack al Qaeda positions with relative freedom, as discussed above. With a militant Islamist _junta_ ruling from Islamabad — a nuclear-armed _junta_, mind you — that’s no longer an option. Can the United States occupy Afghanistan, Iraq _and_ Pakistan? No.
Finally, al Qaeda may attempt another massive attack on the scale of 9/11. Would massive American casualties sap the will of the United States? Possibly. Or maybe not; Sept. 11 didn’t cause the United States to cut and run. Instead, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon propelled the United States into a war with militant Islamists and the fallout — Iraq, most notably — has divided the West internally and pitted the United States against the Muslim world. This may have been bin Laden’s main goal all along. What would be the result of another massive attack? The answer depends on how much sympathy the U.S. could garner from a world that may have exhausted its supply of goodwill toward America. Instead of a replay of 2001’s season of solidarity, would the United States be seen as reaping what it has sown? The Axis of Evil 8-Ball on this one says, “Sources cloudy; ask again later.” If its any consolation, bin Laden probably doesn’t know either. What is known is that _nothing_ would stop an enraged and wounded America from hellish retaliation.
So for the moment, that’s where all the players stand. Al Qaeda has to demonstrate its effectiveness before the United States starts its offensive this year to preemptively stall any momentum Washington may gather. It also has to show its members and supporters that it still has the capability to lead the jihad against the West. I predict intense attacks in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, the United States will attack in Pakistan and al Qaeda likely will be dealt a death blow and bin Laden captured or killed. That would be a stunning setback for militant Islam, what with its spokesman and folk hero felled by the infidel.
That won’t spell the end of militant Islam of course, nor will it mean the end of the terror threat against the United States and the West. Al Qaedaism is more than just the group and it’s more than bin Laden. Smaller groups will continue to exist, operate and network. But without the charisma of bin Laden — and his web of financing — terror groups affiliated with al Qaeda can be reduced to a chronic, but manageable, problem.

Mukhabarat Agent: No WMDs here!

No WMDs in Iraq but plenty of chaos!

The _Jerusalem Post_ has an interesting interview with a former colonel in Saddam’s secret police, the _Mukhabarat_, who says Iraq had no WMDs in the run-up to war.

Concern that Saddam had actively concealed deadly weapons of mass destruction served as one of primary reasons’ for the Coalition forces’ invasion of Iraq in March.
“In 1991 we were very close to developing a nuclear weapon, but had nothing at the time of the [March 2003] war, after so many years of [UNSCOM] inspections,” said the agent, adding, “they destroyed everything.”

It will come as little surprise to people who read this blog and others, but this is just one more little stone added to the mountain of evidence that the White House lied about/misused/screwed up whatever intelligence it was getting about WMD programs in Iraq.
But, and this fits in with everything I encountered in Iraq and from my own research and readings, Saddam was also fooled — by “maniacally sycophantic commanders and bodyguards who deceived him into believing that Iraq” stood a chance again the United States’ military.
I also believe Saddam felt he could bluff the West by claiming to have no WMDs, which is what everyone thought he would say, while acting like he did. By behaving like he had a royal flush when all he had was a measly pair of sixes, he could buck up his standing in the Arab world as the only leader to stand up to the United States, maintain his grip on his subjects who well remembered the gas attacks on the Kurdish north from 1984-1988 and keep his hold on power. But America called his bluff and now the world is what it is. I imagine the White House is feeling a bit like it won a huge pot of Monopoly money.
Two leaders lying, for their own purposes rather than for the good of their people. And such a mess of it all now. Today, Juan Cole reports, “three U.S. soldiers have been wounded in Kirkuk and Mosul”:; pro-Saddam demonstrations continue in Mosul, where police shot four students and protesters attacked Turkmen offices in the city; roadside bombs were exploded in Humairah and Baghdad; a senior member of the “Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution”: from the al-Hakim family has been killed; and a former Ba’ath official was literally torn limb from limb by a mob in Najaf.