How's al-Qaeda doing? You decide
By Michael Scheuer
If an analyst in al-Qaeda's intelligence services or a journalist friendly to
al-Qaeda were asked to compile a roundup of news stories from 2007 that
supported his sympathies, here is what he would write. It would be a reasonably
effective and sophisticated bit of open-source reporting (or what some might
even call disinformation) that would be carefully slanted to the author's
agenda, and al-Qaeda might itself publish or distribute the article as evidence
of the decay of the West.
Leaving aside the claims and rhetoric of al-Qaeda and their sympathizers, this
analyst or journalist might gather together the
following facts available in the media to forward to his friends and
colleagues. So, let us assume, for the moment, that our imagined author has
completed his task and has forwarded the data below to his editors or al-Qaeda
superiors. We invite the readers to peruse the following information and then
form their own assessment of al-Qaeda's end-of-2007 viability and
The US enemy
US deficit-spending on defense and homeland security continues to increase,
with spending in Iraq alone now approaching US$12 billion per month. A former
senior Ronald Reagan administration official, who is now vice chairman of
Goldman Sachs (International), has said, "The US government is in a weakened
financial position to respond to another major terrorist attack ..."
Polls in 2007 showed that 26% of US Muslims under 30 years of age believe that
suicide attacks are sometimes necessary in defense of Islam. In addition,
15,000 US Muslims are attending this year's pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in
Saudi Arabia, a large proportion of whom are young professionals; this is the
demographic cohort that is al-Qaeda's most important recruitment pool.
US public opinion continues to run heavily against continuing the war in Iraq
and most of the 2008 presidential candidates favor ending the war; none talk of
Eighteen of the 19 US presidential candidates support maintaining the status
quo in US foreign policy toward the Muslim world, especially regarding Saudi
Arabia and Israel. One of the leading candidates has surrounded himself with
neo-conservative advisers who lobbied for the US invasion of Iraq.
Both US parties and most US media are attacking and trying to limit or end the
rendition program run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which has
captured numerous senior al-Qaeda leaders and has, according to CIA chief
General Michael Hayden, saved American lives.
US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said in July that al-Qaeda
had successfully regrouped and was capable of attacking in the United States.
He added that al-Qaeda has a network of supporters there, and that the threat
from homegrown terrorists is growing.
The US-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan continued to shrink in 2007,
with, for example, South Korea and Japan withdrawing from Afghanistan, and
Poland and Australia announcing they would withdraw their combat forces from
Iraq in 2008. Prime ministers who supported the US invasion and occupation of
Iraq were replaced or defeated for reelection in Britain, Poland and Australia.
The European enemy
The July 2007 attacks by Muslim doctors in Britain were not militarily
effective, but both successfully defeated the British intelligence services'
multi-layered detection capabilities.
The Danish and German governments broke up al-Qaeda-related cells in 2007 and
claim that those arrested had ties to the main al-Qaeda organization in South
Asia. In addition, the European Union's counterterrorism coordinator said in
November that al-Qaeda is now the biggest security threat to Europe.
In November, the chief of Britain's MI-5 security service said his officers
knew of 2,000 al-Qaeda-linked individuals who are operating in the United
Kingdom. That total is 400 more than the number provided by the MI-5 chief's
predecessor one year earlier.
Europeans continue to denigrate Islam, publishing caricatures of the Prophet
Mohammad depicted as a dog and honoring the books of Salman Rushdie, an author
whose work blasphemes the Prophet Mohammad.
Affairs in the Muslim world
In Iraq, al-Qaeda continues to suffer from manpower losses and even more from
the lingering negative impact of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's religious excesses and
indiscriminate violence. Some US generals claim that al-Qaeda has been
permanently defeated in al-Anbar province; other US generals say al-Qaeda has
moved its forces from Anbar to Diyala province and northern Iraq. US officials
believe if al-Qaeda can be defeated in Iraq, they can establish stability in
the country. There is still no functioning central government in Baghdad and
Shi'ite-Sunni tensions continue to simmer.
In Egypt and Jordan, the governments have cracked down on Islamist political
groups and leaders - jailing hundreds - and have passed measures limiting the
Islamists' participation in elections and government. The US government has not
sought to moderate or stop these actions.
In Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf is trying to hold his country together.
He is being threatened on the one side by rising Islamist militancy and on the
other by the West's insistence that he permit elections and a return to
democracy, practices which have in the past paved the way for civilian
politicians to loot the country's economy.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban gained control of more territory in 2007. The
success of their insurgent campaign - US forces suffered more killed in 2007
than in any year since 2001 - forced US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in
December to urge North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries to deploy
more combat forces in Afghanistan. The number of non-Afghan Islamist fighters
entering Afghanistan was steadily increasing at the end of 2007, as was the
number of suicide attacks in the country. The strength of the Taliban
insurgency has also moved some NATO leaders to suggest that Afghan Prime
Minister Hamid Karzai's government consider dealing with elements of the
Taliban for peace. Afghan heroin production set new records in 2007 and the
drug is now entering the United States in unprecedented amounts.
Polls in the summer of 2007 showed that 76% of Muslims worldwide agree with
al-Qaeda's claim that US foreign policy is meant to undermine or destroy Islam.
The affairs of al-Qaeda and its allies
Al-Qaeda's senior leadership suffered no serious losses in 2007 and Osama bin
Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Yahya al-Libi and other senior leaders published
an increasing number of timely audio and video tapes. By mid-December,
al-Qaeda's as-Sahab Productions had disseminated 92 videos, as compared to 58
releases in 2006.
Al-Qaeda's insurgent training camps in South Asia have been re-established and
are now sending trained fighters to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Levant and Europe.
In 2007, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group publicly joined al-Qaeda and pledged
its loyalty to bin Laden. In addition, al-Qaeda-in-Lebanon actively engaged the
Lebanese army in battle during 2007, and al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb
carried out a series of successful attacks during the year. Israel's government
claims al-Qaeda is now well established in Gaza.
Michael Scheuer served in the CIA for 22 years before resigning in 2004.
He served as the chief of the bin Laden Unit at the Counterterrorist Center
from 1996 to 1999. He is the once anonymous author of Imperial Hubris:
Why the West is Losing the War on Terror and Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama
bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America. Dr Scheuer is a senior
fellow with The Jamestown Foundation.