Al-Qaeda hails 'revival' in Afghanistan
By Michael Scheuer
Pakistan's GEO News TV correspondent Najeeb Ahmed interviewed al-Qaeda's
operations commander in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu-al-Yazid (aka Shaykh Sa'id),
at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan on July 21.
Abu-Yazid's performance was a strongly confident one, notable for its contrast
with the grim presentation he made in March regarding the status of the
Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan.
Abu-Yazid, a native of Egypt, once again emphasized al-Qaeda's lessons-learned
capability - this in regard to excessive Muslim casualties in attacks by
al-Qaeda and its allies - and described
the increasingly positive situation the mujahideen face in Afghanistan. Other
media reporting shows Abu-Yazid's optimism is understandable: both the growing
numbers of non-Afghan Muslim fighters entering Afghanistan and the July 25-26
terrorist strikes in India - which will increase Pakistan-India tensions -
contribute to the insurgency's brightening prospects.
A grim outlook in March
Abu-Yazid's speech in March amounted to a warning to the mujahideen and their
supporters. Abu-Yazid then claimed that Muslims had yet to fully awake from the
long slumber that has made them a people grown "distant from the religion
[with] which God has blessed [them]". As a result, he said, "fools among the
Muslims" still valued nationalism over faith, obeyed apostate rulers who have
abandoned Islam, and followed the guidance of clerics who are the "Sultan's
scholars" or who have recanted pro-jihad views.
In March, Abu-Yazid was particularly strident in questioning the manliness of
Muslim men because not enough of them were coming to fight in Afghanistan:
"Today, the jihad arena is missing its men and calling upon its heroes," he
said in a manner suggesting weakness in the insurgency.
"Don't God and Islam have a right to be defended by the young and the old? Say
to those who have dignity, wherever they are: you will despair if you do not
respond. The infidel people have come here to fight you for the sake of their
false religion and they are killed and wounded for the sake of hell ... We
direct a special call to the specialized people like doctors and electronic
engineers, due to their urgent need by the mujahideen. The battle needs a
combination of experiences and efforts. We call on the fathers and mothers not
to become a barrier between their children and paradise and to present their
children for the sake of God. Our religion is more precious than ourselves, and
encouraging children [to fight] and sacrificing them for the sake of God is a
clear sign of piety and righteousness."
July's days of optimism
The Abu-Yazid interviewed by Najeeb Ahmed on July 21 is a man much changed from
March. Instead of issuing a statement via al-Qaeda's media arm, al-Sahab,
al-Yazid and al-Qaeda were confident enough of their security to bring Ahmed to
a personal interview in Afghanistan near "the Khost area" of southeast
There, Ahmed was greeted not just by al-Yazid and his bodyguards, but also by
"dozens of his Arab colleagues". Al-Qaeda clearly intended the interview to
show Muslims that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are operating fairly freely in
In talking to Ahmed, Abu-Yazid was intent on emphasizing that al-Qaeda remains
a force to be reckoned with. He denounced as "a mere lie and allegation" the
claims by "people in Pakistan" (as Ahmed described them) that al-Qaeda is an
agent of US policy. Osama Bin Laden, Abu Ubaydah al-Banshiri and Abu Hafs
al-Masri built al-Qaeda, Abu-Yazid said, "With the purpose of establishing a
global center for the mujahideen who had converged on Afghanistan [to fight the
Soviets] from all over the world." Having been so obviously successful in this
regard, al-Yazid advised Muslims to ignore "baseless statements" by Western and
official Muslim media and believe the mujahideen's reports and statements.
Abu-Yazid also stressed that al-Qaeda's position has not changed - it will
remain at war with the United States until American policies in the Muslim
world change. America, he reminded Muslims, "is the leader of the infidels in
this age ... [and] is holding the flag of the cross today". America also backs
Israel's "usurpation and occupation of the Palestinian Muslims' territory", and
is intent on establishing "one or another [military] base in all Muslim
Abu-Yazid added that, more than ever before, al-Qaeda and its allies would make
no distinction between the US government and ordinary Americans - both would be
attacked and killed until US policies change. "Both of them [are] acting as the
enemies of Islam, and are in a state of war against the Muslim community,"
al-Yazid argued. "After all, it is these people [Americans] who choose
governments through their votes and it is they who voted [President George W]
Bush to power for the second term, although they were well aware of his hostile
agenda against Islam." He said there "may be a few such wise people among the
American nation who may be displeased with these activities", and advised that
it is "obligatory upon them that they should not vote for such tyrannical
Regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, Abu-Yazid repeated none of the bleak views he
expressed in March. When Ahmed cited US claims that it had "overcome the
fighters" in both places, Abu-Yazid said - based on long personal experience in
an insurgency's alternating periods of intense combat and prolonged lulls -
that Washington made similar false assertions about Iraq in 2004 and other
times and its current claims were also false and a "weird gimmickry and mockery
of the American peoples' wisdom".
In Afghanistan, al-Yazid claimed that the mujahideen were growing in number and
are taking the initiative from the US-led coalition: "Their defeat in
Afghanistan is even more clear and evident," the al-Qaeda Afghanistan chief
A message to Denmark
Abu-Yazid used al-Qaeda's recent attack on the Danish Embassy in Islamabad to
underscore that al-Qaeda's leaders understood many Muslims disapprove of the
large number of Muslims being killed in attacks by the organization and its
allies. He did not give an inch on the need to kill Muslims working for
apostate Muslim or Western regimes: "It is a shame even to call such people
[the Pakistani guards at the Danish Embassy] Pakistanis or Muslims." Abu-Yazid
claimed that al-Qaeda and its allies are taking stringent measures to ensure
their strikes do not kill innocent Muslims and that Western reports to the
contrary were propaganda:
Let me also make it clear that I have come to
learn that media have carried a report that most of the people killed in the
attack on the Danish Embassy were common innocent Muslims. I would like to
clarify that this report is absolutely incorrect and the enemies of Islam have
publicized it to undermine the value of this deed ... Comrades who saw the
Danish Embassy building, praise be to God, carried out inspection of the target
in great detail and with great caution.
They knew very well on which day the embassy expedited its internal affairs and
had no common people visiting them for visas or other requirements. So such a
time was chosen for action on which no common Muslims would be present around
the embassy ... Here, we would also like to emphasize fully the point that in
every operation of this kind [suicide attacks], we try our best to choose a
target that is miles away from the Muslim community. On many occasions, we
abandoned our [planned] activities because Muslims were present around the
target. [GEO News TV, July 22].
In these words, Abu-Yazid
essentially apologized to the umma (Islamic community) for excessive
Muslim casualties in al-Qaeda attacks. In this, his remarks follow similar
expressions of regret by bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir,
al-Qaeda's military commander in Iraq.
Western officials and media often identify such words as a sign of weakness,
but in the Islamic world repentance is a necessary step toward redemption. The
penitent words of al-Yazid and the others - if true - foreshadow more attacks
on Westerners and Western facilities in many areas of the world, particularly
in places where the Muslim population is not large or in areas that some
Muslims would deem to be under Western occupation, such as Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
In addition, a change in course by al-Qaeda that yields fewer Muslim casualties
would knock the pins out from under the organization's Muslim and Western
critics who condemn the un-Islamic nature of attacks that kill Muslims.
Media second Abu-Yazid's optimism
Even as Abu-Yazid spoke, media reports suggested he had the right to be
optimistic on two scores: growing insurgent manpower and Islamabad's eroding
commitment to battle Afghan and Pakistani insurgents.
As long ago as The Jamestown Foundation's December 2007 conference "The
al-Qaeda Triangle: Pakistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia", there have been reports
that increasing numbers of non-Afghan Muslims were coming to Afghanistan to
join the Taliban-led insurgency. At the conference, Pakistani journalist Ahmed
Rashid explained that the population of Chechens, Uzbeks and other Central
Asian Muslims in Pakistan's tribal regions had increased from fewer than 1,000
in 2001 to about 5,000 in late 2007 (though he did not provide any evidence for
the presence of Chechens in Afghanistan).
In recent weeks, Pakistani, Arab and Western journalists have reported that
non-Afghan Muslims - including Muslims from Europe and North America - were
"flocking" to Afghanistan, in part because some were relocating from Iraq, but
mostly because there is a widespread perception among Islamists that the West
is on the ropes in Afghanistan.
Abu-Yazid, for example, said in his interview with GEO-TV that the suicide
bomber that attacked the Danish Embassy had arrived from Saudi Arabia, though
Saudi officials said the man was not an Arab and was not a Saudi citizen. The
Pakistani media have reported that Islamabad believes there are now 8,000
foreign fighters in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of northwest
On July 25-26, terrorist attacks occurred in India that probably will redound
to the benefit of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan. On July 25, seven
bombs were detonated within minutes of each other in Bangalore, India - the hub
of the country's information technology industry - killing two and wounding
eight. The following day, at least 17 bombs were detonated within minutes of
each other in Gujarat state city of Ahmedabad, killing 45 and wounding over 160
Even before the debris was cleared, Indian officials and media were blaming the
attacks on terrorists sponsored by Pakistan. Responding to the attacks in
Ahmedabad, for example, Gujarat chief minister Narenda Modi claimed that a
foreign country - read: Pakistan - was probably behind the bombings and one of
India's leading national security commentators published an article entitled,
"Another step in [Pakistan's] ISI-sponsored Indianization of jihad".
The attacks almost certainly will lead to heightened military tensions between
India and Pakistan; indeed, Pakistani and Indian artillery batteries engaged in
a 13-hour duel along the Line of Control in Kashmir on July 29, violating a
2003 ceasefire agreement. This reality will, in turn, motivate Pakistan's
General Staff to request that regular army units be held back from operations
in the FATA until it is certain they will not be needed on the Pakistan-India
border. The new and fragile civilian government in Islamabad is likely to
concur with such a request - especially if New Delhi does any saber-rattling -
and thereby reduce Pakistani pressure on the Taliban and its allies.
Abu-Yazid's optimism is another signal of the ongoing revitalization of the
Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, an insurgency now grown to the point, in
size and geographic dispersion, that the two additional US brigades promised by
presidential candidates Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain are likely
to make little or no difference.
The Afghan situation, moreover, is certain to get worse before additional US or
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops arrive because of the growing
anger of Pakistanis over US air strikes in the FATA and the growing unity and
anti-US/NATO attitudes being fomented among the Pashtun tribes on both sides of
the Afghanistan-Pakistan border by those air attacks.
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; his most recent book is Marching
Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq. Dr Scheuer is a senior fellow with
The Jamestown Foundation.