GLOBAL SECURITY: by John MillerNews Weekly
The war on terror takes a new turn
, August 6, 2011
The world is still reeling from the horrendous terrorist attack in Norway on Friday, July 23, local time. The full story of the motives of the perpetrator and his sympathisers will doubtless come to light in due course.
Meanwhile, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism continues in its diffuse forms.
Since the successful outcome of America’s operation against Osama bin Laden and other senior leaders of al Qaeda, there is increased pressure on the Western alliance to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Newspaper reports state that the United States is conducting a backdoor dialogue with the Taliban, presumably with the aim of determining the terms of the withdrawal.
Beaming broadly after moving from the post of CIA chief, Mr Leon Panetta is now Secretary for Defense, having sailed through the Congressional hearings and survived a somewhat peculiar press campaign against him based on his alleged association with communists, communist sympathisers and other left-wing activists many years ago. Having read the details, I would have expected that had there been substance to the matter, he would never have achieved high office. As usual, this will not appease conspiracy theorists.
Over the years, Mr Panetta has gained something of a reputation for putting his foot in it, in a manner of speaking. Only recently, he opined that al Qaeda’s demise was imminent, which would lead the more gullible to conclude that the war against fundamentalist Islamic terrorists is finished.
Some support from Mr Panetta’s position has not unsurprisingly come from senior figures in the Obama Administration who have stated that the war against terrorists was now more likely to play out at home. They have warned about the threat from so-called “lone wolf” and “self-radicalised” terrorists, assumed to be acting on their own initiative and without direction from external sources.
I have grave doubts about this scenario for several reasons.
Al Qaeda means “the base” or “the core”, prompting some commentators to regard the organisation as vertically integrated and capable of being rendered helpless by the use of specific targeting and the decapitation of its leadership.
While it is perfectly true that Allied forces have inflicted a heavy toll on the leadership of both groups, it has not halted the ongoing process of succession-planning. When a Predator drone takes out a group in a remote location, there is always a good chance that civilian survivors may be radicalised and motivated to enlist in the struggle.
Moreover, it does not seem to be understood that the al Qaeda/Taliban nexus extends throughout Afghanistan, most of Pakistan, large parts of disputed territory in India, Bangladesh and other regional areas, especially the province of Baluchistan.
By eliminating Osama bin Laden, the U.S. can claim to have hit the jackpot by eliminating the leader who declared holy war against the West and planned the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, recent information indicates that he was involved in planning the 7/7 attacks on the London transport system, and the deadly plan to bring down a number of airliners simultaneously across the Atlantic. After his demise, more evidence came to light that he was engaged in more plots against the West and Israel.
While the Western world celebrated the removal of the symbolic leader of the Islamic jihad, it has been well known for a number of years that many senior figures in the Pakistani army and intelligence service, the ISI, were pro-Taliban and, by extension, pro-al Qaeda.
One of the most successful and eminent figures within the ISI is Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, the leading conduit to the Afghan mujahedin fighting the Soviet forces during their incursion in the years 1979-85. In a number of interviews over the past decade, General Gul has openly expressed pro-Islamic fundamentalist ideas and support for the Taliban.
A review of fundamentalist Islamic terrorist attacks in the West over a period of years has revealed quite conclusively that while al Qaeda has been depicted as the main enemy, the Pakistan-organised and led Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), literally The Army of the Good, is also an extremely dangerous group.
LeT played a leading role in the Mumbai bombings of 2009. With significant Pakistani migration to the West, especially to the UK, there are many signs of willing overseas recruits to the cause.
Furthermore, a reasonable working hypothesis would be that Pakistani recruits are more highly educated, come from higher socio-economic status groups and, on the basis of analysis by intelligence services, appear to be well integrated into host societies — that is, until they conduct a terrorist operation.
Like many grassroot organisations in the Islamic world, LeT has several different guises, including a genuine charitable arm which has been prominent in assisting after natural disasters. This affords LeT cadres and talent-spotters access to the broader population and an opportunity to recruit new members.
In other writings I have described this organisation as being not as well known as al Qaeda but equally lethal. It is banned in most Western countries, including Australia. However, from some of the stalled or thwarted terrorist plots in this country, it is clear that they have a presence and are organising.
For the time being, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta can enjoy a moment of solace, which I do not expect to last for very long.
John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.