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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 April 2006, 08:12 GMT 09:12 UK
Al-Qaeda jihad vs US 'long war'
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs Correspondent, BBC News website

Osama Bin Laden
Osama Bin Laden. The tactics of jihad...

Monday's bombings in Egypt fit in with the philosophy of war laid out in a 7,000-word document by Osama Bin Laden which appeared recently in the form of an audio tape.

And in turn, the tape came within weeks of the publication in February of the Pentagon's "Quadrennial Defence Review" which stated: "The United States is a nation engaged in what will be a long war."

We therefore now have two almost simultaneous documents from the leading forces in the war and they are worth putting side by side.

They show how the global struggle waged by al-Qaeda is being countered by new formations and tactics by the Pentagon.

(Update: A video has also appeared of the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. I will comment on this below.)

The most striking thing about the Bin Laden statement is its wide ranging nature. One counter-terrorism commentator, Walid Phares of the Florida Atlantic University, called it a "state of the jihad address".

The struggles

The al-Qaeda leader lists about 20 struggles worldwide. It is important to know what they are. Among his declarations:

  • There can be no apology for the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which he dwells on at length, saying those "responsible" must be punished - and he leaves no doubt as to what that punishment should be

  • The West is at war with "our nation", defined as Islam as a whole, which amounts to a "crusade"; the West's hostility towards Hamas is evidence of this crusade

  • The UN Security Council is a "crusader movement along with pagan Buddhism"; the Buddhists are represented by China in his view

  • Islamic fighters should resist any attempt by the West to cut Darfur off from the rest of Sudan, and he rejects the settlement with southern Sudanese rebels

  • Iraq is the central struggle: "The epicentre of these wars and attacks is Baghdad"

  • The fight in Iraq is a "crusader-Zionist war against Muslims"; so, too, are or were the conflicts in Bosnia, Chechnya, East Timor, Somalia and Kashmir

  • He attacks France for banning the headscarf in school and the writer Salman Rushdie is still "the infidel"

  • He calls for the death of "Bush's lackey in Pakistan", meaning President Pervez Musharraf

  • King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is responsible for "submissiveness and humiliation"

  • The global war is not a clash of civilisations but an attack "by their civilisation against our civilisation"

  • He condemns the use of Nato troops in Afghanistan

  • The people in the West are as guilty as their leaders: "War is a common responsibility among people and government"

  • No dialogue is now possible with the West as it rejected his own offer of a truce "after the withdrawal of their armies"

Bin Laden's manifesto does not mention Egypt, but has no real need to since Egypt has always been a battlefield for al-Qaeda.

It is evident that Bin Laden has lost none of his determination in the years since 11 September 2001 ("the Manhattan conquest").

His manifesto is characterised by absolutism. Even the fight in Iraq is pitched in terms of protecting "monotheism", which is an implied rejection of the Iraqi majority, the Shias, according to Islamic scholars.

Whether his gathering in of just about every known conflict involving Muslims is a sign of his strength or a sign that he is trying to raise morale in sometimes weakened forces remains to be seen.

But his ambition remains undiminished.

Now the Zarqawi video. It was posted on a site well known for giving statements from the insurgency. There can be no doubt it is Zarqawi and he is introduced and describes himself as the al-Qaeda leader in the Land of the Two Rivers. He also announces a new "Mujahadeen Council" to make Iraq an "Islamic country".

The tape lasts for 34 minutes and pays homage to Bin Laden, with his picture shown and an old audio tape of him playing in the background.

Zarqawi uses many of the same words, in particular "crusader". And he is more specifically hostile to the Shias. He also warns against Sunni collaborators. Two rockets, said to be newly designed, are also shown.

Again, whether this video was made out of confidence or out of a need to rally support is unclear. Perhaps both.

The Pentagon approach

Against this, the Pentagon is preparing its own plans.

These were partly revealed in the four-yearly document it is required to produce looking ahead towards the next 20 years.

The new document gives it own definition of the struggle and it is also couched in global terms.

Donald Rumsfeld
...against the long war of Donald Rumsfeld

"Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, our nation has fought a global war against violent extremists who use terrorism as their weapon of choice and who seek to destroy our free way of life.

"Our enemies seek weapons of mass destruction and, if they are successful, will likely attempt to use them in their conflict with free people everywhere. Currently, the struggle is centred in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we will need to be prepared and arranged to successfully defend our nation and its interests around the globe for years to come."

In his usual blunt style, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says in an introduction: "Now in the fifth year of this global war, the ideas and proposals in this document are provided as a road map for change, leading to victory."

The main points

The ideas and proposals are then listed in general terms. The principle is to make the US armed forces more flexible and to shift the emphasis:

  • From a peacetime tempo to a wartime sense of urgency

  • From a time of reasonable predictability to an era of surprise and uncertainty

  • From single-focused threats to complex challenges

  • From nation-state threats to decentralised network threats

  • From conducting war against nations to conducting war in countries we are not at war with (safe havens)

  • From large institutional forces (tail) to more powerful operational capabilities (teeth)

There is a lot more like this in the 92-page document.

The practical effects are going to be an increase in special forces and more US forces stationed in perhaps smaller groups around the world, sometimes clandestinely and even without the knowledge of local US diplomats.

There will be more unmanned drone aircraft.

There will even be special teams trained to disarm nuclear weapons. The threat of terrorists using weapons of mass destruction is partly what lies behind the overall commitment.

Critics are already saying that the Pentagon will no doubt also demand the big-ticket items like new jet fighters and heavy equipment for the army.

But the thinking behind the review is to configure forces to better prevent or counter the kind of surprise attacks launched by al-Qaeda and its network of networks.

What the review does not get into, because it is not meant to, is the place that military tactics occupy in the wider strategy in such a long war.

The document does allude to this at the end by stating: "The United States will not win the war on terrorism... by military means... simultaneous, effective interaction with civilian populations will be essential to achieve success."

And of course the lesson from the Cold War is that it was not won by military means, though military strength certainly played a key role. It was won by one system collapsing.


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