View Full Version : The rise of AQAP dissected

08-04-2013, 04:02 PM
I am sure AQAP feature in a number of threads, but to my surprise it does not have its own thread.

The catalyst for my thoughts came from this excellent CNN article, by Paul Cruickshank; which opens:
There may be a link between what sources tell CNN is evidence of final-stage planning for an attack against U.S and Western interests by al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen and the reported recent appointment of the affiliate's leader as the new general manager of the global al Qaeda network.

Seth Jones, a senior analyst at the Rand Corporation, told CNN's Barbara Starr on Friday that intelligence indicated that Nasir al Wuhayshi, the Yemeni leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), had recently been appointed into the role by al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri.

The appointment would effectively thrust Wuhayshi, a Yemeni national, into the No. 2 position in the global al Qaeda terrorist network, a position previously held by the Libyan Abu Yahya al Libi before his death in a drone strike in Pakistan in June 2012.


Note revenge for losses, invariably caused by drone strikes, plays a large role.

ICSR predicted this role a year ago:http://icsr.info/2012/05/icsr-insight-al-qaedas-most-dangerous-franchise/

Bill Moore
08-04-2013, 10:47 PM
I am sure AQAP feature in a number of threads, but to my surprise it does not have its own thread.

The catalyst for my thoughts came from this excellent CNN article, by Paul Cruickshank; which opens:


Note revenge for losses, invariably caused by drone strikes, plays a large role.

ICSR predicted this role a year ago:http://icsr.info/2012/05/icsr-insight-al-qaedas-most-dangerous-franchise/


Good find, but my first reaction is this is just the theme from the movie Groundhog Day.


And, once again, due to inclement weather, he is forced to spend the night. When he wakes up the next morning, it is the same day as yesterday and the day before, with the same oncoming snowstorm keeping him stuck in town and the same events repeating themselves like a broken record.

Is this Al-Qaeda 3.0 or 4.0, or does it really matter? It is clear our strategic approach to defeat Al-Qaeda by denying them safe haven in Afghanistan failed, and in some respects even backfired because it is draining our collective bank accounts and making us look impotent to no discernible end.

Based on the story you posted, some quick observations:

1. Al-Qaeda can't co-exist with us, it is against their core philosophy. The take away is Al-Qaeda continues to be at war with the West. We can't wish the threat away. They may claim they're acting in revenge of certain leaders being killed, but if that wasn't the case they would still attack for some other reason like they did on 9/11/01 (and several other attacks prior to that and our drone program).

2. Our current approach to defeating Al-Qaeda with large occupation efforts to deny safe haven doesn't work and it is too expensive to sustain. The use of drones to disrupt AQ is sustainable if it is done with more caution in the future. Al-Qaeda is wisely using the drone war as justification for a pending attack hoping we'll be pressured by public opinion to stop using drones. We can't afford to play into their hands again by removing one our more effective means to disrupt them. The fact is they will continue to attack us regardless of whether we cancel the drone strikes or not, and while it is uncomfortable with some, our drone strikes have probably saved countless lives in the West. I do agree that more effort must be made to prevent collateral damage, but that is a far step from cancelling the use of drones because it upsets our adversary. We can also use SOF to continue to kill or capture them.

3. We need to accept that this form of terrorism will have a long life span. We have demonstrated we don't know how to defeat them strategically (at least yet), so we need a sustainable approach working with our partners to continue to collect intelligence and disruption operations to protect our citizens.

08-05-2013, 06:34 AM
We need to accept that this form of terrorism will have a long life span. We have demonstrated we don't know how to defeat them strategically (at least yet), so we need a sustainable approach working with our partners to continue to collect intelligence and disruption operations to protect our citizens.

We need to pursue and disrupt, but we also need to starve them of recruits and funding by disrupting their primary narrative. If we've learned anything over the past decade, we've learned that Western occupation of Muslim countries is what AQ thrives on: whatever they lose to immediate interdiction in the occupied country they gain in credibility elsewhere. For me a long range strategy would aim to deprive AQ of ideological food by refraining from occupation or extended presence.

I suspect that as we draw down in Afghanistan we will enter a very dangerous time. They need a foreign occupier to wage jihad against; it's a critical part of their identity. They will be very eager to bait the US into another adventure, and that will make another major attack very likely. We need to be alert, and if they manage to get through the defenses and mount a successful attack, we need to see the bait for what it is and not fall into the trap of giving them what they want (again).

Bill Moore
08-05-2013, 07:58 AM
Some additional information from the longwarjournal for consideration.

Global al Qaeda: Affiliates, objectives, and future challenges


The Al Qaeda Network is not comprised of automatons. Like all manmade organizations, the terror network houses personalities who may clash and sometimes have competing interests. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the network has "fragmented" or "splintered," as some analysts contend. Keep in mind this striking example: Prior to 9/11 there was a significant amount of internal dissent over whether al Qaeda should launch its most devastating attack in history. The 9/11 attacks became al Qaeda's signature strike, and yet several high-level al Qaeda members disagreed with bin Laden's decision to move forward with the operation. This did not force these senior jihadists outside of al Qaeda's ranks. In fact, some of them went on to praise the 9/11 attacks after the fact while maintaining their leadership positions.

Headquartered in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is led by Nasir al Wuhayshi, a terrorist who served as Osama bin Laden's aide-de-camp for several years prior to 9/11. Wuhayshi was bin Laden's protg and remained loyal to the al Qaeda master even through the darkest times, including the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001, when all could have been lost. Bin Laden later returned the favor, rejecting a plea by some AQAP members to replace Wuhayshi as their leader with Anwar al Awlaki, the charismatic al Qaeda ideologue who has since been killed in a drone strike. Some of Wuhayshi's most trusted lieutenants, including several former Guantanamo detainees, also served al Qaeda in Afghanistan well before the 9/11 attacks. Together, they are advancing al Qaeda's global jihadist agenda, simultaneously fighting for territory inside Yemen while overseeing plots against the United States.

Today, the Al Qaeda Network is more geographically diverse than ever. Al Qaeda and its affiliates are fighting in more countries than at any other time before or after 9/11. It has several established affiliates, which it lacked on September 11, 2001. The ebb and flow of fighting changes the scope of al Qaeda's footprint on a regular basis, but the network has shown the capacity to challenge for territory across Africa, through the Middle East and into Central and South Asia. Meanwhile, al Qaeda's general command maintains safe havens in the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan today.

AQAP has emerged as a threat to the U.S. Homeland. AQAP was decimated after 2003 by a relentless counterterrorism campaign. But in early 2009 the group was reborn after al Qaeda's Saudi and Yemeni wings united. By December 25, 2009, AQAP had placed a suicide bomber on board a Detroit-bound plane. Luck and the vigilance of the passengers on board Flight 253 saved the day. Prior to the Christmas Day bombing attempt, many counterterrorism analysts assumed that AQAP was only interested in attacking targets inside Yemen. Several attempted attacks by AQAP have followed that initial failure.


Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, 2002 - 2013

08-06-2013, 01:20 PM
Excellent analysis by Clint Watts on FPRI:http://www.fpri.org/geopoliticus/2013/08/al-qaeda-plots-nsa-intercepts-era-terrorism-competition

Curious that he concludes an internal power struggle is partly responsible:
In conclusion, Zawahiri’s plotting of a spectacular attack and nomination of Wuyashi may be the result of internal forces--competition with AQ in Iraq-–more than external forces. Zawahiri needs a big attack to reassert his authority and curb the growth of a rival. AQ in Iraq’s growth and Baghdadi’s rebuttal may have pushed Zawahiri to rush an attack and in the process led to its detection. I'm guessing that only time will tell. Overall, Zawahiri and “Old Guard” al-Qaeda may be returning their focus to global attacks or attacks on Westerners, say in Egypt, to regain momentum and increase their appeal to a new generation of recruits and donors. If Zawahiri doesn’t act soon, the global jihad will pass him by.

From a different perspective RUSI's Raffaello Pantucci adds:http://www.rusi.org/analysis/commentary/ref:C51FFC28035647/#.UgCcUdLvvfI

08-06-2013, 01:25 PM
Within the media furore over a potential attack are many questions, within this NYT piece on the situation in the Yemen Gregory Johnsen rightly asks:
If the Obama administration is confident that its strategy in Yemen is correct, then why is Al Qaeda growing in Yemen and why is the group still capable of forcing the United States to shut down embassies in more than a dozen countries?


Bob's World
08-07-2013, 10:30 AM
The reality is, and always has been, that AQ is largely moot. They threaten us, they even attack us, but they are not, and have never been a "threat" to us.

More accurately they have been a ringing claxon, a loud, clear metric that US foreign policy for the Middle East has been growing increasingly out of date since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This does not mean that we should ignore them, but we certainly need to put them in a fresh perspective that recognizes that chasing the symptoms of problems is kind of like putting one of those pine tree deodorizers in an outhouse. At some point you are going to have to deal with the real problem down below where the stench is radiating from. For the US, that problem is a foreign policy designed for the Cold War to both prevent Soviet influence over the region, while at the same time fostering stable economic conditions. The go to move for creating those conditions was to put in place, or simply work to sustain in place those leaders who were willing to sign up for the US agenda.

At some point the people of the region fell out of the equation. Not a big problem when they could rationalize that the US version of external influence was probably far less offensive than what the Soviets would offer, and definitely less offensive than what the Europeans and Ottomans had dished up for so long. But then the Soviets collapsed, and the threat of their influence along with them. At the same time the revolution in information technology informed and empowered the people of the region in a way that had never been seen before. Suddenly the people were in the equation in an unprecedented, and they didn't like the math others were doing for them.

AQ simply exploits this unrest that is so widespread across the greater Middle East. They also exploit the widely held perception that US influence is wielded in inappropriate ways and to inappropriate degrees. The people of the region also tend to believe that this influence is an obstacle, rather than an enabler, to getting their own governments to listen to them and be willing to adopt reasonable changes through means short of revolutionary insurgency. So they listen to AQ.

But when reasonable ways are denied, people will turn to unreasonable ways to address these types of fundamental grievances. People will also accept help from anyone willing to offer it. Insurgency makes for strange bedfellows. Enter AQ and bin Laden. Working with AQ does not make one AQ any more than working with Russia made North Vietnamese Russian, or that working with France made Americans French. We exaggerate that connection due to the nature of the legal authorities and CT focus we apply. We have canalized our thinking to fit our tools.

As to "AQAP," this is simply one localized mix of nationalist insurgents and AQ UW providers taking physical sanctuary in the most logical place to do so in the region. If this conglomeration of insurgents from several nations and their AQ facilitators appears to be growing, it is because the problem is growing. We can add more deodorizers, or we can start shoveling manure.

The good news is that Arab Spring is scaring these governments to action. Equally, when the US did not offer carte blanche support to Mubarak it sent a frightening message to the remaining autocrats as well. But the people are restless and motivated by the changes occurring around them. Small bribes and increased security will likely prove inadequate to the task of preventing Arab Spring revolutions from continuing to spread. Efforts by the US to slow that spread serve primarily to increase the popular perception that the US enables governments to resist change. It also serves to validate AQ's message. It is counter productive to our ends.

We should take growing AQAP activity as a clear metric that KSA is closer to going from a suppressed insurgency to an active one. We should take it as a metric that the solution we imposed upon Iraq was a tactical one designed for what we thought would be best for us, and that a true solution is one the people of the region are not done acting out to achieve. We should take it as a metric that Yemen is far from getting to an acceptably sustainable system of governance simply by the change of one man. We should take it that Jordan is doing better than most, but quite possibly not enough, particularly with the stress of Syrian refugees and Israel as neighbor adding to their internal challenges.

I see glimmers of light in many of the recent policy decisions made by the Obama administration. But we lack a comprehensive vision and plan for the complete overhaul of how the US secures and services it interests in the region in the modern and evolving strategic environment. We are reacting rather than being proactive. Our policy, diplomacy and security efforts are all in the reactive mode. We run from fire to fire, wondering how it started and how to best put it out, or if we should just let it burn.

The worst thing we could do is to ID AQAP as a new focal point for increased CT and partner security force capacity building. But that is the tactically logical move, and that is what our current doctrine and plans tell us to do. To become more strategically sound we will have to act tactically illogical. That is politically very hard to do unless you can explain why and how you are doing what you intend to do.

We lack that how and that why.

Bob's World
08-07-2013, 12:40 PM
And yet the problem continues to grow...

4. U.S. Authorized Series Of Drone Strikes In Yemen
Unclear whether move disrupted terrorism
By Greg Miller, Anne Gearan and Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post
The Obama administration authorized a series of drone strikes in Yemen over
the past 10 days as part of an effort to disrupt an al-Qaeda terrorism plot
that has forced the closure of American embassies around the world, U.S.
officials said.
The officials said the revived drone campaign - with four strikes in rapid
succession - is directly related to the emergence of intelligence indicating
that al-Qaeda's leader has urged the group's Yemen affiliate to attack
Western targets.
... A few dozen U.S. Special Operations forces have been stationed in Yemen
since last year to train Yemeni counterterrorism forces and to help pinpoint
targets for airstrikes against al-Qaeda targets in the country. The U.S.
military carries out drone strikes in Yemen from its base in Djibouti, while
the CIA flies armed drones from a separate base in Saudi Arabia.
The CIA and the U.S. military have carried out 16 drone strikes in Yemen
this year, according to the New America Foundation, which monitors the drone
campaign. Last year, a record 54 strikes occurred.

I can not help but visualize a Ranger Instructor in the face of some poor, lost, sleep deprived patrol leader, yelling "Ranger, are you as F'd up as you want to be"?