Monday, 19 October 2015

Strategic Schema of Al-Qaeda: Nascence, Islamic Revolution, the “Bear Trap”, and Post-Cold War Global Strategic Repositioning.

This is the First Installment of the Serial Strategic Schema of Al-Qaeda.
The strategic schema of Al-Qaeda - and by extension, its insubordinate and rival offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Levant (ISIS/ISIL) – is a culmination of the processes of evolution of Modern Islamism and Offensive Militant Jihad; coupled to pragmatic political maneuverings, rational social actions, combat experiences, and, national and sub-national events (both within and outside its controls); which have shaped the development of its pertinacious struggle for the actualization of its definitive end goal - the establishment of a Supranational Caliphate that would subordinate all Muslims under a Salafist-interpreted Sharia constitution.
Al-Qaeda arose from a series of events which impregnated Afghanistan and the Middle East with the zygote of Salafi-jihadism,[1] whose long gestation period ended with the Disintegration of the Soviet Union;[2] while its infancy was characterized by a series of Terror Attacks across Asia, Americas, Europe and Africa including the most notable Twin Bombings of the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-el-Salaam in 1998[3].  It precocious puberty was hastened when Al-Qaeda in Iraq (which had malformed into the Islamic State in Iraq) overran expansive swathes of territories in both Syria and Iraq; and in that way, established the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in mid-2014[4].
Now Al-Qaeda is strategically mature, ready to destabilize the global order and foment unmanageable chaos. Its maturity is qualified by the fact that it has dragged the US into chronic conflicts in multiple theaters of war, and is some instances (Afghanistan and Iraq), defeated the US in War.
AlQaeda in Somalia
Al-Qaeda has a History which is interposed by Critical Events which determined its Evolution. These events and stages of evolution are discussed hereafter alongside their strategic outcomes.
Founding of the Islamic Republic.
In 1979, the Islamic Revolution overturned the Established Order in Iran and the Shah was overthrown[5]. The revolution brought to power a Shiite Clerical Regime which sought to establish a Shiite Theocracy over Iran. The success of the revolution and the Founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran upheaved the Middle East and Central Asia as the Oppressed Muslim populace in these regions sought to depose repressive regimes using the Islamic Revolution as their model template[6].
In the Soviet Union, the Communist Government was alarmed by the success of the Islamic Revolution which it viewed – albeit correctly - as an Ideological threat to the Integrity of the Soviet Union, especially since its Islamist creeds had begun to make inroads into the Soviet Republics in Central Asia where an indisposed Muslim populace was residing[7]. To its south, the Soviet Communist Satellite nation of Afghanistan functioned as a vital buffer between the Islamic Republic and the Soviet Muslim Nationalities; and its existence as a communist state was expected to inhibit the permeation of the creeds of the Islamic Revolution into its Southern Republics[8]. Nonetheless, Islamism was able to permeate into the Soviet’s Southern Republics through Afghansitan, and in some places, it arose insidiously among the religiously-inclined Tatars, Turks, and Chechens.[9].
The rise of Islamic sentiment in these republics (referred to as Nationalism by the Soviet Politburo) coupled with political uncertainty in Afghanistan finally impelled the Politburo, along with the Soviet High Command, to invade Afghanistan in an attempt to stabilize the regime of the deeply-unpopular Communist Government of Nur Mohammad Taraki[10]. The Soviet 40th Army invaded Afghanistan on 24th December 1979, and they quickly captured Kabul where they executed Taraki and replaced him with Babrak Kamal.[11].
The Globally-Backed and Internationally Legitimized Jihad.
The Soviet Invasion was condemned by the United Nations General Assembly;[12] and in January 1980, the Islamic Conference demanded the unconditional withdrawal of the Soviet Forces from Afghanistan[13]. Meanwhile, an insurrectionary campaign was launched by the Afghan Mujahideen (who were later joined by Arab Jihadis) who received military aid from the United States (the primary sponsor), Pakistan, China, and the Gulf Arab Nations[14]. Israel[15] is also known to have aided the Mujahideen in an attempt to reconfigure the political environment within Soviet Russia.
Saudi Arabia used the Maktab al-Khidamat (Services Office) to channel an estimated $600 Million to the Mujahideeen in Afghanistan. Maktab al-Khidamat was founded by Osama bin Laden, and the Palestinian Muslim Scholar and Muslim Brotherhood Ideologue, Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, who taught and mentored Osama bin Laden, is still widely considered to be the father of International Jihad. Together, Azzam and bin Laden used Maktab al-Khidamat to establish a network of guest houses in Peshawar, Pakistan, to provide temporary residence for the would-be Arab mujahideen on their way to Afghanistan[16].
The Chinese supported the Afghan Mujahideen in retaliation for the Afghan government support of Vietnam during the Sino-Vietnam War, as well as to counter Soviet advances towards Xinjiang Province in China’s Mainland[17]. The People’s Liberation Army of China trained the Mujahideen initially in Pakistan before relocating the training camps to Chinese territory where they armed the Jihadis with Chinese-made machine guns, Anti-aircraft missiles, and Rocket launchers[18].
In entirety, the transnational support given to the Mujahideen by a multitude of powerful nations (including the Soviet Client State of Czechoslovakia) and non-state actors (the corruption-infested Soviet army sold its weapons to the mujahideen) enabled the insurgents and the Arab volunteers to drag the Soviet Union into a protracted and costly long war which would exact an unforgiving toll on the Soviet Union.
The Mujahideen launched an intense but sustained guerrilla war against a combined force of 115,000 Soviet Soldiers[19] backed by 55,000 Afghan Government troops[20]. Nevertheless, the Mujahideen were able to make an estimated four-fifths of Afghanistan ungovernable[21].
Sensing an opportunity to insidiously destroy the Soviet Union, the US National Security Adviser – Zbigniew Brzezinski – conceived an ingenious strategy dubbed the “Bear Trap” which would cause the implosion of the Soviet Union[22].
The Bear Trap.
The bear trap was a two-pronged strategy conceived to cripple the Soviet Union financially as well as erode its internal cohesiveness, with the expectation that in so doing, the resultant cascade of precipitous events would severely destabilize the Union thus ensuring its eventual downfall[23].
The first prong encompassed use of sanctions and direct reactions to exact an insufferable international price from the Soviet Union for its invasion of Afghanistan. The second prong involved a joint CIA-MI6 scheme to collaborate with Pakistani, Israeli, Chinese, Egyptian and Saudi governments to train and equip the Mujahideen for a long war against the Soviet Union[24]. Moreover, both the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and MI6 (Military Intelligence, Section 6) began a covert operation to seed the Muslim-dominated Soviet Republics with Salafist literature which beseeched religious Muslims to overthrow the Atheist Soviet System[25]. 
Strategic Files (SF) has assessed that the utility of the bear trap was grounded on its capabilities to exponentially increase the cost of war for the Soviet Union while simultaneously sabotaging the Soviet Economy by ensuring that international sanctions obstructed it from accessing International Funds, thereby entrapping the Soviets within an economic bubble where it would be forced to consume its limited economic resources without recourse to adequate replenishment. The resultant stagnated economy coupled with a costly indecisive war eventually plunged the Soviet Union into an Economic Turmoil which ultimately led to its dissolution.
Operation Cyclone.
Operation Cyclone was a costly covert CIA campaign which was aimed at funding and training Islamic Fundamentalists in coordination with the Pakistani ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence). The CIA financed the operation to the tune of $3 Billion, while ISI sourced the fighters and allocated the resources to them[26]. As such, ISI acted as the intermediary between the CIA and the Mujahideen; and this gave it inordinate leverage which allowed it to work in concert with the Pakistani Government – then led by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq – to formulate an operative geo-strategy that would counter the southward expansion of the Soviet Union; as well as plan to destabilize Northwestern India using the Mujahideen[27].
Lieutenant General Akhtar AbdurRahman, the then Director-General of ISI, conceived of a plan to disproportionately arm the Foreign Contingent of Islamic Extremists (popularly known as the Muhajiroun) who could later be used to fight India[28]. This foreign contingent was predominantly populated by Arab Volunteers, chief among them being a young wealthy Saudi National named Osama bin Laden[29]. These ideologically-devout Arab volunteers[30] who were trained and armed with military-grade weapons, were to form the nexus of the Base (or as it’s known by its Arabic name, Al-Qaeda).
Establishment of the Base.
After a grueling long war in Afghanistan, the Afghan Mujahideen ultimately defeated the Soviet Union and compelled it to effect a withdrawal of its forces from the country thus ushering in a period that was characterized by the ascendancy of Islamists, albeit cloaked as politico-military outfits - chief among them being, the Taliban.[31]. Central to the War against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and later on against the Government of Mohammed Najibullah, was a group designated as the Afghan Arabs - a motley band of Arab Jihadists who fought to defend Islam against a godless nemesis which strove to spread State-sponsored Communist-inclined Organized Atheism across Muslim lands (Dar-al-Islam)[32].
The Bear-Trap succeeded in ensuring that the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan, but it also left behind ideologically-committed fighting groups searching for new theaters of jihad where they could participate in Kinetic Wars. However, these disparate fighting groups lacked a cohesive strategy towards non-Muslim regimes and secular regimes in their Muslim-dominated Home nations. This was due to a lack of a unified military doctrine and an absence of a well-structured system of leadership. This problem was solved when Abu Ubaidah working alongside Osama bin Laden established a Military Base where the mujahideen could be trained and amalgamated into fighting cells subordinated to a clear and established hierarchy. This base served as the central training center for the Arab Mujahideen, and it is from here that the organization got its name, Al-Qaeda or The Base[33].  Most importantly, the Mujahideeen emerging from the Base had clear objectives, cohesive military strategies and were subordinated to an established hierarchy of leadership. With this feat accomplished, the first phase towards Global Jihad was accomplished.
Even so, the Mujahideen were to reorient and adapt themselves to transformative changes happening across the world – the Global Strategic Repositioning
Global Strategic Repositioning.
The collapse and the disintegration of the Soviet Union effectively ended the Cold War and left the USA as the sole Super-Power in the World[34]. According to a SF analyst (the author), the immediate Post-Cold War was characterized by the ascendancy of the US to a true Hyper-Power.
Within Al-Qaeda, its astute and well-educated strategists accurately predicted a change in the Global Order, and they formulated strategies that would ensure the survival of Al-Qaeda through the indeterminate period of the formation of a New World Order. The New World Order was quickly established with the Occident securing its pre-eminence in Global Geopolitics and Geo-economics [35].
During the 1990s, the Global Debate was whether the New World Order should be Unipolar - with the US as the sole Hyper-Power that imposes its Will on other nation-states – or, Multipolar, where the logic of consensus amongst Normal nation-states would secure the interests of the majority (sometimes to the detriment of the minority)[36].
SF asserts that the New World Order inclined to the Unipolar Setting due to the ensuing development of events across the world which is elaborated hereafter.
1.      The “Arc of Crisis[37] was expanding as volatility manifested itself in the Balkans and among the newly-independent Soviet Republics, especially with regards to Nagorno-Karabakh (an Armenian-populated area administered by Azerbaijan) which was being contested by both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Yugoslavia disintegrated amid violent infighting which led to intense and brutal wars which characterized the Balkanization process. The Middle East was now no longer the sole locus of instability and geostrategic tension.
2.      The US was faced with the challenge of controlling destructive chaos within the ever-expanding “arc of crisis”, and this compelled it to undertake unilateral actions to stabilize critical regions of the World; but when numerous conflicts cropped up in different places, the US was inclined to undertake multilateral engagements in attempts to pacify vital regions such as South-Eastern Europe.
3.      China actively refused to project itself as a Superpower, and instead chose to ally itself with the US while still retaining its unique form of Communism. Instead of being pugnacious towards the US; the Chinese chose to trade[38] with the US, and in the process, a deluge of cheap, affordable but low-quality Chinese products flooded the US market. Using US Consumerism to its advantage, the China was able to amass enormous wealth; and is presently one of the Primary US financiers[39].
4.      Still cognizant of the inherent fragility of Supra-national entities, the European nations favored greater economic integration along with limited political unification. The European Union would immediately rival the US, but due to shared cultural and unifying religious bonds; such cold rivalry is normally complemented with healthy cooperation.
5.      Israel’s strategic maneuvers against the Soviet Union paid off as after Soviet Disintegration, the Arab nations were stripped of an alternative Superpower ally thus leaving them dependent on the US. This in effect greatly leveraged Israel’s geopolitical clout across the Middle East – mainly through its inordinate influence on US Foreign Policy towards the Middle East.
6.      With the ascendance of the United States to the status of the Sole Hyper-Power, it spontaneously formed the core engine of the global economy. Any economic meltdown in the US would have severe global repercussions.
The Brilliant Strategists and their Strategies: Setting the Stage for Global Jihad.
Abu al-Fadl, Al-Qaeda’s foremost International Affairs expert; and Abu Musab al-Suri, the genius Military Strategist; would prepare a written policy that would serve as the prototype for posturing Al-Qaeda within the New World Order. (More on them and their strategies will be discussed in later serial posts).
Abu al-Fadl was the first to promulgate the utility of soft power in spreading Al-Qaeda’s worldview across the Muslim lands. Al-Fadl reasoned that if Al-Qaeda packaged and exported its ideology under the context of alleviating Institutionalized Repression, overthrowing Tyrannical regimes, defending Islam, and promotion of Religious-Cultural enlightenment; the Muslim Ummah would accept Al-Qaeda as the heirs to the Ottoman Caliphate.
Abu al-Fadl and Abu Musab al-Suri were both level-headed, highly intelligent scholars well versed in World History, International Affairs, Military Science, Logic and Islam. Al-Fadl was especially well versed with the works of the pre-eminent Scholar of Neo-Realism, Professor Stephen Walt;[40] and was known to have studied extensively his work Musclebound: The Limits of US Power. After careful study of this masterpiece, Al-Fadl conceived the strategy of “innumerable small wars”. Al-Fadl rationally reasoned that the US as the sole Hyper-Power would quickly and definitely eliminate any large-scale localized direct threat; and he therefore conceived the strategy that offensive jihad should be waged in multiple locations (in multiple nations) simultaneously so as to thin out and overwhelm (potential) US response, as well as increase the odds of jihad succeeding in some theaters of War.
Abu Musab al-Suri would later draw a Master Military Strategy that was implemented by Al-Qaeda a decade later, and its present effects testify to the brilliance and mental acuity of its creator. But in the late 1980s, he was engrossed in deep studies and research into how and why the Hama Uprising ended in total failure. In 1990, he created a template for a phased Jihad (which will be discussed in later posts).
The Defeat of the Soviet Union and the Relative Success of the Islamic Revolution left Al-Qaeda emboldened that it could challenge the US in the Global Battlefield, and strive to attain victory through a relentless War of Attrition coupled to an Intensified Asymmetric War across Multiple Theaters of Offensive Jihad. Nonetheless, Al-Qaeda strategists erroneously concluded that the Dissolution of the Soviet Union was precipitated solely by the Mujahideen. Incautiously, these strategists have ossified this notable error into a petrified stratagem (of Phased Jihad) which Al-Qaeda is presently using to upset the prevailing Global Order in belief that the Islamist Network offers a better alternative.

[1] Turner, John (2010). “From Cottage Industry to International Organisation: The Evolution of Salafi-Jihadism and the Emergence of the Al-Qaeda Ideology”. Terrorism and Political Violence 22 (4): 541-558. DOI: 10.1080/09546553.2010.485534
[2] Coll, Steve (2005). Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2nd Ed.). New York: Penguin Books.
[3] Kamolnick, Paul (2012). Delegitimizing Al-Qaeda: A Jihad-Realist Approach. Strategic Studies Institute [External Research Associates Program Monograph, March 2012].
[4] Jenkins, Brian Michael (2014). Brothers Killing Brothers: The Current Infighting Will Test al Qaeda’s Brand. RAND Corporation [Perspective].
[5] Eisenstadt, Michael (2011). Iran’s Islamic Revolution - Lessons for the Arab Spring of 2011? Institute for National Strategic Studies [Strategic Forum of the National Defense University, April 2011].
[6] Coll, loc.cit.
[7] Westad, Odd Arne (1994). “Prelude to Invasion: The Soviet Union and the Afghan Communists, 1978-1979”. The International History Review 16 (1): 49-69. DOI: 10.1080/07075332.1994.9640668.
[8] Walker, Martin (1994). The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World. London: Vintage.
[9] Kepel, Gilles (2002). Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
[10] Gregory, Paul (2008). Lenin’s Brain and Other Tales from the Secret Soviet Archives. Stanford: Hoover Press.
[11] Amstutz, Bruce (1994). Afghanistan: The First Five Years of Soviet Occupation. University Press of the Pacific.
[12] N.A (15 January 1980). “U.N. General Assembly Votes to Protest Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan”.  Toledo Blade.
[13] N.A (29 January 1980) “Moslems Condemn Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan”. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
[14] Rubin, Barnett (2002). The Fragmentation of Afghanistan. New Haven: Yale University Press.
[15] Kinsella, Warren (1992). Unholy Alliances: Terrorists, Extremists, Front Companies and the Libyan Connection in Canada. Lester Publishing.
[16] Gunaratna, Rohan (2002). Inside Al Qaeda (1st Ed.). London: C. Hurst & Co.
[17] Coll, loc.cit.
[18] Steele, Jonathan (2010). "Afghan Ghosts: American Myths". World Affairs Journal [March/April 2010].
[19] Borer, Douglas (1999). Superpowers Defeated: Vietnam and Afghanistan Compared. London: Cass.
[20] Katz, Mark (March 9, 2011). “Lessons of the Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan". Middle East Policy Council.
[21] Borer, loc.cit.
[22] Yousaf, Mohammad & Adkin, Mark (1992). Afghanistan – The Bear Trap: The Defeat of a Superpower. Casemate.
[23] ibid
[24] ibid
[25] Coll, loc.cit.
[26] Sageman, Marc (2004). Understanding Terror Networks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
[27] Yousaf, Mohammad (1991). Silent Soldier: The Man behind the Afghan Jehad - General Akhtar Abdur Rahman. Karachi, Sindh: Jang Publishers.
[28] ibid
[29] Marshall, Andrew (1 November 1998). "Terror 'blowback' burns CIA". The Independent.
[30] Commins, David (2006). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. London: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd.
[31] Goodson, Larry (2001). Afghanistan's Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban. University of Washington Press.
[32] Rashid, Ahmed (2000). Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press.
[33] Atwan, Abdel Bari (2006). The Secret History of Al Qaeda. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
[34] Huntington, Samuel (1999). “The Lonely Superpower”. Foreign Affairs, 7(2), 35-49.
[35] Cohen, Saul (1991). “Global Geopolitical Change in the Post-Cold War Era”. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 81(4), 551-580.
[36] Huntington, Samuel (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.
[37] Halliday, Fred (1981). “The Arc of Crisis and the New Cold War”. Middle East Research and Information, Inc [MERIP Reports], 100, 14-25.
[38] Dieter, Heribert (2014). The Return of Geopolitics: Trade Policy in the Era of TTIP and TPP. International Policy Analysis [Dialogue on Globalization for Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung | Global Policy and Development Hiroshimastr].
[39] Ikenberry, John (January/February 2008). “The Rise of China and the Future of the West: Can the Liberal System Survive?Foreign Affairs.
[40] Walt, Stephen (1999). “Musclebound: The Limits of US Power”. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 55 (2), 44-48. DOI: 10.1080/00963402.1999.11460316.

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