Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Newsweek’s Declassified: Top Al’Qaeda Leader Killed in Pakistan

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on December 16, 2009

In the battle for hearts and minds, perception is just as important for the United States as drones and missiles

Here is a new blurb from Newsweek’s Declassified:

“U.S. authorities are increasingly confident that a Somalia-born jihadist whom they describe as a senior Al Qaeda operations planner was killed in the Pakistani border region by a missile fired from a U.S.-operated unmanned Predator drone, according to U.S. and Pakistani counterterrorism officials. The dead terrorist operative was identified as Saleh al-Somali.  According to the official, the dead man “was responsible for Al Qaeda’s operations outside the Afghan-Pakistan region. He was engaged in plotting throughout the world. Given his central role, this probably included plotting attacks against the United States and Europe.”

Killing high-profile Al’Qaeda figures- wherever they may reside- is certainly a worthwhile objective.  But as long as the United States neglects to concentrate on the conditions that actually make Muslims prone for jihad- such as economic deprivation, government corruption, and radicalization at a very young age- Al’Qaeda Central and its proxies around the world will continue to operate with relative ease.  A country can kill or arrest any terrorist they would like, but if the political, social, and economic situation on the ground remains unchanged, the overarching goal of U.S. counterterrorism is virtually worthless and ineffective.  What is the point of killing a single mouse when an entire rat hole remains untouched?

Coupled with drone-strikes and covert operations within Pakistan’s tribal frontier, Washington needs to do a better job at providing Muslim youth with a correct perception of the United States; both as a country and as a society. More often than not, an Arab teenager becomes radicalized into the faith because he is only exposed to a limited and nihilistic worldview.  A public-relations campaign is just as important- if not more so- to the U.S. in the War on Terrorism as guns, bullets, and missiles.

Iraq’s Anbar Province is a perfect example; frightened by Al’Qaeda’s campaign of indiscriminate violence, the same Sunni insurgents that were once supportive of Islamic extremism succumbed to the side of the United States.

Of course, the Anbar Awakening was the result of a combination of factors.  Part of the transformation had to do with the senseless killing of innocent Muslim men, women, and children.  Sick of living in an area tainted by blood and bullet-ridden bodies, Sunnis quickly realized that it was in their best interest to renounce Al’Qaeda’s stranglehold of the population.

While significant, it is important to remember that this is not the only piece of the puzzle.  The other piece, which I firmly believe was more influential to the Sunni transformation, was the strict mindset that Al’Qaeda brought to Western Iraq at the height of the insurgency.  After being exposed to the corrosive nature of Islamic fundamentalism, the citizens of Anbar began to question whether this was the correct path for their children.

Perhaps it is time for counterterrorism officials to multiply this experience in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and yes… Afghanistan.

Just as education ushered in a new and enlightened era for Europeans after the Dark Ages, perhaps education can pave the way for Enlightenment in the Islamic World.  Obviously this is easier said than done, but such a movement is possible given the right amount of resources, perseverance, and patience.  Wars are fought- and won- with different means.  Why end this precedent now?  Using force is fine against an innovative enemy, but the power of America’s war-machine must be accompanied by a sustainable P.R effort.

Like it or not, the War on Terrorism is an ideological fight.  Tactically speaking, the United States may be winning on the conventional battlefield.  But there is no doubt that the country is losing at a humanistic level.

-Daniel R. DePetris

6 Responses

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  1. audiq7 said, on December 16, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Waging war is some men’s basic nature, so conflicts will never cease. Nearly all the ongoing disputes in the world are over territory. Let me propose a very simple but radical solution to end this problem. There’s this very beautiful piece of wisdom I read:

    Man should not draw lines on the land. The wind will dim them, the snows will cover them, and the rains will wash them away. – Cochise

    As long as we have a world with borders, different groups will always make efforts to assert superiority over others. Evil/selfish men will appeal to our worst nature to forward personal agendas.

    The world has much to learn from India and Hindus who have never demanded a separate homeland. Living within borders is primitive.

    In a world without borders: there shall be no requirement for nuclear weapons or militaries. Local police and city/international courts will suffice to maintain law & order. Free market forces will determine men’s destinies; supply and demand curves will automatically restore equilibrium in all parts of the world. Of course we can never achieve complete equilibrium, selfish men will ensure a type of lost balance state remains.

    However, the world will be atleast 50% more peaceful, all religions will begin to understand and accept different cultures. ‘Fear of the unknown’ will no longer be exploited by vested interests.

  2. audiq7 said, on December 16, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Violence/terrorism anywhere is a threat to civilized society everywhere. I wrote a letter to the Bush White House on the status of women under Taliban before 9/11 happened.

  3. Reg373 said, on December 16, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    It appears some of these multi-million dollar bounties, may finally be generating location info. CBS reported last week that the drones are starting to decimate gihad fortresses in Waziristan — found a cool site; Balkingpoints ; incredible satellite view of earth

  4. krishnanpillai said, on December 16, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Why do the newspapers always insist on calling them ‘Jihadis’? They would mean they are holy warriors as a direct translation. Please call them terrorists.

  5. audiq7 said, on December 16, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    David Coleman Headley, the US national of Pakistani origin who was charged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week with helping plot the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, is said to have named the top brass of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, including its founder Hafiz Saeed, operational commanders Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Yusuf Muzammil and Sajid Mir, and a section of the Pakistan Army as being part of the plot.


  6. Dredd said, on December 16, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    The drone wars and all the weapons testing going on in our testing grounds of Afghanistan and Iraq are draining our economy and our reputation.

    We have fallen to third and seem to be trying for fifth soon.


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