Author: Jason Thomas
The death of Osama Bin Laden will make no difference to global terrorism inspired by Islamic fundamentalism and will have scant impact on the war in Afghanistan. Yet, it is the way that the US killed Osama Bin Laden that is cause for recognition; that is a precise, human intelligence-driven operation that must be employed ruthlessly in Afghanistan to capture or kill insurgent leaders as we enter another fighting season.
Al-Qaeda has not been about Osama bin Laden for quite some time and the Taliban in Afghanistan have not received support from al-Qaeda or Osama Bin Laden since the end of initial operations in 2001. The global Islamic terrorist movement is now a leaderless Jihad and is more likely to come from a young IT whiz-kid in his bedroom in one of our leafy suburbs as it is from an old man hiding the mountains of AfPak border.
While it is a significant tactical victory for the United States, it will make no difference to the conflict in Afghanistan and the upcoming fighting season. 2010 was the most lethal year to date for civilians and Coalition forces and we never heard from Osama once. The Taliban have not been guided or funded by al-Qaeda since the end of 2001. The Taliban are not interested in achieving a global Caliphate. They are focused on riding the villages and valleys across Afghanistan of foreign forces and imposing strict Sharia law on an ethnically diverse and tribally diffused mix of people. There remains plenty of confusion even about the Taliban, let alone al-Qaeda.
Violence in Afghanistan is inflicted by several groups. There are the Pakistan-based foreign insurgents who are funded, fuelled and armed by a range of Middle Eastern sources. They are a mixture of radicalised foreign extremists more interested in a one-way trip to Paradise than in the future of Afghanistan. Many acts of violence, revenge and intimidation are blamed on the Taliban but are not always the work of the local Taliban. More often, the various warlords, drug Barons and criminals wage horrendous violence on anyone who stands in their way. They also have no interest in peace and stability. They profit from the mayhem. Then there are the Haqqani and Hekmatyer networks, which are just as likely to shoot each other.
The local Taliban of course are the most parochial, isolated geographically, xenophobic and tribally bound – they are part of the social and tribal eco-system. Our efforts need to be directed at this level by driving a wedge between them and any outsider than tries to re-establish Afghanistan as a safe haven for trans-national terrorism.
If you are being threatened of being killed or you need to feed the family then you are not going to care too much about Osama Bin Laden, dead or alive. Osama Bin Laden or not continuing to kill, capture or negotiate with the local elements of Taliban will need to continue with the ferocity that the US Marines have shown in Helmand. The proactive regimental commanders in Helmand have one rule: every fire fight will end with Marines “closing to zero”; that is, standing on the ground where the Taliban fired. In Afghanistan negotiations ratify strength on the battlefield. Removing the enemy protects the local population. Until about 2009 we have relied more on money as a weapon than killing the bad-guys. From President Karzai’s Government to the villagers, the response has been rational: take or steal every dollar the foreigners are foolish enough to give away.
The police and security mentoring being conducted by our Diggers in Uruzgon Province is not about removing al-Qaeda or even delivering peace. Security equals the Afghan National Security Forces handling the violence on their own. At present not a single District, let alone Province is under the sole protection of the Afghan Government.
What about the impact of Osama’s death on global terrorism? Home grown terrorism is more the emerging threat across the Western world, not the founder of al-Qaeda. Rather than struggling to infiltrate the United States or Australia and the intense security measures now in place, terrorism can be easily spread through sympathetic fanatics around the world, who if properly motivated, might stand a chance of achieving deadly results on their own. Shortly after the London Underground bombings on 7 July 2005 it was revealed that the bombers were well educated, long terms UK residents and Citizens. One of the most notorious terrorist coordinators for al-Qaeda was in fact Younis Tsouli, a.k.a Irhaby 007. When British police bashed down his West London bedroom door in late 2005, they found a goofy-looking, long haired twenty-two year old student. He was still hunched over his computer working on a website titled “YouBombit”. His father was staggered at how his son could be involved with international terrorism since he never left his bedroom.
Osama Bin Laden may have been the mastermind behind some of the worst terrorist atrocities in modern history, but his legacy, combined with the tools of globalisation, is more dangerous than his physical presence on Earth. International and national counterterrorism strategies will need to continue to be as innovative, determined and resourceful as the Tsouli’s of the world if they are to address a range of emerging asymmetrical threats, far beyond Osama Bin Laden. As for Afghanistan, in the end success will not be something we either agree with or recognise.