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October 29, 2009

Comments

I am mixed with joy and frustration -- joy at the topic of the thread, frustration that, of all the days, and times, for it to appear, it comes the afternoon my day gets insane*. I will get back to you.

*to illustrate: with everything I had my hands doing, this post took 10 minutes

Toxic spill on aisle 4. Approach with caution.

To the extent that al-Qaeda exists it's the CIA's foreign legion, its purpose is to provide a pretext for the next round of looting that the Empire will indulge in.

But isn't the "problem" with Afghanistan not so much "al-Qaeda" per se, but the fact that the Taliban regime which looks poised to surely take over the country should the current (Karzai)government collapse is certainly anti-American and pro-jihadi enough on its own?

I realize "al-Qaeda" makes a nice convenient boogeyman for pro-war American lobbies to fling up to get funding for their various pet wars, but recent intelligence reports seem to indicate that eight years of incessant attacks have reduced their organization to a fugitive skeleton-crew (or something). But in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, what's to stop some other violent jihadi-terrorist group setting up shop there - under a more-or-less tolerant regime (although maybe not quite as openly as OBL & Co. were pre-9/11) ?

But isn't the "problem" with Afghanistan not so much "al-Qaeda" per se, but the fact that the Taliban regime which looks poised to surely take over the country should the current (Karzai)government collapse is certainly anti-American and pro-jihadi enough on its own?

Not sure I follow. The theory is that the Taliban would not want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing a jihadi group to set up shop, attack the US and thus provok a debilitating US response.

Doesn't matter much if that jihadi group is called "al-Qaeda" or any other name.

But in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, what's to stop some other violent jihadi-terrorist group setting up shop there - under a more-or-less tolerant regime (although maybe not quite as openly as OBL & Co. were pre-9/11)?

The theory is that the Taliban would stop them. For the reasons enunciated in the post.

I tend to agree that the logic of points 1-5 is pretty thin, but I'm not sure the cited evidence really disproves point #2. The rifts between AQ and the Taliban -- like those between AQI and other elements of the Iraqi insurgency -- pretty clearly exist within in the context of US occupation, and seem motivated in no small part by the punishments that the US has inflicted upon the indigenous groups as a result of AQ's actions.

If anything, this actually seems more like evidence for the efficacy of collective punishment, as distasteful as that may be. Which argues not only for continued US occupation, but continued carelessness with regard to the targets of our retaliation.

OK -- first off, I thank Eric very much for this post; Eric's summary of the argument for COIN in Afghanistan is as cogent as anyone could hope.

My take on this situation (at present): points (or assumptions) 3 and 4 are, more or less, accurate. I would clarify that potential new safe havens discussed are not so much "substantially inferior", but, unless they received some sort of local support, would not, in effect, be "safe havens".

If AQ were so reduced, it would likely be impossible for them to plan or carry out an attack of anything remotely the scale of 9/11 (although they may, conceivably, survive in skeletal form as an inspiration for the occasional backpack bomber). Describing the current sanctuary in Pakistan, at least as it currently stands, as "less than ideal" also makes sense.

On point 2, the subject of the post, I would hesitate on the phrasing -- if the Taliban retook the country, or was able to secure its position as Afghanistan's rural power, and the factions that led them before and remain close to AQ (read: Mullah Omar) still were to lead them again, then the return of AQ's sanctuary would be likely.

If, on the other hand, those certain factions of the Taliban which are heavily disillusioned by the past eight years were to share power with the government in Kabul, in a relationship that disempowered those with a strong AQ connection or would be inclined to aid them once again -- this would be a very good outcome for the national security of the US.

And, of course, there are all sorts of possibilities in between.

On point 5, I'm closer to thinking it right than wrong, namely because of just how established AQ has become in the region. At any rate, I would hope that we could reach a point in disrupting AQ where we don't have to send drones on such a permanent regular basis.

And finally, on point 1, I'm far from convinced either way.

Anyway, I leave it open as to which point gets the most attention; I'll try to stay on this thread, as it looks so promising. Thanks again to Eric!

You would want to cut direct supply connection for our brave soldiers to such good Afghan weed. No way.
Those honest farmers need their daily bread, and our companies need good incentive to keep buying $400 gallon gasoline.
And pakistani deserve to charge toll way at full market value.

Just some quick links, and I'm not sure if I can get to this discussion anytime soon

UN warns US on drone attacks

changes in popular support on troop surge

Nato defense ministers on surge

There's an important point you're missing. Before we - well, the Northern Alliance, actually, with a little help from us - overthrew the Taliban, bin Laden's organization enjoyed the support of a national government with sovereign power.

Being allowed to use territory was a relatively small part of the benefits that accrued to al Qaeda from this relationship.

THAT'S why a Taliban re-conquest would be a threat to you and me, and why going into Afghanistan was necessary, as opposed to going into Somalia, western Pakistan, or other places where al Qaeda is operating more or less in the absence of a government.

Also, if the rift you discuss is real, we should do everything we can to encourage that, including negotiating a withdrawal deal with the more moderate Taliban.

Joe from Lowell -- Two questions, neither of which I hope comes across as sarcastic.

1. What, exactly, are the tangible benefits (other than use of territory) that accrued to Al-Qaeda when it enjoyed the support of a national government with sovereign power?

2. Given that I thought that the Taliban were, by definition, religious extremists, what, exactly, is a "moderate" Taliban? Do you mean a Taliban who is extremist only within the borders of Afghanistan (a "nationalist," as opposed to an "internationalist," for lack of a better description)?

"What, exactly, are the tangible benefits (other than use of territory) that accrued to Al-Qaeda when it enjoyed the support of a national government with sovereign power?"

Use of territory and local protection was a pretty big one; it allowed allowed, for example, countless men drawn to the goals of AQ to have a place to train in the more complex terrorist activities. It was also very helpful to have a secure place for face to face networking on a global scale.

These, and other benefits that come with safe haven (e.g. a base to better manage finances) -- as I have argued before -- are essential in planning and executing more the complex and ambitious terrorist attacks. (Hence point 3.)

Completely off point, I was appalled and angry at Obamas photo op with the caskets this morning. I could not have been more disappointed. Short note.

Point: Use of territory and local protection was a pretty big one; it allowed allowed, for example, countless men drawn to the goals of AQ to have a place to train in the more complex terrorist activities

"Uncounted" rather than "countless". Many prisoners have been tortured to make them confess to having spent time in an al-Qaeda training camp. The net effect after nearly eight years of such confessions, a significant proportion of which then turned out to be provably false, leads me to wonder exactly how many people actually did spend time in an "al-Qaeda training camp" somewhere in Afghanistan - and how much it matters if they did.

"How much it matters" -

None of the 7/7 bombers in London spent any time at an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Two visited Pakistan, about a year before the bombing, and spent time in a madrassa, which now denies involvement.

The Tipton Three all confessed during their imprisonment by the US to having spent time at an al-Qaeda training camp. At least one of them can be shown by CCTV video evidence to have been at work in the UK at the time he was supposed to have been at an al-Qaeda training camp.

The two men who had visited Pakistan before they began the liquid bomb plot did not, apparently, spend time in an al-Qaeda training camp - they spent time in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan, delivering aid, and their involvement in terrorist activities appears to date from that time; the inability of ordinary citizen protest to stop the Iraq war when the Afghan war was already wringing out such horrors.

Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, describes the moment at which he became cynical about confessions to involvement in al-Qaeda:

I had only been there for a week or two when I went to a show trial of an al-Qaeda terrorist they had caught. It was a big event put on partly for the benefit of the American embassy to demonstrate the strength of the U.S.-Uzbek alliance against terrorism.

When I got there, to call the trial unconvincing would be an underestimate. There was one moment when this old man [who] had given evidence that his nephew was a member of al-Qaeda and had personally met Osama bin Laden. And like everybody else in that court he was absolutely terrified.

But suddenly as he was giving his evidence, he seemed from somewhere to find an inner strength. He was a very old man but he stood taller and said in a stronger voice, he said, “This is not true. This is not true. They tortured my children in front of me until I signed this. I had never heard of al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.”

There are valid reasons for wanting an international presence in Afghanistan. So long as the international presence in Afghanistan is primarily staffed, funded, and trained to kill Afghans - ie, so long as it is a military occupation - then it doesn't really matter, especially after eight years of bombing, kidnapping, and torturing, what tactics are used against the local population: it's still not a war that the occupation can win.

Completely off point, I was appalled and angry at Obamas photo op with the caskets this morning. I could not have been more disappointed. Short note.

Wha? This would be the photo op that took place at 3:30am and was not announced in advance?

Shorter Marty: I don't like Obama.

Also from Eric Martin's cite:

At first I didn't hear the Afghans talking about going back to fight. But the Arabs did, and they encouraged the Afghans and the local tribal people not to give up. Nothing much happened for the first year or so, but then the Arabs started organizing some training camps. The first one I heard about was at Shin Warsak village, near Wana. When I had some time off from school, I decided to visit. I was really impressed. There was more than one camp. One was run by Arabs, and another by Chechens and Uzbeks.

Thanks to my madrassa studies I could speak Arabic; I made friends with Egyptians, Saudis, Libyans, and Yemenis. Nek Mohammad Wazir [a pro-Taliban Pakistani tribal leader who was killed by a June 2004 Predator strike] gave the Arabs places to train and access to weapons and other supplies. They moved openly on the main roads and in the towns and villages, showing no concern about security.

But ... I thought you could learn all this stuff on the internet?

There were checkpoints guarded by armed men who would not even let locals pass by. A group of 20 or 30 Arab fighters from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Egypt met me there, with a few Afghans and Chechens. They were very distrustful and questioned me rather roughly.

Another more senior Arab interviewed me at length. The biggest question he wanted answered was why I hadn't fought in Mullah Omar's jihad. After a few hours I was taken to their leader, Abu Khabab [al-Masri, a senior Qaeda operative and bombmaker who was killed in a July 2008 Predator strike]. He was welcoming, not hostile like the others. He sat by my side on the floor of a mud-brick house and asked me why I wanted to join their struggle and what I thought I could contribute.

Only a few select Arabs and other jihadis were allowed up a mountain near the camp. That's where most of the leadership lived. Some big jihadi stars were there besides Abu Khabab, like Abu Laith al-Libi [a guerrilla-war expert who was killed by a January 2008 Predator strike] and Abu Hamza Rabia [a senior Qaeda planner who was killed by a Predator in late 2005]. Even so, there wasn't much food or money. I thought the mujahedin at the camp seemed disappointed at times because they had little to do. But the Arabs slowly grew friendlier with the locals. Soon local tribesmen were being welcomed into certain sectors of the camp, bringing food, supplies, and money. Some even brought us AK-47s and RPGs.

In our camp there were about 150 Arabs, along with some Afghans, Chechens, and local tribal militants. The Arab instructors taught us how to fire Kalashnikovs, especially in close-range fighting; how to gather intelligence on the enemy; and how to fire mortars and rockets accurately. It was a friendly place; we all felt a commitment to help and sacrifice for each other. At the start of 2003, the weather became bitterly cold, and the camp closed. But the commander called me back that March. He told me he was working with Nek Mohammad to arrange for one of the first cross-border attacks against American forces in Afghanistan. Even with Nek Mohammad's help, we only had usable weapons for 50 of the roughly 200 mujahedin who had been trained. But 50 of us—a couple dozen Arabs, three or four Afghans like myself, and some Waziri and Mehsud tribals—were armed and ready to go.

The Arabs taught us how to make an IED by mixing nitrate fertilizer and diesel fuel, and how to pack plastic explosives and to connect them to detonators and remote-control devices like mobile phones. We learned how to do this blindfolded so we could safely plant IEDs in the dark.

Discipline was strict. Any trainee who broke the rules could get a severe beating. You had to wake up before dawn every morning for physical exercises and to run in the mountains. Recruits were awakened at all hours of the night so they would learn to be alert in an emergency. I don't see this kind of discipline in camps run by the Afghan Taliban today.

...

After two months of hard training, we graduated. There were 200 of us: about 160 local tribals, a few Punjabis, and about 40 Afghans like me. We were divided up into 10 groups. Each had two or three Arabs assigned to it as commanders and instructors.

...

Arab and Iraqi mujahedin began visiting us, transferring the latest IED technology and suicide-bomber tactics they had learned in the Iraqi resistance during combat with U.S. forces.

After these first few attacks, God seems to have opened channels of money for us. I was told money was flowing from the Gulf to the Arabs.

Yeah, but you know, they really really don't like al-Qaeda much, and they certainly don't work closely together or anything. Not at all.

"Shorter Marty: I don't like Obama.Wha?

...This would be the photo op that took place at 3:30am and was not announced in advance"

Shorter Marty, they managed to get film at 6. It sucks and is disrespectful.

It sucks and is disrespectful.

Seriously, WTF? Any time the President pays respect to fallen troops it has to be a secret with no cameras? They never film the president laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier?

Marty, can you please explain the event that has outraged you? Obama apparently had a photo-op this morning with the caskets of soldiers who had been killed? Is that it?

Ugh: Any time the President pays respect to fallen troops it has to be a secret with no cameras?

President Bush never paid respect to fallen troops. So when President Obama shows up to pay respect, it must be wrong.

Josh E: Obama apparently had a photo-op this morning with the caskets of soldiers who had been killed? Is that it?

To be precise: the family of one soldier who had been killed had signed a release saying they would welcome press attention. The other 17 families had not. Obama went to meet all 18 caskets and spent time with all 18 families, and was photographed standing by the casket of the man whose family had agreed to press photography. As President Bush in 18 years of office never once went to meet with the families of the fallen soldiers, plainly this is something that Obama shouldn't do either.

18 years

8 years.

Dear god, what a nightmare 18 would have been.

Thanks. Bog-standard ginned-up fauxrage it is, then. Perhaps we should derail no further.

" As President Bush in 18 years of office never once went to meet with the families of the fallen soldiers, plainly this is something that Obama shouldn't do either."

AND HASN'T, UNTIL THERE WERE GOING TO BE CAMERAS THERE.

Cameras have been there since early April, Marty.

Then Obama should have gone in April, so Marty could be outraged six months earlier.

Obama's administration lifted the 18-year ban on cameras/press in April, Marty. If a family sign a full release. And initially, according to the Washington Examiner, there was a mass amount of press interest. And President Obama stayed away.

By this time, apparently, press interest has died down; a dead soldier coming home is of no interest to the US media. But, and this may seem odd to you, add the President of the United States, and suddenly, the press are interested again.

President Obama wasn't using the return of 18 dead soldiers to the US to get press attention. The presence of the President of the United States at the return of 18 dead soldiers is a event that draws press attention.

Which is, I believe, exactly why some bereaved families were so resentful that George W. Bush had no interest in showing up, ever, to be photographed with the dead who had died in the war he started. But tuh: much better to pretend that the dead are a media draw and President Obama isn't.

Blue Texan says it so I don't have to.

(Am sure Marty would have been just as OUTRAGED!!!1 at The Gipper's shameless exploitation of dead US troops, had there been intertoobs on which to express righteous indignation at the time. Yeah.)

"Am sure Marty would have been just as OUTRAGED!!!"

Yes he would have, despite your snide and inaccurate assumptions.

Marty,

I still don't understand, what, exactly, is your objection? The cameras? The press coverage? That Obama went at all? Some combination of the aforementioned?

Your original comment complained about the "photo op", so was it the cameras?

I really am wondering.

I presume, then, that what Marty is OUTRAGED about is that the US media regard any event that the President of the US attends - even a tragic one - as press-worthy.

We may have got confused: Marty's outrage is obviously directed at the media for showing up, and at the soldier's family for signing a release saying they were OK with the media showing up. Given that the media would have been unable to take any photographs if that soldier's family had not signed the release, that presumably means that when Marty said he was "appalled, angry, and disappointed" it was all directed at this bereaved family who behaved so outrageously. In Marty's estimation, at least.

Me, I tend to think that everyone copes with bereavement in their own way, and for Marty to get all het up at a family in mourning for someone who died in Iraq is both callous and presumptuous.

I presume, then,

It might be better to simply point out the logical conclusion that one would make and ask if Marty agrees with it.

I'd also point out that you don't know what experience Marty has had with bereavement so you may be sticking a sharp object into an open wound. Of course, you may not be, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

lj, why do you like to troll discussions like this?

(It's a rhetorical question: the last thing I expect is a real answer.)

But, I'm unimpressed with your desire to be the troublemaker.

Sorry if I wasn't clear' I find the act of wrapping oneself in the flag as a mildly offensive political tactic, almost required but unseemly.

I find wrapping oneself in flag draped coffins reprehensible. A quiet trip, later reported to meet with the families wouldn have gotten as muc a reaction, political nonetheless. The cameras are past acceptable.

"But, I'm unimpressed with your desire to be the troublemaker."

On a thread for an article about why we're in Afghanistan -- great one by the way Eric -- the past 15 comments have all been about why just one guy is offended that the Pres. shows up to honor the dead on camera.

So, naturally, when lj brings up a point of order , he's the troll in the conversation.

Yeah, I want to stick around for this...

Sorry, sure we haven't covered why we are in Afghanistan in the last 700 comments on 5 threads, at least. Go back to your discusssion. I'm done.

Jes, I'm sorry if you feel I am a trouble maker. Marty seemed to have a visceral reaction, and I think that it might be unkind to start off comments with 'I presume'. Given that a suggestion has been made (supported by you) that Marty be given an opportunity to write something for the front-page, it seems rather illogical to make presumptions about what Marty agrees with or not, unless you are not interested in him doing so, and the only reason you suggested it was to be an ass. I don't think everyone can be logical all the time, but I am totally unimpressed by your inability to follow the logical conclusions of your suggestions and comments.

Marty: I find the act of wrapping oneself in the flag as a mildly offensive political tactic, almost required but unseemly.

Actually, that even makes sense. See, that's why I think you'd be a good front page poster.

LJ: If you don't want to be a troublemaker, study up on sorry if apologies and why making non-apology apologies is generally a bad idea.

No Jes, I chose 'I'm sorry if' because I don't see why you need to be apologized to. I try to have a reasonable grasp of what I am writing, unlike you, who suggests Marty should post on the front page in one thread and then presumes to know what he is thinking in the next. I don't know why you bother with turning on your computer, as you could leave it turned off and reduce your carbon footprint. Making presumptions about what other people are thinking is generally frowned upon here, and why you can't seem to grasp that, I really have no idea.

I've stated this time and time again, but I generally see things from the side that you are speaking from, and I think it is sad that you can't curb your tendency to stick your thoughts in other people's heads. Hence, I am sorry, but I don't think I need to apologize to you. If you feel insulted because you called me a troublemaker, I can't help you.

Marty says: The cameras are past acceptable.

Why, exactly?

I mean, of course, why do YOU find cameras past acceptable? I don't myself. In fact, I consider it mildly offensive that you find cameras past acceptable. So, you have your tastes and I have mine.

Luckily, we have a way to resolve such irreconcilable differences: we vote. Last time we voted, Barack Obama was elected President because people like me outnumbered people like you.

Maybe, Marty, if you can persuade enough people to your point of view, the next President we elect will resume the Bushian practice of wrapping himself in the flag when declaring "Mission Accomplished" but hiding the COSTS of "victory" from the cameras -- not to mention from the budget. Maybe our next President will not offend your tender sensibilities with footage of himself saluting flag-draped coffins. Maybe that will be because there are no flag-draped coffins being unloaded at Dover on his watch. That would be nice.

Alas, basically all the people who have a shot at replacing Barack Obama as President, whatever they may feel about cameras and flags and coffins, are chastising Obama for not hurrying up and sending more soldiers off to be shot at. I find THAT past acceptable.

--TP

Tony P: I mean, of course, why do YOU find cameras past acceptable? I don't myself. In fact, I consider it mildly offensive that you find cameras past acceptable. So, you have your tastes and I have mine.

Actually, Marty said why he found cameras past acceptable - because dead people/bereaved families were involved.

Clearly, the family who had signed a release disagreed with Marty, and as I said last night before LJ interrupted the argument for a spot of troublemakery and ad hom, I think that's up to them as individuals. The reports make clear Obama spent time with all the families before the media shot: and the only media shot involved the dead soldier whose family had said they would welcome that attention.

So in effect Marty is attacking both the family who said they'd welcome the cameras as well as Obama for being photographed. And in fairness to Marty, he toned his comments about this right down after this was pointed out...

It's hard to know which is more amusing, watching the speed at which Jes runs away from her own words or her trying to shamelessly invoke fairness to Marty in order to make an attack. Don't worry, I'm sure Marty knows that you are all about fairness...

Yeah, but you know, they really really don't like al-Qaeda much, and they certainly don't work closely together or anything. Not at all.

Wow, that's some straw man you built for yourself there tequila. When you're done playing with stuffed animals, and want to actually engage in a cogent argument based on what I (not some imaginary me) wrote, let me know and I'd be pleased to oblige.

Any other comments or answers for this section?

Use of territory and local protection was a pretty big one; it allowed allowed, for example, countless men drawn to the goals of AQ to have a place to train in the more complex terrorist activities.

Actually, the place where the 9/11 hijackers trained for the more complex terrorist activities associated with that attack was in the United States. The complex activities being the flight training school attendance.

These, and other benefits that come with safe haven (e.g. a base to better manage finances) -- as I have argued before -- are essential in planning and executing more the complex and ambitious terrorist attacks. (Hence point 3.)

But your evidence is limited to one incident: 9/11. It is not clear that Afghanistan was essential to 9/11. The plot was thought up by KSM while NOT in Afghanistan. He pitched it to Osama a couple of times, Osama eventually agreed.

The actual training and planning took part more in the US and Europe than Afghanistan. Of the countless other terrorist attacks that have taken place without a nexus to Afghan safe havens, your sole response is that more people died on 9/11, and thus a safe haven like Afghanistan is needed to kill as many people as the attacks of 9/11.

That is more of a guess at this point, than it is a logical deduction, as the evidence is limited to one event.

"That is more of a guess at this point, than it is a logical deduction, as the evidence is limited to one event."

I would say it's an educated guess at least, but that's still certainly a fair point; it's a lot easier to kill a few people than several thousand, in terms of team coordination, long range planning, and so forth.

"The plot was thought up by KSM while NOT in Afghanistan. He pitched it to Osama a couple of times, Osama eventually agreed."

Yes, and Osama's organization then helped devoted the resources necessary to make it happen; AQ couldn't have directed these resources without the command, which needed the base, which needed a safe haven.

A loose, grassroots network can give you a lot of smaller terrorist incidents, but the more ambitious the plans, the tighter, and more regulated network needs to be -- to say nothing of the finances needed -- require something more. In the case of 9/11, that something more included Afghanistan.

"I would say it's an educated guess at least..."

Actually this got me thinking -- I'm sensing the term is "analysis", but there's always the argument that the most you can hope for with assessing threats this new are "educated guesses".

What do you call it when somebody tries to gain the best possible understanding of a threat based on the evidence available, when said evidence is so far so small? Maybe the term should be "educated threat assessment"? What did they call assessing the threat of nuclear war?

Well, I'm rambling here I suppose...

Actually this got me thinking -- I'm sensing the term is "analysis", but there's always the argument that the most you can hope for with assessing threats this new are "educated guesses".

I would hesitate to call that threat quite so new.

The 2001 attack was not the first attack on the WTC. Nor was using commercial jets as missiles a new idea: one can consider either the Bojinka plot, or GIA's hijacking of Air France 8969.

Pointedly, none of the above required coordination from a host nation whose government was as accommodating as the Taliban.

"I would hesitate to call that threat quite so new."

Well, new-ish...

"Pointedly, none of the above required coordination from a host nation whose government was as accommodating as the Taliban."

Well, the Bojinka Plot got similar help from AQ as 9/11, who were based in Sudan at the time. Al-Bashir gave in to world pressure after this (and other violence caused by the organization), kicking out AQ* and OBL.

Air France Flight 8969, I admittedly know less about -- though I would think the GIA, being a "side" in a civil war, had many of the benefits of a quasi-regime itself. (I'm reading up though -- hoping to find what the evidence was found for an intended hit on Paris.)

*(or, more precisely, its predecessor, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Zawahiri's group)

I think one of the gaps here might be that NV and Eric feel like the argument is that a failed state is a necessary ingredient for an AQ 9/11 like attack, while I and I think Point are arguing that it is an enabling factor, not necessary, but makes things a lot easier.

This Wired article about Turkish Cyprus by Bruce Sterling is, I think, related.

Which means I'm a guest, in Room 130, of a gambling establishment built by a multinational swindling suspect and operated for years by a smack dealer who, when assassinated, had allegedly just sent a $17 million bribe to Turkish spooks.

Alas, I don't have space to get into the many other operatic complications, but here's the crux of the matter: When you don't exist, corruption is the true killer app.

The difference is that Turkish Cyprus has an identifiable sponsor who can be held responsible if 'real' mischief is made (as opposed to illegal financing and drugs)

"I think one of the gaps here might be that NV and Eric feel like the argument is that a failed state is a necessary ingredient for an AQ 9/11 like attack, while I and I think Point are arguing that it is an enabling factor, not necessary, but makes things a lot easier."

I would clarify that "failed state" should read "safe haven" -- while safe havens are generally failed states, failed states need hardly be safe havens, or even potential safe havens (as long as local powers can be dissuaded from giving ITO's like AQ sanctuary).

And this may be more of a quibble, but I would say "9/11 level", instead of "9/11 like", since MTA's can also, for example, include an attack with a nuclear or radioactive device.

Even then, it still seems to me that it is practically impossible, at this point, to carry out this level of terrorist attack without a protected "center" (command, base, etc.) of some kind. (At the least, it's "an enabling factor" that "makes things a lot easier".)

"failed states need hardly be safe havens, or even potential safe havens"

Actually, Turkish Cyprus is a good example of this. Kudos on the link, LJ.

"A loose, grassroots network can give you a lot of smaller terrorist incidents, but the more ambitious the plans, the tighter, and more regulated network needs to be -- to say nothing of the finances needed -- require something more. In the case of 9/11, that something more included Afghanistan."

It seems to me that what you need is relationships. As Eric has pointed out, the 9/11 hijackers were able to get flight training in the United States. Money was raised in various Arab states. Where the training camps may have done is to make it easier to recruit people and develop the level of loyalty that would cause people to carry through with a plan that would leave them all dead. Military people talk about the role of group trainining in developing unit cohesion; presumably the same principles apply to terrorist organizations.

I think one of the gaps here might be that NV and Eric feel like the argument is that a failed state is a necessary ingredient for an AQ 9/11 like attack, while I and I think Point are arguing that it is an enabling factor, not necessary, but makes things a lot easier.

I think this is a reasonable point, lj. In fairness, though... it's slightly troubling to hear this from you, as you and Point have stridently argued that we must expend blood and treasure (and more blood) to prevent a Taliban-run failed state from facilitating another attack on the scale of the 2001 attacks. To hear you effectively state that you're okay with us causing multiple times the number of civilian casualties of said attacks across years of occupation simply to reduce the probability or ease of recurrences of such - with no illusion of actually preventing them... well... it's nothing I hadn't already accused yinz of, as I quite readily agree that failed states are by no means necessary, but it's still unsettling to read it in black and white.

It's not for nothing that I (though I'd not presume to speak for Eric) took the tact of assuming your argument was premised on thinking failed states were necessary. Speaking for myself, it made it far easier to sympathize with your point of view...

I don't think stridency should be taken as part of my argument but something that has arisen in the course of the argument for which I apologize. I've said any number of times that it's a crappy situation, and I am not positive I am proposing the right course. Gary's earlier post that notes the Austin Long plan and the acceptance of some sort of residual force in Afghanistan by Eric (and I think you, but I am not positive) has me wondering how one can argue forcefully for withdrawal when one acknowledges that it won't be the full withdrawal that the strictly moral argument would hold. (again a lot of water under this bridge, so if I am mistating your views, I apologize)

I've also pointed out that the safe haven argument is not that it is impossible for a small cell of people to plan something, but the longer logistical tail of an organization can be more easily hidden. At any rate, I'm glad that we have some points of agreement as I greatly respect both your and Eric's opinions and both of your willingness to engage me and others on it.

Gary's earlier post that notes the Austin Long plan and the acceptance of some sort of residual force in Afghanistan by Eric (and I think you, but I am not positive) has me wondering how one can argue forcefully for withdrawal when one acknowledges that it won't be the full withdrawal that the strictly moral argument would hold.

FWIW, I do favor a full withdrawal, and haven't really wavered in opposing our presence in Afghanistan ever since I concluded we'd be going there sometime around 16:30 GMT 11/09/01, if I may attempt to be far too overly precise. I don't think we should have gone, I don't think we should be there, and I don't think we should stay. The damage we were assured to do was evident before we went (and it arrived without fail), and it's continued to arrive right on schedule. There's no reason to assume it won't continue on into the future as well.

That we refused to make good-faith efforts to pursue alternatives to said invasion makes me all the more staunch in my conviction we shouldn't be there. One may certainly argue that non-invasive recourse was doomed to failure all one likes; however, it's very hard to argue that it was every pursued in good faith. This observation is at the root of much of my skepticism that we need to continue on our current course. While it's possible we're pursuing the best possible course of action, we've shown little inclination to test this (or even question it beyond fine-tuning its application). Further, the course we have chosen happens to be one which increases the risk (and fact) of foreign civilian casualties in hope of reducing risk to US civilians. It really seems to me a naive, cynical, and (to be blunt) cowardly approach. I have no hope of seeing it altered, but I really am appalled by it, and it is this that drives my conviction that we should withdraw completely.

Again, all of that more or less FYI to make clear what position I'm viewing the matter from, and perhaps clarify unstated assumptions that might be coloring my arguments.

Point: I would clarify that "failed state" should read "safe haven" -- while safe havens are generally failed states

Nonsense. A safe haven is anywhere the local population are supportive, and the government chooses not to act. The United States was a safe haven for the IRA.

Kenneth: Where the training camps may have done is to make it easier to recruit people and develop the level of loyalty that would cause people to carry through with a plan that would leave them all dead.

As I noted above, we have no idea how many people actually went to al-Qaeda training camps, because of the US practice of torturing prisoners to make them confess to doing so, over the past 8 years, has irretrievably muddied the available data.

But we can be sure that attending an AQ training camp is not required make a person into a suicide terrorist, given that the vast majority of people who have killed themselves in an act of terrorism since al-Qaeda was founded have never been near one.

What makes a person willing to kill themselves in order to commit a terrorist act appears to be, fairly straightforwardly and humanly, despair, desperation, and violence-inspired rage.

There is no evidence that any terrorist organization anywhere has ever been able to "train" people into that state of mind. There is considerable evidence that the kind of violent oppression which cannot be ended by non-violent means which the US have inflicted on Afghanistan, on Iraq, and to lesser extent on Muslims round the world with Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Airbase, is exactly the kind of "training" needed to make people into suicide terrorists.

It is unsurprising that the American government have taken so much trouble to force their prisoners to confess to attending al-Qaeda training camps: it makes superior propaganda to blame such camps that to acknowledge that the US is responsible for that kind of desperate despair.

NV,
Thanks for the statement and apologies for conflating your position with Eric's. I have tried to address my comments pretty much to Eric's posts, though I'm sure that I have gotten wrapped up in the give and take.

Kudos to Ken, who makes one of my key points better than I do.

"As I noted above, we have no idea how many people actually went to al-Qaeda training camps, because of the US practice of torturing prisoners to make them confess to doing so, over the past 8 years, has irretrievably muddied the available data."

To an extent, sure. But even taken with a grain of salt, the evidence is pretty strong.

We certainly know that the people behind the Heathrow plot weren't tortured into confessing (they were never in US custody). And the US feels comfortable enough with how the interrogations of a number of suspects who are so accused (e.g. Zazi) that they're being tried in civilian court.

"Nonsense. A safe haven is anywhere the local population are supportive..."

I said "generally", and probably should have added "nowadays".

But even taken with a grain of salt, the evidence is pretty strong.

Really? What evidence, where? Show me evidence from people who definitely took part in terrorist attacks who as definitely went to al-Qaeda training camps - where the evidence is known not to be sourced from suspects who were tortured.

Bear in mind the evidence that Abdullah Higazy was coerced by the FBI into making a false confession by threats that his family would be tortured.

We certainly know that the people behind the Heathrow plot weren't tortured into confessing

Nor were they ever at al-Qaeda training camps.

Their confessed motivation was the UK involvement in the US war on Iraq - despite all the mass public opposition in the UK, despite all the evidence made public that Bush was telling lies, Blair went ahead and had the UK join the US in that criminal aggressive war.

And the US feels comfortable enough with how the interrogations of a number of suspects who are so accused (e.g. Zazi) that they're being tried in civilian court.

Like Abdullah Higazy? The US is a nation that tortures kidnapped prisoners - that is known to have had family members kidnapped and tortured to get the suspect to confess. I have no idea whether Zazi is guilty or not - whether the evidence against him is more solid than a confession made in private to FBI officials who threatened god knows what to get him to talk.

But the fact is: it is much more convenient for the US to blame "al-Qaeda training camps" than it is for the US to acknowledge their own actions as promoting terrorism. So I am unsurprised when confessions taken by US government agents include admissions of having attended a "training camp" - and I don't consider such admissions to be evidence either that such training camps exist, or that they are a source of terrorism. That would be Bagram Airbase... and the US has the power to close that source down.

"Nor were they ever at al-Qaeda training camps"

Rashid Rauf, the head of the operation, was a member of AQ giving orders from North Waziristan.

"Show me evidence from people who definitely took part in terrorist attacks who as definitely went to al-Qaeda training camps - where the evidence is known not to be sourced from suspects who were tortured."

Well, if you still don't think Heathrow counts, there's this.

Not to mention the first WTC incident, the embassy bombings, the milenium plots, and the Cole -- all of which happened before 9/11, and all of which had agents who trained in AQ camps.

Rashid Rauf, the head of the operation, was a member of AQ giving orders from North Waziristan.

Rashid Rauf was kidnapped by ISI and tortured in prison. His alleged escape from a mosque, followed by his reported death in a missile attack, was extremely convenient for both British and Pakistani authorities, as he could not have been put on trial in the UK, since the evidence against him was primarily confession after torture.

Well, if you still don't think Heathrow counts, there's this.

Turkish German non-citizens taking part in a planned terrorist attack? Again, you really don't have to look to "training camps" to see why people excluded from citizenship by ethnicity might become terrorists. And from the article you linked to, again, the evidence of "training camps" comes from the CIA.

Not to mention the first WTC incident, the embassy bombings, the milenium plots, and the Cole -- all of which happened before 9/11, and all of which had agents who trained in AQ camps.

And all of which were inspired by US atrocities in the Middle East. It's much easier to ignore what your own country does and blame "training camps" for teaching the natives to be uppity - indeed, such is the Imperial tradition.

Oh, and how could I forget -- Muhammad Atta, picked up for the very operation by Mohammed Atef.

"and I don't consider such admissions to be evidence either that such training camps exist..."

Just TBC, can we at least agree the camps exist? There's plenty of video evidence available, not to mention uncoerced accounts.

all of which were inspired by US atrocities in the Middle East

Inspired by, or in retribution to? And what atrocities are you referring to?

Just a query: did the first WTC bombers have training in AQ camps? It was my understanding that the perps were with a different outfit.

Not to mention the first WTC incident, the embassy bombings, the milenium plots, and the Cole -- all of which happened before 9/11, and all of which had agents who trained in AQ camps.

As a fine point, I'd be particularly wary of including the first WTC bombing into that list, as that seems predicated on very early Khaldun attendance; it's not clear that it's reasonable to characterize that camp as being an "AQ training camp" at that era, if at all: detainee testimony paints the leadership as historically having been at odds with UBL to the point that when it was closed in 2001 by the Taliban, it was at AQ's request.

Feel free to call this quibbling, though. I will back Jes up on the point that debriefings of failed suicide bombers don't show them to be motivated by indoctrination, but rather a sense of oppression and (more importantly) despair.

Eric:

The 1993 plotters had spent some time at Khaldun, which dated back to the Afghan-Soviet war. There is some dispute as to whether it was ever an AQ facility, and whether its training focus was paramilitary or terrorism.

That's my understanding, anyway.

"Feel free to call this quibbling, though"

No, your right about that; it's some imprecise language on my part.

"I will back Jes up on the point that debriefings of failed suicide bombers don't show them to be motivated by indoctrination, but rather a sense of oppression and (more importantly) despair."

I should probably clarify that the importance of safe havens is in the role they play in creating reliable terrorist networks; to be sure, you don't need to travel abroad and train to be just a suicide bomber, if it's a small enough operation.

Just TBC, can we at least agree the camps exist?

Define "training camp".

Camps exist in both Afghanistan and Pakistan where displaced people live.

In both countries, such camps will include armed men - culturally, as has been noted by Western writers about that region for well over a century, the men of that region love their guns as much or more than any 2nd-Amendment-loving American. Any camp with armed men will at times have men training with guns.

In both countries, such camps will also include imams. Imams teach about Islam. Any camp with an imam may have people who came to that camp specifically to learn from that Imam.

In Afghanistan and in Pakistan, there undoubtedly exist camps which are militaristic rather than purely asylum/refugee - there's open war going on in Afghanistan, and more politely-termed "civic unrest" in Pakistan. Such camps may also have imams.

And since al-Qaeda is a thriving organisation all over the Islamic world, thanks to the US fostering hatred and fear wherever Americans have bombed, kidnapped, tortured, or murdered, there undoubtedly exist camps which al-Qaeda use as bases.

It's possible that a detailed and thorough investigation of al-Qaeda sympathizers over the past eight years might even have discovered some kind of network centring on camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Who knows? What happened, however, was that anyone accused of being a "Taliban fighter" or an "Al-Qaeda terrorist" was tortured to confess that they had trained at an "al-Qaeda training camp" since blaming terrorist activity on such training camps rather than on US atrocities and oppression means the US military have somewhere to bomb, confessions of such training can be used to justify holding a suspect prisoner for years, and Americans don't have to engage in any painful self-analysis about their own country's actions.

should probably clarify that the importance of safe havens is in the role they play in creating reliable terrorist networks

Got any evidence of that? Evidence unrelated to people who were tortured to confess it?

debriefings of failed suicide bombers don't show them to be motivated by indoctrination, but rather a sense of oppression and (more importantly) despair.

I don't think anyone is arguing that training camps/safe havens are why people become terrorists; they're how (some) people become terrorists. The larger question is whether, in the absence of training camps/safe havens, they'll find other ways.

"It's possible that a detailed and thorough investigation of al-Qaeda sympathizers over the past eight years might even have discovered some kind of network centring on camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan."

What if this basic pattern was independently confirmed? For example, Muhammad Atta's recruitment in Afghanistan was covered in The Looming Tower.

What if this basic pattern was independently confirmed?

You're talking as if the pattern of kidnapping, torturing until the information desired was "confessed", and then making use of the torture confession as if it represented actual intelligence, represented some kind of investigation that could be "confirmed".

It doesn't.

I personally feel that the Bush administration's use of torture to coerce information from suspects was a crime against humanity which deserves to be prosecuted just because kidnapping, torture, and murder are crimes for which Bush & Co do not deserve to escape punishment.

But if investigating global terrorism in order to protect American civilians is an important goal to you, then you might want to consider that abandoning careful collection of reliable intelligence in favor of confessions obtained under torture was a practice that caused enormous damage to that investigation.

"You're talking as if the pattern of kidnapping, torturing until the information desired was "confessed", and then making use of the torture confession as if it represented actual intelligence, represented some kind of investigation that could be "confirmed"."

Some "intel" we know was gotten by torture, and know now to be false; some good intel we know was gotten by using effective interrogation methods, and by not using torture.

Any given part of what remains could have been gotten by torture (or, likewise, may not have been), granted. But unless it is proven to be, it can also be confirmed by proper intel or by independent investigations.

Some "intel" we know was gotten by torture, and know now to be false

Yes. As I noted above: every single person who was kidnapped by the US and tortured by the US or by allies, where we have any evidence of what they confessed to, appears to have confessed that they spent time in an al-Qaeda training camp. The necessity of staying in Afghanistan is justified by the need to deny a "safe haven" where such training camps can be run. When intel is obtained by torture that justifies exactly what the government ordering the torture wants to do, that's hardly surprising - but it's also not worth citing as a justification.

But unless it is proven to be, it can also be confirmed by proper intel or by independent investigations.

Any purported investigation where confessions obtained by torture are analysed as if they were valid data is an investigation that is bound to fail: because confessions obtained by torture provide the information the interrogator wanted to get. "Independent investigation" of the information obtained by torture may well provide "confirmation" - because that confirmation is what the investigator will be looking for. Indeed, the confirmation will certainly be provided by more torture.

You can't get "proper intel" once the "intel" obtained by torture has been fed into the system - because you can't analyse data where an unknown amount of the data is false information, and the analyst has no idea which part is false.

Obviously, torture is a crime - which Obama ought to have stopped when he became President, and ought to have had investigated rather than re-appointing Gates - but it's also a sure way to completely mess up collecting information. If you are dependent (as it appears you are) on citing confessions obtained by torture as a justification why the US needs to stay in Afghanistan, maybe you need to re-think.

"Any given part of what remains could have been gotten by torture (or, likewise, may not have been), granted. But unless it is proven to be, it can also be confirmed by proper intel or by independent investigations."

TBC, by "proven to be", I meant "proven to be obtained by torture". If a given confession is shown to be obtained by torture, it doesn't give good intel; if it is unknown whether or not it was obtained by torture, than it is still open to be confirmed.

if it is unknown whether or not it was obtained by torture

...then it is useless as intel.

When I got there, to call the trial unconvincing would be an underestimate. There was one moment when this old man [who] had given evidence that his nephew was a member of al-Qaeda and had personally met Osama bin Laden. And like everybody else in that court he was absolutely terrified.

But suddenly as he was giving his evidence, he seemed from somewhere to find an inner strength. He was a very old man but he stood taller and said in a stronger voice, he said, “This is not true. This is not true. They tortured my children in front of me until I signed this. I had never heard of al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.”

He was then hustled out of the court and we never did find out what had happened to him. He was almost certainly killed.cite

If you read the rest of Craig Murray's article (Murray was the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan 2002-2004), he points out that the CIA were actually flying people to Uzbekistan in order to be tortured, and that:
So I was getting all the CIA intelligence on Uzbekistan and it was saying that detainees had confessed to membership in al-Qaeda and being in training camps in Afghanistan and to meeting Osama bin Laden.

One way and another I was piecing together the fact that the CIA material came from the Uzbek torture sessions.

According to the CIA head of station in Uzbekistan at the time, asked about where this intel came from “Yes, it probably is coming from torture, but we don’t see that as a problem in the context of the war on terror.”

People are tortured, as Craig Murray also notes, not when you want to find out what they know, but when you have a solid idea of what you want them to confess to, and you need to get them to do so. The US policy was to remain in Afghanistan: the confessions obtained from kidnap victims provide justification for the US staying in Afghanistan: you cite this justification as if it constituted "evidence" or "intel".

Can you find any evidence to justify US presence in Afghanistan that is not linked back to torture?

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