Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Denying Afghanistan to al Qaeda; is that really the key ?

October 27, 2009

AFGHANISTAN/Much of the rationale for the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has to do with making sure that it doesn’t become a haven for militant groups once again. As President Barack Obama weighs U.S. and NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation for 40,000 more troops at a time of fading public support for the war in Afghanistan, some people are questioning the basic premise that America must remain militarily committed there so that al Qaeda doesn’t creep back under the protection of the Taliban.

Richard N.Haass, the president of the Council for Foreign Relations, kicked off the debate this month, arguing that al Qaeda didn’t really “require Afghan real estate to constitute a regional or global threat”. Terrorists head to areas of least resistance, and if it is not Afghanistan, they will choose other unstable countries such as Somalia or Yemen, if it hasn’t  happened already, he argues. And the United States cannot conceivably secure all the terrorist havens in the world.

Some experts argue that physical space isn’t really the key to militant groups survival anymore in the age of the Internet. Paul R Pillar, a former CIA counterterrorism official, said in a piece for the Washington Post that safe havens were usually used by militants to hold basic training for recruits. The operations most important to future terrorist attacks do not require such a home, and he cites the Sept 11, 2001 attacks as an example. “The preparations most important to the attacks took place not in camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States,” he says.AFGHANISTAN/

In the past couple of decades, international terrorist groups have thrived by exploiting globalization and information technology, which has lessened their dependence on physical havens. it’s not that a sanctuary such as Afghanistan will not help al Qaeda; or other militant groups; the issue is whether denying them the space will prevent an attack, and that, Pillar says, is no longer guaranteed.

But Jim Arkedis, director of the National Security Project at the Progressive Policy Institute and a former Pentagon counter-terrorism official,  argues that the value of physical space cannot be underestimated and that a “homeless al Qaeda is the best guarantee against large-scale attacks.”

It is certainly true that militants can accomplish much online, he concedes in a piece for Foreign Policy. Individuals can maintain contact with groups via chat rooms, money can be transferred over the Web (if done with extreme caution), and plotters can download items like instruction manuals for bomb-making, photographs of potential targets, and even blueprints for particular buildings.

But all the e-mail accounts, chat rooms, and social media available will never account for the human touch. “There is simply no substitute for the trust and confidence built by physically meeting, jointly conceiving, and then training together for a large-scale, complex operation on the other side of the world,” Arkedis, who spent the last five years studying terrorist plots, says.

Even in the Sept 11 attack there were preparations that took place along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed put future operatives through a series of training courses. These included physical fitness, firearms, close combat, Western culture and English language.

You can learn lots of things online, but it is still preferable to have a dedicated professor physically present to supervise students and monitor progress, he says.

[Reuters photos of a U.S. Marine in Helmand and a woman  walking past a protest in Kabul]


Fighting in Afganistan can have two goals:

1. Taking control of Afganistan prevents it from becoming a terrorist haven. Which in turn reduces the threat of insurgency in Pakistan, Central Asia and Iraq.

2. Militantism will grow wherever it can. Jihadists without a war will find or cause one. Presenting them with a warzone means they will flock to this area, rather then hiding around the world.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

The comparison of U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan to taking a class (as opposed to distance learning) is fairly accurate. Watching the war from overseas will likely solve nothing. Asia Chronicle has been providing in-depth analyses on the situation in Afghanistan.

Posted by hotaruSTAR16 | Report as abusive

Afghanistan is not the issue.Proxy states like North Korea and Iran backed by Putins Russia and China are funding the current climate of terrorism.Without money all of the noises would stop.The US is spread out all over the globe chasing an enemy that will continue to hide in the shadows.The crisis on the Korean Pennisula and Isreal and Iran locking horns will create the mess that is coming and oil will drive the world to war.Relations with Russia and China must be improved or else we will never get anywere in Afganistan.

Posted by Edward | Report as abusive

So just how do these terrorists setup websites, upload videos, and post of message boards without being traced? A website, at some level, has to have an owner. Even if the domain name is registered privately, I’m sure the registrar would be willing to cough up the owner to the feds. Everything is traced on the Internet, yet we still wonder how these Bin Laden videos are posted on the Internet. Just why can’t we trace down the owners of these activities? Are the feds concerned about freedom of speech? Or is there something more to this war on terrorism?

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

For betterment of world, Afghanistan should be governed for some 50 odd years by UN government comprising of Russia, supported by US, China, India, UK & Israel. This will ensure lasting peace in years to come.

Posted by Atom | Report as abusive

Is denying Afghanistan to Al Qaeda the key? That would depend the problem you are trying to solve. There seems to be an almost mystical understanding of the so called “War on terror”..
Despite the complex strategies of guerilla warfare, the apparent distinction that implies an “unarmed” civilian’s life is worth more than a soldier who risks his life on the battlefield to defend his country and his people against an invader, and the apparent cowardice of the man willing to blow himself up fighting a far stronger enemy as opposed to the man who drops the same bombs from 50 000ft above.. I think most would agree that the aspect of Islamic ‘terrorism’ most easily deplorable is the aggressive use of force to implement your ways and opinions on other people.
Sound familiar..
The strange thing is that if the US/NATO ‘alliance’ succeeds in forcing actual democracy, not a client government like Karzai’s, on Afghanistan what is to stop the people from deciding to become an Islamic state again?? It happened in Iran and is MORE likely to happen in Afghanistan.

In terms of the proposed enemy, the nature of Islamic ‘terrorism’ apparently being fought is rebellion.. it is a proven RESPONSE to detrimental foreign intervention, aggression and exploitation and has grown in parallel with these events.
Terrorism is a highly redundant word but can be used selectively to overthrow the defining characteristic of a groups identity and re-define their purpose to frame them a different light.
The fact remains that those we refer to as Islamic ‘terrorists’ can more descriptively be referred to as resistance fighters, without fear of somehow losing the information that they employ the tactic of attacking the civilian infrastructure of their enemies.
Although many are afraid of the implications of this description, the evidence is first class and overwhelming, and in analyzing a solution knowledge of their true motives is imperative in knowing what we’re actually fighting.

Unfortunately we have ended up in a quagmire where the actions of each side feeds the other. The more the US attacks the Islamic world, the more rebellion is created, and the more rebellion created the more the US attacks the Islamic world.

Afghanistan presents one of the most confusing US foreign policy objectives imaginable. The entire country was held hostage against it’s will and a totally different style of corrupt government imposed in order to fight part of a separate worldwide organization hiding in the mountains. With all their military might the US are unable to find the one man they’re looking for or defeat the rebellion which 8 years later is stronger than ever, and meanwhile (under their supervision!!) heroin production goes from zero to 90% of the world’s supply and the war is now spreading into Pakistan, a nuclear armed state..
The last time the US intervened in Afghanistan was in the training of the same mujaheddin they are fighting now, to overthrow the democratic Afghan government in the early 80′s, leaving the country destitute and lawless for over 10 years after their victory and resulting in the rise of the favored Taliban who they are also now fighting.

I would forgive ANYONE for being confused at what is going on over there and who the real enemy is, but one thing is certain. There has been no success in the war for their ‘hearts and minds’. As ironic an ambition as the ‘war on terror’.
The US may have the weapons and the money to eventually wipe out all significant resistance in Afghanistan but in terms of ideological warfare they’re weapons are outdated and inferior to their enemies’.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

Ahhh, it’s begun, the govt. trolls are prepping the public for the need of Obama’s censorship of the internet, Just in time for the legislation going through the channels to become law NOW called s.773 “The Cyber Security Act of 2009″ While reading this piece the cartoon voice on the old Warner Bros cartoon’s rang in the back of my head “DOOOON’T YOUUUU BELIEEEEEVE IT” lol
Better stop this “Patriot” bill NOW!! Otherwise Obama’s Communist’s will decide What YOU see on the internet.

Posted by vinnie the hand | Report as abusive

This is perfect, why don’t we just end web neutrality then? The terrorists hate our freedoms, so let us give all of them up and then the terrorists won’t have anything to hate about us….

This is nothing more than a propaganda piece to start a campaign against the normal American internet user that has woken up and is using the web to find and learn information about what is really going on in our world. I am one of those people and so are you if you are reading this.

Posted by sideefx | Report as abusive

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