The Devolution of Al-Qaeda

Osama saw himself as an inspirer of jihad, not a cult leader or a dictator.
I read that line last night and was immediately reminded of the following passage:
Al Qaeda [changed] from a smaller core group of professional operatives into an operational model that encourages independent "grassroots" jihadists to conduct attacks, or into a model in which al Qaeda provides the operational commanders who organize grassroots cells. We referred to this shift as devolution because it signified a return to al Qaeda's pre-9/11 mode. - Stratfor
The line from The Bin Ladens refers to the late 1980s after the jihad in Afghanistan was winding down. Salem Bin Laden, Osama's eldest brother and patriach of the fifty-four Bin Laden siblings, had just died in a plane crash. Osama was increasingly drifting away from his original mentor, Abdullah Azzam, and the Muslim Brotherhood, and towards the more militant Ayman al-Zawahiri. Through his family's money and connections to the Saudi royal family, he had been an influential financier of Afghanistan jihad, and through his family's business, he had been particularly useful constructing a complex network of caves and tunnels along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. With another super power occupying Afghanistan, and the mujaheddin once again forced to fight an insurgency along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, there has been a devolution of tactics. Fortunately, it appears this has the effect of making Western attacks less frequent. On the other hand, it makes America's strategic interests in South Asia more difficult to accomplish. I asked Metternich:
If America killed Osama Bin Laden, or captured him, would this strengthen this new 'grass roots' al Qaeda by giving them a martyr, have no effect because he's been hiding for so long anyway, or weaken al Qaeda by depriving them of a key figure?
This is a question worth considering. Osama is not likely to stay alive and free forever. Obama has promised to step up efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. General Petraeus is Commander, U.S. Central Command. America will likely bring renewed focus and resources to the region. So what would be the effects of his capture? What would be the effects of his death? Put on trial, he would have a platform to speak to the world. Killed, I agree with the Prince's assessment that "
al-Qaida would use [Osama] to inspire a generation of jihadists." Between a rock and a hard place. But what if there were a third way? Osama would be silent publicly but still alive. Meanwhile, the integrity of his brand would decline. In other words, the current situation today. Osama hasn't appeared in a video in over a year. He is less relevant and less influential than eight years ago. They've killed many more fellow Muslims than Americans. My correspondent notes that "as events have borne out in Iraq, al-Qaida's senseless brutality and complete lack of ecumenicalism ensures that" they lose credibility in Muslim eyes. On purpose? Not likely. That's okay. The effect is the same.


Sometimes Metternich said...

Tell the readers what happened to Azzam.

Sim Karnavalov said...

When I picked my book back up last night, after I finished this post, I wished I had read the rest of the chapter first.

While the group behind his assassination in 1989 is not known, his son-in-law blamed Ayman al-Zawahiri.

From that point forward, al-Zawahiri became the sole recipient of Osama's financial resources..