Zubaydah’s Diaries: Insights into al Qaeda pre-9/11

In the years after 9/11, one of the central al Qaeda figures discussed in the open media has been Abu Zubaydah; a man often times referred to as al Qaeda’s #3.  Zubaydah’s fame in the media came first from his spectacular capture in Pakistan and then from his water boarding.  Last week, al Jazeera released an unclassified but leaked diary of Zubaydah’s which detailed bits and pieces of his thoughts in the years prior to and immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Before diving to deep, I remind everyone to take Zubaydah’s diary notes with a grain of salt.  First, by many accounts, Zubaydah apparently is a bit crazy.  In the diary, he writes entries to an alias known as “Hani 2” which may be his other personality although we don’t know for sure.  Second, Zubaydah seems to be as surprised by the 9/11/2001 attacks as anyone else.  Third, huge time gaps exist in the diary leaving much context to be desired.  We don’t know why he stops or starts writing, what is being left out, what is deliberately being falsified, etc.

The original diary is available somewhere on the Internet and  a good summary article can be found here at al Jazeera America’s website.

From the al Jazeera article here are some interesting things that were discussed.

  • Zubaydah maybe didn’t know he was in al Qaeda until the media informed him? Huh? – According to the diary, Zubaydah may have tried to cover his tracks right before his capture, suggesting he wasn’t part of al Qaeda.  Or maybe he was surprised to find out he was the heir to Bin Laden? Never considering himself part of al Qaeda, but instead the leader of his own team. This is doubtful (BS I think) based on the Ressam investigation. Check out this quote from the article:

Perhaps mindful of the growing danger that his diaries could be seized, he writes in a Feb. 4, 2002, entry, “For five years [the media] has been attempting to connect me to anything, and the matter is growing bigger, until they lately said that I am the heir of Bin Laden for the leadership of the Al-Qaeda Organization. I hope they know that I am not even a member of Al-Qaeda, so how can I become their leader?”… In a later entry he complains, “The Pakistani newspapers are saying that I’m in Peshawar, trying to reorganize Al-Qa’ida Organization, for war against the Americans, and that I am the heir of Bin Ladin, and Time [magazine] is saying that I know the Organization and those collaborating with the Organization more than Bin Ladin himself … I wish they know that I am not with Al-Qa’ida, to begin with, and that I am with them in ideology and body.”…Regardless of whether he had sworn an oath of loyalty to bin Laden — which would make him a member of Al-Qaeda — Abu Zubaydah was clearly a trusted and very senior operative in the broader movement that had Al-Qaeda at the center. He was, as he said, “with them in ideology and body.”

  • Zubaydah’s camp in Peshawar got shutdown by the Taliban in 1999 as part of what appears may have been a Bin Laden consolidation of power.  Al Jazeera notes:

In 1999, Abu Zubaydah was residing at a guesthouse in Peshawar associated with the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, his mujahedeen alma mater, to which he had returned in an administrative capacity….But the following year, the Taliban ordered the camp shut down because its emir had refused to hand it over to bin Laden. Not all the like-minded foreign fighters in Afghanistan before 9/11 were directly answerable to bin Laden, even some of those who shared his broad goals…..His appeals to bin Laden to reopen Khaldan fell on deaf ears. Bin Laden and the Taliban declined to reopen the camp.

  • In many ways, I get the sense from the article that Zubaydah thought of Bin Laden as a bit of a rival, and seemingly dependent at times on Bin Laden for receiving funding.

“It’s different when you’re the one calling the shots than being a wheel that’s moving mechanically with other wheels as part of a specific machine,” he complains in another diary entry written on the same day. At times, he seemed to regard bin Laden more as a competitor than a mentor. Abu Zubaydah writes that more jihad volunteers chose to train at Khaldan than at the full-fledged Al-Qaeda military camps bin Laden operated.”

Zubaydah continues and demonstrates, as Gregory Johnsen noted in his book on AQAP, that what separated Bin Laden from others was his money.  Bin Laden, like any other business, grew al Qaeda in scale because he had the resources to propel them forward.

“The resources are shrinking … We must have a secure financial source, so it will not come to an end (the camp),” he writes on July 14, 1996. About a year later, he writes that bin Laden has stepped in and offered assistance. “Bin Laden re-submitted his offer of unity to us and the brothers inside requested me to deliberate the issue,” he writes in Volume 4 on Aug. 13, 1997.

  •  Amongst al Qaeda’s chaos, was Zubaydah trying to build his own all star team?  See this concluding quote from Zubaydah:

To that end, Abu Zubaydah was building in Pakistan an ark of sorts, assembling the most skilled explosives experts and others in the movement capable of teaching the vital skills necessary to regenerate the movement.

“I took them with me, from the flood, one or two individuals from each military science, just like Noah … two pairs from each … An instructor or two from each military subject, they are the nucleus of my future work, and I am starting from zero … I am preparing a safe location for us, so that we can start.”

zubaydah pics

Insightful new al Qaeda document (Talked about) in Germany

I meant to post on this last week, but for those that might have missed it @abususu has some details on a new al Qaeda document that has been declassified talked about in Germany (Sorry, a modification as of 1200 EST. @abususu says its not publicly available but people have seen it).  The U.S. provided the document to the Germans in support of their prosecution of Abdeladim el-K. Yassin Musharbash always provides excellent analysis of al Qaeda and his post here is one of the most informative things I’ve read in a while.  Great reporting by Yassin – he has been out in front on the story of German prosecutions for several months.

Here are some of the pertinent details Yassin describes (but please check out the original post as it is worth the read):

-The document is a letter by Junis al-Mauretani to Osama Bin Laden, dated March 2010. It is 17 pages in the original Arabic.

-The reason the US shared this particular document with the Germans is that in it, al-Mauretani refers to a Moroccan recruit whose date of birth he gives – and which is the same as the date of birth of one of the defendants in said trial.

-In essence, the letter is a sketch or rather a vision of a comprehensive plot against the West, including maritime, economical and other sensitive targets. There is a certain emphasis on critical infrastructure, as al-Mauretani singles out water dams, underwater gaspipelines, bridges between cities and tunnels connecting countries, as well as internet cables as potential targets.

– He also claims that there is a process in place by which followers would be asked to enter into sensitive jobs, e.g. in the transport business for oil and gas. By this, he suggests, it could become easier to attack targets like airports, love parades (sic!) and highly frequented tunnels.

This document sheds light on the cause for concern in 2010 when there were numerous news reports about a potential attack.  From Yassin’s notes, it would seem that al Qaeda was also a bit afraid to create many civilian casualties.

Here are some of the more fascinating bits Yassin mentions in his analysis:

-There is also an interesting passage in which he claims that AQIM has enough funds to help finance his ideas and that the cadres there trust him personally.

So in 2010, the word on the street was that AQIM, of all affiliates, had the money to finance operations.  Sure, the kidnapping ransoms were significant, but maybe we should be asking where else they were getting their money from in 2010? and now?

 2.- AQ during that time actively recruited Westerners – even from among other Jihadist groups like the IMU. I think this means that they wanted this to be large and comprehensive effort – probably sending all of them back around the same time but not striking immediately but rather asking them to recruit even more people and then lie down until told to act. Al-Mauretani in several cases made sure there would be secure means of communications.

One of the notions I’ve heard repeated in analysis on al Qaeda is the group’s supposed conduct of wide-scale direct recruitment.  I disagree with this notion (as I discussed in 2007).  While al Qaeda does direct recruit specific individuals at times, more routinely they use feeder affiliates and other terror groups to parse out many of their most promising recruits.  This system of minor league terrorist farm teams allows mauretanial Qaeda to keep their distance from new recruits that appear too eager or potentially risky and provides a method for assessing the recruit’s abilities before assigning them a role.  Likewise, it provides al Qaeda a larger set of recruitment options from which to choose better talent. This system flourishes when the group situates securely behind an insurgent safe haven allowing them to pluck key people ideally suited for certain roles from pseudo-terror/definite-insurgent groups like IMU, Shabaaab, Ansar al-Sharia, etc.

Essentially, insurgencies allow for the development of terrorist farm teams where recruits then arrive in al Qaeda’s camp with some training, experience and vetting minimizing al Qaeda’s costs and exposure while maximizing their options.  Two things sustain al Qaeda’s position in this hierarchy as the major league team: ideology & money.  While the West is ill-equipped to erode the ideology of zealots, in the future, the West could work to stifle AQ’s resource allocation – something that proved decisive (but lightly discussed) during al Qaeda’s more recent setbacks in Waziristan.

Lastly, this document points to why the U.S. will always need to maintain an aggressive CT posture despite the recent successes against al Qaeda.  Either al Qaeda, or some group like them, will continue to plot terrorist attacks against the U.S.  The U.S. will be attacked, and we will be attacked less if we maintain a persistent eye on the plethora of threats that might emerge from more than a dozen recruitment portals around the world.

Overall, a great post from Yassin and I hope everyone takes a read.

Countering the Violent Extremism of Fickled Fighters

Today, I wanted to follow up with respect to my post a few days back on terrorist motivation and recruitment and relate it to my earlier discussion of Hanif, the AQ foreign fighter from Pakistan, who recently relayed news of al Qaeda’s struggles in Pakistan.  I closed the last post stating:

Before choosing a CVE approach, a community/government/nation must first determine which type of extremist they want to counter.  If this assessment isn’t done, one will find a CVE approach, for example, where a government seeks to counter the the extremist narrative in an attempt to deter young people from joining al Qaeda, only later to find out that recruits weren’t particularly knowledgeable of AQ’s ideology, joined for the adventure, and enjoy group membership more than radical sermons.

I’ve often heard that the U.S. should place top priority on countering AQ’s message in order to prevent young boys from being radicalized and recruited overseas.  While this may be important in certain cases, I’d like to return to the case of Hanif, the source for Newsweek’s article “Al Qaeda on the Ropes: One Fighter’s Inside Story”.  Hanif, lacking an al Qaeda cell to join, recently decided to join the Haqqani Network:

Hanif says he spent the next five months with the Haqqanis and took part in several cross-border raids into Afghanistan—“picnics,” his fellow fighters called them. “We’d cross the border on operations of one, two, or three days; make short, sharp attacks; and then return,” he says. “Crossing into Afghanistan is easier than ever. There’s no one to stop us.” When Haqqani fighters run into Pakistani troops, they just keep going, Hanif says; they’re never challenged. “I think there’s an understanding,” he says.

Hanif compares his time with AQ and the Haqqani Network where he says:

the network’s fighters are brave, but they’re not as disciplined and pious as al Qaeda fighters were. “Fifty percent of these young mujahedin are looking for something to do,” Hanif says. “They’re not really fighting for Islam.” Even so, he likes their fighting spirit. “They may be careless and not religiously motivated, but they are good jihadis.”

Hanif does note that his religious beliefs are important but not decisive in his terrorist participation.

He isn’t sure what he’ll do next. At present he’s taking time off from the war, staying with relatives in Afghanistan. He says he’s still determined to rid Afghanistan of Americans and foreign influence and to reestablish Mullah Mohammed Omar’s Islamic Emirate, although he’s disappointed that al Qaeda can no longer help him achieve those goals. He stays in touch with his parents by phone, and they keep urging him to return home to Karachi, get married, and perhaps go into business. Hanif hates the idea. To do so, he says, would be a betrayal of his political and religious beliefs. Still, he says, he’s thinking of going home—just for a little while.

So, how does the U.S. do CVE to disrupt the violence of Hanif and his comrades?  Counter al Qaeda’s narrative?

It seems like his ideological justifications for fighting in Afghanistan change frequently while his violence remains constant.

What about community engagement with elders and parents? 

His parents only appear to have a minor influence on his decision.

I don’t have an answer for what the right CVE package is for young Pakistani recruits but I do wonder what combination of CVE actions will be most fruitful for keeping young boys from seeking adventure in Pakistan’s frontier.

Rory Stewart’s Afghanistan TED Talk

I’ve been taking a face-first beat down from a guy named Murphy lately (translation= busy yet achieving little).  However, I did get some time during an airplane flight to watch Rory Stewart’s recent TED talk and wanted to pass it on to those that might be interested.

Rory’s tales of personal adventure in Afghanistan (The Places in Between) and Iraq (Prince of the Marshes) gave me an excellent and contrasting perspective during my transition from government service.

As a student of security and development, I find Stewart’s presentation and perspective enlightening in an era dominated by advocates of counterinsurgency doctrine.  I strongly doubted in 2007 that a COIN surge in AFPAK would achieve the intended results.  I doubted even further that the costs of COIN were in line with the gains that could be achieved.

Stewart’s question is “why are we still in Afghanistan?”.  He makes some interesting points on how we arrived in our tenth year in Afghanistan.  His discussion illustrates why Western dynamics led to our arrival in Afghanistan, our shortcomings in achieving our goals, the logic behind our persistence to stay in Afghanistan and why the West has a hard time letting go. I highly recommend everyone watch Rory Stewart’s discussion and take note of his points on strategic interests and the challenges of policy implementation.

The only part I didn’t like of Stewart’s discussion is his repeated quoting of each military and political leader advocating their year in Afghanistan as “decisive” (Minute 8:40 ish).  Stewart did this to entertain his audience and I respect the need for this dynamic in punchy TED talks.  However, Stewart should recognize from his experience that leadership is about inspiring subordinates as much as managing processes.  Does Stewart really think a senior policy leader would best serve his organization and subordinates by saying, “Yeah, this year in Afghanistan isn’t really important, I think my year in command will be particularly inconsequential, Iraq has sapped our resources, in fact, I’m not sure this is worth our effort.  Everyone take Friday off, you know what, take half of Thursday off too, Let’s just drag our feet through this year and hand off our problems to our replacements in 12 months.”  Come on Stewart, I like you, I realize you need to play to your audience but be careful, as your fame grows, you will likely find yourself saying things you’ll be called to answer for later when things don’t progress as you predicted.

UBL’s death & the Afghanistan mission; Poll Results #5

Immediately following UBL’s death, media pundits begin assessing the implications on the U.S. & NATO mission in Afghanistan.  With the U.S. slated to begin a draw down at the end of summer 2011 and NATO allies aggressively looking for an exit sign, UBL’s death again raised the questions: “Why are we in Afghanistan?” and “How much longer will we be there?”

The Post UBL Poll asked the following question during the week immediately following UBL’s death:

What will be the chief consequence of UBL’s death for the U.S. and its Western allies?

140 respondents answered this question with surprisingly uniform distribution of votes across all professional categories and question responses.

  • Most voters (44%) thought UBL’s death would result in no significant change in U.S. & NATO operations.
  • Many (36%) thought public pressure would force the withdrawal of Western partners from Afghanistan.
  • Few (20%) thought UBL’s death would shift the strategy from counterinsurgency (COIN) focus in Afghanistan to a regional counterterrorism (CT) focus in AFPAK.
  • Military voters were the only sub-group that thought somewhat differently than the overall crowd.  Most military voters believe UBL’s death will lead to the exit of their NATO partners.  (47% for Military compared to 37% for the crowd as a whole)

As for me, I chose a “shift to counterterrorism operations (Biden Plan).”  NATO partners have already determined they are leaving.  Amidst the Afghan ‘Surge’/COIN struggles we have stopped dreaming of a functioning Afghan democracy.  Several American advisers in Afghanistan have gone so far as to endorse reinforcing tribal leadership structures to ensure local level stability rather than pursuing the COIN objective of functioning representative government.

I believe UBL’s death leads to an enduring U.S. counterterrorism presence that will go on long after 2014 and likely for most of our lifetimes.  A counterterrorism approach advocated by many more than two years ago.  More to follow reference Afghanistan…(but if you want my stance, see this from 2007)

Here are two charts, the first shows the raw vote totals of all 140 respondents.  The second pie chart shows the breakdown of 28 voters declaring ‘Government-Military’ as their professional group.


How Bin Laden Narratives Hindered Analysis

Immediately following 9/11/2001, hopes were high that Bin Laden and his gang would quickly be caught.  In early 2002, Bin Laden escaped the Tora Bora cave network slipping into Pakistan beginning the longest, most expensive and most exhaustive man hunt in world history.

In 2003, the Bin Laden mission lost focus; distracted by Iraq and the hunt for new villains.  By 2004, the American public narrative changed and repeatedly stated that Bin Laden was hiding in a cave, sickened, weak, and irrelevant.  By 2006-2007, this speculation was cemented into the minds of Western analysts, media pundits and the general public.

Looking back, this narrative hindered my analysis and I imagine the analysis of many others seeking the demise of Bin Laden.  Analysts were seeking to confirm a narrative constructed on two brief periods in Bin Laden’s Afghan existence: a hiding period in the so-called “Lion’s Den” during the mid-1980’s and the 2002 Tora Bora siege.  This narrative, derived from an appealing perceived pattern of Bin Laden’s behavior, drove many to look for things that weren’t there: guys in a cave, living on bread and water, coordinating through sophisticated electronic communication. Instead, he was killed in a compound similar to others he resided in, surrounded by family and communicating by courier.

Resources were poured into detecting a pattern that suited our narrative more than the realities described throughout Bin Laden’s life (See Patternicity for more on this).  During the 1980’s, he founded AQ in Peshawar guesthouses.  In the 1990’s, he occupied a Khartoum estate and later lived fairly openly in several different Afghan camps.  This pattern of life, rather than the cave narrative we created, turned out to be consistent with where Bin Laden was discovered.  His Khartoum residence looks strikingly similar to his Pakistani hideout. (See below)

In hindsight, Bin Laden hid not in caves but within people-social networks of loyalty sealed by ideology, bought with Gulf donations and maneuvered through political brokering.  Bin Laden lasted ten years because he leveraged his financial pull to sustain operations, his political value to engender Pakistani supporters, and his ideological credibility to garner protection from the Haqqani network.  People hid Bin Laden, not caves.

How was he identified and killed? Through the persistent work of dedicated analysts, investigators, military operatives and intelligence officers using human skills to turn interview results into a victory.  In the end, it was pursuing good analysis on Bin Laden’s human network, not adhering to narratives that brought mission completion.

Bin Laden’s Khartoum residence, early 1990’s (Source: PBS)





Bin Laden’s Pakistan hideout, 2011 (Source: Guardian)

Poll: What will terrorism be post-Bin Laden?


Today is a great day in the history of the United States.  Usama Bin Laden’s death marks a significant victory against al Qaeda and I have great admiration for the military forces that accomplished such a daring raid.

Many of you provided me a great favor last week as I initiated a crowdsourcing poll trying to anticipate AQ’s future strategy.  Your response to this poll was outstanding and far beyond my expectations. The initial results are quite revealing and provide great insight into today’s developments. In January, the first crowdsourcing poll (the predecessor to last week’s) asked the following question:

What will be the chief consequence of Usama Bin Laden’s (UBL) death for the global jihadi movement?

Based on today’s events, I’m relaunching this poll at SelectedWisdom.com and asking again for your help in anticipating the ramifications of Bin Laden’s death.  I ask again for your help in two ways:

1)    If you have the time, I ask you to visit the following link and vote as we collectively try to develop a new counterterrorism strategy to exploit this recent success. I deliberately made this poll shorter than last week’s poll so it should take only 2-3 minutes.

Click Here to Vote

2) Please forward this link along to anyone you know that is interested or knowledgeable in the issues of terrorism. Anyone is welcome; students, government, private sector, military, etc.

Here is a link that you can copy and paste:


The results of last week’s poll combined with this new poll provide us a unique opportunity to evaluate how we think about terrorism and counterterrorism and help us develop a strategy to carry the battle against extremism to new heights.  I will work to rapidly publish the results of this poll so all can benefit from our collective insights when thinking through our near-term and long-term policy options.

Thank you again for your support, your votes and your time.  Please forward away.  It takes a crowd to do crowdsourcing.

Al Qaeda’s Strategy: 2011-2012

The summer of 2011 through the end of 2012 will be the most important period for al Qaeda (AQ) and Western Counterterrorism (CT) efforts since 2002-2003. A plethora of different factors suggest that Bin Laden and AQ Central based in Pakistan must act soon or risk becoming irrelevant. Here are some key issues which make me believe the next 12-18 months will be truly decisive for AQ:

  1. Ten years later, actions speak louder than words– AQ’s senior leadership (AQSL) has not produced a major terrorist attack in years. Western CT efforts have foiled many a plot. Those plots AQSL has taken credit for were largely accomplished by upstarts not directly under their command (Examples: Zarqawi and the Madrid bombers). UBL may have played the information war well, but he and his sidekicks have not been operationally successful in a long while. Actions speak louder than words. AQAP and al Shabab increasingly attract as many or more recruits than AQ Central because they fight as much as they talk.
  2. Absent from the Arab uprisings– Despite their ideological banter about removing apostate regimes, AQ missed out on all the current revolutions. Terrorists groups must retain popular support to remain relevant. While AQ toiled away in its global jihad against the far enemy, their base of popular support shifted to something attainable; liberation at home. AQ must immediately find a way to assert itself within these revolutions or risk being overshadowed by new Arab movements and leaders.
  3. UBL is moving– After sitting tight for ten years, several reports suggest UBL is energized and on the move. While I think its highly unlikely he will try to move from his Pakistan safe haven, UBL must be concerned about his long-run preservation and AQ’s future to take such operational risks to sustain relationships.
  4. Pro-AQ Taliban losing groundTaliban commanders in Pakistan have taken a beating in recent months. Pakistani security forces, targeted assassinations and drone strikes have finally taken their toll. AQ doesn’t have time to waste.
  5. Yemeni instability and opportunity– The Yemeni security vacuum created by recent rebellions and the violent government crackdown provide opportunities for both AQ and the West.  In recent weeks, AQAP has reportedly conducted several ambushes and seized several townsThis rebellion is likely the most challenging for Western CT efforts.
  6. Fighters heading home– AQ members from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula must wonder, “why should we stay in Afghanistan and Pakistan?” If AQ foreign fighters can choose between fighting jihad abroad or fighting jihad at home, I believe they will choose their homeland first. Yemeni, Egyptian, Libyan, Syrian and Tunisian foreign fighters within AQ must be seeking an opportunity in their homelands. I imagine the peak flow of foreign fighters to Afghanistan has passed.
  7. New Statements from all AQ leaders– UBL, Zawahiri, Libi, Adl and Awlaki have all issued propaganda citing the recent revolts as sign of AQ’s coming domination. AQ must redirect the discussion of revolution to include them. The only way to make these statements seem credible is to actually join one of the current rebellions and begin executing attacks.  Additionally, Adl recently criticized AQ’s strategic direction and identified some shortcomings. Will there be dissension or unity moving forward?
  8. US CT efforts spread thin– Recent uprisings and the fall of U.S. counterterrorism partner regimes has temporarily blinded CT efforts. Partner CT relationships maintained accountability of AQ movements throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Weak state emergence throughout these regions provides AQ a permissive environment.
  9. Pakistan conundrum- The Pakistani ISI versus CIA battle suggests to me that the U.S. may finally be on the doorstep of UBL. Destroying the Haqqani Network remains the decisive point for eliminating AQSL.  Threats have been made on both sides.  Can the U.S. finally go for the deep attack on UBL?  Is UBL preparing for his death?

I could probably write more but I will stop here for now.

Bottom line:  AQ must do something soon to remain relevant.  The U.S. should begin anticipating what AQ will do.  Don’t let recent uprisings become a distraction.  Instead, recognize them as a potential opportunity against AQ in both the near and long term.  All we have to do now is think through what AQ is most likely to do, and then adapt.

Great Comments from Secretary Gates

Secretary Gates spoke at West Point on Friday further illustrated how a career intelligence officer might very well end up being the best Secretary of Defense in U.S. history. (The full speech is here.) Secretary Gates put some sanity into the rapidly escalating pundit talk of new military action in North Africa, Yemen and Iran. Here are some highlights from his West Point talk:

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it”

“The odds of repeating another Afghanistan or Iraq — invading, pacifying, and administering a large third-world country — may be low,” Mr. Gates said, but the Army and the rest of the government must focus on capabilities that can “prevent festering problems from growing into full-blown crises which require costly — and controversial — large-scale American military intervention.”

I think he put COINdinista’s on notice.  I agree the era of regime change, wars of preemption and large-scale counterinsurgency are over.  Of course, I hear the reverse from COINdinista’s who routinely reiterate that recent past wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) will be all we face in the future.  As long as its an option, I vote no to COIN and no to regime change.  I understand COIN was a means to an end in Iraq.  But, I’ve always been highly skeptical of COIN as a solution to Afghanistan.

“As the prospects for another head-on clash of large mechanized land armies seem less likely, the Army will be increasingly challenged to justify the number, size, and cost of its heavy formations,”

“Men and women in the prime of their professional lives, who may have been responsible for the lives of scores or hundreds of troops, or millions of dollars in assistance, or engaging or reconciling warring tribes, may find themselves in a cube all day re-formatting PowerPoint slides, preparing quarterly training briefs, or assigned an ever-expanding array of clerical duties,” Mr. Gates said. “The consequences of this terrify me.”

Translation:  Prepare for a rotation in Iraq and Afghanistan, but expect a career that looks very different.  The Captain’s War will come to a close in the next two years.  The Army’s mission, resources, and future will be different from the recent past.  Army officers be prepared to reinvent yourself and your mission.

An excellent, honest speech from a Secretary of Defense handed one of the greatest challenges in the history of military conflict.  I feel for whomever replaces Secretary Gates.  The bar has been set very high.

“Does Bin Laden Matter?” Poll Results; Part #2

Returning to the UBL poll, here are the side-by-side results of question #2, “What will be the chief consequence of UBL’s death for the U.S. & its Western allies?”.  As mentioned in previous posts, the initial justification for entering Afghanistan in 2001 was the destruction of al Qaeda and killing or capture of its leader; UBL.  The below chart shows the open poll results (from this website, 27 voters) and compares it with the internal poll results (CT experts I queried, 21 voters).  Again, there is likely some duplication of respondents who answered both polls.

To my surprise, most respondents in both polls selected “Status Quo-No Change.”  A slightly larger percentage of respondents to the internal poll (CT Experts) selected “Refocus on Counterterrorism Operations (Biden plan).”

Again, I wanted to further examine internal poll respondents opinions based on their current professional duties.  Unlike in question #1, academics selected the “Status Quo- No Change” option at a much higher level than other categories of respondents (7 of 9 academics chose this option).  Why might academics think UBL’s death would be less significant for the U.S. and its allies than other groups?  I’m not sure.  It could just be a coincidence since this is a rather small sample size.

For question #2, I disagreed with the majority in both polls.  My decision teetered between “Refocus on CT” and “Withdrawal of NATO”.  I definitely think UBL’s death will sharply decrease American and Western support for the Afghanistan campaign.  However, I think all NATO elements have already decided to significantly decrease their Afghanistan commitments in the next two years.  Ultimately, I think UBL’s death will bring a rapid shift in U.S. focus on counterterrorism operations vice counterinsurgency/nation building efforts.  Even if UBL is still at large this time next year (2012), I think the U.S. will begin slowly transitioning to a more CT than COIN focus.