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.

Al Qaeda: Where’s the money? – Not Dead, but Dying, Part 2

Newsweek recently published an update from their al Qaeda source, Hafiz Hanif, an intermittent al Qaeda cell member who recently tried to rejoin his group North Waziristan.  The article entitled, “Al Qaeda on the Ropes, One Fighter’s Inside Story” is a followup to a previous 2010 interview with Hanif entitled “Inside al Qaeda“.  A great read for those interested in AQ’s demise.  There’s so much in this article that I could write about but today I’m just going to focus on one thing – MONEY.

Many perpetuated the notion immediately after 9/11 that terrorism and al Qaeda’s brand in particular costs very little.  Common analysis peddled via TV news based this measure on the fact that the 9/11 attacks cost only a few hundred thousand dollars to execute yet caused such tremendous damage.  The mistake of this argument arises from analysts confusing the production costs of one attack (9/11/2001) representing the total cost of all al Qaeda operations.  Not so! While the individual attack appears cost effective on a case-by-case basis, operating al Qaeda’s global infrastructure requires millions of dollars every year.  Al Qaeda, throughout their history, has struggled at times to maintain financial support and distribute funding equitably (See Harmony & Disharmony and AQ’s (Mis)Adventures for examples).

No one likes having a friend/guest sleep on your couch and eat all your food for ten years without chipping in on the bill – especially when your friend brings drone missile attacks on your house.  Al Qaeda has likely spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade maintaining its safe haven and routinely shifts large amounts of resources to Taliban groups for protection.  These funds came predominately from wealthy Gulf donors and hinged largely on the connections, image and reputation of Bin Laden – a leader from the Arabian Peninsula.

The recent Newsweek article paints a sad picture of al Qaeda Central’s state in Pakistan and more importantly their financial state.  Here’s an updated report from Hanif related to al Qaeda’s financial situation:

New recruits have stopped coming, Hanif says. “When new people came they brought new blood, enthusiasm, and money. All that has been lost.” The money may be a bigger problem than the manpower, he (Hanif) says. Al Qaeda used to receive millions of dollars a year from Arabian Gulf contributors, but Hanif’s uncle says his contacts tell him the donations have dried up. Instead, he believes, the money is going to the more productive and generally nonviolent Arab Spring movements in North Africa, Syria, and Yemen. “I think Arab people now think the fight should be political at home and not terrorism aimed at the West,” says the uncle. “The peaceful struggle on Arab streets has accomplished more than bin Laden and Zawahiri ever have.”


Hanif recalls how al Qaeda logistics operatives used to visit his unit to ask what the men needed in terms of weapons, medicine, food, and money. And he used to love making supply runs to the bazaar in North Waziristan’s capital, Miran Shah, with pockets full of cash for sweets and tea and to use the Internet. The town is still thronged with Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, shopping side by side with Pakistani soldiers, but now the Arabs have mostly vanished, and the shops specializing in olive oil, Arabian dates, and other Arab favorites are deserted or closed. Fighters subsist on minimal rations—if they aren’t left to fend for them-selves. That’s not easy, since al Qaeda has few friends in the area. Villagers fear that bin Laden’s men could bring drone strikes and the danger of civilian casualties, and al Qaeda has nothing left to offer local militants. The group is broke, and most of its best explosives and technical specialists have either died or left the vicinity. There aren’t even enough fighters left to act as reinforcements

During the AQ Strategy poll and Post-UBL poll in April/May 2011, I asked where will Gulf donor contributions go after UBL’s death.  Most thought donor support to AQ Central in AFPAK would be sustained.  However, ‘Private Sector’ respondents indicated that Islamist groups amongst the Arab uprisings would be the new investment priority.  It appears the ‘Private Sector’ voters may have been the most accurate in their prediction and suggests that if you want to know who will invest and where – ask the private sector as their success or failure hinges on picking winners.

As for me, for now, I’m sticking with my assessment from almost one year ago today – January 16, 2011 – entitled “Thoughts against Zawahiri’s ascension”:

1) Resources

However, UBL’s greatest strength in AQ (since its inception) is distributing money and providing an architecture (The Base) from which to pursue global jihad.  I refer back to page 197 of The Looming Tower where Larry Wright discusses how, “the camaraderie that sustained the men of al-Qaeda rested on the financial security that bin Laden provided,”  In the beginning, UBL used his own wealth to support AQ.  Today, UBL’s presence in AQ brings donations from the Gulf, fund transfers from affiliates like AQIM who divert kidnapping revenues (seen reports to this but can’t confirm it), and the benevolence of the Haqqani network.  We should also remember that Zawahiri came to UBL because of his resources.  When UBL dies, Zawahiri may take control but he will not be able to secure these three resource pipelines.

Here’s a re-post of the graph from the Gulf donor support question the week prior to Bin Laden’s death (AQ Strategy Poll):


And here’s a graph from the same Gulf donor question the week after Bin Laden’s death (Post UBL Poll):


Continued Counterterrorism Success- Yemen, Awlaki, Khan

In one drone strike, the U.S. eliminated two key elements of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Foreign Operations Bureau.  Al Qaeda confirmed the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American AQ ideologue, and Samir Khan, an American AQ Internet propagandist.  Here are my initial thoughts:

1- Hegghammer accurately articulated AQAP’s Foreign Operations Bureau and Awlaki’s role:  In November 2010, Hegghammer wrote “The Case for Chasing al-Awlaki”  which noted that-

“Awlaki is AQAP’s Head of Foreign Operations…Awlaki is most likely part of a small AQAP cell — the Foreign Operations Unit –which specializes in international operations and keeps a certain distance to the rest of the organization. We are probably dealing with a classic case of functional separation of tasks: While most AQAP fighters are busy fighting Yemeni security forces and attacking Western targets in Yemen, the Foreign Operations Unit lies low and plans international operations slowly and carefully. The unit likely counts no more than 10 people and hides in a different physical location from that of the top AQAP leadership. This is why Awlaki appears only on the margins of the radar of those who follow the day-to-day operations of AQAP proper.”

Awlaki and Khan were members of AQAP’s Foreign Operations Unit as they described in their own words in their magazine Inspire.  Awlaki and Khan died together traveling separate from the larger AQAP organization as Hegghammer described.

2- Awlaki and Khan were dangerous strategically and yet a bit weak tactically: Awlaki designed strategically effective plots to strike fear in the U.S.  Awlaki provided an American perspective for how to recruit Westerners via the Internet and operationally exploit U.S. security and psychological vulnerabilities.  Khan knew how to market AQ propaganda via the Internet.  These two were far more effective at recruiting Westerners with access to Western targets than previously hyped Western AQ members.  CT pundits claimed years back that Adam Gadahn would bring in Western recruits but this never materialized.  Ultimately, I think Awlaki and Khan’s tactical inexperience led to their deaths as I wonder….

3-Did the push to publish Inspire magazine volume number 7 bring Awlaki and Khan’s demise?:  Awlaki and Khan’s commitment to publishing an almost monthly AQ journal in the end may have led to their demise.  As any publishing company or university would probably tell you, issuing a monthly journal is a heavy burden (that’s why they do quarterly journals).  Producing Inspire required transmission by courier at a minimum and ideally development electronically.  All of these methods transmit signatures for targeting.  So an operational security versus operational effectiveness conundrum arose for Awlaki and Khan.  To be relevant, these two had to publish and preach via the Internet.  To be safe in the presence of intense surveillance, Awlaki and Khan had to hunker down and minimize communication.  I’ll be interested to hear if it’s ever explained why the U.S. regained Awlaki’s tail several weeks back.

4- Seems Awlaki lacked a good human sanctuary.: Good safe havens require both geographic/physical and human sanctuary.  Bin Laden effectively hid for almost ten years because loyal human networks protected him; not caves.  I guess that Awlaki didn’t have a good human sanctuary and was coughed up by either locals or maybe even AQAP internally.  I don’t know this, but I imagine a trusted person at some level didn’t want Awlaki camping in Yemen anymore.

5- CT pundit double speak:  Many CT pundits generally have one of three things to say about Awlaki’s death:

  1. Awlaki’s death will change nothing
  2. Awlaki’s message is eternal and will continue to inspire recruits to al Qaeda
  3. Awlaki was a nobody and never a threat

For the first, CT pundits that previously promoted Awlaki must assert that nothing will change.  If CT pundits over emphasize AQ’s demise, they risk putting themselves out of a job.

For the second, CT pundits have preached the “AQ’s message will inspire recruits forever” since about 2002. However, recent history doesn’t support this argument.  Bin Laden, prior to his death in 2011, inspired very few new recruits in recent years.  By 2006-2007, Abu Masab al Zarqawi, an up and comer performing spectacular attacks in Iraq, provided the most inspiration to new AQ recruits and yet I’ve seen almost no evidence his message inspires significant recruitment today.  By 2010-2011, Awlaki probably inspired the most recruits by participating in the only two viable attempts on the West in recent years.  Yet, I suspect there will be only a couple fringe Western kids inspired by Awlaki in the next couple of years. Likewise, most AQ recruits come from the Middle East and North Africa.  These youth were not nearly as inspired by Awlaki as Western recruits and now amidst the Arab Spring have a host of local leaders to follow as an alternative to AQ.  Five years from now I expect Awlaki like Zarqawi will be just another blip in AQ history.

For the third, Awlaki was the last great hope for much of AQ.  Yes, AQ and AQAP will go on and we must pursue them to their end.  But no other AQ member (to include Ayman al-Zawahiri) has recently created much energy for AQ recruiting globally.  After the continuous elimination of AQ leaders, Awlaki’s loss further hurts AQ’s future. I think these pundits in the NY Times miss the point:

“A dime-a-dozen cleric” was one response, by Gregory Johnsen, a Princeton professor who studies Yemen. Another: “I don’t think your average Middle Easterner knows who Anwar al-Awlaki is,” said Emad Shahin, a scholar of political Islam at Notre Dame University.

For Gregory Johnsen, I must ask, if Awlaki is “a dime-a-dozen” cleric, then name one other cleric who in the past two years has been involved in two nearly successful attacks on the U.S. homeland and the recruitment of more than a dozen Westerners to AQ.

For Emad Shahin, I think you miss the point.  Eliminating Awlaki was not about winning the popular support of the Middle East.  Eliminating Awlaki was about improving U.S. security and preventing Awlaki from building another plot against the U.S. homeland.

Shabab Losing Ground in Somalia

Alex Thurston at Sahel Blog posted one of the first updates on Shabab’s dysfunction and possible loss of control in Mogadishu.  I’m uncertain about the exact cause of Shabab’s recent struggles and am waiting for Chris Anzalone to chime in.  However, the famine engulfing Somalia apparently contributed to Shabab’s faltering.  The loss of AQ Operative Fazul, the apprehension of Shabab operatives collaborating with AQAP and drone strikes on Shabab’s leaders likely influenced some internal crumbling as well.
I speculated several months back that Shabab would not be able to maintain a lasting coalition amongst Somali clans.  I once read a book called Somalia: Economy Without A State stressing the importance of economic considerations in Somali society.  Resource constraints drive the clan structures dominating Somalia’s human terrain.  When survival hangs in the balance, garnering of scarce resources will always trump ideological fights against far off enemies.  AQ found this in Somalia during the 1990s and will likely find the same as the famine continues.  The ‘Shifty Sheikh”- Hasan Dahir Aweys– a long-time AQ interlocutor and former AIAI leader, conceded to Shabab’s leadership several months back.  This recent shakeup immediately made me wonder if Aweys is partially behind Shabab’s new fractures.  I’ll wait for the Somalia and Shabab experts to figure this out.
Katherine Zimmerman accurately brought up the challenge of alleviating Somalia’s famine without reinforcing Shabab’s control.  Disseminating food aid through clans will be tough.  As noted by Sahel Blog, the TFG is seen by many Somalis to be more corrupt and oppressive than Shabab.  So what do we do?  We tried famine relief in Somalia before with poor results.  How do we do the right thing for Somalis without reinforcing the ills that plague the region’s governance?  I’m not sure but it seems the famine, despite its awful implications, may provide an opportunity to create a different course in pursuit of stability and governance in Somalia.  I’m interested in anyone’s thoughts on good articles providing implementable policy recommendations that adequately deal with the famine and minimize Shabab’s power.

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.

Good ‘Failed States’ Post

Stewart Patrick had an excellent Op-Ed in the  Washington Post today reference the excessive hype made with regards to Failed States.  Patrick concludes that ‘failed states’ are not critical to US national security.

I’ve argued this many times at this blog and in al Qaeda’s (Mis) Adventures in the Horn of Africa.  ‘Weak States’ pose far greater security concerns to the U.S. than ‘failed states’.  ‘Failed States’ security problems tend to focus internally while ‘weak states’ can host internal security issues precipitating regional and international complications.

Ultimately, I think credit should be given to Dr. Ken Menkhaus who was the first to truly advocate this analysis during his Somalia research.  So Stewart Patrick, thanks for the post, but Ken Menkhaus, thanks for the insight.

AQ’s Future in Libya, Part 3- Operational Constraints

Previous posts discussed Libyan foreign fighters to Iraq and LIFG-AQ linkages in Libya. Part 3 examines the current conditions challenging AQ’s establishment of a durable stronghold in Eastern Libya.

  1. Resource constraints- Popular support for LIFG-AQ affiliated personnel is centered in Darnah.  Despite residing on the Mediterranean Sea, this region remains difficult to support logistically and repressed economically from Gaddafi’s reign.  Although recent stories suggest some LIFG-AQ affiliated personnel may be raiding Gaddafi military caches, weapons, supplies and money must come in either from the sea, overland across the desert, or through the Egyptian border. Each of these can be interdicted or monitored much more effectively than in other AQ hideouts in the Sahel, Yemen, or Pakistan.  Additionally, North African AQ elements have never garnered the donor support committed to AQ Central or AQAP.  AQIM reverts to kidnapping and illicit smuggling to maintain operational capability in the absence of sufficient donor support.  These two factors, location and insufficient donor pull, will likely limit AQ’s ability to expand significantly in Libya.
  2. Western No Fly Zone (NFZ)The U.S. sought soft power intervention in Darnah during Gaddafi’s reign but was rebuffed by the Libyan regime.  The U.S. recognized the Darnah problem years ago. For the first time in decades, the U.S. can leverage all its tools to engage those terrorist enclaves previously sealed off by Gaddafi.  The NFZ allows for aerial surveillance and interdiction.  A good NFZ is a terrible thing to waste!
  3. Failed State vs. Weak State- Weak states remain more useful for AQ than failed states.  Withdrawal of the Gaddafi regime and NFZ institution suggests Eastern Libya will represent more of a ‘failed’ state than a ‘weak’ state.  Under Gaddafi’s reign, Darnah (center of gravity for jihadi activity) and the surrounding area operated as a ‘weak’ state.  Gaddafi’s regime snuffed out most resistance but generally could not rid the region entirely of Islamist opposition strictly through brute force.  Additionally, Libyan sovereignty protected terrorist elements in Libya from Western counterterrorism intervention.  Eastern Libya now lacks weak oversight from Tripoli.  While there is likely a temporary gap in coverage, the West now retains the ability to saturate Darnah jihadi’s with observation assets.  Kinetic and non-kinetic options for dealing with AQ in Eastern Libya are now on the table.
  4. Europeans will care more about AQ in Libya than other locales- Eastern Libya lies particularly close to Europe.  Libyan terrorists attacked European targets in the past.  All countries involved in executing the NFZ will/must take more aggressive action against AQ elements in Libya.  European CT assets can access Libya far easier than Pakistani or Yemeni safe havens.

Terrorist Safe Havens: Weak States vs. Failed States

During last week’s Somalia discussions, I argued:

“1- Weak states support terrorism better than failed states- As Dr. Ken Menkhaus has noted many times, failed states like Somalia are hard for everyone. It doesn’t matter if your AQ or Western peacekeepers. The cost of operating in chaos makes terrorism tough.”

In the comments, Petr posted some counterarguments noting:

You are basing this statement on more or less intuitive logic and two case studies (Somalia 92-94, Kenya 92-98). But if you see the broader picture (i.e. more case studies) it gets more complicated.
– it is problematic, even though not unsolvable to treat those countries as one entity and then classify the strength of the statehood.
– in my research it came out that not the strength of a given state but presence of a strategic ally (or radical islamist subculture) is the key variable when it comes to success of al-Qa´ida. I do not want to bother you with details, but simply to say al-Ittihaad could not provide AQ with the safe haven, unlike ash-Shabaab, which in my understanding is a good case of al-Qa´ida success.

The ‘weak state vs. failed state’ debate is one of my favorites (this makes me incredibly dull by the way).  I originally went into the HOA research following the “failed states equals terrorism” equation.  Having read the Harmony documents, spent some time in Kenya, and did some further research, I came to agree strongly with the claim that weak states support terrorism better than failed states thereby following the Menkhaus doctrine :

The case of Somalia suggests that external observers may have been mistaken
in our assumptions about the relationship between terrorism and collapsed
states. The reality is that, at least up to now, transnational criminals and terrorists have found zones of complete state collapse to be relatively inhospitable territory out of which to operate. There are certainly exceptions – the fiefdoms of
drug-lords and radicals in parts of Colombia, for instance. But in general, terrorist networks have instead found safety in weak, corrupted, quasi-states –
Pakistan, Yemen, Kenya, the Philippines, Guinea, Indonesia. Terrorist networks,
like mafias, appear to flourish where states are governed badly rather than not at

Here are my reasons and I’ll address Petr’s notes above.

  1. Case Studies- I actually don’t see my case studies as two fold and defined to the dates mentioned.  I use Somalia (Failed) and Kenya (Weak) as two case studies extending from 1992 to the present.  Somalia’s safe haven support for AQ through the present day has been relatively weak and chaotic.  Sure, AQ has smuggled weapons, done some financing, etc.  But, major terrorist attacks on the West stemming from Somalia have not occurred.  Instead, Kenya has hosted a string of terrorist attacks and provided safe haven for AQ terrorists throughout the past 18 years.  During ’92-’94, AQ members transited through Nairobi airports, drove along the coast, and trafficked through ports in Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu.  The embassy bombings (’98) provide an obvious example of AQ action in Kenya.  AQ members did travel in and out of Somalia from ’94-’98, but they actually lived in Nairobi where they ran front charities and targeted the embassy.  After a brief departure from HOA, Harun Fazul, AQ’s East African commander, didn’t move back to Somalia.  In 2002, Fazul settled near Lamu, Kenya, built his own mosque, developed a fishing business and prepared for two more plots in Kenya: the 2002 Paradise Hotel bombing and the failed SAM missile attack on an El Al jet departing Mombasa.  Fazul has been seen in and out of Kenya for almost 20 years.  He might briefly stop in Somalia to move arms try to influence local groups, etc.  But the longer he stays there, the greater the chance CT folks or a rival clan will identify and interdict him.  The best example of AQ’s freedom of movement in Kenya is seen in the confessions of Omar Said Omar while in Kenyan custody.
  2. Three party problem in Kenya– Petr’s comments above approach only the terrorist side of the failed state story. Weak states provide greater safe haven than failed states because they impede counterterrorists.  In Kenya, there are three parties: AQ, Western CT forces, and the Kenyan government.  Kenya’s weak capacity permits AQ operations and limits Western CT efforts.  In Kenya, Western CT forces can’t interdict AQ and its affiliates militarily, use drones, or build intelligence without restrictions.  Weak state sovereignty requires the U.S. to use partners.  In Somalia, Western CT forces can act without restraint.  Individual AQ training camps or AQ leaders can be targeted.  Indigenous militias can be co-opted to counter AQ.
  3. Predictable Graft is better than Chaotic Graft– In Kenya, AQ operatives can navigate corruption fairly well. Graft is routine and predictable.  Legitimate businesses and charities can be established to generate revenue and augment illicit funding.  In Somalia, AQ’s costs are variable.  As seen in the Somalia Harmony records, operating costs in an austere environment, void of any legitimate transportation and exchange mechanisms, quickly soared to unsustainable levels.  Clan leaders extracted rents haphazardly and often.  Rarely did these clan payments result in AQ accomplishing its goals.

I’ll stop with these three large reasons.  To clarify, I think AQ operates in both Somalia and Kenya.  But, similar weak state issues can be seen in Yemen, Pakistan, and the Sahel today.  Meanwhile, the U.S. has dismantled terrorist operations in Afghanistan and Iraq where it has freedom of movement and no weak state limitations.  Although Iraq may be entering a weak state era soon.

Lastly, Vahid Brown wrote a great biography of Harun Fazul which provides an excellent account of terrorists taking advantage of weak states.  Also, I encourage all interested in the “Failed vs. Weak” state debate to read Dr. Ken Menkhaus article in The Journal of Conflict Studies entitled “Quasi-State, Nation-Building, and Terrorist Safe Havens.”  He explains this much better than I.

I’m taking sometime off for Festivus but I’ll chime in later in the week reference new Somali clan alliances.