Yesterday’s al-Qaeda scenarios surrounding Omar Hammami’s plight with al-Shabaab in Somalia churned some excellent input from Marisa Urgo of Making Sense of Jihad who’s long study of al-Qaeda’s (AQ) strategic thinking provided some needed perspective from the AQ side of the debate. Likewise, a comment to yesterday’s post put forth a fourth scenario where Robow killed off AQ’s operatives in Somalia to return al-Shabaab’s focus to local issues rather than AQ’s global agenda. I’ll post their informative takes here and look forward to getting more perspectives on recent events amongst al-Shabaab’s chaos.
I’ll recap each of yesterday’s scenarios and then post Marisa’s response to each:
Scenario #1 – Zawahiri directly authorized the killing of Fazul and older AQ loyalists to Bin Laden based in Somalia
Courtesy of Marisa:
In Scenario #1: I agree that Zawahiri isn’t above strategic murder to achieve specific ends. However, I also believe that Zawahiri is older now, and we can’t dismiss the influence of criminal wisdom in his strategic calculus. Avoiding fitna might be very important to him right now as he tries to consolidate HIS leadership with the group’s funders and Pak caretakers. We should also consider that in the history of transnational gangs and Italian mafia, power consolidation through murders often lead to more chaos not less.
As a general comment: I believe that AQC favors commanders who are *dedicated men of the movement*; professional jihadis who are devoted to the movement and its mission. That implies a certain humility and self-control, personal self-sacrifice for fellow jihadis, and a steady, even-handed character that subsumes personal gratification for the greater good. [Granted, this is an IDEAL, but it has its source in the lessons AQC may have learned from their strategic failures: 1. al-Uyyeri was "charismatic" and was clearly a headache for Zawahiri and a strategic disaster for AQ in the AP, 2. Zarqawi was "charismatic" - loved by all - and an albatross [Zawahiri's letter to him is an excellent example of the leadership qualities he values], 3. As far as we know Bin Laden shot down the idea of Al-awlaki in a leadership position – Why? Probably Awlaki’s “charisma” was the turnoff.
Well, it does seem there is a good bit more chaos, relatively, within al-Shabaab.
Scenario #2 – Godane makes a pitch to Zawahiri for alignment with AQ, Zawahiri agrees and turns a blind eye to the implications
Response to #2, courtesy of Marisa:
In Scenario #2: I’m uncomfortable with the idea that Godane had to pitch a merger with Zawahiri. Much of AQC dedicated media time to ICU/Shabaab in 2006-2007. I doubt that was done without a strategic intention to merge with the group. This merger may have been in planning for a looong time, at least since 2006 when ICU actively recruited and raised money in diaspora communities in EU and US. My guess is that Zawahiri would probably prefer the most stable, mission-oriented leader whom he could rely on to make tactical and strategic decisions in tandem to AQ’s global vision. Zawahiri’s operational situation most likely precludes direct command and control of his client emirates. Therefore, he needs to trust the stability and dedication of the leader of that client emirate. If i’m not mistaken – The Management of Savagery has a chapter on the qualities of a leader … that may be relevant in this case
Ahh, The Management of Savagery…great read, and very good to review in light of AQAP’s recent gains.
Scenario #3 – Zawahiri agrees to a merger and is completely unaware of Godane’s shoring up of rivals
Scenario #3 analysis courtesy of Marisa. I liked all her input, but I highlighted one of her comments here I really liked.
In Scenario #3: My only comment is that we shouldn’t dismiss the “courier” factor in Zawahiri’s situational awareness. News travels slooow when its a guy driving, walking, or, hell, riding a bike, through Pakistan. It’s clear from what we know now – and I hope the Bin Laden material will make it clearer — that AQC had far more command and control in personnel and other changes than we previously thought. It turned out to be a not-so-leaderless jihad, surprising many even with years of contrarian evidence like the Zarqawi letters. Command and control that required UBL to be in ONE PLACE for a LONG TIME. That situation probably changed after UBL’s death. For how long? That’s anyone’s guess.
I recognize the “courier” factor but its been many months since Fazul died (June 2011, I think), so I’m not convinced this would apply.
Newly Proposed Scenario #4: Robow, not Godane, Kills off AQ operatives to refocus al-Shabaab on local rather than global issues
Provided by a reader yesterday in the comments section.
Fazul, Bilaal, and Sakr were all killed at the behest of Muktar Rubow whose southern tribes have been screwed over by Goddane’s Isaaq. Rubbow has been killing off the foreign fighters becuase he wants HSM to focus on the local needs of the people and not the fanciful crusades of AQ.
Maybe, from the local versus global perspective, this makes a lot of sense and has been an issue I’ve pushed in the past. It would explain why Robow potentially turned on Hammami. However, I’m not sure this matches up with the reporting I’ve been reading from Somalia, assuming its accurate. Here are a couple references,
Berjawi took over the leadership of al-Qaeda in Somalia last year after Harun Fazul was killed on June at a Mogadishu road block manned by Transitional Federal Government forces. Fazul had succeeded Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan who was killed by American commandos on September 14, 2009. The car bombing that killed Berjawi is suspected to be the work of the overall Emir, Ahmed Godane alias Abu Zubeyr. Berjawi and al-Shabaab Somalis opposed to Godane’s leadership made several attempts to replace Godane as the overall al-Shabaab leader but foreign fighters led by Al-Ameriki came to his rescue, threatening to pull out foreigners out of Somalia and cut off external funding.
I don’t trust this account entirely as the role of Hammami is not consistent with other discussions from @ibnSiqili at al-Wasat.
Here’s another quote reference a January meeting where Team Robow, with Omar Hammami in tow, denounced the killing of AQ operatives and placed blame on Godane.
At the assembly, al-Shabaab officials including Ali Mohamud Rage, Hassan Dahir Aweys, Mukhtar Robow, as well as a number of foreign jihadists accused other al-Shabaab officials of being behind a conspiracy that resulted in al-Barjawi’s death. Other al-Shabaab officials in attendance included the head of preaching and information, Sheikh Fuad Mohamed Kalaf, the head of the political office, Sheikh Ali Fidow, Sheikh Fuad Shangole, and Omar Hammami (“Al-Amriki”) an American citizen raised in small-town Alabama. One of al_shabaab’s most prominent leaders, Ahmed Godane, as well as several other foreign jihadists were absent from the meeting for unknown reasons. “
This account while not definitive or clear, does seem to undermine Scenario #4. But, there could be all sorts of betrayal going on.
Even in Scenario #4, Zawahiri entered into a merger agreement with Godane whom he probably thought had full control of al-Shabaab. It appears Godane did not have everyone’s buy in on the merger, and now al-Qaeda is trapped in a mess clan conflict similar to the 1990s – again, a lesson learned by Bin Laden that likely prevented the merger in recent years. Either way, Zawahiri either engaged in a bad relationship with blowback, or is complicit in killing off old AQ fighters. In both scenarios, AQ operatives are dying due to his decision making.
More to follow tomorrow….