Saturday, October 08, 2005

Where Is The Al Qaida Leadership Today?

Bill Rogio at the Fourth Rail links to Evan Kohlman's organizational chart of Zarqawi's Al Qaida organization in Iraq. There are continuing discussions about who is who in the leadership and why there are so many "#2" guys being captured. Aside from the capture of replacement leadership, which probably accounts for a number of these "#2" captures, I believe this chart is very helpful in understanding how the organization is set up and the fact that it does not follow any specific hierarchy for succession, but is loosely based on a typical gang like structure where there are many "capos" and the successor will most likely be the strongest, with the most resources, soldiers and political clout as opposed to anyone that is officially designated with a title that says "second in command".

A commenter wrote and asked Bill what he thought the disposition of the top leadership was considering we came close to, but were unable to capture Zarqawi (and OBL and Zawahiri) directly. I made a long comment in reply and thought I should post it here since it plays into the next subject I want to discuss on Sunday: why the legitimate opposition has a different idea on the strategy to combat terror.

This was my long, but hopefully helpful, comment on the disposition of the Al Qaida top leadership:

Some thoughts on the leadership question and why we are unable to capture them:

1) First to understand their strategy. Zawahiri wrote in Knights Under the Prophets Banner that protecting the leadership and ensuring it's survival was paramount to the continuation of the movement. He literally wrote that, should they be confronted that the best tactics were to a) withdraw as much of the force as possible to safety; if that was not possible b) to put a large force together to fight the enemy, keep them busy and distracted and pull the leadership, as much as possible, out of the fight, leaving the fighters in place. This we saw in Tora Bora, Mosul, Fallujah, Qaim and numerous other places within Iraq. better to sacrifice the foot soldiers and local commanders than to lose the entire command structure.

2) In a recent letter captured from Abu Zayd when he was killed, he wrote that the mujihadeen had poor morale and said that they missed when Zarqawi used to come and visit with them directly. It gave the impression that they had not seen Zarqawi for many months, not just a few weeks. Zarqawi was reportedly seriously injured in May 2005.

3) In the same letter and one captured from Abu Azzam, both letters complained of the lack of money, the poor conditions for the mujihadeen and the spendthrift ways of the leadership that they felt were in effective and wasteful.

It is very probable that Zarqawi is in hiding somewhere that makes it very dangerous for him to come to the other areas of Iraq. He may even be out of the country like in Syria or Iran. Most likely Syria since his last known location was near the syrian border being treated by a physician for his serious wounds. We also know that when we attacked Qaim and other border towns in previous operations there were somewhere close to 500 fighters, largely foreign, and that many of these were captured or killed when they chose to stand and fight.

This says that those forces were holding a blocking position, keeping our forces busy while the leadership contingent moved away from the area. Considering our own blocking positions, there were limited directions to go in, although, it is very likely that they had much fore knowledge of our attack and had moved the leadership elements well in advance of our own actions and blocking movements. This actually happened in Fallujah and Tora Bora.

The money issue I believe is significant since the way to move money for the organization typically are human carriers who are given large amounts of cash, like $3000 or so to an individual, withdrawn from bank accounts in Syria and Jordan and then physically carried over into Iraq. Even Zawahiri complains that funds are short and asks Zarqawi to provide funds to them. Further, a recent announcement by Saddam's family in Jordan indicates that they are "broke" and unable to pay for Saddam's defense team.

All of this adds up to smuggling rings being broken, border security is tighter and Zarqawi and the other movements are having a tougher time moving cash to their commanders.

Another way they were making money was by kidnapping and ransoming, not only workers from other countries, but Iraqis themselves. Recent news indicates that many kidnappings have been thwarted or the kidnappers captured because the civilian populace is now providing much more information. I think another indicator of the poor going for kidnappers is that the process was local gangs or brigades would do the kidnapping on commission or to sale their victims up the chain of command. Both Woods and the most recently released victim (I apologize I can't remember his name) were not with the mujihadeen, ansar al Sunnah or AQ in iraq but still being held by what amounts to the local tribal kidnapping ring. This says to me that the upper chain could no longer pay the going price for these victims and the local cells were forced to try to do something, get some money by their own efforts instead of selling them for head chopping videos. Also, the head chopping was making the top leadership unpopular with their support base (thus Zawahiri keeps admonishing them, once in video and now on this memo, to stop using those tactics).

Lastly, Zawahiri has pushing Zarqawi for several months to expand his attacks against America and Europe, which he has.

Oh, the letters also said that commanders were not sending Zarqawi truthful reports on the situation. Which means that Zarqawi not only cannot physically be with them, but is far enough away from the ground situation that he has no real idea of his ground forces capabilities and real successes.

all in all, this says that it is likely that Zarqawi is not in Iraq at all but somewhere where he can only get certain information, where movement is restricted, either by US forces, area or his physical condition and that he does not have as much command and control as he did in the beginning of his efforts. Probably the reason why we are able to round up much of his leadership and why it is probable that some of the leadership was betrayed by either subordinates or peers in order to consolidate their position behind Zarqawi should he be unable to return.

We can use this same logic on Zawahiri. He asks for news and money which means that he is likely in an extremely remote location without access to satellite television or broad band radio. Anything that he is currently getting maybe only VOA broadcasts with the information we chose to give out, if that. Where ever he is, there are no banks, no businesses to process halwa transactions (sort of arab version of western union) and little access or contact with others accept through a strict courier service which is limited due to security and probably location.

This was further exemplified by the letter Zawahiri wrote which was about a week or two after the July 7 bombings, which means that he did not have access to live feed on the events and had to rely on couriers with messages or older newspapers to provide the information. It then took several weeks for the memo to get sent to Zarqawi, prior to being captured (probably on or about the same time that Hakim, director of Taliban communications was captured). Which is a good indication that Zawahiri is in Waziristan.

Another indicator was the state of his clothing, the location of his last video and the condition of the recording compared to a video of OBL released shortly after.

while Zawahiri appeared clean and presentable, in contrast, OBL's clothes appeared to be crisp, clean and new, his location was comfortable, indoor, clean and appeared well cared for. I recall that the large brown square that was behind him did not cover the entire wall, but instead a specific area which means that somethng on that wall would have given his location away. Something like a map, or a seal or someother image, even a picture, that someone would have recognized immediately. The quality of the video and audi was even better than Zawahiri's. Further, OBL's last video and words seemed to indicate that he was much more aware of recent events in a more timely matter and the video was released within days, not a week or so later.We had some indication of this during last years election when OBL seemed quite aware of the Democrat talking points and expounded on several of them.

My favorite was his mention of the little goat book referred to in Dem talking points and MM's F911. Which reminds me that it was right about that time that the video was being shown in Iran. Coincidence? Given the fact that his son was there and he had sent several of his wives and children their with some trusted lieutenants, I believe that it doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that that is where OBL ended up.

OBL and Zawahiri are most likely not in the same location. In past videos they appeared together. Now they are apart and they issue separate statements. meaning that they are not in contact with each other regularly either.

Lastly, I expect that there must be some sort of chatter amongst the mujihadeen on forums and other websites that are wondering exactly where OBL and Zawahiri are and why they think that they are in a better position than a commander on the ground to direct the tactics and strategies. Particularly when Zawahiri has twice now told Zarqawi that behadings and blowig up children are hurting their cause and twice now either a Zarqawi religious leader or Zarqawi himself has responded negatively to these directives. The other give away is the President's speech.

While I recall him saying that OBL was wanted dead or alive in the days after 9/11, since then he has been rather circumspect about mentioning OBL directly as a single target. In his latest address he specifically points out that OBL grew up wealthy and privileged, that he has no compunction about telling young men to blow themselves up and stand and fight to die while he does neither.

A good indication that OBL, having once shared the conditions and danger of his mujihadeen, no longer does. A good tactic to put a wedge between the leadership and draw out OBL. As a matter of fact, I am expecting that he or Zawahiri will make some sort of reply in the next 30 days or less since that was a direct challenge to their leadership (Zawahri's recently released letter doesn't count since it was written well prior to the speech and does not address it).

That I believe is a good indicator of the condition and position of the top leadership that we are unable to nab.

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