First with Ashraf Haidari, writing in the Washington Times:
"So far, Pakistan's sweeping military operations to retake the lost ground from the Taliban have led to a massive humanitarian crisis and displacement of civilians in the North-West Frontier Province. This has alienated the border region's most impoverished tribes, among whom al Qaeda has heavily recruited desperate and illiterate youths to carry out suicide attacks in Afghanistan.For a while, Afghanistan seems set to face a tougher insurgency, with added manpower. Should this make the US abandon hope of turning the situation around? Should offshore or in-theatre CT be the options one ultimately needs to resort to? I have answered this question myself a couple of times, but not in as much detail and as precisely as the Kagans did in a recent presentation, that is by now widely cited. See pages 40-44. Absolutely necessary.
At the same time, Pakistan's conventional operations have proved inept against an unconventional, elusive enemy. These operations have either displaced Taliban fighters to new areas in Pakistan or pushed them over into Afghanistan."
To these two key excerpts, reading their bulletpoints about the "difficulty" of maintaining CT bases in disinterested Pakistan and an abandoned Afghanistan is also a must.
"• The range of an armed Predator UAV is less than 500 miles—reaching the areas used in the 1990s as training camps for al Qaeda requires bases in either Afghanistan or Pakistan
• Special Forces teams can launch from further away, but require the availability of Combat Search and Rescue capabilities which, again, require bases in either Afghanistan or Pakistan
• The only option for pure CT operations that does not require local bases is longrange precision‐guided munitions fired either from manned aircraft or from ships or submarines
– But PGMs can only hit the targets they are aimed at; they cannot gather additional intelligence on the ground or react to changing circumstances as SF teams can, nor can they hang around to review the effects of their initial strike and then re‐target, as UAVs can
– The likelihood of seriously disrupting any network using only long‐range PGMs is extremely low.
• Adopting an over‐the‐horizon CT approach means depending entirely on Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and CIA networks to locate targets
• Enemy leadership is very SIGINT savvy and very hard to target using only such information
• CIA networks, even supplemented by ISI reporting in Pakistan and local reporting through US and allied forces in Afghanistan, are not able to provide targetable intelligence on key enemy leaders even now
– It took months to gain actionable intelligence on Beitullah Mehsud even with thousands of Pakistani troops milling around his bases and an enormous bounty on his head
– Insurgent leaders move into and through Afghanistan even now despite ISAF efforts to target them."
What are al-Qaida's options then? If they suffer major, structurally relevant losses nowadays, can they just relocate, following a global militants network's special OLI paradigm? Steve Coll makes an important argument, similar to which I have used in the past:
"These are credible, serious arguments that accurately describe some of al Qaeda's character as a stateless, millenarian terrorist group. But they misunderstand the history of al Qaeda's birth and growth alongside specific Pashtun Islamist militias on the Afghan-Pakistan border. It is simply not true that all potential al Qaeda sanctuaries are of the same importance, now or potentially. Bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, have a 30-year, unique history of trust and collaboration with the Pashtun Islamist networks located in North Waziristan, Bajaur, and the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan. It is not surprising, given this distinctive history, that al Qaeda's presumed protectors -- perhaps the Haqqani network, which provided the territory in which al Qaeda constructed its first training camps in the summer of 1988 -- have never betrayed their Arab guests.
These networks have fought alongside al Qaeda since the mid-1980s and have raised vast sums of money in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states through their connections. They possess infrastructure -- religious institutions, trucking firms, criminal networks, preaching networks, housing networks -- from Kandahar and Khost Province, and from Quetta to Karachi's exurban Pashtun neighborhoods, that is either impervious to penetration by the Pakistani state or has coopted those in the Pakistani security services who might prove disruptive. It is mistaken to assume that Bin Laden, Zawahiri, or other Arab leaders would enjoy similar sanctuary anywhere else. In Somalia they would almost certainly be betrayed for money; in Yemen, they would be much more susceptible to detection by the country's police network. The United States should welcome the migration of al Qaeda's leadership to such countries."
"On point "a," it is no news at all that the Taliban and al Qaeda are separate entities; they always have been and will be. What is important is that they are working in tandem toward the same clear and simple primary goal -- to drive out the United States and NATO, destroy Karzai's corrupt and incompetent regime, and re-establish their Islamist emirate. In working toward this goal, al Qaeda's combat role in Afghanistan has decreased as mujahideen forces -- Afghans, Iraq veterans, and other foreign volunteers -- have grown and become better armed, trained, and funded. This should have been apparent to U.S. officials several years ago when Osama bin Laden named Mustafa Abu al-Yazid as al Qaeda's Afghan commander. Yazid's long-practiced fortes are logistics and finance, and he is now running the main components of al Qaeda's changed but still essential Afghan effort: logistics and training, intelligence collection, and media operations. (Nota bene: This is nowhere near a full commitment of al Qaeda's resources, and its remaining assets are assisting other insurgencies -- such as in Somalia, Algeria, and Yemen -- and preparing coming attacks in the United States and Europe.)
On point "b," one has to wonder what can be meant by arguing that the Taliban does not pose a "direct threat" to the United States. Did the drafters of the new strategy bother to ask the intelligence community whom the United States is fighting in Afghanistan? The Taliban and its allies are unquestionably a direct threat to deployed U.S. military forces -- ask the commander of the U.S. post at Kamdesh, Nuristan, mauled on Oct. 4 -- and they intend to prevent everything Washington cites as a goal in Afghanistan: democracy, secularism, the rule of (Western) law, elections, constitutions, central government institutions, women's rights, coeducational schools, and the annihilation of al Qaeda. By protecting al Qaeda, incidentally, Taliban leader Mullah Omar's outfit is also facilitating a "direct threat" to the continental United States."
"We realised AIDS was a problem only after someone died; there still isn’t a cure, yet no one is saying all that research has been in vain. In other words, without 9/11 we wouldn’t be in Afghanistan, but I seriously doubt things would be better in South Asia."