24 February 2010

Sustainable Strategy: Mid to High Exploitation

Did it all start with an accident? Since Taliban military commander, Mullah Baradar, was seized by ISI on 8 February, a second prominent leader, Mullah Kabir, operating within the inner circle of Quetta Shura, has been reportedly captured. Now, the latest confirmation of the arrest of nearly half of the Taliban leadership (7 of 15), most of whom are thought to be active decision-makers in Quetta Shura, seems almost surreal. Andrew Exum, Fellow at CNAS and Author of Abu Muqawama even asked, "Woah, did Pakistan just arrest half of the Quetta Shura?"

You must read and bookmark as a reference Bill Roggio's intelligence report on Afgahn Taliban's top leaders. Bill raises an important point, stating, "It remains to be seen if the sustained US offensive and possible future detentions in Pakistan will grind down the Taliban's leadership cadre." I am concerned here with what is sustainable for US [and ISI] counterterrorism officials to dismantle and defeat not only Taliban leadership but also al-Qaeda leadership and the like, including but not limited to ASMM (Al Shabaab merger with Hizbul Islam), AQAP, AQIM, LeT, etc.

According to logic, the disruption of leaders within Quetta Shura shows us that if we capture a senior-level leader then we can exploit higher. Can this strategy take us all the way? "Much of the Quetta Shura [is] in custody now," but we should not fail to point out that it may really have begun with actionable intelligence targeting two shadow governors in Karachi. One aspect of our plan we must examine is whether the sustainable strategy is and/or remains to be a mid-tier one that enables counterterrorism officials to exploit personalities and sources, locations and havens, materials and routes.

Of course, the rule is to exploit higher when one has the sources and methods to do so. However, we must still strategically decide how to actively dismantle and defeat inner-circles of leaders in networks for which we do not have senior-level commanders in custody - either by accident or actionable intelligence - such as those mentioned above, ASMM, AQAP, AQIM, LeT.

In this case, due to the recognizable (but minimally measured) inter-network collaboration between the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and LeT, it is possible that additional operations can disrupt planning and execution of plots or even lead to the capture of other personalities. As reported by The Nation (Pakistan) on 4 December, 2009;
Al-Qaeda sees using the Taliban in Pakistan and groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba as ways to destabilise Pakistan and even try to provoke a conflict between India and Pakistan that would inevitably destabilise Pakistan,”US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Mr. Gates said the US has evidence which suggest that the al-Qaeda aims at destabilising Pakistan. “We have evidence that al-Qaeda is helping them pick targets, do operational planning, helping them in their effort to try to destabilise the Pakistani government,” Mr. Gates told lawmakers in response to a question. “The other piece of this that does not include the Taliban or that -- apart from the Taliban is, we also know that al-Qaeda is helping the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the terrorist group that carried out the bombings in Mumbai,” he said. Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, said: “I certainly agree with the nexus (between al-Qaeda and the LeT), and I have watched it over the last year to two, that these groups are coming together... Secretary Gates talked about the linkage between the LeT and Al Qaeda.”

Shall we continue to advocate for a sustainable strategy of attack that targets mid-tier personalities? What promotes the best method of exploitation from here moving forward in targeting affiliate and/or other networks; North Africa, Somalia, Yemen? I will take an accident, especially one that leads to a surreal result, but I think it wise to plan according to the nature of the beast(s) and the threat(s) we face: Each operational environment varies, and is morphing (as seen in the recent growth of Al Shabaab).


  1. Kabul has to send a "formal" request to Islamabad, and ISI will transfer Baradar to Afghan custody. Read the full article;

    This is a chance for Karzai to show he has control and can use his resources in order to overcome (at least to begin to) conventional wisdom that he is corrupt and a "show puppet." The US will aid in the process, I assume, perhaps as a broker.

  2. As quoted in the Washington Times, the Afghan government took control of the southern Taliban stronghold of Marjah on Thursday, installing an administrator, Abdul Zahir Aryan.

    "Today's event was the civilian Afghan government re-establishing itself officially in front of the local residents," Hardinger said. The Afghan army had previously raised the country's green-and-red flag nearby, but that was only a claim of military control over that neighborhood, he said.

    The ceremony opened with a reading from the Quran, and then Aryan and Helmand Gov. Gulab Mangal pledged to those gathered they were ready to listen to their needs and eager to provide basic services that they didn't have under the Taliban.

    "I want to find jobs for those youths who aren't Taliban and those who are. I will work for all of them," Mangal said.

    An awakening?

  3. In re. to DP, good chance it isn't. There are at least tens of thousands (no one really knows) of refugees from the area. Admittedly it isn't a win for the Taliban, but for it to be a win for the U.S and the Afghan government they need to be providing security and services for those people. Refugees do not make for a positive shift in perception.

    On the ISI, why was Al Shabaab mentioned at all? They're Somali, not Afghan or Pakistani. Admittedly they're also Salafists, but they aren't involved in the fighting in Central Asia. I would be talking to Ethiopia and Kenya about them.

  4. Although the Christian Science Monitor is selling this story as an "exclusive," I don't buy it. Where's the evidence/proof? Why hasn't anyone else had access to this information and run a similiar story? What's the official US/ISAF assesment of who's been captured?

    So far, the only confirmed recent TB captures from ISAF are: Mullah Baradar (TB Deputy CDR), Maulawi Kabir (TB E. Zone CDR), Mullah Salam (TB N. Zone CDR), and Mullah Rahmatullah (Baghlan Shadow Gov).

  5. Gyre, I agree; the process requires not just political motivation but core economic services.

    To clarify, I posed the question concerning the best targeting method. I mentioned Al Shabaab because they have claimed [ideological] allegiance to AQ, at least as early as 2008. Moreover, they have re-iterated this allegiance during their latest merger with Hizbul Islam: The group said in a statement that the "jihad of Horn of Africa must be combined with the international jihad led by the al-Qaeda network".

    Based on the analysis I presented in my post, "Terrorists Dream About the Islamic State," I think there is reason to project that ASMM can capitalize on "business" resources manipulated by, for example, AQIM and/or AQAP. This I call the "forking" strategy.

    Do you not think it is possible for future mergers to be of this kind? I would rather ask the question in preparation of this than when it actually happens.

  6. Pat, you should peruse Roggio's LWJ comments on his post, "Afghan Taliban top leaders." Roggio and a gentleman named, Tyler, both question the report, and the latest reports over the course of the last 2-3 weeks. It does seem funny, as Tyler says, that "NYT got Baradar, Fox got Kabir, Newsweek got Salam, and now possibly Zakir & co. to CSM."

    One point to consider: There is much argument presently about whether it is best to target in drone strikes or raid/capture missions. If "The Half" have been seized then there is a lot of intel to come. If not, then the reports will be interesting to read, to say the least.

    Anyhow, we keep truckin'.

    I would like to hear more from readers about which targeting strategy they advocate.

  7. Gyre Pat:

    Taliban used word "puppet" in propaganda;

  8. @ DP, I will admit that I don't have access to intercepted communications or intelligence on movements of groups, but from what I've seen most of the 'merging' seems to be rhetorical rather than real coordination of activities. Much like the groups that used Communist rhetoric in the Cold War, Al Shabaab seems primarily focused on fighting in Somalia rather than sending fighters or supplies to support other groups. Also like the Cold War groups, I suspect that the motivation for most of them is really ethnic and historical bolstered by religion rather than a feeling that there needs to be an international jihad. Yes Al Qaeda has clearly shown that it has international ambitions. But even Al Qaeda seems to be more focused on Afghanistan and the Middle East than on activities in Europe, the Americas, or East Asia.