Transformation of Al Qaeda And Islamic Maghreb

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Context

Since the elimination of Osama bin Laden, the hype about Core AQ has decreased and the narrative adopted presents the organization as a much-diminished threat. There are political and psychological reasons for this change. Under increased economic stress, the death of Osama bin Laden provided a key symbolic victory in the war against terror and opportunity to move on. However, on the ground, a different picture is emerging that defines this version. It’s increasingly the affiliates of AQ that have taken on its mission in Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Middle East, Horn of Africa and now the Islamic Maghreb.

To prevent the region from further instability, France intervened directly into its former colony Mali on January 11 by sending troops. It has also conducted air raids against extremists using the airspace of neighboring Algeria. As a reaction, five days ago AQ linked Islamic militants took over an Algerian Amenas gas field located near its border with Libya. The jumbled operation conducted by Algerian forces to take back the gas field caused the death of 24 hostages, including foreigners. The situation has now raised the prospect of another NATO-led intervention in the region.

Analysis

Core AQ

Through the use of Special Forces and drones, NATO and US have been intensely involved against the Core AQ in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. The contention was that if the core leadership is dealt with, other offshoots such as AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq), AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), and AQIM (Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb) will also lose their vitality. The constant pressure, however, has produced two outcomes: many of the leaders have been killed, but new flashpoints are also emerging.

As the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan, it does not in any way indicate AQ is a mute concern. Increasingly, the extremists and militant groups that are linked to AQ are spearheading its mission. This is evident in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region where are a conglomeration of militant and extremist groups led to the formation of Shura-e-Muraqabah. In the Middle East and North Africa, AQ and its affiliates are suspected of exploiting the Arab Spring afflicted hot spots, such as Syria and Libya. The assassination of the American ambassador to Libya is a case in point.

Emerging Tactics And Strategies

While the emphasis of the US and NATO strategy is to prevent AQ from finding a safe haven, from where it can plan attacks against the West. In actuality, AQ and its affiliates are relying less on safe havens and more on simply exploiting the chaos and vacuum created by weak or collapsing regimes. These governments are operating under the dual pressures of viral war against terror and Arab Spring.

One of the key challenges in this regard is that while these sites are being expected to control the situation within, they have minimal influence over the instability in the surrounding neighborhood. As noted previously by PoliTact, this has put the nation-state structure under considerable pressure.

When NATO and US went into Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, the conflict did not remain within the confines of these countries. One of the reasons for this being that AQ, with the help of its affiliates, has operated across borders. Over time, to confront this, the response did the same with the area of operation for the drones and Special Forces spanning the whole region.

The Nature Of AQ Affiliates

It has thus become essential to understand the nature of these AQ affiliates. In a majority of the cases, the associates are mostly local extremist and militant organizations, with regional ambitions. They usually have their own religious, nationalistic and political agendas that further complicate the ground reality. In return for their cooperation, AQ turns a blind eye to their activities. Similarly, these associate organizations use the cover of AQ for their benefit. However, the cross-pollination amongst extremists groups has produced disastrous results. Consider, for example, the interplay of AQ and TTP, Haqqani network and LeT.

Working through a network of local extremist and jihadi organizations has several strategic benefits for AQ. Firstly it gives them a reach and penetration that is impossible otherwise. AQ members simply embed themselves and can go undetected for quite a while. Secondly, it gives AQ sustainability. When AQ members feel the heat of direct operations, they migrate to other less hostile environments.

Meanwhile, the local affiliates provide the continuity in the absence of direct supervision. As NATO moves its attention based on shifting threats, it too depends on regional allies to keep a check on local affiliates of AQ. The nut result is that while NATO and US may move on declaring victory, the conflicts still simmer while producing economic drain at a time when no one can afford it. This is the situation in present day Iraq and the likely predicament of Afghanistan and Pakistan once the US withdraws.

The Separatists

Even before the war against extremists got initiated and the Arab revolts spread, many states impacted by these two phenomena’s were also inflicted by separatist movements of one form or the other. Most of these were the byproduct of how new states were crafted at the end of World War II. In a majority of the cases, AQ has stayed away from such nationalist-oriented insurgencies.

On the other hand, in the unfolding Arab revolts, the West usually sides with the liberal anti-regime and moderate Islamic forces that accept democratic norms, and not necessarily the separatists. This is obviously is a difficult balance to maintain and may change in the future depending on the nature of global politics. Nonetheless, the availability of multiple options is a tremendous asset to have.

As the state structures crumble under the dual pressures of war on terror and Arab revolt, AQ and associates are striving to fill the vacuum and create new flash points; events of Mali and Algeria signify this. This is creating, even more, opportunities for Western intervention when they can hardly afford it economically. Perhaps it would be wise to start thinking beyond the nation-state.