Home Editorials How do we win a fight when al Qaeda sets the terms?

How do we win a fight when al Qaeda sets the terms?


Al Qaeda is often mentioned in this feature, so it may serve as no surprise that they have become one of the premier human rights violators of 2013, already. Being the advantageous creature that it is, al Qaeda has now affiliated itself with the turmoil and instability in northern Mali, a nation in western Africa. They are repeating a pattern that this column has already covered in Yemen.

Once again, child soldiering and Shari’a based amputations are being used to subvert a population in an al Qaeda-controlled area while the international community puts together a plan to push them out. I am not saying this to be critical of the international community, rather; I can appreciate the high skill-level of international diplomacy it takes to get these nations to convene against al Qeada. But I still find it worrisome that this is how we address the problem of al Qaeda. It is as though we must wait for a country to destabilize, and for al Qaeda to rear its ugly head, before we feel we can intervene – and only then if it suites our purpose. For example, we can use them to our advantage in Syria and we used their precursors against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Before we look further into al Qaeda’s current role in the world, let’s take a look at how they are affecting Mali.
France began bombing runs in Mali on January, 11 of 2013 in response to a rebel takeover of Mali’s northern regions. This rebel movement was originally started by the Tuareg ethnic nationals who invited al Qaeda to join their cause. This was perhaps their worse mistake if they truly wanted independence from Mali. Al Qaeda was far more organized and better armed than the Tuaregs and soon made the cause one of expanding Shari’a influence and not of Tuareg independence.
Human Rights Watch urged Islamist rebel groups to release all conscripted child soldiers from their ranks. Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), have recruited, trained, and used several hundred children.
In Bamako, Mali’s capitol, civilians welcomed French intervention by donating blood, money and food.

Al Qaeda followed its tradition of demolishing the traditions of the people it has overrun, destroying saints’ tombs in Timbuktu and driving the nation’s once thriving musicians beyond the borders. Mali is 95% Muslim and the general reaction to the behavior of the intruding groups is one of horror.
French intervention in a former colony, which was once frowned upon, is being hailed as necessary relief from the terrorist organizations in the north.
So, now we have a clearer idea of what is happening in this nation, and yet it seems strangely familiar to the actions that al Qaeda has taken in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Armed militants from regional and international al Qaeda affiliates gain footholds in cities in regions of unstable countries that can be quickly subverted and manipulated. The population of the controlled area is subjected to extraordinarily horrific persecution under Shari’a law, which includes public torture, amputations  and executions. Other forms of intimidation come in the forms of child soldiering and assassination of outspoken opponents (Malala Yusufszrai). But these areas like Yemen, Mali, Somalia, and Afghanistan end up seeing the arrival of an international coalition bent on their eviction. So how does this figure into the al Qaeda long term game plan if they have no central foothold anywhere?
The answer is that this is exactly al Qaeda’s long term plan, and they have a plan that extends all the way to 2020. The group seems to have perfectly anticipated the reaction of the United States and the rest of the western world.
The idea is to stretch out western military forces as far as they possibly can all over across the globe. By keeping us engaged across several continents, they can effectively put a strain on western economies through attrition. The effects of extending the U.S. military in long term engagements has had myriad negative impacts on the U.S. economy. We cannot afford to engage in a “war on terror” on every location that al Qaeda occupies on the planet. And the notion of occupation itself works in al Qaeda’s favor, for they do not need to permanently occupy an area to consider it a victory. The plan can be summarized as 1) storm an easy to victimize region, 2) inflict massive human rights violations, and 3) extricate when convenient and the international coalition has spent millions. Some in al Qaeda believe that this strategy will enable the economic downfall of the U.S. and the west by 2020.
If this is al Qaeda’s plan, then the west must endeavor to not play the game. This brings up even tougher questions: How do we win a fight when al Qeada sets the terms? At the moment it seems that all we can do is address the sporadic explosions of human rights violations with no real hope of permanently curbing the violence. Since al Qaeda feeds off of instability, it would seem that encouraging international stability would be the best solution. Unfortunately, we have been largely unsuccessful in tackling that issue for far longer than al Qaeda has existed.


  1. al Qaeda sounds a lot like cancer.
    And here we reactionary people are, preferring to cha$e it around & extinguish it when it makes an appearance. Treating outbreaks at a profit to the military industrial medicine men, but depleting the resources of the global body as a whole…
    How do we prevent it from metastasizing? With such a consistent pattern can’t we identify the predisposition & inject preventative care into these societies?

  2. al Qaeda is a cancer good sir. Our best bet at defeating them is to cut them off at the source. We need to endeavor to create international and economic stability in nations outside of our own. That is our best bet.