The al-Qaeda is, perhaps, the most infamous terrorist group in the world. Its popularity skyrocketed after the group staged massive attacks against the United States during the start of the last decade. The worst of these attacks is perhaps the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon, and a failed attempt to attack that was speculated to have either been targeting the White House or the Capitol Building.
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The United States has been trying to stop the activities of the al-Qaeda, but this has been a rather emotional affair than a holistically planned policy. There is a need for a detailed study of the intricacies and dynamics of the al-Qaeda, and implementation of well-calculated measures to ensure that the group is ended effectively (Kurth, 2004, p. 12)
Challenges the U.S. faces in fighting the Al-Qaeda
The Al-Qaeda, and the Islamists associated to group, have been, and still are a great threat to the U.S. and the world at large. Several attempts at stopping the activities of the Al-Qaeda have been made, especially by the U.S. but without much success.
Among the factors that have made the Al-Qaeda thrive amid the commitment by the U.S. to track down its operatives is the fact that the group is characterized by meticulous planning. This is also fortified by the fact that minor terrorist activities carried out by religious extremists have made it harder to keep record of Al-Qaeda activities due to the inability of concerned parties to determine the group responsible for such attacks. Some political analysts argue that the Al-Qaeda has evolved to the extent of being invisible.
This implies that the group, with knowledge of the threat it faces, has undergone substantial changes that make it hard for anti-terrorism crusaders to identify it. The group has severally changed in both structure and form.
This is why the U.S. came up with strategies like ensuring the group lacks finances, reliable territories for regrouping, and even targeting the crème of the group in a bid to cripple its operations. Another great challenge in fighting the Al-Qaeda is that little or no effort has been made to scrutinize the assumptions the U.S. has made in its operations and policies in fighting the group (Musharbash, 2005, p. 1).
Another great challenge in the fight against the Al-Qaeda is the fact that contemporary study on terrorism focuses on the causes of terrorism more than the strategic interventions that can be used to end it. Researchers have done commendable work on suicide bombers, and other signatures of the Al-Qaeda but little or no research has been done on past interventions that have been used to end terrorist groups.
Most of the aforementioned research that has been done is normally spurred by incidences in which terrorist activities are suspected to have taken place. In essence, the achievement of these research activities has been to document the history of terrorism, which, arguably, serves to promote terrorism more than it provides solutions for ending it. There is thus a need for a nuanced approach on the research activities that are related to terrorism, and specifically research that seeks to unravel the mysteries surrounding the Al-Qaeda.
Appropriate research should thus be carried out to establish the strategic measures that can be used against the group, and that can make the activities of the group come to an end. Let us have a look at the similarities and differences of the Al-Qaeda with other terrorist groups, and see whether the interventions that were used to end these terrorist groups can work in the case of Al-Qaeda.
Uniqueness of the Al-Qaeda
The Al-Qaeda is unique as a terrorist group in a number of ways. It is distinguishable from its predecessor terrorist groups in terms of either the degree of damage it does after its attacks or even in terms of its nature per se (Love, 2007, p. 1).
Ability to take different forms
When the war on terrorism intensified after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the Al-Qaeda that was existent during that time has seemingly ceased to exist. Al-Qaeda can thus be viewed to be presently represented by people with the same viewpoint as the planners of the 9/11 attack.
These people are suspected to be connected by virtual networks strengthened by either their religious affiliations or desire for ungrounded vengeance against the United States. The Al-Qaeda had however made a mistake earlier before the 9/11 attack by being a little too visible for a terrorist organization. This, in turn, led to the success of the efforts that were employed by the U.S. in Afghanistan in a bid to unearth the organization (Probst, 2010, p. 1).
After realizing this mistake, the Al-Qaeda seems to have been transformed to a world-wide organization connected by contemporary technology and sharing the same faith. This is one characteristic of the al-Qaeda that makes it very different from other terrorist groups because previous ones lacked the global reach, complexity and agility exhibited by the al-Qaeda. The group is also unique in its ability to maintain fluid operations while sharing the same goal, and while also using standard operating procedures.
The al-Qaeda can also be viewed as having provided a platform for development of a terrorist organization of a hybrid nature. It is suspected to have alliance with a number of terrorist organizations. It has been established that focussing on the al-Qaeda alone as a group in a bid to end it can potentially lead to failure.
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Terrorists who share the same ideologies, and use the tactics developed by al-Qaeda are spread all over the world (Hoffman, 2003, p. 19). Although some people have viewed this as a sign of weakness, it is actually a strength that makes it hard to find strategies for ending the group.
One of the main strengths of al-Qaeda, and which distinguishes it from other terrorist groups is the way it conducts its recruitments. Al-Qaeda takes is more of a social movement than a terrorist organization in as far as its recruitments are concerned. It is common knowledge that the group gets committed members by means of volunteers who are not in any way coerced to be involved in its activities.
Individuals who believe in what the group advocates for, therefore, come in large numbers to be trained by the group, and they are willing to be involved in its activities. This is a feature that is not common among terrorist groups. Normally, terrorist groups and their activities are a result of the schemes of senior members of such groups, and membership to the groups is normally a planned affair that may necessitate some coercion.
However, the al-Qaeda is unique from the aforementioned fact that the members actually join the group instead of being recruited (Riedel, 2010, p. 127). It can thus be argued that the future of the al-Qaeda depends on the extent to which the international community will be able to interfere with its social structure.
Studies on the recruitment of specific members of the al-Qaeda, and their networks have shown that family relationships and friendships are among the most important social links of the al-Qaeda as far as recruitment is concerned. It has also been discovered that currently, a good number of members of the al-Qaeda can be classified as informal members. This is because such members lack both formal training and military camp experiences.
The al-Qaeda has enjoyed varied sources of support for its terrorist activities. Its finances are mainly sourced from charitable organizations or even channelled through the same by the proponents of the ideologies of the group. The group also enjoys substantial amounts of grants, which are especially given to local groups allied to the al-Qaeda, and with terrorist plans that aid the achievements of the objectives of the al-Qaeda.
It is, however, highly suspected that the money used for most operations comes from the group’s kitty, which is thought to be, often times, supplemented by involvement in crime and fraud by some of the organization’s operatives. What makes the al-Qaeda unique among other terrorist groups that have existed in the past is the fact that the organization is like a brand, which can be successfully marketed.
This implies that, even with little sums of money, the al-Qaeda can be able to plan and execute its terrorist activities due to the commitment of it operatives, and the willingness of religious crusaders to join the group when a chance presents itself to them. To evidence this, research has shown that the al-Qaeda spent less than 500,000 USD in planning and executing the 9/11 attack (Kurth, 2004, pp. 36-37).
The organization also enjoys support from its involvement in business. It is suspected that the group operates businesses across the globe, whose profits are mainly used in financing the organization. This can be evidenced by the fact that, despite attempts by the international community to maim the al-Qaeda by freezing its assets, the al-Qaeda has been able to carry out a number of attacks.
It can thus be argued that the involvement of the group in business activities, and its characteristic low cost operations, have enabled the group to be one of its kind. This makes it even more dangerous.
Means of communication
The al-Qaeda has been quick to utilize the communication advantages that are presented by globalization tools. It has, possibly, been able to communicate with target governments, recruits, supporters and other parties using these tools.
Some of these tools include the various communication methods presented by the internet; as well as means of communication availed by mobile telephones. The al-Qaeda does not have unique advantage in using these means of communication since terrorist groups of the past also utilized these means of communication.
However, the group has been exceptionally good in using these tools of communication whose security is jeopardized in target nations. An example the group’s use of globalization tools is the way the group has been using websites in threatening and sending warnings to the American public. It has also used the same in training future members and wooing Islamists to become members of the group. The al-Qaeda has thus been using the internet as an effective medium for waging a psychological war against the United States.
Training has also been enabled by the internet, as the group is able to distribute materials containing warfare tactics to its members through the internet. As a result, physical contact of the recruits and members of the group is no longer necessary. The members are able to perpetuate terrorist activities remotely by the use of contemporary technology (Monaldo, 2005, p. 1). This gives the al-Qaeda great strength as compared to terrorist groups of the past since the latter existed at a time when globalization tools were limited.
Similarities with other terrorist groups
With the al-Qaeda, a focus on the function and structure of the terrorist group is somehow archaic. This is because the environment in which this group currently operates is very dynamic, and thus efforts to establish the controls used by the group and its chain of command will be a tedious, if not impossible task.
This, in turn, makes it difficult to draw parallels between the al-Qaeda and terrorist groups of the past. However, some similarities in other aspects of terrorism practiced by the al-Qaeda and terrorist groups of the past can still be discerned. An analysis of the similarities between the al-Qaeda and its historical counterparts is a very important milestone in determining what has worked in ending terrorist groups, and evaluating the possibility that the same could work for the al-Qaeda.
Among the main similarities of the al-Qaeda and terrorist groups of the past is the fact that the group has developed links all over the world courtesy of its ideologies. Terrorist groups of the past had also developed international links driven by their ideologies. Examples of these groups include the Hezbollah, the PLO and others.
Although the al-Qaeda can be described as having better international ties than its historical counterparts, it can also be ended like the latter. This will, however, require proper planning, and cooperation with international allies on the part of the United States (Curtis, 2002, p. 16).
The organizational structure of the al-Qaeda may also be unique in some way, but much of its characteristics resemble former counterparts. For instance, its characteristic leadership, and initiation of attacks has been existent in former counterparts. This is to say that some terrorist groups of the past were organized such that individual cells could perpetuate attacks on targets. Lessons from the ending of such groups may be applicable in the case of the al-Qaeda.
How the U.S. can end the al-Qaeda
The future of the al-Qaeda is essentially uncertain, especially amid the anxiety with which the west wants to end the organization. However, some predictions can be made, based on the aforementioned characteristics of the group, its networks, and even its terrorism history, and significant events that have occurred in the past.
A specific concern is the fact that during the war in Iraq, some European Muslims allied to recently developed networks were used against the West. Some analysts have therefore worried that the Muslim veterans of the Iraq War may be driven by both religious and personal motives to launch attacks on Western people living in Europe.
Such attacks could take the shape of the 2004 plot by Ansar al-Islam to attack a summit of the NATO members in Turkey. This is because the aforementioned plot is believed to have been developed by a membership consisting of Iraq War veterans.
Although the United States has seemingly been having the misconception that the death of the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama, will end the organization, this is an idea grounded in emotional analysis, and it is bound to lead to disappointment even if Osama is killed.
Of course, there are a myriad of reasons for his pursuit, but it is futile to believe that his capture or death will automatically lead to the end of the al-Qaeda. The organizational structure of the al-Qaeda is the basis for this argument. According to past experience with terrorism, groups that have been brought to an end by the death of their leader had a bureaucratic leadership, and therefore lacked a person to succeed the former (Chossudovsky, 2008, p. 1).
As evidenced in the discussion above, al-Qaeda is characterized with a free membership in which individual cells and remote members can be able to perpetuate attacks against targets. It therefore follows that, in order to end the group, it will take more than the death or capture of Osama Bin Laden.
Regarding the replacement of Osama, the leader has, himself, been very open about it. It is definite that after his demise or capture, the al-Qaeda will get a powerful successor. This is expected given the fact that Osama has made his persona a separate entity from the group. He has lived a life of a person who is ready to die as a martyr for perpetuation of his ideologies and thus there must be a well-laid plan for his succession. In actual fact, the succession plan may have already been initiated.
It is also possible for terrorist organizations to end due to their failure to transit to generations. This is not applicable in al-Qaeda’s case due to the proven ability of the al-Qaeda to transit between generations. The group has already undergone four such transitions. The option of the organization changing its cause into nobler causes like indulgence in politics is also less viable, as the end of the group due to achievement of its objectives is (Burke, 2009, p. 115).
The most viable options for ending the al-Qaeda are therefore an approach aimed at enlarging the inconsistencies existing within the organization, in order to make coordination within the group a nightmare. Thus it will be a mistake on the part of the U.S. government to treat the al-Qaeda as a uniform group in terms of its adherence to the ideologies it tries to uphold. An approach of emphasizing in the loopholes created by the organization’s diversity will be effective in the efforts to end the organization.
Another approach that can be used to make substantial advancements in the efforts to end the al-Qaeda is an approach aimed at reducing the support that the organization enjoys. This can be achieved by collaboration with the international community to ensure that the al-Qaeda is stripped off both passive and active support and popularity (Jenkins, 2002, p. 1). This will ensure that the international mobility of its operatives is efficiently limited or curbed, and that the growth of the organization is checked.
Although this approach is already working against the al-Qaeda, there is need for more nuanced efforts at lobbying members of the international community who have been adamant regarding the al-Qaeda issue. Also important is the interruption of the technical operations of the al-Qaeda like cutting down their communication or using technology to eavesdrop their communication. Other techniques like wiretapping, code breaking and interception can also be used.
From the discussion above, it is evident that the desire by the U.S. to end the al-Qaeda is not an easy task. In order to achieve it, the U.S. must abstain from the use of conventional anti-terrorist methods, and conduct a thorough analysis of the situation before making drastic decisions.
Among the most appropriate methods for ending the group include the implementation of strategies that will increase the non-coherence of the group, and take advantage of its diversity. Also important is the checking of the popularity of the group, and implementing international strategies aimed at making the organization lose all the valuable support it enjoys. This will serve to ensure that virtually all countries in the whole world are no-go zones for the al-Qaeda.
Once this is achieved, it is apparent that the al-Qaeda will lose a substantial number of its worldwide members making it easy to track down the traces of the group that will remain. Also equally important is the interference with the communication intelligence of the group. Technology experts should be utilized in curbing the freedom that the al-Qaeda enjoys on the internet as other conventional methods of communication interference are implemented. The United States should also focus on the routine mistakes that the group may commit.
This is because they offer very good chances for the U.S. to learn the organization, and gain important information that it can use to prevent attacks or even capture masses of al-Qaeda operatives. All-in-all, efforts to stop the operations of the al-Qaeda and any other terrorist group are a worthy cause that should be accorded unanimous support worldwide.
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