Former Spook comments on information emerging from coverage of the London terror attacks that al-Qaeda is planning a 9/11 style series of attacks on the US. But out of weakness, not out of strength.
The idea that Al Qaida wants to stage another 9-11-style "spectacular" is hardly new. A number of analysts who focus on the terrorist organization have long held that Al Qaida needs another, large-scale success, for a variety of reasons. As Strategy Page recently observed, the organization is hardly on a roll; the number of operations tied to the group has declined, and the U.S. troop surge in Iraq is forcing Al Qaida to devote even more resources to that battle--resources that might otherwise be allocated to attacks in western Europe and the United States.
But the bad news doesn't end there. The loss of Al-Anbar Province as a logistical and operations base was a devastating set-back for Al Qaida. Recent clearing operations in Dialya are having a similar effect, and American troops are now moving into terrorist safe-havens in the Baghdad security belts. While the battle for Iraq is far from won, Al Qaida finds itself increasingly on the defensive, in areas that were once terrorist sanctuaries.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban's spring offensive never materialized, despite the availability of training and support facilities across the border in Pakistan. ... Earlier this year, Al Qaida also suffered a major setback in eastern Africa, when Ethiopian troops, backed by U.S. airpower and special operations forces, routed the Islamic Courts in Somalia. ... Successful tracking and prosecution of Al Qaida's financial networks has made it more difficult for sympathizers to give money to the cause, and with the lack of apparent progress in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere, some donors may be re-thinking their contributions. In short, Al Qaida is in something of a squeeze, and needs to prove that it's still capable of large-scale, "spectacular" attacks on the enemy's home soil.
Some people are going to call Former Spook's analysis a kind of wishful thinking. But there is one aspect of his analysis which understates, rather than overstates, his conclusion. By bringing to the forces of radical Islam to battle, the US has achieved two things. First, as American critics have pointed out, it has allowed al-Qaeda to generate recruits to fight America. But secondly -- and this is the neglected half of the equation -- al-Qaeda's operations have allowed America to get recruits to fight them. The Anbar tribes are a good example. But from the Horn of Africa to France -- Sarkozy's election being another example -- al-Qaeda's activities have generated a backlash of their own.
Any reasonable person will probably concede -- without necessarily buying into Former Spook's analysis -- that this worldwide engagement certainly imposes a load on al-Qaeda. Even assuming it gained more recruits from its war with America, those recruits would still have to be trained, armed and fed. The critical question is whether al-Qaeda has lost more than it has gained by this process. Former Spook appears to be arguing that al-Qaeda is stalled and needs a win to convince its own backers, (their own version of the US Congress) that some sort of victory is possible and the thing won't drag on forever.
One possible item in Former Spook's favor is the recent attack in London and Glasgow. Al-Qaeda's attack cell in Britain consists of 3 or more medical doctors. Using doctors as suicide bombers, as one of the Glasgow attackers appeared to be, especially when they are "cleanskins" is an incredibly wasteful given their potential as sleeper agents or leaders. There cannot be so many al-Qaeda agents that they can afford to use neurologists as hit men. This suggests a certain level of eagerness to make a big publicity splash that is inconsistent with confident strength.