The Emerging al Qaeda Narrative

The attack on the natural gas facility in Algeria this past week has reopened the debate over the demise of al Qaeda. The WaPo, being as usual fair and balanced, quotes extensively GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, who naturally sees Algeria as a failure for the Obama Administration:

As American troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan in the next two years, ending a conflict that started as an effort to crush al-Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Washington and other Western capitals face the grim threat of a virulent new al-Qaeda wing capable of a broad reach.

“They are growing more dangerous. They are growing in numbers,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” show Sunday.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Rogers described the attack on an energy complex in Algeria as a strategic victory for the al-Qaeda branch — commonly known as AQIM — with echoes of a militant assault on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in September that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.

“This is on the heels of Benghazi . . . this becomes a recruiting dream for them and a nightmare for us,” Rogers told The Post. “It shows that they can strike Western targets and gives them a confidence level.” [Emphasis mine]

Reading this, it is tempting to forget that this most recent attack did not actually occur in the West. Indeed, it did not even occur anywhere near any urban centers or centers of Algerian governmental power. The closest town to the facility seems to be the bustling metropolis of Gadamis, Libya, population roughly 10,000.

What the attack in Algeria demonstrates, if anything, is that a radical Islamist group was able to mobilize a couple of dozen guys and some heavy weapons to attack a facility fairly isolated in the depths of the Algerian wilderness. Why this represents a “grim threat… of a broad reach” is wholly unclear to me.

Ah, but,

A week of violence in Algeria and Mali has transformed al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch into a cause celebre for militant Islamists around the globe, boosting recruitment and fundraising for the jihadists and spurring fears of further terrorist attacks in the region and beyond.

Even after suffering tactical defeats in both countries in recent days, the movement known as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is being lionized in Internet chat rooms and in official statements by extremist groups, some of which are urging reprisal campaigns against Western interests. [Emphasis mine]

So, the evidence that this is a massive defeat for the Obama Administration is internet chat and press statements. Who knew we internet posters and commenters were so damned important?

I don’t want to diminish this overly. Many innocent people lost their lives. It is a real tragedy for their families. But the idea that this represents some major reversal in the largely successful struggle to minimize the threat from al Qaeda is bizarre.


24 replies
  1. 1
    Cassidy says:

    Obama could have sent in CAG and Devgru, slaughtered them all and it still would have been the most epic defeat ever.

  2. 2
    Yutsano says:

    @Cassidy: Did he hear the lamentations of their women? I DON’T THINK SO!!

  3. 3
    Domino says:

    Is it true that most of the islamic fighters now around Algeria/Mali were formerly of Qadafi’s mercenary army?

  4. 4
    Mike in NC says:

    These extremist groups can’t touch the Republicans in terms of inflicting damage on America.

  5. 5
    Domino says:

    Too late to edit post, but this UT Sand Diego article states that the group has split with al-qaeda

  6. 6

    The Republicans want their ‘strong on defense’ crown back. The media is frightened of this strange new world where Republicans aren’t the daddy figure. The American people will continue boiling their memories of this issue down to ‘Obama killed Osama’.

  7. 7
    Petorado says:

    Meh. Crazy people with military-style assault weapons cause terror and shoot a bunch of people. Happens all the time here in the states. Sorry Rep. Rogers, but your wingers have already solved this national security problem — it’s Algeria’s gun laws. ‘Cause engaging in an active firefight at a natural gas facility would have obviously created the best outcome for all involved.

  8. 8
    russell says:

    Mike in NC for the win.

    That is all.

  9. 9
    Maude says:

    A Republican criticizing Obama is par for the course.
    A group can say it’s al Qaeda or anything else.
    The combat troops leaving Afghanistan makes for two wars that Obama has cleaned up after Bush. The Republicans can’t even claim a tiny victory over this.

  10. 10
    patroclus says:

    Major reversal? No. But it’s a reversal and it’s not bizarre to state it. One should always be clear-eyed regarding armed conflict. The victory in Libya has unleashed all sorts of armed gangs/militias in North Africa and it will likely be a problem for some time to come. The new African Command will have plenty of work to do.

  11. 11

    Asymmetrical warfare, how does it work?

    It’s impossible to adequately defend every single location in the world from every possible avenue of attack. You’d go broke and crazy trying to do so.

  12. 12
    Chris says:


    Seems weird to me. Qaddafi and islamists weren’t on the same side.

    What I’ve heard is that most of the weapons involved came from Libya, though. That I believe.

  13. 13
    mclaren says:

    This is proof of the total impotence of Al Qaeda. It always just a few dozen guys lurking in caves in Waziristan. Only 19 guys participated in 9/11. This is not a group we have to worry about.

    Seriously, we should shut down our entire “national security” surveillance/internal security bullshit trillion-dollar DHS/TSA/NSA/CIA/DIA bullshit. Don’t need it.

    These losers are on the run. In another five years they’ll be reduced to holding up cats on YouTube and threatening to shoot ’em unless they get a ransom.

  14. 14
    FlipYrWhig says:

    So, the evidence that this is a massive defeat for the Obama Administration is internet chat and press statements.

    Sounds like the Adam Green/David Sirota theory of social change.

  15. 15
    Brachiator says:

    Aid organizations claim that there is a humanitarian crisis in Mali as a result of this conflict. How should the West respond?

    To pin all this on the Obama Administration is nuts. And France and African nations are taking the lead here. And again, the question is, how should the world resond? What if things escalate and France asks for the US to become more involved? Is the US supposed to be a leader, or is now the time for neo-isolationism?

    CNN cites sources claiming that this is what Al Qaeda wants:

    The end of the French intervention in Mali; the liberation of Omar Abdel-Rahman, “the blind sheikh” incarcerated in the United States for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings; and the freeing of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist who is incarcerated in the United States on terrorism charges.

    Should we comply and hope for peace?

  16. 16
    Another Halocene Human says:

    Since when are random members of congress experts on, like, anything?

    That’s the whole problem with the news–it’s just a bunch of stories passed around, each one extruded from some dick- or hosebag’s posterior, each equally valid and true for some value of truthiness.

    We’re all Manti Te’o. We’ve all lied about the lies and now can’t admit we were conned.

  17. 17
    Jewish Steel says:

    Who knew we internet posters and commenters were so damned important?

    Oh, believe me, bubala. We knew. We knew.

  18. 18
    pr says:


    To pin all this on the Obama Administration is nuts. And France and African nations are taking the lead here. And again, the question is, how should the world resond? What if things escalate and France asks for the US to become more involved? Is the US supposed to be a leader, or is now the time for neo-isolationism?

    Exactly. Our role should be to offer material support to the French and African nations

  19. 19
    bjacques says:

    al-Qaeda are more than happy to glom onto any local grievance in hopes of establishing the Caliphate, but they’re ultimately poison.

    In Afghanistan they joined up with the Taliban, who were not strong enough to overthrow the warlords, even with Pakistan behind them. The warlords were such bastards that the locals welcomed the Taliban, even if they were a bunch of redneck fundies. The Taliban almost got kicked Osama bin Laden and his city slickers until bin Laden offed a particularly troublesome local thug in early 2001. The US response to the 9/11 attacks brought misery down on the Taliban, and continues to do so.

    In Iraq, Saddam Hussein knew better than to let al-Qaeda anywhere near the place. After the US toppled him, a-Q got in during the chaos, but the local factions found them to be a bunch of psychos.

    AQ hope to profit from the demise of Qaddafi and will do so if the current government and the west stop paying attention.

    In Mali, you have people being neglected by the government and Tuaregs who want independence. Again, an easy in for the likes of al-Qaeda.

    All al-Qaeda can do is break shit. Dissidents and rebels may be desperate enough at first to think they want a-Q’s help, but you can’t pet a mad dog. The sleek Saudi sheiks are stupid to continue backing them.

    What the West and the African Union must do to isolate al-Qaeda is learn the lessons of the Cold War and address local grievances, cultivate local economies that benefit everyone, and not back thieving and thuggish dictators who promise “stability.”

    When the local government and economy are stable and fair, local people feel like they have a stake in them. Otherwise…well, austerity in Greece has brought opportunities for the far right, while in the north of Ireland (under UK austerity), IRA spinoffs are getting busy.

    In Davos, none of this will be addressed, but bankers will be feeling the love once again.

  20. 20
    Chris says:


    What you said.

    I’d add (I said this last night but FYWP never posted it) that there’s a problem with trying to defeat “al-Qaeda” because al-Qaeda isn’t an organization any more, it’s a brand name. Nowadays any fundie who shares their general outlook can conduct a terrorist attack and claim it in the name of the Al-Qaeda Regional Office Of My Hood just to get attention. Remember that group “al-Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe” that did the London bombings in 2005 and were never heard from again? That’s what al-Qaeda’s become.

  21. 21
    Erik Vanderhoff says:

    @Domino: That’s the Tuaregs who are looking to split northern Mali into its own country. They are not allied to AQIM or its splinters, which have been at war with the Algerian government for 20 years or so.

  22. 22
    StringOnAStick says:

    @bjacques: What you said, and what Chris (below you) said as well, plus Erik Vanderhoff – right as well. There is more knowledge and understanding of world politics in these 3 comments than in an entire week of MSM/Faux drippings.

    Another reason why the US and the rest of the western world needs to pursue renewable energy is exactly what just happened in Algeria. Gas plants and gas/oil pipelines everywhere are extremely vulnerable to attack; shit, there are MILES and MILES of them, just waiting to be blown open and cause serious pollution, on top of the fact that the workers who tend them are sitting ducks for attack/ransom.

  23. 23
    Erik Vanderhoff says:

    @StringOnAStick: Didn’t that one plant provide about 20% of Algeria’s GDP at one point?

  24. 24
    mainmati says:

    @Chris: The skinny is that Ghaddafi recruited a bunch of African mercenaries from Chad, Mali, etc. to help him push back the Libyans trying to overthrow him. When Ghaddafi died, those crazies took their weapons and joined up with AQIM, which has been around in one form or another since just after 9/11.

    The Algerians earlier spent more than a decade fighting their own Islamist insurgency in which many thousands died. Had nothing to do with us. So now the Algerian Army, like the Turks are total hard asses and when they went in it was to completely eradicate this group despite loss of hostages. But don’t expect them to do anything outside their borders, e.g. neighboring Mali particularly if they would have to help the French.

    Mali was a reasonably stable democracy but went into a corruption-fueled meltdown, coup d’etat and then vacuum in the the North that gave AQIM its opportunity. AQIM, like al-Qaeda, in general are simply parasites. They actually have no widespread following. I work in the Middle East and the violent fanatics are not popular (need to distinguish them from those that are very devout Muslims, including those that would like to institute Shariah Law, which would be completely impractical, never mind unpopular).

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