Al Qaeda Running Out of Volunteers?
Donald Sensing has a long, well sourced essay arguing that al Qaeda is having trouble finding volunteers, especially for suicide bombings and attacks on hard targets.
The trend on the ground in Iraq is that al Qaeda has almost given up attacking US forces directly because they lose badly every time. They have turned instead to attacking Iraqi Security Forces, which are a softer target. Bit the ISF troops are increasing in number and competence week by week. In fact, the ISF performed very well in rooting al Qaeda out of Tal Afar recently in conjunction with US Army units. This operation has been basically concluded now.
Five hundred jihadis killed or captured puts a big dent in al Qaeda’s personnel status. As one Army briefer said last week, the quality and skill of the terrorist fighters Iraqi-American troops faced in Tal Afar was very significantly lower than have been heretofore encountered.
The apparent low quality of newly-recruited jihadis and the open-battle incapacity of the jihadist fighters led al Qaeda’s Iraq “mastermind” (hardly a term to apply to one leading the losing side) Abu Musab al Zarqawi to declare war against Iraqi Shiites, then quickly backtrack when he apparently realized that was a losing proposition in a country that is 80 percent Shia. It didn’t really play well across much of the Arab world, either, even among some other Islamists. . . .
The Iraqis are indeed increasingly closing ranks and “uniting against foreign occupation,” except they are comprehending in rapidly increasing numbers that the foreign occupiers are not the Americans, but al Zarqawi and cohort.
Al Qaeda in Iraq is unable to launch effective attacks against US or Iraqi forces, which are punishing al Qaeda more and more effectively. (It needs be noted that insurgents in Iraq, whether Baathists or al Qaeda, have never been able to do this.) While many attacks have been deadly, sad to say, they have not been effective. The loss of Tal Afar to al Qaeda and Zarqawi’s frantic rhetoric afterward show that he is unable now to mount even a minimally effective defense.
So all he can do is what he has been doing in recent days: blow people up, a capability that he still has in spades. But it is the only capability he has. The great majority of his victims have and continue to be Iraqis. It is not a tactic that can win hearts and minds. But al Qaeda has never really be interested in gaining a popular mandate, anyway. Because it cannot give effective battle, it’s only resort is to try to incite fighting between Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Turkomens, heck, anybody who will fight each other. But that’s not working, either. Zarqawi is lashing out brutally and bloodily, but he can’t hide the fact that al Qaeda in Iraq is steadily being boxed in and losing strength day by day. The otherwise-unemployable, driftless young Saudi men like Alhamedi profiled can’t plug the gaps.
Of course, al Qaeda doesn’t have to defeat the American military–or even the Iraqi military and security forces–on the battlefield. Terrorists, insurgents, and guerillas win by breaking their opponent’s hostile will, not their physical capacity to carry on the fight.
There’s not much chance of breaking our soldiers’ will anytime soon but public opinion has turned against the war. In Vietnam, the American military never lost a major battle. Even the infamous Tet Offensive was ultimately a rout of the enemy. In the end, that didn’t matter. Perception often trumps reality. The perception is that we are losing.