The US and her allies in Europe, the Middle East, and beyond have witnessed both stunning successes and dramatic setbacks in the Long War during 2007. Pakistan has continued its slide towards a failed state, with the government having relinquished control over additional territory to the Taliban and, thus, al Qaeda. Suicide bombings and attacks on all segments of the state plagued Pakistan as the Taliban and al Qaeda cemented their new safe havens. Iraq, which seemed all but lost at the end of 2006 as the US appeared to lose the all-important political will, has turned around with the change in counterinsurgency plan and the surge of troops US and Iraqi troops. Al Qaeda and the Iranian-backed Shia terrorists are losing ground and local support in Iraq. Afghanistan has seen its worst year of violence since the Taliban was defeated in late 2001; suicide bombings and IED attacks skyrocketed due to the problems in Pakistan.
The war also continues in dozens of lesser theaters. India suffered numerous blows from Pakistani-based terrorists. Al Qaeda has revitalized itself in Algeria and greater northern Africa. A brutal insurgency is being waged in Somalia after the Islamic Courts was ousted at the end of 2006. The Philippines saw some progress against Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah in the southern provinces. Thailand’s Islamist insurgency ballooned in 2007. Al Qaeda is attempting to revive the jihad in Chechnya and the greater Caucasus. Saudi Arabia and Yemen continue to breed the next generation of al Qaeda fighters.
Below is a roundup of the major developments in the most active theaters across the globe in the Long War.
Pakistan remains the central location of al Qaeda Central. Pakistani territory in the Northwest Frontier Province continues to fall under control of the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Taliban and al Qaeda maintain significant bases in the Northwest Frontier Province and Quetta and wider Baluchistan province, and have a significant presence in the major cities of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. The Taliban sortie from their bases in Pakistan to hit targets in Afghanistan, while al Qaeda suicide bombing teams hit at the West, India, and the wider world from their terror camps in the mountainous regions.
After inking the North Waziristan Accord in September 2006, the Pakistani government signed over Bajaur, Mohmand, and Swat over to local Taliban commanders. Swat and Shangla were taken over militarily by the Taliban later in the year. US intelligence identified 29 al Qaeda and Taliban in North and South Waziristan alone. Much of the Northwest Frontier Province fell under the control of the Taliban.
The Taliban and al Qaeda have conducted a persistent suicide bombing campaign across the country, targeting police, the military, civilians, and the government. At least three attacks targeted military and intelligence officers or their families on or near nuclear storage and launch facilities. The Taliban battled the vaunted Pakistani army to a standstill in North and South Waziristan. The Pakistani government launched an assault on the Taliban Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in the heart of Islamabad after the mosque’s followers attempted to enforce sharia law and kidnapped police and civilians. Al Qaeda attempted to assassinate Musharraf multiple times in Rawalpindi. The Taliban and al Qaeda successfully assassinated Benazir Bhutto at the year’s close.
Under the guise of fighting Islamic extremists, President Musharraf suspended the constitution in November and implemented emergency rule. His real motivation was to retain power as the Supreme Court prepared to rule against his election as president while serving as the army chief of staff. Musharraf purged the courts and government, ensured his status as president, appointed a loyal general as chief of staff, and launched an offensive to retake Swat and Shangla. The constitution was restored in mid-December and elections will be held in January.
The situation in Iraq has improved dramatically since General David Petraeus took command of Multinational Forces Iraq in January 2006. The change in counterinsurgency strategy coupled with the surge of over 30,000 US forces and the growth in the Iraqi Security Forces has reduced violence 70 percent in Baghdad and 60 percent nationwide. Multinational Forces Iraq pursued both al Qaeda in Iraq and its allies, and the Iranian-backed Special Groups and the rogue Mahdi Army into their safe havens. Coalition and Iraqi forces conducted multiple concurrent operations to prevent al Qaeda and the Shia terror groups from gaining traction in new regions.
Sunni and Shia tribes and former insurgent groups formed Awakening movements and Concerned Local Citizens groups to police their regions. The government is beginning to embrace these groups, and some groups are being integrated into the security forces. With improved security in Iraq, the US withdrew two of the surge battalions and expects to withdraw the five surge brigades and perhaps three additional brigades in 2008.
Al Qaeda in Iraq has attempted to regroup in eastern Diyala and the northern provinces. US and Iraqi forces are in pursuit. Several senior al Qaeda leaders have been captured, including one of the architects of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq. Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, is a fictitious character, played by an Iraqi actor. Al Qaeda still releases tapes under the guise of Baghdadi.
Violence in Afghanistan hit its highest point since the US ousted the Taliban from power in late 2001. The Taliban planned a spring offensive to retake regions in the south and east, but Coalition and Afghan forces pre-empted with their own offensive to take the Taliban off balance. Despite the Coalition moves, the Taliban were able to briefly overrun districts in the southern and western provinces, only to be ejected days or weeks later. Suicide bombing and improvised explosive device attacks spiked in 2007, as did opium production. Suicide cells popped up in Kabul and were subsequently dismantled, only to be replaced.
Coalition and Afghan forces conducted several operations in the east, south, and southwest. US and Afghan forces fought a pitched battled against al Qaeda in Tora Bora in the east. It is believed Dr. Amin al Haq, the chief of Osama bin Laden’s Black Guard security detail was wounded in the fight. Fierce battles were fought in Kandahar and Helmand province. The Helmand district of Musa Qala was liberated after nearly a year of Taliban control. Canadian and Afghan troops fought for much of the same territory they battled for last year, including Panjwai, Zari, and Arghandab districts, the birthplaces of the Taliban. In the once-quiet western province of Farah, the Taliban repeatedly overran several districts.
Coalition and Afghan forces have scored significant victories in dismantling the Taliban’s leadership. Mullah Dadullah Akhund, a member of the Taliban’s Shura Majlis and the Taliban’s senior military commander, was killed, as was Mullah Berader. Dadullah was replaced by his brother Mansoor, who has been relieved of his command by Mullah Omar. Also, Siraj Haqqani has assumed significant status as a joint Taliban and al Qaeda leader in the eastern and southern province. The Taliban and al Qaeda are operating from their bases in Pakistan.
Since the Ethiopian military teamed up with the weak Transitional Federal Government to force out the al Qaeda-backed Islamic Courts Union in December of 2006, Somalia has been mired in a violent insurgency. The leaders of the Islamic Courts Union escaped the Ethiopian advance and fled to Eritrea and Yemen, where they worked to reconstitute their power.
The Islamic Courts Union essentially reformed as Shabaab and teamed up with the powerful Hawiye clan to attack Ethiopian and Somali security forces. Ambushes and IED and mortar strikes are a daily occurrence in Mogadishu and the surrounding regions. Shabaab is believed to be in outright control of the central Hiran province, while a Somali security official stated that 80 percent of the country was outside of government control.
Terror attacks have skyrocketed in Algeria after the Salafist Group for Prayer and Combat (GSPC) reconstituted as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and focused energy on attacking government and military institutions. The Algerian government has claimed to make great strides against al Qaeda, with scores of terrorists killed and captured in various raids and operations. But the terror group pulled off multiple coordinated suicide bombing attacks in Algiers and beyond. Attacks were conducted against the office of the prime minister, the president as he campaigned, the security services headquarters, a naval barracks, and markets. In December, the UNHCR office in Algiers was hit with a suicide car bombing, killing 17 employees.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is the result of Al Qaeda’s efforts to unite the various Salafist terror groups in North Africa. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb merged the Algerian GSPC, the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and the Tunisian Combatant Group. The GSPC forms the nucleus of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Iran has been operating on several fronts against the West and Israel. The Islamic Republic has continued to pursue its nuclear program, despite objections and sanctions approved by the United Nations Security Council. Russia has finally agreed to complete the Bushehr nuclear facility while the Iranian government seeks to expand the civilian program. Iran still shelters more than 100 al Qaeda leaders, including Said bin Laden, Osama’s son, and Saif al Adel, al Qaeda’s strategic planner.
In Iraq, Iran has worked to destabilize the government, and has funneled weapons, fighters, money, and other aid to the Special Groups via the ratlines. The Ramazan Corps, the Qods Force command created to conduct operations in Iraq, backs the Special Groups, which have been established to mirror Lebanese Hezbollah. The Special Groups attack Coalition and Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi government, and civilians alike. Multinational Forces Iraq has aggressively targeted the Ramazan Corps and the Special Groups in Iraq. Several senior Qods Force and Hezbollah operatives have been captured in Iraq.
Iran continues to fund Hezbollah in Lebanon, to the tune of $1 billion a year. The money is going to rebuild Hezbollah’s military and political infrastructure that was destroyed during the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war. Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei is said to have relieved Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah from his responsibility as military commander, relegating him to a political role only.
Saudi security forces continue to target al Qaeda’s foot soldiers in the Kingdom. More than 500 al Qaeda operatives were arrested in 2007. The Saudi government has released more than 1,500 jailed al Qaeda operatives and supporters after they denounced Osama bin Laden’s call on his followers to “cleanse the Arabian Peninsula of polytheists.” More than 1,700 al Qaeda operatives still remain in Saudi custody. But the Saudi financiers of the Golden Chain remain untouched.
Saudis make up 45 percent of al Qaeda’s foreign fighters in Iraq. More than 160 Saudis have been tried for terrorist activities in the Iraqi court system, and hundreds are still awaiting trial.
Al Qaeda has conducted multiple attacks against government, economic, and tourist targets. Several plots to attack oil facilities were broken up over the summer. Al Qaeda is very active in the lawless regions of Yemen. The terror group uses the country as a training base, as well as a waypoint from Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. Yemeni fighters flock to fight in Iraq.
The Yemeni government is using Salafist jihadi groups to fight the Believing Youth, a small band of Shiite rebels that has been battling the government on and off since 2004. Terrorist groups such as the Abyan Aden Islamic Army, which is supported by al Qaeda, joined Yemen’s military efforts against the rebels. The Yemeni courts have issued light sentences for convicted terrorists, while its prisons remain revolving doors for al Qaeda operatives. Jamal Badawi, the mastermind of the USS Cole attack and other terrors activities on the Arabian Peninsula was released from custody.
India said that it is second only to Iraq in the number of terrorist casualties since Sept. 11, and has suffered more casualties than all the nations of the West combined. India was the victim of a series of al Qaeda-related bombings in its cities in 2007. Attacks in Hyderabab, Varansi, Faizabad, Lucknow, and Samjhauta killed and wounded hundreds. Al Qaeda-linked Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami (HUJI) and Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad and Jammat-ud-Dawa, the successor to Lashkar-e-Taiba, have been implicated in the attacks. Al Qaeda established Al Qaeda Fil Hind (al Qaeda in India) under the leadership of Abu Abdul Rehman al Ansari.
Philippine military forces fought Abu Sayyaf and supporting elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the islands of Basilan and Jolo throughout the year. The targets of the raids were senior Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah leaders and operatives, including Dulmatin and Umar Patek, two terrorists behind the Bali bombings in 2002. Khaddafy Janjalani, the leader of Abu Sayyaf, was killed this year.
The Thai Muslim insurgency in the southern provinces on Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala, and Songkla has strengthened and become increasing violent in 2007. Ambushes, drive-by shootings, IED attacks, school burnings, and beheadings have become regular occurrences in the south. There was even a crucifixion. More than 400 Thais have been reported killed during the last nine months of 2007. The Runda Kumpulan Kecil, the most violent element of the insurgency, is believed to be receiving support and training from Indonesian-based al Qaeda regional group Jemaah Islamiyah.
Detachment 88, Indonesia’s counterterrorism unit, scored two major arrests over the past year. The unit took into custody Abu Dujana, the military commander of Jemaah Islamiyah, and Noordin Mohammed Top, the Malaysian-born bomb maker of Jemaah Islamiyah behind the Bali nightclub bombings.
Abu Dujana admitted he is a close associate of Osama bin Laden, and Jemaah Islamiyah shares the same philosophy and tactics as al Qaeda. Dujana stated all Westerners are legitimate targets and attacks will continue. Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah who served 20 months in jail for his role in the Bali bombings, demanded the disbandment of Detachment 88, and he threatened that attacks would continue in Indonesia if death sentences were carried out against three convicted Jemaah Islamiyah operatives.
The Lebanese military carried out a major offensive against the al Qaeda and Syrian-linked Fatah al Islam terror group based out of the Nahr al Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon. At least 222 Fatah al Islam terrorists were killed during the 15-week battle. Two Moroccans were among the Fatah al Islam fighters killed. Fatah Al Islam leader Shaker al Abssi, who had close ties to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the deceased leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, escaped the fighting and is on the run.
Lebanon has been wracked with political violence as Syria attempts to sabotage the anti-Syrian movement in government. Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies have prevented the appointment of a new president, while car bombings have targeted government officials and military officers. Hezbollah is rebuilding its fortifications in southern Lebanon just north of the Litani river.
Morocco faced a string of suicide bombings in the winter and spring. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb activated cells in the country, while Moroccan security forces arrested scores of al Qaeda operatives. The town of Tetouan is believed to be one of the world’s most fertile recruiting grounds for jihadists. Twenty-six Tetouanis have participated in attacks in Iraq and Madrid, Spain.
Chechnya and the Caucasus
With the deaths of Shamil Basayev and Abu Hafs in 2006, the Chechen jihad suffered a major setback. Nearly 550 Chechen fighters accepted amnesty by January 2007. The Chechen terrorists have regrouped under the leadership of Doku Umarov. In November, Umarov declared the creation of the Caucasian Emirate, carving out the Russian regions of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkana, Karachay-Cherkessia, and the Nogay steppe. “We, the Mujahideen, went out to fight the infidels not for the sake of fighting but to restore the Shariah of Allah in our land,” said Umarov. “Today in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Palestine our brothers are fighting.” Umarov also declared sharia law and called for a global jihad. Fighting has largely shifted to Dagestan, in the form of small-scale clashes against federal and local police and counterterrorism forces.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.