Gates: ‘A success for one is a success for all’

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had some interesting things to say during a speech at Duke University on Wednesday. In particular, the following caught my eye. From Reuters:

[Gates] later fielded questions from students, telling them eastern Afghanistan “is increasingly an unholy syndicate of terrorist groups working together: al Qaeda, the Haqqani network, the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban and groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. A success for one is a success for all.”

Two observations:

(1) “Syndicate” is a good word to use when describing the collusion between various terrorist groups. We’ve described al Qaeda as being the tip of the jihadist spear — that is, an essential part of a jihadist coalition. The concept is the same. These groups work hand-in-hand to achieve their common goals. It is a mistake to think they can be easily disentangled. They share common ideological roots (al Qaeda has worked hard to make sure this is the case, by the way), safe havens, sources of funding, training camps, arms suppliers, etc. They cooperate in operations on a daily basis. And, by and large, they share the same enemy list, with America being enemy #1.

(2) It is precisely this overlap that makes counting the number of “al Qaeda” operatives inside Afghanistan an intrinsically difficult proposition. If you follow Bill Roggio’s work at the Long War Journal closely, then you know that he points to reports of Taliban, al Qaeda, Haqqani, Hekmatyar, etc. commanders who straddle multiple organizations all the time. How do you put a terrorist who is deeply in bed with both the Taliban and al Qaeda into one bucket or the other? I don’t think you can.

But that is exactly what some in the US government have tried to do. You will recall that the CIA guesstimated there were only 50-100 al Qaeda operatives inside Afghanistan at one time. I don’t think that is true even using a narrow definition of “al Qaeda.” And this range is highly dependent on where you draw the line between the various organizations. “Syndicates” don’t make that easy to do. Moreover, Bill has dissected the absurdity of this poor approximation previously.

“A success for one is a success for all,” Secretary Gates said. He is right.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Girish says:

    Cannot agree w/ Mr Gates more. It is good to see the administration making sense all of a sudden.
    Starting to feel upbeat seeing a change in administration thinking and making decisions based on facts. Time to stop this slow bleeding and move to firmly end this war

  • James says:

    I believe that maybe the term “Al Queda” (which means, literally “the base” in Arabic) might be more akin to the phrase “the Mafia” or, “the mob” in organized crime.
    Just as the word “Mafia” is synonymous with organized crime, so too “Al Queda” could be synonymous with organized terror (or terrorism).
    Also, there a sizable segment of Al Queda which is no doubt of criminal origins. What I’m getting at here is that at least many (if not most) of them started there “careers” (if you can call it that) as small time criminals long before they became the jihadist terrorists (and international war criminals) they are now.
    For example, consider Hitler, and the fact that he wrote Mein Kampf from a jail cell while in prison. Likewise, IMHO, many (if not most) of these terrorists were also most likely indoctrinated (or brainwashed themselves) in their terrorist ideology while in jails.
    This further supports the fact IMHO that terrorism is not just a scourge to the US, it is a scourge to all of civilization and it will mandate a concerted response from all of civilization (not just the US).
    I still firmly believe that a unified international response (with something similar [at least in concept] to an INTERPOL model being deployed) would ultimately prove to be the most resourceful means to effectively counter the threat.


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