The Changing Face of Resistance
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
Friday 23 June 2006
Karachi - A charcteristic of a successful resistance movement is its ability to switch tactics as circumstances change, and the insurgencies in both Iraq and Afghanistan are proving to be capable in this respect.
In Iraq, the US killing of the leader of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has provided the opportunity for al-Qaeda for the first time to take over the central command of the resistance, with the overall goal of fomenting a popular Arab uprising against the US presence.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the Taliban, after a highly organized and fruitful - though costly in terms of casualties - mass offensive in the south of the country, is reorganizing somewhat to wage a more traditional guerrilla campaign involving carefully selected attacks.
In both countries, strong new leaders are calling the shots - Abu Hamza al-Muhajir in Iraq and Jalaluddin Haqqani in Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda is proving to be flexible in other areas as well, such as in its choice of weapons and targets. Normally credible sources familiar with al-Qaeda have told Asia Times Online of a buzz within the group of plans to strike the United States with electromagnetic bombs ("e-bombs", or high-power microwave weapons). Theoretically, these could shut down telecommunications networks, disrupt power supplies and disable computers and electronic gadgets.
"It is true about the e-bomb and a plan to cripple US satellite systems. A section of Arab fighters is working on this," retired squadron leader Khalid Khawaja told Asia Times Online. "I actually overheard such conversations with those who interact a lot with Arab fighters in Afghanistan." Khawaja worked for Pakistan's secret service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and was a friend of Osama bin Laden.
"I never heard Osama or [his deputy] Dr [Ayman al-]Zawahiri, or anyone else, discuss nuclear attacks on the US. To me, this idea is ridiculous. Only states can use nuclear technology to destroy a country. Also, I never heard anyone discussing with any depth a gas attack on America.
"However, I have now overheard conversations which strongly suggest that there is a section in the anti-American resistance which is seriously pursuing a project aimed at taking America back to the Stone Age without harming human lives," Khawaja said.
Consolidation in Iraq
Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, who cut his teeth on the battlefields of Afghanistan, will take over the whole command of the Iraqi resistance infrastructure, according to contacts who spoke to Asia Times Online.
"As soon as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was eliminated, a command council took over control. Most of the members are former veterans of the Afghan jihad. As soon as a decision was communicated from Waziristan [in Pakistan, from Zawahiri] for Muhajir to be appointed as Emir-ul Jihad, a whole structure fell into place for a well-defined jihad in Iraq," said a source connected with the Iraqi resistance.
Previously, the command structure of the resistance was scattered. Various Islamic groups fought the Americans from the northern city of Kirkuk to Basra in the south. Each one had a separate command and organization.
Ba'athist elements also merged into many of these groups, in addition to the Ba'ath Party's own central command. Zarqawi gained prominence because of his high-profile activities among the various groups, but he did not represent a central command of the resistance.
Over the past two years, hundreds of Arab Afghans left Afghanistan to go to Iraq, where they merged with various groups. As they were like-minded in their conviction that US forces should be expelled from the country, they formed a central mujahideen council (shura).
With Zarqawi's death, this council, under Muhajir, who is said to have an "encyclopedia-like" knowledge of mujahideen all over the world, has gained preeminence, largely because he has the widespread respect and support of the resistance, unlike Zarqawi. Muhajir, said the sources, will use his influence and contacts to galvanize support from across the Islamic world, especially from Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen nd Egypt.
His plan is to flood human resources into the Iraqi resistance so that it can take on the government-backed militias, as well as US and government forces.
At the same time, instead of haphazard groups mounting attacks, the resistance will attempt to dictate the rules of the game. Effective intelligence operations will be put in place in an effort to make attacks more coordinated, effective and coherent. And insurgents also plan to make more use of snipers.
Similarly, in Afghanistan, the elevation of Jalaluddin Haqqani as head of military operations (see Taliban's new commander ready for a fight, Asia Times Online, May 20) had an immediate effect on the resistance. Haqqani has deep roots across the country, is well respected and is a proven tactician and coordinator.
Hide and Seek in Afghanistan
Soon after Haqqani took over, the Taliban launched their biggest offensive since being ousted from power in 2001. More than 600 people, mostly militants, have been killed in the past month in numerous full-scale battles in the south of the country, often involving Taliban groups more than 100-strong.
These attacks were complemented with the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide attacks in various parts of the country.
At the same time, the Taliban appealed to the masses to take control of local administrations. This happened in the provinces of Urzgan, Helmand, Zabul and Kandahar, besides Kunar, Paktia and Paktika, where the Taliban have taken over partial control in some districts.
This appeal to the masses was repeated in a new video message from Zawahiri, posted on Islamic websites on Wednesday evening. He called for "young men in Kabul's universities to rise up and join in with the mujahideen forces in attacking the invaders and freeing Muslim Afghanistan".
Contacts familiar with the resistance say that now the Taliban will scale back the big attacks and concentrate on precision targeted attacks and ambushes, while still using IEDs and suicide bombers.
The contacts explained that this was part of a cat-and-mouse game to wear down coalition forces by constantly switching tactics. Just as the coalition was adjusting to deal with large groups of fighters, the Taliban have retreated to the mountains.
Commented Hamid Gul, a retired lieutenant-general of the Pakistani army and former director general of the ISI, "The resistance in Afghanistan and Iraq has very much attained a level which the anti-Soviet resistance [in Afghanistan] attained in 1987. The resistance beset the Soviet forces from all sides. By 1987, the Soviets had flexed their maximum muscle and they lost control and ultimately agreed to an exit strategy .
"The same is true with the Americans. They will apply maximum pressure by November, if only to win Congress elections [for the Republican Party of President George W Bush]. After that, you will see a Soviet-like policy in which they will steadily lose their grip and finally they will devise an exit plan," Gul said.