The threat posed by Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan

Master's Thesis, 2011

200 Pages, Grade: 70/100


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Glossary of Terms

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Terrorism & Failed States - A review of literature
Al Qaeda as a specimen of transnational terrorism
Afghanistan in the context of foreign military intervention
Nation-building and counterinsurgency

Chapter 3: Al Qaeda: Origins and Identity
The Origins of al Qaeda
The Structure of al Qaeda
Al Qaeda’s Ideology and Recruitment
A transformative entity

Chapter 4: Afghanistan: Foreign Intervention & Historical Instability
Afghanistan as a traditional, tribal society
The Age of Colonialism
The Soviet Intervention and Aftermath
Rise of the Taliban

Chapter 5: Operation Enduring Freedom
U.S. position during the Bush Era (2001-2008)
The Obama Era (2009- Present)
Nation-building Initiatives and the role of the U.N.

Chapter 6: Reestablishing an Afghan State
Political issues and objectives
Economic restructuring
Afghanistan’s foreign policy challenges

Chapter 7: Conclusion

Appendix A: Maps of Afghanistan

Bibliography 173

I would like to dedicate this dissertation to my fiancée, Krystle Blaire, and my parents, Peter Paul and Maryann, for their love and support throughout the years.


This dissertation explore the threats posed by al Qaeda in Afghanistan and whether it is first necessary to stabilize this country in order to eliminate the group. It will be argued that al Qaeda's ideology has now become stronger than its ability to threaten international security; that its aim to become an agent of change within the Muslim world has come to outweigh the threat attributed to it as a conventional, kinetic, terrorist entity. The current instability within Afghanistan is not due to al Qaeda's physical presence there but rather an amalgamation of factors. It will be argued that the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 has contributed to al Qaeda's weakening there but it has not contributed to stabilize Afghanistan itself. The instability in Afghanistan will require a strong, long-term commitment by the international community, while the fight against al Qaeda will require more focus on combating its ideology, and less on military action. Whilst al Qaeda remains an elusive enemy for the West due to its ability to constantly adapt, the international community has failed to adapt adequately to not only combat al Qaeda's ideology, but also to implement the necessary long term strategy that is required to achieve stability in Afghanistan.


There are a number of people who deserve recognition for their contribution towards the completion of this dissertation.

First and foremost I would like to thank my thesis supervisor, Dr Carmen Sammut, for her guidance, encouragement and support throughout this research. I would also like to thank the Department of International Relations and the Master’s Board for their permission to carry out this research.

I would like to also express thanks to the International Institute for Strategic Studies and their staff in London for the assistance they provided me whilst conducting research on the topic there. Their advice and assistance with literary material was very useful to my research.

I would also like to express my thanks to Dr. Arsalan Alshinawi, who provided interesting insight into the topic and challenged my thinking, whilst providing advice on the dissertation structure. I would also like to include others, such as Anthony Manduca and Ranier Fsadni whose interviews were not included in the dissertation, but their input was valuable nevertheless as it allowed me to widen my perspectives.

I would like also to thank William Tyler, for his assistance with proof reading, suggestions, and research material.

List of Illustrations

Figure 1: Historical Oil Prices (1947-2010)

Map 1: The Natural Seats of Power

Table 1: Afghanistan’s ethnic composition

Map 2: Pre-1893 Afghanistan

Map 3: Modern day Afghanistan & Pakistan

Table 2: Afghanistan & Iraq - A comparison

Table 3: U.S. budget for war expenditure (Iraq &Afghanistan)

Table 4: U.S. Casualties in Afghanistan (2001-2010)

Table 5: Afghanistan Failed State Index (2006-2007)

Table 6: Afghanistan Failed State Index (2008-2010)

Table 7: Opium Production in Afghanistan (1981-2009)

Map 4: Mineral Resources in Afghanistan

Figure 2: Foreign Aid to Afghan government (2002-2008)

Figure 3: Afghanistan’s G.D.P. (2006-2007)

Figure 4: Afghanistan’s G.D.P. (2007-2008)

Figure 5: Afghanistan’s G.D.P. (2008-2009)

Map 5: Map of Pakistani border regions

Glossary of terms

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Chapter 1 Introduction

What did they accomplish in Afghanistan? They evicted the Taliban government from Kabul, but it centered itself in the villages and mountains - where the real power of Afghanistan lies. 1

-Ayman Al-Zawahiri

Senior al Qaeda Commander, former leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

Al Qaeda has long been a hot topic of focus for national governments, international and organizations, and academics for the last decade. Its impact on the conventional wisdom regarding international security and the position of the nation-state as the sovereign actor in conflict cannot be understated. The invasion of Afghanistan, after the September 2001 attacks on the U.S. brought to the fore a number of related and complex questions. A military intervention was launched in a third party country (Afghanistan), whose government (the Taliban) provided shelter to the main suspects (the al Qaeda network) of a terrorist action on foreign soil (the United States). Now, a decade later, the question is whether that intervention has accomplished any concrete results in dismantling the al Qaeda network, whilst simultaneously attempting to stabilize Afghanistan after decades of war.

As a result, since September 11th 2001, the issue of international security has become invariably linked with the issue of transnational terrorism as a result of the attacks on New York and Washington D.C.. Such an attack on the world’s lone superpower was bound to bring a change of focus in academic research on the topic of terrorism. With the attack being planned and carried out by al Qaeda, a radical Islamic terrorist entity, the focus also came to center on Afghanistan, which had been deemed one of the world’s poorest and most war-ridden nations. Their status as guests of the Taliban regime in Kabul had marked the Afghan government as the main target of America’s reprisal, and their subsequent ousting from power had posed a number of questions - not least revisiting a key 1990’s issue raised by the wars in former Yugoslavia, namely that of nation-building.

However, as the American-led intervention in Afghanistan slowly turned into a drawn out occupation, the capture of al Qaeda high value targets being illusive, and the progress of the Afghan conflict being questioned, the results thus far have not appeared to be overwhelmingly positive. The Afghan war has now surpassed most of the major conflicts of the 20th century in terms of duration (both World Wars, the Korean War, Gulf War, and the Iran-Iraq war), and will have surpassed the length of the Soviet intervention in the country on November 28th 2010, for a total of 3339 days. Such an ominous landmark should pose a number of questions about the current Western presence in the country, and leads to the introduction of this dissertation.

This dissertation will be seeking to answer a rather interesting research question, which is whether al Qaeda poses a threat from within Afghanistan, which is a key argument used by the West for a continued presence in the country, as well as what would be required in order to stabilize Afghanistan. On the surface, one would be forgiven to feeling perplexed as to how such a question can be tackled, with one focusing on what is known in the West as a terrorist organization, and the other issue being a long and increasingly difficult insurgency eroding at the fabric of an already weak state. The answer lies within the Western strategy itself, which has used its presence in Afghanistan as both a counter terrorist force against supposed al Qaeda remnants as well as a stabilizing variable that can help to shore up the reach and power of the Afghan central government. This strategy has been ongoing since the invasion itself, and it is only in the last several years that it is coming into question more widely, as the years creep along and allied casualties continue to increase.

The research question itself reflects the progress, or lack thereof, made in the war to date. With the West, particularly the United States and its N.A.T.O. allies, investing so much in terms of manpower and finance in Afghanistan (with N.A.T.O. arguably using the war to prove its relevance in a post Cold War, multipolar world); it is vital to attempt to establish a bridge between what is perceived as al Qaeda’s present threat to the West and the achievement of stability in Afghanistan. Whilst many commentators and academics have often analyzed either al Qaeda or the war in Afghanistan, they have rarely done both simultaneously in detail. As a result, one of the main focuses of this thesis will be to establish whether al Qaeda currently presents a threat as the conventional, centralized terrorist organization depicted by the media and Western governments; and whether the emphasis placed by Western powers on Afghanistan is justified under the pretext to ensure Bin Laden and his supporters do not return to the country. A comparison will be drawn between what threat may be posed by al Qaeda in its current form, and the result of the Western powers and Afghan government failing to bring stability to Afghanistan itself. The dissertation will seek to deeply scrutinize the Western narrative for the occupation of Afghanistan.

In order to tackle the research question, the dissertation will begin by analyzing the issue of al Qaeda as a transnational terrorist organization and the type of threat that it currently poses, in order to juxtapose the al Qaeda of the present with that which had struck on September 11th 2001. In the next chapter, the focus will shift to Afghanistan’s own historic and political development in light of foreign interventions and the results those have had on country’s political trajectory. Chapter 5 recounts the U.S. handling of the war by the Bush and Obama administrations (until the time of writing), and what progress had been made utilizing the strategy of both nation-building and counter terrorist operations to date. Finally, the sixth chapter looks at Afghanistan and explore the various areas in which the country’s development has been lacking.

This research comes at an appropriate time, with the West’s own economic issues being a sensitive topic due to the recession which began in late 2007, and the Western public’s growing antipathy towards the war effort in Afghanistan pushing events towards a hasty withdrawal. The structure of the dissertation has been done in a manner which will allow an analysis of the U.S.led Afghan strategy in detail, and effectively dividing it into its counter terrorist and nation- building pillars with in depth background information on both Afghanistan and al Qaeda, and the synergy (or lack thereof) which has existed between the two over the years. This is done in order to ascertain whether al Qaeda’s metamorphosis as a terrorist organization or whether Afghanistan’s instability should be the prime focus for a continued Western presence in the country, if that same presence is determined to be required at all.

The implications of the war in Afghanistan on International Relations is certain to help steer the discourse of future interventions in hotspots all over the globe for the next generation. Scholars, historians and government policy makers alike will be analyzing the war for years to come, with the Afghan story being rich with a number of issues, with repercussions for the conflict itself, and other future conflicts alike. It touches upon nation-building and failed states, humanitarian issues, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, and the future of conflict in underdeveloped nations. Like the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, and the American experience in Vietnam, it will be dissected and argued about for years, if not decades, to come - well after the last Western soldier has left the country. Afghanistan currently represents the future of foreign intervention and counterterrorism operations, and the variety of issues which fall in between. As a result, it is deserving of an in depth analysis, which this dissertation seeks to provide.


I had chosen this topic as the focus of my Master’s dissertation as I had felt that it was an area in which so many of the key questions facing International Relations, such as transnational threats to established nation states and nation-building initiatives, could be tackled under the umbrella of one topic. With the attention of the U.S. and the West at large focusing once again on their mission in Afghanistan, it felt necessary to revisit and analyze some of the key points and arguments that had been made on the subject over the period of the last several years.

Conducting research on an ongoing topic such as Afghanistan and al Qaeda posed a number of interesting challenges. One notable example was lack of availability of research from a non-Western standpoint in English, as well as the inability to travel to Afghanistan in order to obtain first-hand research without risking life and limb in the prevailing circumstances at the time of writing.

Although the theories of International Relations have been used in parts throughout the dissertation, this research mainly comprises of empirical sources. These sources had been a mixture of primary sources, such as the Congressional Research Service papers, N.A.T.O. and U.S. government documents; as well as secondary sources such as peer-reviewed journals, newspaper reports (in order to include the most up to date information on the topic) and books written by experts and analysts amongst others. I had chosen to use these sources in order to provide a balance of official reports and data (primary sources) and analytical critiques (secondary sources) on the issues of Afghanistan and al Qaeda. These had been juxtaposed in order to depict the scale of the topic and the conflicting interpretations of the policies being enacted.

On the one hand, conducting research about an ongoing topic such as this one poses a number of problems, as one can come to a reasonable conclusion based on the data available at the time of writing, only for events to occur in Afghanistan several days later that would render the conclusion irrelevant or incorrect. As a result, it was essential to use the research available in order to provide the most accurate analysis possible, whilst allowing for events to alter the circumstances somewhat, and being able to make the necessary amendments as time elapsed and new information transpired.

The data used throughout the dissertation had been gathered between July 2008 until October 2010. The situation in Afghanistan, as well as the questions revolving around al Qaeda as a militant entity, have been ongoing since 2001, and the conclusions reached at the end of this dissertation are relevant at the time of concluding the dissertation, which had been October 2010.

There had been some limitations in the regards of research material. In order to obtain a a larger amount of data, I had travelled to London (specifically, the International Institute for Strategic Studies) in January 2010 in order to obtain new research material in order to supplement that which I had found locally, through online book retailers, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and via online databases such as JSTOR amongst others. The I.I.S.S. in London had a wealth of information on Afghanistan, al Qaeda, nation building, and terrorism in general. The information I had found there had been more than sufficient for me to complete this dissertation, as I had also found a number of primary source materials, such as Congressional Research documents, and N.A.T.O. and U.S. government reports on Afghanistan which had been invaluable to my research and overall understanding of the topic.

Another issue which had to be dealt with was that of the language of the research that had been available. The research material which I had found had been in the English language, as my level of understanding of French is limited, whilst I do not have an understanding of Arabic, Pashto or Dari (the latter being the official languages spoken in Afghanistan). Inevitably, the research found often portrays the topics from a Western point of view, although I tried to temper this by using material from non-Western academics such as Tariq Ali, Ahmed Rashid, and Col. Muhammad Yahya Effendi, who are all of Pakistani descent. Unfortunately, academic research conducted by Afghans proved to be difficult to find, and those that had been available were not available in an English translation. Thus, there had been limitations in the scope and balance of the research material available, which I had made every effort to balance in order to conduct an impartial piece of analytical work.

Chapter 2 Terrorism & Failed States: A review of literature

No challenge in international relations today is more pressing or more difficult than that of supporting weak states.2

Kofi Annan

Former U.N. Secretary General

The link between al Qaeda as a terror entity and Afghanistan's current instability as a nation-state had often been cited by both Western states and scholars as a reason for continued foreign presence in Afghanistan. With the onset of a global recession in 2008, and a drawn out war which has not delivered satisfactory results, that view has been altered somewhat. An increasingly loud chorus are questioning the benefit of the war effort both in Afghanistan as well as the efforts against al Qaeda and calling for the immediate withdrawal of forces there as a result of the lack of progress made. However, it seems as though the relation between al Qaeda as a terror entity, and subsequently, the threat it may pose in the future, has been tied to Afghanistan's own future prospects as a viable nation state. However, it is an issue which is worthy of scrutiny, in order to ascertain whether al Qaeda poses a threat from Afghanistan and what is necessary in order to stabilize the latter, with particular emphasis on whether a link truly exists between them. Until a linkage between an elusive, transnational terrorist entity and an impoverished war-torn nation is either proven or broken, the tangled yarn that Afghanistan has come to exemplify as a mixture of contemporary international security, transnational terrorism and nation-building in a globalized world will continue to confound and frustrate researchers.

It may well be that the failings are not due simply to the complexity and breadth of the task at hand, as a number of scholars have been saying for a number of years - but also failing to realize that the hazards posed by both al Qaeda and Afghanistan are still significant, but unlike in Western analysis and government rhetoric, they are separate issues with their own causations. As a result, each should with its own specific, targeted strategy, detached from one another. In essence, the strategic trajectories for tackling al Qaeda and dealing with Afghanistan's issues should be separate.

The purpose of this literature review is to analyze, and subsequently analyze the works which have been published on the area of al Qaeda and its relationship with Afghanistan over the last several years, in order to establish a foundation for the dissertation’s own analysis.

Al Qaeda as a specimen of transnational terrorism

Al Qaeda is a phenomenon that is a familiar topic in the field of international relations in the last several years. Since 2001, a plethora of articles, books, reports and dissertations have been written about the group, which was first established by Osama bin Laden in the twilight years of the occupation of Afghanistan, as will be outlined in the third chapter of this dissertation. As of the mid-1990’s, the group’s professed aim was to attack U.S. interests around the globe in order to ensure that the Americans withdraw its support for Israel and ‘apostate’ Arab regimes in the Middle East amongst others.3 Al Qaeda’s international agenda has come to change the way in which terrorism is viewed in the realm of international relations, as its ambitions and rhetoric pose a direct threat to not only to established governments in the Muslim world, but Western interests there as well.

Conceptualizing al Qaeda as a terrorist entity within a concept as ambiguous as terrorism has proved to be no mean feat for researchers and governments alike since September 11th 2001. As noted by Brown, nearly every act of terrorism has been both defined and criminalized by the U.N, such as hijacking or hostage taking4, and yet an agreeable definition remains elusive. The international community has yet to establish a working definition that can be agreed upon by nation states, a point which has been long lamented by long standing terrorism scholars such as Walter Laqueur “Even if there were an objective, value-free definition of terrorism, covering all its important aspects and features, it would still be rejected by some for ideological reasons…”5

In order to attempt to place al Qaeda in the broader framework of terrorism, it is vital to define both transnational terrorism and international terrorism. The two terms have often been used interchangeably over the course of the last several years by the media and scholars alike; however, this may have only been the case as a result of al Qaeda being linked to both terms. Fernando Reinares attempted to differentiate between the two terminologies, by stating that a transnational terrorist entity had the ability to strike in various states from within a defined area in which the affected states in question had no jurisdiction6. On the other hand, international terrorism indicates that the terrorist group in question has a broader agenda to destabilize entire regions or entities throughout the globe, affecting both structure and challenging established powers on a larger scale7. According to Reinares’ defining criteria, groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah would easily fit into transnational terror entities, but with the exception of al Qaeda, there are no clear candidates for international terrorist organizations which have the intention of destabilizing or radically altering the shape and scope of both the structure and distribution of power at the level of global society. In essence, Reinares justifiably places al Qaeda as a terror entity whose very existence and ambitions puts it on a level of its own at the time of writing.

The essence of the ambiguity that surrounds al Qaeda, as well as the method in which it operates makes it an interesting, if not daunting challenge for any potential researcher. Bruce Hoffman, remarked that al Qaeda was a difficult subject to tackle by contemporary experts. He notes that the group is constantly evolving according to the shifting circumstances around them:

Let me make three broad observations about al Qaeda and terrorism. First, the good news is that the treat that al Qaeda poses is changing. We have forced it to change. This is a reflection of the successes and the progress that we have achieved in the war on terror in the past… years. But the bad news is that al Qaeda and the threat it poses are changing precisely because they are capable of changing.8

Hoffman continues by stating “that the concept of a war on terror has outlived both its usefulness and its relevance.” 9 Ever since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the term ‘war on terror’ has become more and more ambiguous at a time in which acts of terrorism have come to be overshadowed by events in Afghanistan, and the term itself may continue to fuel the flames of hatred and the feeling of injustice in the Arab world. Moving forward, Professor Hoffman asserts that the current battle against Islamic extremists should be viewed as a global insurgency, or a global counterinsurgency. This hypothesis brings to light the struggle which is ongoing in Afghanistan and Pakistan amongst others, especially when one takes into account the composition of the so-called ‘Arab Afghans’, which fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan. They comprised Saudis, Pakistanis, Egyptians, Palestinian, Uzbeks from Central Asia, and Uighurs from Xinjiang in China as well as Filipino Moros.10

The point emphasized by Hoffman is one that has not yet gained traction amongst the Western governments. Articles which take this point of view are scarce, showing that the Western powers seem to place a simplistic label on a far more dangerous conflict than it is realizing. Information about Al Qaeda’s composition and capabilities are just as sparse, and this is a point which will be scrutinized further in the third chapter of the dissertation. However, the literature about al Qaeda is generally in agreement that al Qaeda has been forced to adapt and change its methods of operation.

Steven Simon continues along this line by stating that al Qaeda had undergone a transition from a mere group to an ideological movement. He states that the main difference between the group and movement are the method in which al Qaeda finds its recruits. In the former case, al Qaeda would actively search for prospective recruits from amongst a somewhat politically disenchanted population, which has not proven difficult as can be seen in the case of Iraq, as will be explored in Chapter 5 of this dissertation. In the latter case, recruitment becomes one of self-selection, in which little work (if any) needs to be done to indoctrinate members as they are already drawn in by the group’s ideology from what they know about them through their media coverage. Al Qaeda’s ability to make use of the media has been well documented since 9/11, with various video recordings, audio tapes, and releases to jihadi websites being the predominant methods in which the al Qaeda leadership reaches out to prospective recruits:

This is a phenomenon that is being fed and will be further fueled by the nature of mass communications, whether it is the Web or videotapes or cable TV or the like… Groups like Jama’at al-Tawhi wal-Jihad- that is the group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq - graft themselves onto al Qaeda. The GSPC [Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat] in Algeria has done the same thing. This has contributed to a blurring of the lines between the movement we see now and…al Qaeda.11

Al Qaeda has indeed evolved over the course of the last few years, due to necessity as both Hoffman and Simon both state. In many ways, this evolution was forced upon it, however, the evolution has made the group more difficult to understand, and thus oppose, than ever before. No longer does it require a base of operations in order to plan and train for attacks. Prospective militants seeking to conduct attacks against the West need only to search for one of those Arab/Afghan ‘graduates’ that had fought against the Soviets and returned to their homeland in order to continue the jihad there. Pervez Musharraf, who was both the Pakistani head of state (2001 - 2008) and the commander of the armed forces there (between 1999 and 2007), had noted in his memoir that the influence of Osama bin Laden had attracted a number of potential recruits to his cause; reflecting both the Saudi’s influence as well as his appeal to jihadis.

After Osama bin Laden arrived in Jalalabad in southern Afghanistan in May 1996, Arab from various countries who had left after the Afghan jihad started returning there to join him… Soon Uzbeks, Bangladeshis, Chechens, Chinese, Uygurs, and Muslims from south India, Europe, America and even Australia started to arrive in Afghanistan…12

Unsurprisingly, Musharraf fails to mention any notion that al Qaeda received recruits from Pakistan in his memoirs - although it is more than likely that it not only received recruits, but also support and hospitality from the Pakistani tribal areas in the aftermath of the fall of the Taliban regime in Kabul in 2001. The latter case has been well documented in the media in the last several years, and its only towards the second half of 2009 that any substantial push had been made by the Pakistani military into areas where al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban militants have been known to reside. Pakistan had allowed Taliban and al Qaeda remnants to cross from the Afghan side of the border in the first place, although it must be said that Islamabad’s control over the tribal areas is weak to say the least, and this will be discussed in latter half of the dissertation. However, for several years, these jihadists were allowed to reside in the periphery of the country entirely unabated, and this has allowed not only the Taliban, but also al Qaeda remnants to regroup in these tribal regions. Despite what may be said by the authorities in Pakistan, including the former President Musharraf, at the time of writing there continue to be a number of indications in the field stemming from media reports and experts that bin Laden and his closest deputies remain in hiding in Pakistan13.

However, the place of residence of the al Qaeda leadership should not be the focal point when discussing the group. A more worthy focus may prove to be whether al Qaeda’s ideology had gained some traction since the invasion of Iraq, inciting jihadists from all over the region to go there in order to fight Western forces, and how its evolution correlates to events in Afghanistan, if at all. This topic is a gap that currently exists in International Relations, and one of which will be tackled by the third chapter of this dissertation.

In a paper written for the RAND think tank in 2003, Bruce Hoffman describes bin Laden’s claim in 1996 that the ‘Crusader military forces’ of the West had established a foothold in Saudi Arabia “… from which they intended to impose a new imperialism on the Middle East in order to gain control over the region’s oil wealth.”14. This claim by Bin Laden may have only been strengthened in the eyes of the average Muslim in the street after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, to say nothing of the increasing tension that exists between the West and Iran about its nuclear program. Hoffman had stated, somewhat prophetically, that should the U.S. military presence be prolonged in the region, al Qaeda’s ability to wage a guerilla war and to use the American presence there for propaganda purposes would increase bin Laden’s credibility - and it had for a great deal of time.

Whilst al Qaeda may have lost some support in Iraq due to its targeting of civilians, it still manages to inspire groups and individuals to launch their own attacks throughout the region, at times doing so in al Qaeda’s name. With so much focus put on Osama bin Laden, Ayman al- Zawahiri and al Qaeda’s upper echelons in general, there is not a significant amount of analysis about the influence which al Qaeda’s ideology wields in the region, with its ideology being conceptualized in both the introduction Chapter 3 of this thesis. The efforts of the international community have focused on defeating al Qaeda militarily in Afghanistan in order to deny them safe haven there. However, little research has been conducted (based on the literature available at the time of writing) concerning whether al Qaeda truly poses a military threat from there at present, or in the near future, or whether its ideological threat outweighs that of its military capacity. This will be one particular area which will be addressed by the dissertation in its third chapter. Western governments and scholars have been slow in adapting their gaze from being military-centric, to encompassing a struggle against a militant entity that seeks to wage a war over the course of a number of years. As Hoffman stated, bin Laden and the Taliban saw the fall of Kabul in 2001 as “…one setback or a mere lost battle in a long war”15 and that whilst the U.S. had at one point grown accustomed to quick military victories by capturing Kabul and Baghdad, bin Laden and the legion of jihadists “…see this conflict as an epic contest lasting years, if not decades.”16 The long used concepts of military victories, capturing an enemy’s capital city, as well as the occupation of territory are not applicable in a time in which insurgencies, terrorist acts, and nation-building efforts have come to be intertwined in the narrative of Western occupation in Afghanistan.

Following along a related train of thought, an article penned by Ray Takeyh and Nikolas Gvosdev analyzed the tendency of terrorist organizations utilizing a defined territory from within which to operate and train17. In this essay, the authors analyze the relationship that exists between terrorist networks such as al Qaeda, and failed states such as Afghanistan. One of the key observations made early on in the essay is that whilst the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan had deprived al Qaeda of one of its main bases for both training and recruitment, the group still retained the ability to disperse to other failed regions, such as Lebanon, Kosovo, and Somalia amongst others. Takeyh and Gvosdev state that all terrorist networks require from a failed state is a remote area of land where training complexes and other essential operational services can be undertaken with little or no interference whatsoever. Al Qaeda exemplifies this point throughout its history, first in Afghanistan, followed by a period of several years in Sudan, only for the group to return to Afghanistan once the Taliban had taken over the country in the mid 1990’s.

This is a vital point which is raised by Takeyh and Gvosdev, as it does show that even should the U.S. and the West manage to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan, jihadists such as al Qaeda can simply move their operations to other regions where they can operate with little interference from state authorities. By simply denying al Qaeda safe haven in areas such as Afghanistan, the West is simply denying their opponents one area in which they can house their operations, while at the same time neglecting to tackle the group’s ideological aspect. The latter, along with the attacks undertaken in its name, are seen to be one of the foremost factors which drives the recruitment of young men towards al Qaeda and other such groups, which will also be discussed in detail in the third chapter of the dissertation.

This lack of study on the changes made by al Qaeda since 2001 depict a certain gap which exists in the current literature available at the time of writing, with the lack of focus given to al Qaeda’s evolution from a kinetic militant organization, to a transnational ideological movement of resistance. The impact and influence which al Qaeda has in Afghanistan may not be as prevalent, or indeed as unchallenged as it had been prior to 2001. Nevertheless, it still has a part to play in the instability that has been prevalent there ever since. The part it plays will be analyzed throughout the third chapter of the dissertation, by dissecting the information known about al Qaeda in the context of the situation in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan in the context of foreign military intervention

Foreign intervention, be it military, economic, diplomatic or otherwise, has become commonplace after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. For the purpose of this dissertation, however, military interventions will be assessed in detail. Since the fall of the Soviet empire, the United States alone has intervened 28 times (at the time of writing) in 17 different states18, varying from restoring a foreign leader (Haiti, 1997), to missile strikes against ‘terrorist’ sites (Sudan and Afghanistan, 1998)19. It is not only the United States which has sanctioned such operations, however, with the U.N.’s undertaking approximately 50 missions between 1991 and the present day20 - which is more than had been commissioned for the previous 40 years combined. It is clear that foreign intervention, be it humanitarian, military, or a combination of the two has come to be a global issue concerning all members of the international community. Afghanistan represents perhaps one of the more challenging, if not high profile (in terms of media attention and resources dedicated to the mission there) interventions if in the last decade due to the complexity of domestic issues which exist there, as well as the perceived implications of failure for the international community.

The concept of foreign intervention has seemingly changed little from the ‘boom’ of the early 1990’s to the present day. Yaacov Vertzberger had provided an apt definition of the model of foreign military intervention through the prism of the risk involved in doing so:

The term intervention refers generally to a broad range of activities that encompass many... activities directed by one state toward another. The activities can be political, diplomatic, economic, or military; they can have various levels of intensity and scope, and they represent a balance between the intervener's interests, power, and opportunities and the structural vulnerabilities of the target state...21

Whilst it may be argued that Vertzberger had assumed that an intervening state would so mainly out of self-interest, leaning towards realism, his definition appears to remain valid to this day, despite the passage of more than a decade. The invasion of Afghanistan is a curious case of an initial military invasion slowly changing into a blend of a humanitarian/political/military interests being pursued in the guise of one occupation. By Vertzberger’s definition, it is implied that the interests of the state being occupied are not necessarily the prime motivator behind the interventions themselves. On the other hand, one also would need to consider the list of states which have undergone a foreign military intervention in the last two decades, such as Haiti, Afghanistan, and Somalia amongst others. These states have spent a number of years functioning on the periphery of the international community, while their own domestic issues had torn the very fabric of the state from within, leaving little trace of stability. Contrasting two states such as Somalia and Afghanistan, where the latter retains a foreign presence while the former does not, it is arguable whether foreign military intervention solves the issues present in the country for the long term, as not enough time has elapsed in either case in order to draw an accurate comparison.

On the other hand, the concept of foreign military interventions has also come to embody another variable: that of humanitarian military interventions, as conceptualized in a 2008 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute publication:

Advocates of the non-political nature of humanitarian aid dislike the idea of military intervention for humanitarian purposes. Not only is it an oxymoron— since military intervention is inherently political—but military intervention also causes humanitarian action to become politicized. When foreign soldiers arrive, and particularly when they engage in relief work, foreign aid personnel have a difficult time distinguishing themselves from soldiers in the eyes of local actors.22

The intervention in Afghanistan may have had had military objectives early on - namely the expulsion of the Taliban and their al Qaeda ‘guests’, however it became apparent that the occupation of the country would require a humanitarian aspect as well. Using a predominantly military campaign in order to provide humanitarian relief is certain to bring about questions about the mission’s objectives, as it had done in for a period in Afghanistan.

The S.I.P.R.I. publication raises a number of interesting points concerning how the militarization and politicization of humanitarian intervention “…can also increase the intensity of violence by adding troops, firepower and another armed group to an already volatile environment.”23 However, whilst the S.I.P.R.I. publication had discussed the aforementioned militarization and politicization of humanitarian intervention, there is scant literature which has analyzed the political, economic, and security aspects of an intervention which already had its justification in terms in a highly militarized/politicized intervention, with a thin layer of humanitarian underpinnings. Chapters 5 and 6 of this dissertation will seek to address the complexities which exist in Afghanistan in its political and economic structures, with a historical analysis of the conditions which have developed in the country over a number of years, culminating in the situation which exists today.

The international community, led by the U.S. and the West, faces a sizable challenge in a country which has the notoriety of being the ‘graveyard of empires’24. When the Americans invaded Afghanistan in 2001, it had seemed as though they had managed to avoid the historical trend by winning a decisive victory over the Taliban and al Qaeda. However, as the years came to pass, it became apparent that al Qaeda and the Taliban were far from defeated, and attacks against U.S. and N.A.T.O. troops began to steadily increase.

From as early as 2004, it became gradually more evident to scholars and intelligence analysts alike that Afghanistan was not achieving the stability that was hoped for by the United States. In an article written for the journal Iranian Studies 2004, Thomas J. Barfield took a historical perspective of the difficulties facing any power attempting to establish a legitimate government in Afghanistan25. One of the most significant points which Barfield mentions, which has not received the attention necessary by the West, is the importance of the area known today as ‘Pashtunistan’ in the Afghan region throughout history - but particularly since eighteenth century. He describes the turmoil which had embroiled the country for centuries, and that the Pashtuns viewed themselves as a privileged minority within the country. These sentiments are unlikely to have faded over time, as the strong attachment which Afghans have to their tribal and ethnic heritage has been well recorded in the last 20 years and will be elaborated in more detail in Chapter 4. However, with the number of Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand line, which includes a sizable population in the border regions of Pakistan, which we now know had provided asylum to the Afghan Taliban and remnants of al Qaeda26.

Whilst Barfield’s 2004 article reflected a sense of optimism towards the opportunity which the West had to transform Afghanistan into a modern, functioning state; troop casualties and IED attacks had increased from the year before27. However, Barfield was correct in noting that Afghans were quick to support one occupying power, only to support a second power to oust the first should it feel the tides were changing:

Using one foreign invader to rid the country of another fell well within the Afghan political tradition. And the Americans could be counted upon to leave the country at some point, while it was widely feared that Pakistanis and Arabs would not; so in this case using a non-Muslim power to rid the country of unwelcome foreign Muslims was deemed acceptable.28

When bringing that into contrast with the reality which has been ubiquitous in the last few years, it becomes evident that with the increasing strength of the insurgency in the southern, Pashtun regions of Afghanistan may prove to be an ominous sign for the foreign powers and the Afghan government itself - with some in the field going as far as comparing the situation in the country to the U.S. experience in Vietnam29. This is an overly simplistic analogy, which disregards a number of complex factors at play in the region, to say nothing of the wildly different histories that southeast and southwest Asia have had had in terms of economic and political development. While there is little literature to come to any solid conclusions or analysis on the matter, the fifth and sixth chapters of the dissertation will attempt to detail the shift of events in the last several years in Afghanistan, particularly in the context of its development in the areas of security, politics and economics. It may be suggested that popular support is once again turning once again against the foreign power - only to support a former ruling regime, namely the Taliban, which the country had seemingly happily seen the end of less than a decade before. Although benefitting from hindsight, Barfield’s analysis was historically accurate, but somewhat shortsighted in the course of current analysis. He had correctly stated that the Pashtuns had a strong sense of identity which had been forged over the course of centuries, but underplayed the support which the Taliban (and in turn, al Qaeda) received from the very ethnic grouping from which the former had emerged.

In a 2009 article written for Foreign Policy by Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason with the title of ‘ Saigon 2009 ’ 30 , the authors argue that the parallels between the U.S. experience in Afghanistan today and that of their experience in Vietnam in the 1960’s and 1970’s are ‘sobering.’ Citing a historical comparison, the authors begin by noting that both Vietnam and Afghanistan had unexpectedly defeated a pair of strong global powers, namely Britain and the Soviet Union, in guerilla wars of comparative length. Another example cites the long supply lines which had existed between the U.S. and Vietnam, as well as those which exist between the U.S. and Afghanistan today - in both cases the U.S. advantages of ground mobility and artillery had been nullified.

Any Western article which compares Afghanistan, or indeed, any other U.S. foreign military venture to Vietnam is bound to stoke the fires of controversy. However, articles discussing the similarities between the two appear to be increasing in number. At the time of writing, by writing the words ‘Afghanistan Vietnam similarities’ into the popular web search engine Google, nearly 11 million results are displayed. However, U.S. foreign interventions have been plagued with comparisons with Vietnam ever since that particular war was brought to a close. This is not to say, however, that Afghanistan is heading along a downward spiral similar to the one which Vietnam had. Comparisons are useful to utilize as a tool to plot a general trend, however, if not taken into consideration with a country’s ethnic, historical, and political background, any comparison becomes shallow and meaningless. The article may not be one of the most remarkable in terms of analysis, however, it is reflective of trends in current analysis, which has taken a particularly negative view of any chance of success in Afghanistan, even more so in defeating al Qaeda. This trend is one which, while far from being premature (given the failure of the U.S. and its allies to stabilize Afghanistan since 2001, or effectively dismantle the al Qaeda network in the same timeframe), does not contribute much in terms of scholarly insight. Needless to say, the literature which views Afghanistan as being another Vietnam, or even another Somalia (where U.S. forces had been present between 1992-1994) are increasing in number. On the other hand, these views are not taking into consideration the successful U.S. led nation-building operations, such as those in Haiti in 1994, or Bosnia soon after. While one may attribute the growing pessimistic view of Western involvement down to pragmatic realism, it may be that a more entrenched defeatist mentality seems more fitting of this point of view.

Nation building and counterinsurgency

In the last several years, Afghanistan has been marred by an increasingly brutal insurgency, which is threatening to undermine Western and Afghan government efforts to establish a semblance of stability that would allow it to begin the process of slowly rebuilding after decades of war. A counterinsurgency effort has been well underway in the country since then, with the West attempting to apply some of the lessons learned in Iraq between 2004-2007 in order to attempt to bring the situation under control. However, like Iraq, the progress in the counterinsurgency and nation-building efforts have been slow and hard earned.

The concepts of counter insurgency and nation building are quite congruent in terms of their overall objectives. According to the Dictionary of International Relations, an insurgency is “…an armed insurrection or rebellion against an established government in a state.”31 As a result, counterinsurgency would an action which opposes the armed insurrection against the established government in question. On the other hand, nation building has been defined as A broader effort to promote political and economic reforms with the objective of transforming a society emerging from conflict into one at peace with itself and its neighbors.32

By definition, the concepts of counterinsurgency and nation building are not only compatible, but also required in a situation such as Afghanistan’s. The insurgency that rages on requires a counterinsurgency effort, while the weakness of the central government in several sectors dictates the need for a nation-building effort in order to reinforce its institutions and the government’s capabilities. In theory, a successful counterinsurgency effort, or significant progress, would allow for all concerned (Western forces, the Afghan government, non- governmental organizations, international organizations and regional partners) to redouble the nation-building efforts in order to strengthen Afghanistan as an effective nation-state, as well as a member of the international community.

A case of realism in the analysis of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan comes from Daniel Marston in the book “ Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare ”.33 In his essay, Dr Marston takes note of the numerous failures which the U.S. and its allies had committed during of the war until 2007. One of the most damaging errors conducted according to Marston, and justifiably so, is that the U.S. failed to create any sort of post-war plan for Afghanistan. This allowed the Northern Alliance, comprised of minority Uzbeks, Hazaras and Tajiks (all mainly situated throughout the north and western areas of Afghanistan) to take control of key areas of the country after the fall of Kabul in 2001. The Pashtuns, as previously mentioned, had enjoyed a powerful status in the country for many years, and soon found themselves disenfranchised with the foreign occupiers. Similar mistakes had been made by the U.S. in Iraq, where post-war plans had been few, and the disenfranchisement of the powerful Sunni minority had been one of the factors which led to a destructive insurgency there. As a result, Afghanistan had not been a mistake by mere coincidence - but along with Iraq was proof that U.S. strategy for both states had been fundamentally flawed. These flaws have been discussed to some degree, however, there has not yet been an attempt to connect these flaws with the ongoing situation that exists in Afghanistan, in light of the stated counterterrorist/nation-building strategy which continues there, and the dissertation will discuss this at length in the fifth and sixth chapters.

The political vacuum left by the Taliban in the wake of their defeat at the hands of U.S. and Northern Alliance forces has never truly been filled, and this will be further analyzed in Chapters 5 and 6 in the framework of the role it plays in the current political instability which it causes within the country. There was also serious infighting between anti-Taliban Pashtuns amongst others, which nearly guaranteed that other than the Taliban, no central government could truly project any sense of power beyond the major cities and towns:

Anti Taliban Pashtun leaders… failed to demonstrate cohesiveness. Commanders raced to establish their own authority, creating a patchwork of predatory, competing fiefdoms. A culture of impunity was allowed to take root in the name of stability, with abusers free to return to their old ways as long as they mouthed their allegiance to the central government.34

Whilst Marston’s analysis criticizes the early efforts by the West to stabilize the country, he notes that after 2004, there seemed to be a change in the demeanor and the actions of the U.S. and N.A.T.O. forces in Afghanistan. Since then, there had been significant strides in moving away from a conventional warfare frame of mind, to one in which a more defined and open counterinsurgency strategy has been embraced as a solution to the security problem which currently exists. On the other hand, Marston aptly notes that The main problem impeding coalition forces’ successful application of counterinsurgency was decentralization of responsibility. The number of different governments involved in the coalition… made it very difficult to implement a single, cohesive, consistent plan of action that could be applied across Afghanistan.35

The issue of command structure and strategy in Afghanistan has been mentioned more and more frequently since the decision to water down U.S. involvement in Iraq. Whilst it may not be a problem which is directly affecting the perception of foreign forces in Afghanistan, there are almost certainly problems caused by having different countries pursuing similar strategies in different ways. There are a total of 42 nations36 that are supplying troops, in either combat or non-combat capacity, to the mission in Afghanistan. As a result, despite the best efforts of those involved, agendas and interests between these nations are certain to differ - as well as the application of any strategy agreed upon by the partners concerned. Germany is a prime example as it has sent some forces to Afghanistan, however they were meant to serve in a relatively peaceful area in the northern regions of Afghanistan (Germany’s notorious history has played a part in the deployment of forces abroad, which imposes a number of restrictions on the rules of engagement of its forces). Yet, now that fighting in the country has spread throughout nearly the entire country, many states, such as Germany, are reconsidering whether they should have their troops there at all. The failure of the West to implement a unified strategy and chain of command is one of the contributing factors to continuing deterioration of the situation on the ground there. The impact of the lack of a concrete strategy will be discussed in the fifth chapter, in the context of the influence it had over the two U.S. administrations since the invasion and the manner in which they prosecuted the war there. This will be done in order to provide an overarching analysis, which has thus far been somewhat lacking in the literature available, of how the situation has developed in the context of a lack of a meaningful, or achievable objective. This is a point which Marston whole-heartedly subscribes to, and it remains an issue which has yet to be fully resolved.

Adam Roberts takes the issue of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan a step further. 37

Roberts delivers a scathing analysis of the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan which starts off with the initial invasion of the state itself in 2001, and produces a critical, yet interesting analysis of the state of affairs which came about due to the involvement of varying agendas and conflicts in one, large war The international war in 2001 had been superimposed on two more enduring conflicts: between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, and between the United States and its allies against alQaeda terrorists. Both continued. The war against al-Qaeda and related terrorists, now based in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, carried on without interruption. In addition, there was growing resistance in southern Afghanistan to the new regime.38

This particular quote highlighted the complex situation which the U.S. helped to create in 2001. However, as Roberts notes, the situation was made further complicated by the popular insurgency which had began to take root in the country, and which was labeled a ‘Taliban’ insurrection by the U.S. (and later N.A.T.O.). Roberts quotes Ahmed Rashid in order to further illustrate that the Taliban phenomenon is not necessarily one which is limited to Afghanistan, or indeed Pakistan. Rather, it is a “…product of refugee camps, militarized madrassas, and the lack of opportunities in the borderland in the borderland of Pakistan and Afghanistan.”39 As a result, what Roberts is keen to argue is that it is not necessarily the Taliban themselves which are fuelling the insurgency - rather the circumstances on the ground, which coupled a perceived growing public antipathy to foreign forces40 and the central government, have helped to swell the Taliban’s ranks. The counterinsurgency effort may be failing at perhaps its very basic level - that of being able to convince the local population that the counterinsurgent forces can provide better security and governance than that of the insurgents. The implications of this are not yet fully understood in the context of Afghanistan, and the sixth chapter of this dissertation will seek to discuss the variables that are being addressed in order to bring some form of stability to the country.

In order to analyze this failure in more depth, Roberts turns to modern Western counterinsurgency doctrine, such as the most recent U.S. counterinsurgency manual published by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps at the height of the insurgency in Iraq. Roberts describes a controversial classic counterinsurgency equation, which states that approximately 20-25 counterinsurgents are necessary for every 1,000 residents in an area of operations. Should Afghanistan be taken a point in case, there would need to be in the region of 775,000 counterinsurgents in order to effectively police and protect Afghanistan’s 31 million inhabitants.41 This, needless to say, is a number which is highly unlikely to ever come to fruition. Roberts also criticizes those who use past counterinsurgency occurrences in order to apply a similar doctrine in radically different circumstances. This is a reasonable assumption on Roberts’ part, as with different political/historical circumstances, social development; as well as the main elements of the local economy varying dramatically between different nations and regions, there is no effective way to translate the dismal U.S. experience in the jungles of Vietnam into the worsening situation it finds itself in the mountains and valleys in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, Roberts interestingly raises one particular issue that many strategists and analysts have not yet taken onboard since 2001: in their haste to compare historical examples of insurgencies to Afghanistan, they have neglected one little mentioned aspect of the British experience in Malaya, one of the most celebrated examples in history of a successful counterinsurgency campaign. In Malaya, the British had completely withdrawn from the country after setting a set date, which Roberts notes as being a major contributor to the definitive end of the insurgency there. In the case of Afghanistan, with various states involved against a number of forces (Taliban, al Qaeda, nationalists, etc), the U.S. mission to find and kill al Qaeda’s leaders, and to achieve some form of stability in Afghanistan may be countering one another. This aspect, which has not been given the due analysis as yet in International Relations literature, will be discussed at length throughout Chapter 5.

Roberts somberly notes, one of the costs of a failed counterinsurgency campaign may actually lead to Afghanistan having a more grave impact on international security than it has in the last three decades42. With, or without an al Qaeda presence in the country, it is possible that the issue of transnational terrorism in weak or failed states will remain an issue to be dealt with for the next generation as well. Eliminating the safe havens which can be used by al Qaeda operatives may no longer be sufficient in order to eliminate them as a threat. Conversely, it is also part of what is necessary in order to help achieve some form of stability in Afghanistan provided that a suitable counterinsurgency strategy; which takes into account the various political, economic and social elements of Afghanistan, be put into effect.

A key factor in stabilizing Afghanistan will certainly depend on the success or failure of the nation-building efforts there. In practical terms, nation building has been a part of International Relations since the interwar period between 1919-1939 in Europe, when a number of central European powers were devastated by the economic and military toll that the First World War had on their nations. However, it is the success that the nation-building efforts undertaken in post-1945 Germany and Japan that have become the benchmarks for all such operations since. Dempsey admitted as much in an analysis conducted only 10 days into the initial invasion in 2001. However, he had criticized those, such as then Senator (Vice-President of the United States at the time of writing) Joseph Biden, who felt that a nation-building effort in Afghanistan and the outlying region would help to eliminate the ‘terrorism problem’ in the long term.43 Demspey goes on to state that “Afghanistan and its neighbors, in contrast, have little in the way of either liberal traditions or cultural attitudes that are agreeable to massive foreign interference.”44 He does not attempt to mask his skepticism that a modern day ‘Marshall Plan’ would work in southwest Asia by remarking that it was telling that one would need to go back 50 years (thus referring to the Marshall Plan itself) in order to find an example of such an undertaking actually working45.

Whilst Dempsey views may now be more widely held today amongst the general

Western public, his skepticism of the nation-building process in a country known to be less than welcoming to long drawn foreign occupations can be somewhat justified in light of the increasing violence in Afghanistan. However, his skepticism, like that of many of his contemporary peers (such as Johnson and Mason, who drew comparisons with Vietnam), may not be fully justified. This dissertation will seek to first challenge whether nation building in Afghanistan is a feasible strategy, given its turbulent history with foreign powers in the past. However, there is already literature that challenges Dempsey’s assertion within the scholarly community. Shamoo asserts that the nation-building effort in Afghanistan had been neglected for a number of years after 2001, and it was only when the Obama administration been in office that it had realized that a counterinsurgency effort without a parallel push in nation-building endeavors was nearly futile.46 In contrast with Dempsey, Shamoo does not question the benefits of nation building to Afghanistan’s future, nor does he question whether it is feasible - like others, including myself, he feels that the method of putting it into practice in the country has not been effective. This will be a point that will be elaborated on throughout the dissertation, in order to identify whether the instability, which the nation-building effort is trying to remedy, is based upon factors within the country itself - or whether it is a result of external factors, such as the presence of external actors (al Qaeda, foreign troops, etc).

The success or failure of the U.S. and N.A.T.O.’s ability to stabilize Afghanistan, is likely to become the yardstick against which future foreign interventions in third world nations are to be measured for the foreseeable future, much as the U.S. intervention in Vietnam shaped their foreign intervention policy for the following decades. The U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has recently become the longest foreign intervention in its history, and its aim of eliminating al Qaeda from the region does not seem any closer to fruition than it may have since the invasion of Iraq. There is no easy way to gauge whether al Qaeda is in its decline, as various analysts and pundits have used different methods, including the number and complexity of the attacks undertaken since 9/11 as a means to measure al Qaeda’s strength. However, what is certain is that only with the passage of several decades will historians have enough time and information in order to conclude at which point, if any, al Qaeda had begun its decline and what the impact of the foreign forces in Afghanistan meant for the country in the long term. It is easy for one to speculate what effect any failure of the West is likely to have in Afghanistan, but any speculation should be justified with the empirical evidence that currently exists, as varied in opinion and complex in the manner that it may be.

The vast array of literature which is available on the topic of Afghanistan’s future with or without al Qaeda has yet to reach the level in which entire books or journal articles are written solely with this thought in mind. However, Stephen Walt captures the essence of both the enormity and complexity of the question at hand Various plots in the past were conceived in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but it hardly takes a ‘safe haven’ to sit around and conspire - terrorists can do that virtually anywhere. In other words, making Afghanistan an ‘al Qaeda’-free zone is only a small part of the problem.47

However, it is clear from the debates that have taken place between scholars, politicians, and the general public has drawn the line between those who believe that the mission in Afghanistan is a worthy cause, and those who believe that the region as a whole is best left to its own devices, devoid of any Western interference. However, whilst these lines have been drawn, both points of view still the beg the question: Does al Qaeda pose a threat from within Afghanistan, and what is necessary in order to stabilize Afghanistan? At this stage, it is difficult to come to a conclusion as to whether al Qaeda will or will not be a part of Afghanistan’s future, and whether it can pose a threat from within those borders. But it is this complex question which this dissertation will be seeking to explore.

Chapter 3 Al Qaeda: Origins and Identity

History is merely a list of surprises. It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again.

-Kurt Vonnegut, German-American novelist .

Al Qaeda’s turbulent history has been discussed and pored over since September 11th 2001 in detail, with an abundance of analysis conducted by intelligence agencies and scholars the world over. However, while the history of what we believe to be a group of sorts has been discussed to such a degree, given its importance to this topic, it is worth re-evaluating once again. Some may say that al Qaeda’s history may give insight as to what Osama bin Laden is looking to do in the near future, however, in this case, it is unlikely that history can serve as a solid reference for international actors, intelligence agencies and scholarly communities. It is necessary to understand how al Qaeda as both a group and ideology has developed over the past twenty years or so in order to give the historical background of the current war in Afghanistan, in light of al Qaeda’s long history there.

Whilst there is debate as to what al Qaeda is now, there can be few who can argue that it had not been set up as a militant organization at the outset. There are a number of sources, including former al Qaeda operatives who had been apprehended, as well as original documents and hard drives (which will be discussed later in the chapter) that point towards al Qaeda’s early roots as an international jihadi48 organization. The concept of the term jihadi refers to a Muslim individual who commits him/herself to undertake a jihad, being a holy war. According to hadith (although it remains a topic of debate49 ), which is the verbal tradition of Islam passed on from one generation to the next, there are two types of jihad - the Greater (or internal) jihad in which one battles against the inclinations they may have towards sinning, and the Lesser (or external) jihad, also known as the jihad of the sword50. Using this version of the hadith, Al Qaeda and other like-minded militants have opted to undertake the route of the Lesser jihad, by choosing to violently oppose those they deem to be the enemies of Islam.

Al Qaeda had used Afghanistan as its base of operations early on, as the group had set up several training camps there, and had already managed to get the core infrastructure and logistics well underway. However, bin Laden and his followers would leave Afghanistan in order to search out new countries where they could undertake jihad once again, not unlike the several thousand Arab jihadi volunteers who had left Afghanistan in the years following the withdrawal of the Soviet Union to fight in areas as far off as Chechnya, Bosnia, and Algeria amongst others. His next port of call had been Saudi Arabia, followed by Sudan - only to return to Afghanistan once the Taliban had quelled the civil war that had been ongoing there, and effectively taking control of the country. The return of al Qaeda to Afghanistan had been on the precondition set by Bin Laden to the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, that his group would be protected51. Bin Laden’s ties with Afghanistan, and its next-door neighbor Pakistan, stretch back to the mid 1980’s, and it is a link that is still strong to this very day.

Whilst a great deal of attention had been given initially to Osama bin Laden, over the past several years, the number of audio tapes released by the Saudi has decreased quite substantially. No new video tape footage had been seen up until the time of writing since September 7th 2007, which may lead one to assume that wherever bin Laden is, his ability (or perhaps willingness) to broadcast a videotape may be limited. On the other hand, Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s number two, and often seen by Western scholars as the ideological force within al Qaeda52, has begun to release more and more audio tapes lambasting the West and their Arab allies. It is maintained that the al Qaeda leadership has long since fled to remote areas within Pakistan, although a contrasting view states up until 2005 15 al Qaeda high value targets had been captured or killed within urban areas53. As a result, the group’s leaders have become significantly more difficult to track down, and strikes by Predator U.A.V. (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) drones become riskier if deployed to attack targets in urban areas - due in no small part to questions of sovereignty and the potential for inflaming both anti-American and anti-government sentiment there.

However, whilst al Qaeda itself may not hold the continuous attention of the global headlines in recent years, it is still very much an issue which Afghanistan, Pakistan and Western forces are devoting a great deal of time and energy towards stabilizing both southwest Asian states, as well as hunting down al Qaeda militants and their allies in the region. Whilst al Qaeda may seem to be depleted as a military force in Afghanistan, that does not guarantee that it will always be so. Al Qaeda had been all but written off as a force to reckon with after the fall of Afghanistan to U.S. and Northern Alliance forces in the winter of 2001. However, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq had inflamed Arab public opinion throughout the Middle East, and al Qaeda suddenly had a second lease of life, with scores of Arab volunteers flocking to fight against the U.S. and its allies there. As a result, any analysis concluding that (the militant group/ideology known as) al Qaeda is in any form of irreparable decline may yet prove to be grossly premature.

The Origins of al Qaeda

The invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979 came at a time in which Arabs throughout the Middle East were still coming to terms with the defeat of the Arab armies by Israel during the Yom Kippur war of 1973, as well as the signing of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in early 1979. Both of these events were blows to Arab nationalism, and struck the death knell for the experiment undertaken by Nasser, leader of Egypt, to interlock Arab <> [Last Accessed 10/12/2009]


1 The Al Qaeda Reader. New York City: Broadway, 2007. Print. Pg 176

2 Dobbins, James. The Beginner's Guide to Nation-Building. Santa Monica: Rand Corporation, 2007. Print. Pg i

3 Reinares, Fernando. "Conceptualizing International Terrorism". Madrid: Real Instituto Elcano de Estudios Internacionales y Estratégicos, 2005. Print. Pp 1-2

4 Salmon, Trevor C, and David Brown. "Terrorism."Issues In International Relations. 2 ed. New York: Routledge, 2008. pp 107-108

5 Burgess, Mark. "Terrorism: The Problems of Definition."CDI - Center for Defense Information - Security Policy Research Organization. Center for Defense Information, 1 Aug. 2003. Web. 18 Sept. 2010. < ntversion.cfm>.

6 Reinares, Fernando. Op Cit pp 1-3

7 Ibid

8 Steven Simon, cited in: Greenberg, Karen J.. Al Qaeda Now: Understanding Today's Terrorists. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Pg 9

9 Ibid, pg 12.

10 Rashid, Ahmed. Taliban: The Story of the Afghan Warlords. Chatham: Pan Books, 2001. Pg. 128

11 Greenberg, Karen J.. Al Qaeda Now: Understanding Today's Terrorists. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Pg. 13

12 Musharraf, Pervez. In the Line of Fire: A Memoir. New York City: Free Press, 2008. Print. Pg 143

13 Starr, Barbara. "N.A.T.O. official: Bin Laden, deputy hiding in northwest Pakistan -" International - Breaking, World, Business, Sports, Entertainment and Video News. CNN Asia, 18 Oct. 2010. Web.18 Oct. 2010. <>

14 Hoffman, Bruce. "Al Qaeda, Trends in Terrorism and Future Potentialities: An Assessment."RAND. (2003): RAND. Available at <>. [Last Accessed 5 Oct. 2009.] pg.6

15 Ibid, pg. 9

16 Ibid, pg 9-10

17 Takeyh, Ray, and Nikolas Gvosdev. "Do Terrorist Networks Need a Home?."The Washington Quarterly..Summer 2002 (2002): 97-108. Print.

18 Grossman, Dr. Zoltan. "History of U.S. Military Interventions since 1890."Academic Program Pages at Evergreen. , Web. 19 Oct. 2010. <>.

19 Ibid

20 "United Nations Peacekeeping."Welcome to the United Nations: It's Your World. United Nations, Web. 19 Apr. 2010. <>.

21 Vertzberger, Yaacov. Risk Taking and Decisionmaking. Stanford: Stanford Univ Pr 01/1//1998, 1998. Print. Pg 114

22 Seybolt, Taylor B.. Humanitarian Military Intervention: The Conditions for Success and Failure (A Sipri Publication). Solna: A Sipri Publication, 2008. Print. Pg 17

23 Ibid Pg 17

24 Bearden, Milton. “Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires.” Foreign Affairs. Nov/Dec 2001 (2001). [Last Accessed at 05 July 2010] Available at < empires>

25 Barfield, Thomas J.. "Problems in Establishing Legitimacy in Afghanistan."Iranian Studies 37, no 2..June (2004): pp 263-293. Print.

26 Bajoria, Jayshree. "Pakistan's Tribal Areas - Council on Foreign Relations."Council on Foreign Relations. , 26 Oct. 2007. Web. [Last Accessed 21 May 2010] Available at <>

27 "iCasualties | Operation Enduring Freedom | Afghanistan."iCasualties: Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom Casualties. , Web. 8 Aug. 2009. <>.

28 Barfield, Thomas J.. "Problems in Establishing Legitimacy in Afghanistan."Iranian Studies 37, no 2..June (2004): pg 290. Print.

29 Johnson, Thomas H., and M. Chris Mason. "Afghanistan is today's Vietnam- By Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason | Foreign Policy."Foreign Policy - the global magazine of economics, politics, and ideas. , 20 Aug. 2009. Web. [Last Accessed 11 Sept. 2009] Available at <>

30 Johnson, Thomas H., and M. Chris Mason. "Afghanistan is today's Vietnam- By Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason | Foreign Policy."Foreign Policy - the global magazine of economics, politics, and ideas. , 20 Aug. 2009. Web. [Last accessed 11 Sept. 2009] Available at < s/2009/08/20/saigon_2009>.

31 Evans, Graham, and Richard Newnham. The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations (Penguin Reference). Boston: Penguin (Non-Classics), 1999. Print. Pg 252

32 Dobbins, James. The Beginner's Guide to Nation-Building. Santa Monica: Rand Corporation, 2007. Print. Pg XVII

33 Marston, Daniel . "Lessons in 21st-Century Counterinsurgency: Afghanistan 2001-2007."Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare. Westminster: Oxford: Osprey Publishing,, 2008. Pp. 220-240.

34 Marston, Daniel . "Lessons in 21st-Century Counterinsurgency: Afghanistan 2001-2007."Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare. Westminster: Oxford: Osprey Publishing,, 2008. Pg. 225

35 Ibid, pg. 240

36 "I.S.A.F. Contributing Nations."N.A.T.O. - Homepage. , Web. Available at

<>. [Last Accessed 15 Dec. 2009]

37 Roberts, Adam. "Doctrine and Reality in Afghanistan."Survival 51, no. 1 (2009): pp 29-60.(Available at [Last accessed August 15, 2009].

38 Ibid pg 31

39 Ibid

40 This notion will be challenged in the latter half of the dissertation, in order to ascertain whether a foreign presence in the country will be feasible for the foreseeable future.

41 Ibid 35-36

42 Roberts, Adam. "Doctrine and Reality in Afghanistan."Survival 51, no. 1 (2009): pg 34 (Available at [Last accessed August 15, 2009].

43 Dempsey, Gary. "The Folly of Nation-Building in Afghanistan | Gary Dempsey | Cato Institute: Daily Commentary."The Cato Institute. , 17 Oct. 2001. Web. [Last Accessed 24 Aug. 2010] Available at <>

44 Dempsey, Gary. Op Cit

45 Ibid

46 Shamoo, Adil E.. "Foreign Policy In Focus | Nation-Building in Afghanistan."Foreign Policy In Focus | Home. , 30 Nov. 2009 Web. [Last Accessed 24 Oct. 2010] Available at < building_in_afghanistan>.

47 Walt, Stephen M. . "Is Afghanistan really a war of necessity?."Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy, 18 Aug. 2009. Web. [Last Accessed 12 Oct. 2009] Available at <>

48 Hoffman, Bruce. Inside Terrorism. Rev Exp ed. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2006. Pp 38-39, 146

49 Delong-Bas, Natana. Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2008. Pg 240

50 Op. cit., pp 240-241

51 Bergen, Peter. The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader. .. Reprint. New York City: Free Press, 2006. Pg 164

52 Aly, Anne. "The Historical Roots of Al Qaeda's Ideology: Understanding Ayman al Zawahri's vision and developing an appropriate response." Terrorism History Conference. Research Network for a Secure Australia. , Canberra. 10 June 2007. Speech. Available at

53 Katzman, Kenneth. "Al Qaeda: Profile and Threat Assessment.". Washington D.C.: Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, 2005. [Last Accessed 05 December 2009] Available at < bin/GetTRDoc?Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf&AD=ADA444819>

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The threat posed by Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan
University of Malta
International Relations
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al-qaeda, afghanistan
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B.A. (Hons), M.A. International Relations Matthew Bugeja (Author), 2011, The threat posed by Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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