Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The blowback from drone warfare

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Although Obama seems heavily to favor drone warfare, the coming consequences are likely to be severe—both from the increasing anger at civilian deaths from a fighting force that is not at risk and from the inevitable acquisition of the (relatively inexpensive) technology from our adversaries. In The Washington Monthly Haley Sweetland Edwards reviews a book on the subject:

Early last year, wandering through the turbulent carnival of Change Square in Sana’a, Yemen, I found myself sharing a tent with an old jihadi, his tangled beard glowing orange in the filtered afternoon light. He said he’d fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets—the infidels,” he called them, still spitting the word after twenty-five years—and would do it again, no question. But when I raised the topic of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen and the most dangerous of the diffuse terrorist network’s regional organizations, the old jihadi glowered. “Those young men are fighting a different war than we were,” he said, refusing to meet my eye. “It’s on a different scale, for different ends.”

Then, for quite a while, my notes are sparse. The old jihadi and I talked about U.S.-backed drone strikes, and U.S. support for Israel and “the hypocrisy of the West,” until, eventually, we came back around to al-Qaeda. This time, he looked right at me. His generation had fought for Islam so they could “come home and live,” he said. “The young men of al-Qaeda today don’t care about living. For them, fighting is life,” he said. “Go and tell the Americans it’s never going to be over.”

That old jihadi’s chilling prediction emerges as one of the major themes in writer Gregory D. Johnsen’s excellent new book, The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia. Part modern history, part explanatory narrative, it begins in the chaotic aftermath of the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan in the late 1980’s and ends in a smoldering al-Qaeda stronghold in southern Yemen earlier this year. In the intervening quarter century, we watch from the sidelines as Johnsen describes the birth and bloody unification of North and South Yemen in the early ‘90’s and the simultaneous emergence of al-Qaeda in the region, first as a controversial boys’ club for wannabe jihadis, and then as a deadly and increasingly well-oiled global force.

The young men who’ve formed al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the last fifteen years are indeed, as the old jihadi in Change Square suggested, more fanatical, more uncompromising in their vision of jihad, and broader in the scope of who constitutes their enemies, than ever before. Many of these young men were educated in Yemen’s radical religious schools in the ‘70, ’80s, and ’90s, and had “grown up on stories of the jihad in Afghanistan,” Johnsen writes, “watching grainy videos from the 1980s as they listened to preachers extol the glory of fighting abroad.” By 2006, the generational shift that started at the end of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan had widened into a schism, with today’s al-Qaeda leaders giving the old guard an ultimatum: either you’re with us in global jihad, or you’re an enemy, too. “It was time for them to pick a side,” Johnsen writes, summarizing a 2006 audiotape by Qasim al-Raymi, AQAP’s military commander. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2012 at 10:05 am

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