Originally Published 2004-02-03 11:13:46 Published on Feb 03, 2004
President George W. Bush is a desperate man today. He wants Osama bin Laden, dead or alive. More than 12000 US troops, including a 1400-men strong elite commando unit known as Task Force 121, are in Pakistan and Afghanistan hunting for Laden. Supporting them is a 70,000-strong contingent from President Pervez Musharraf¿s Army.
How US lost War on Terrorism
President George W. Bush is a desperate man today. He wants Osama bin Laden, dead or alive. More than 12000 US troops, including a 1400-men strong elite commando unit known as Task Force 121, are in Pakistan and Afghanistan hunting for Laden. Supporting them is a 70,000-strong contingent from President Pervez Musharraf's Army. There are several thousand more intelligence operatives, from the FBI, the CIA and ISI combing the region for a single man. At no time has the world's super power launched such a massive manhunt for a single individual.

There is every possibility that President Bush (who dodged the conscript) and his valiant troops could catch Laden in the next few weeks (i.e., if he has not been caught already). The question is not whether Laden will be caught. He will be. The question is will that single head make the Great Super Power led by President George W. Bush victorious. No. The United States has lost the First War on Terrorism. It is a defeat which President Bush cannot live down with, whatever his spin doctors at the Pentagon might broadcast to the world.

The success and failure of a war is related to its mission objectives. The objectives of the War on Terrorism was to punish al Qaida for the September 11 attacks, to destroy al Qaida and its affiliates, to contain and destroy other terrorist groups and to ensure that terrorism was dealt a crippling blow. Twentynine months since the World Trade Centre was attacked by a group of terrorists, the only people who have been punished by the American Military Might are those in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, most of whom, incidentally, had nothing to do with al Qaida or other terrorist groups.

The al Qaida is far from being destroyed. In the past two years, al Qaida has not only been successfully able to recoup and reorganize in different regions of the world, it has changed its character and functioning with such alacrity that it took the US intelligence agencies quite long to realize the truth. In fact, the US intelligence agencies were trapped in their own lies. Immediately after the September 11 attacks, it had become imperative for Washington to create an Enemy which was bigger, uglier and dangerous to the interests of the US, very much on the lines of some of the Hollywood B Grade movies like Gorilla, Anaconda or Independence Day. Those movies reflected a collective paranoia. The Bush Administration's concept of al Qaida was no different except that it was created with meticulous planning and execution. Osama bin Laden, one of the innumerable creations of CIA, became, overnight, the CEO of Terror Inc. Suddenly, after September 11, 2001, there was a sudden rash of newspaper articles, television exclusives and books on this great network of cells hiding in every nook and cranny of the world waiting for the orders of the Terror Master, Osama bin Laden, who lorded over this netherworld empire of evil like a CEO of a multinational corporation. Every journalist worth his salt had reams to write on UBL (Usama bin Laden as the CIA continues to call him). September 11 buried the Cold War and launched the War on Terrorism. It was Rock'n Roll time, as a typical Hollywood script writer would say.

The problem is al Qaida is not fiction and it is very much alive despite the hundreds of tons of explosives rained on Afghanistan for the past two years. None other than Mr George Tenet, Director, Central Intelligence Agency, has admitted so as recent as February 24, 2004. (Tenet's statement available at http://www.cia.gov/cia/public_affairs/speeches/2004/ dci_speech_02142004.html) "The al Qaida leadership structure we charted after September 11 is seriously damaged-but the group remains as committed as ever to attacking the homeland", he told the US Senate during his Worldwide Threat Briefing. The term which merits attention is "as we charted". This is an indirect admission of failure in comprehending the terrorist network which the CIA dubbed it as al Qaida. The al Qaida never existed as a central organisation and Osama bin Laden was not even known to many of the groups which were later clubbed as part of the al Qaida multinational network. Mr Tenet himself admitted so. He said the group, after the initial damage, has managed to reorganized itself into smaller cells with independence command to carry out terrorist attacks without either being consulted or directed by Osama bin Laden or his immediate advisors. His reasoning was that this regrouping had happened because of the "disarray" in the leadership. It was not. Terrorist groups have always operated locally with independent command and control. They maintained associations with other terrorist groups for procuring weapons and strengthening their networks. Al Qaida has always been a loose coalition of different terrorist networks with different leadership and varied styles. Till the US decided to "promote" bin Laden as the Leader, not many of these terrorist groups ever considered the possibility of a central leadership, a figure head of their cause, an icon.

The fact that Laden has attained an iconic status in a world which goes beyond fundamentalism is the second reason why the US has lost the War. In Mr Tenet's word, there is now a "global movement infected by al Qaida's radical agenda". So reckless, and mindless, was the planning and execution of the operations that the War on Terrorism soon began to be perceived as anti-Islamic. The sweeping rage in the Muslim world against the US is so intense that even Mr Tenet, known for obfuscating, could not hide the truth in his testimony. "The steady growth of Usama bin Ladin's anti-US sentiment through the wider Sunni extremist movement and the broad dissemination of al-Qaida's destructive expertise ensure that a serious threat will remain for the foreseeable future-with or without al Qaida in the picture," he said. Mark the use of term `Sunni' in his testimony. Sunnis dominate the Muslim world and have been long painted as `fundamentalists` by the West. This is an indirect manner of admitting that almost the entire Islamic world has turned against the US and its allies because of the War on Terror.

It is quite clear that the threat to the US homeland from al Qaida and other homegrown terrorists is not over. In fact it has only increased in the past three years. This is the third and final sign of failure. Despite the war, new groups, more anonymous (and therefore dangerous), have emerged in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco, Uzbekistan and Iraq. Younger leaders, their rage and determination fuelled by perceived and real humilities inflicted upon the community by the US, lead these groups. "They are not all creatures of bin Laden and so their fate is not tied to his. They have autonomous leadership, they pick their own targets, they plan their own attacks," Mr Tenet said.

The postscript to this failure is the admission of Mr Robert Mueller, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation. He says: "There are strong indications that al Qaida will revisit missed targets until they succeed, such as they did with the World Trade Centre. The list of missed targets now includes the White House and the Capitol." The hunter has become the hunted. Nothing could be more telling in a War.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Observer Research Foundation.
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