While things are going quite ruggedly for America in Afghanistan, they may be going worse for Al Qaeda everywhere. Osama bin Laden's taunting 9/11 anniversary message was days late and very lame. And President Barack Obama's lethal approach to dealing with the organization that attacked America on 9/11 took a startling, and still more lethal, turn this week in Somalia.
Which raises a central question: Are we not in fact much closer to achieving our central goal in Afghanistan than most imagine?
Many more people know now that Afghanistan is going badly because it's going better than it was last year. Think about it. Until a few months ago, it would have been absolutely impossible to even conduct a presidential election there. The Taliban influence in southern Afghanistan was too great to allow any widespread voting. The election is what concentrated media and public attention on Afghanistan.
An apparently under-the-gun Osama bin Laden released this late and lame message taunting America about his organization's attacks on 9/11.
Following Obama's Marine offensive there in southern Afghanistan, the election was able to be held on August 20th. And held it was. And held. And it's still going on, at least the counting. With charges of massive fraud, Afghanistan is preparing for a massive recount, as a third of President Hamid Karzai's votes are in question. He's claiming victory with 54% of the vote, but preparations are beginning for a run-off with his principal challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdulla, the former Northern Alliance spokesman and Afghan foreign minister who fought next to the Taliban-assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud in the war against the Soviets while Karzai raised money outside the country.
With allegations of massive fraud in the August 20th presidential election in Afghanistan, George W. Bush's man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, holds a lead over a hero of the war against the Soviets, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, pictured here, whose Northern Alliance was the key US ally in taking down the Taliban regime after 9/11.
America's mission in Afghanistan is quite confused. The goal is to deny it as a base for Al Qaeda. But President George W. Bush, who buddied up with his pick for president, Karzai, turned it into a nation-building exercise even as he cast his gaze fatefully on the endless distraction that was Iraq. Obama, who promises to do better, and is, says the mission is to disrupt and deny Al Qaeda. Even as the mission slides, once again, into nation-building.
There's much more to be said, but for purposes of this piece, let's condense it into one word: Whatever.
The Pakistani Army, moving at the request of Obama, has done a good job of reversing major gains made by the Pakistani Taliban. Many sources say that Al Qaeda cadre -- increasingly decimated by drone aircraft attacks -- are beginning to flee Pakistan for Yemen and Somalia.
It seems that with this kind of pressure, the ability of Al Qaeda to mount a strategic strike against America continues to decline.
Which brings us to other major developments this week.
On Sunday, Osama bin Laden issued a taunting statement marking the eighth anniversary of Al Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington of 9/11. He called Obama "powerless" and said he can never stop the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.
A few weeks after the November election of Barack Obama, Al Qaeda operational chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri denounced him as a "house Negro." In a release with notably higher production values than Osama bin Laden's taunting 9/11 message this week.
While the Al Qaeda icon intended this statement as a show of strength, it was actually a show of weakness. When Osama calls Obama powerless, he may actually be engaging in the psychological phenomenon of projection.
* His statement was released two days AFTER the 9/11 anniversary.
* It was an audiotape, not a videotape.
* It had none of the chanting jihadist production values of the best Al Qaeda videos.
* It was released on a secondary jihadist site because the major ones were recently knocked down by, ahem, unknown parties.
If Osama bin Laden is unable to release even an audiotape to celebrate his 9/11 attacks in a timely manner, he seems to be under a great deal of pressure. He may even be on the run, as Yasir Arafat -- who for several years never spent the night in the same place twice in a row -- once was. Arafat solved his problem by turning to the peace process. I don't think that Osama bin Laden has that option.
Indeed, the US drone attacks against Al Qaeda safe havens inside Pakistan appear to be better targeted than they used to be. The Pakistani government, which demanded their end last year and early this year on account of civilian casualties, hasn't been complaining lately. Sources say that it is providing US forces with better real-time intelligence against jihadist cadre.
Which brings us to the other big development of the week with regard to Al Qaeda.
On Monday, a flight of US helicopter gunships carrying special forces troopers struck deep inside Somalia -- the failed state which once again is becoming a jihadist haven -- against the convoy of a top Al Qaeda leader.
Here's the way the Global Post report put it:
The American gunships attacked a convoy of vehicles carrying Al Qaeda militants and killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, an Al Qaeda leader wanted for the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 and an Israeli-owned Kenyan hotel in 2002. The raid shows U.S. President Barack Obama's administration does not intend to allow Somalia to remain a safe haven for Al Qaeda and it is determined to thwart the drive by Islamic militant group Al Shabaab to control Somalia. Al Shabaab has direct links to Al Qaeda and uses foreign troops in its battles to control Somalia.
This top Al Qaeda leader was successfully targeted deep inside Somalia this week by the Obama Administration.
In recent years the U.S. has limited its actions in Somalia to attacks by long range missiles and drones. But this action was direct and put American troops, however briefly, on Somali soil. By successfully targeting Nabhan, the U.S. shows that it has precise strategic information. A further intelligence boon for the U.S. should come from the seizure of Nabhan's body, the two injured men traveling with him and whatever equipment or computers they might have.
In Monday's raid, six U.S. helicopters swooped on a convoy of vehicles and strafed them with heavy gunfire. A Land Cruiser carrying Nabhan and at least four other senior militants was badly hit as were a number of "technicals," improvised battle wagons made from pick-up trucks loaded with heavy machine guns, according to eyewitnesses quoted by wire services.
Then two U.S. helicopters landed and there was a brief firefight. Nabhan and other militants were killed. The U.S. troops jumped from the helicopters, went up to the vehicles and seized Nabhan's body and two other injured militants. They quickly flew off by helicopter to a U.S. Navy warship waiting nearby.
Could it be that we are much closer to achieving our central goal in Afghanistan than most imagine?