This report on a letter that was found in Osama bin Laden’s compound sheds light on the extent to which nearly ten years of relentless pursuit by American intelligence and military forces has devastated al Qaeda:
As Osama bin Laden watched his terrorist organization get picked apart, he lamented in his final writings that al-Qaida was suffering from a marketing problem. …
In other journal entries and letters, they said, bin Laden wrote that he was frustrated that many of his trusted longtime comrades, whom he’d fought alongside in Afghanistan, had been killed or captured.
Using his courier system, bin Laden could still exercise some operational control over al-Qaida. But increasingly the men he was directing were younger and inexperienced. Frequently, the generals who had vouched for these young fighters were dead or in prison. And bin Laden, unable to leave his walled compound and with no phone or Internet access, was annoyed that he did not know so many people in his own organization.
Bin Laden thought that changing al Qaeda’s name might help:
Maybe something like Taifat al-Tawhed Wal-Jihad, meaning Monotheism and Jihad Group, would do the trick, he wrote. Or Jama’at I’Adat al-Khilafat al-Rashida, meaning Restoration of the Caliphate Group.
As bin Laden saw it, the problem was that the group’s full name, al-Qaida al-Jihad, for The Base of Holy War, had become short-handed as simply al-Qaida. Lopping off the word “jihad,” bin Laden wrote, allowed the West to “claim deceptively that they are not at war with Islam.”
I love “Monotheism and Jihad Group.” It sounds like an industrial conglomerate. Part of the rationale for a name change apparently was that al Qaeda’s image was poor because it killed so many Muslims:
In one letter sent to Zawahri within the past year or so, bin Laden said al-Qaida’s image was suffering because of attacks that have killed Muslims, particularly in Iraq, officials said.
No doubt that is true. When al Qaeda issued a call for terrorists from around the world to go to Iraq and fight, some argued that this broadening of the war showed the folly of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, others that it offered an opportunity for a decisive victory over al Qaeda. What actually happened was that foreign terrorists were so brutal and indiscriminate in their mass murder that they decisively alienated not just the Iraqi population generally, but leaders of what had been the Sunni resistance to American occupation. Many of those Sunni leaders joined forces with us and our allies, which allowed the eventual pacification of the country. Meanwhile, as bin Laden conceded, the same brutality that alienated Iraqis put off other Muslims around the world. This, combined with the fact that al Qaeda was defeated in Iraq, thereby proving to be the weak horse rather than the strong one, probably did play a key role in the continuing decline of that organization.
All of this has been known for a while, but it is interesting to see it at least partially confirmed by bin Laden himself.