Decoding Al-Qaeda's Strategy

Decoding Al-Qaeda's Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America

Michael W. S. Ryan
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/ryan16384
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  • Book Info
    Decoding Al-Qaeda's Strategy
    Book Description:

    By consulting the work of well-known and obscure al-Qaeda theoreticians, Michael W. S. Ryan finds jihadist terrorism strategy has more in common with the principles of Maoist guerrilla warfare than mainstream Islam. Encouraging strategists and researchers to devote greater attention to jihadi ideas rather than jihadist military operations, Ryan builds an effective framework for analyzing al-Qaeda's plans against America and constructs a compelling counternarrative to the West's supposed "war on Islam."

    Ryan examines the Salafist roots of al-Qaeda ideology and the contributions of its most famous founders, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a political-military context. He also reads the Arabic-language works of lesser known theoreticians who have played an instrumental role in framing al-Qaeda's so-called war of the oppressed. These authors readily cite the guerrilla strategies of Mao, Che Guevara, and the mastermind of the Vietnam War, General Giap. They also incorporate the arguments of American theorists writing on "fourth-generation warfare."

    Through these texts, readers experience events as insiders see them, and by concentrating on the activities and pronouncements of al-Qaeda's thought leaders, especially in Yemen, they discern the direct link between al-Qaeda's tactics and trends in anti-U.S. terrorism. Ryan shows al-Qaeda's political-military strategy to be a revolutionary and largely secular departure from the classic Muslim conception of jihad, adding invaluable dimensions to the operational, psychological, and informational strategies already deployed by America's military in the region.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53327-0
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    When I began writing this book in early 2010, I thought that Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri would likely be killed before I finished. I actually thought that al-Zawahiri, with his much greater public profile, would be first. The reality proved otherwise: on May 1, 2011, elite American military and intelligence professionals located and killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. My immediate fear was that Americans would equate killing al-Qaeda’s paramount leader with victory. Indeed, there were scenes of celebration and jubilation on the streets of Washington, D.C.

    Bin Laden’s most dangerous accomplishment was to become the charismatic...

  6. One The Historical Roots of Al-Qaeda’s Ideology
    (pp. 17-50)

    Why does al-Qaeda still exist after a quarter-century of warfare with the United States, one of the strongest military, economic, and political powers the world has ever known? What is its appeal to Middle Easterners and others who do not approve of their violent methods and would not wish to be governed by a regime designed by Osama Bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri? Why do groups like the Taliban or the Emirate of Chechnya seem to want an affiliation, even though their local concerns do not immediately seem to line up with al-Qaeda’s focus and emphasis at any given time?...

  7. Two The Leadership Inspires a New Strategy
    (pp. 51-82)

    Osama Bin Laden founded al-Qaeda, the first organization dedicated to global jihad, in 1988, the same year that the Soviet Union began pulling its troops out of Afghanistan.¹ Al-Qaeda at that time had approximately thirty members, a far cry from the reportedly six thousand Arabs who came to the region between 1987 and 1993 or the three thousand Arabs who fought against the Soviet occupation.² The call to jihad against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan had appealed to the conscience of the collective Muslim community; it was uncertain whether Bin Laden would be as successful with his new organization. From...

  8. Three Jihad as Revolution
    (pp. 83-146)

    Inspired by Ayman al-Zawahiri’s call for a new strategy, al-Qaeda’s political-military writers generated new books and articles starting in 2002 that reflected al-Qaeda’s best thinking about how to defeat the United States and its regional allies. These writers took full advantage of the Internet to promulgate their thoughts in forums, magazines, and books delivered online or via portable media. America had just surprised al-Qaeda in Afghanistan with its rapid response to 9/11, destroying the Taliban emirate by December 2001. How could a weak jihadist force defeat the world’s greatest superpower? Al-Qaeda had given this question a great deal of thought...

  9. Four An Action Plan for Savagery
    (pp. 147-192)

    In 2004, when the jihad in Saudi Arabia had already turned decisively in the government’s favor, Abu Bakr Naji, a man who was close to al-Qaeda’s leadership, finished the definitive account of al-Qaeda’s strategy for winning a jihadist insurgency.¹ At this time, we know neither when he was born nor his nationality. William McCants reported on the Jihadica website in April 2008 that a major jihadist insider claimed that Naji was dead, although the date of his death was not given.²

    The title of Naji’s book is Idarah al-Tawahhush (The Administration of Savagery), with the subtitle Akhtar Marhalah Satamurru biha...

  10. Five The Jihadist Legacy of Abu Mus‘ab al-Suri
    (pp. 193-254)

    Abu Mus‘ab al-Suri is a well-known if mysterious personality who worked within jihadist circles for at least twenty-five years before his arrest by Pakistani authorities in Quetta, Pakistan, in 2005. On November 18, 2004, the U.S. Department of State announced a $5 million reward for al-Suri. The text gives a brief and inadequate description of his activities: “Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, also known as Abu Mus‘ab al-Suri, is an al-Qaida member and former trainer at the Derunta and al-Ghuraba terrorist camps in Afghanistan where he trained terrorists in poisons and chemicals. Nasar is a Syrian with dual Spanish Nationality.”¹

    Abu Mus‘ab...

  11. Conclusion: What It All Means
    (pp. 255-268)

    Al-Qaeda’s strategic inspiration may be traced to the writings of twentieth-century strategists of communist revolutions and the borderless fourth-generation warfare model first recognized by a few American military strategists in 1989. To defeat al-Qaeda as an organization, the United States has waged the close battle of counterterrorism and military counterattack using both conventional and unconventional forces. To defeat al-Qaeda as the idea and inspiration for future jihadist revolutionaries, the United States and its allies need to pursue the deep battle of ideas. To engage in the deep battle against al-Qaeda effectively, the United States can use the enemy’s strategic literature...

  12. Appendix 1: Translation of “Revolutionary Wars”
    (pp. 269-280)
    Abu Ubayd al-Qurashi
  13. Appendix 2: Translation of “Fourth-Generation Warfare”
    (pp. 281-288)
    Abu Ubayd al-Qurashi
  14. Notes
    (pp. 289-322)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 323-334)
  16. Index
    (pp. 335-352)