Foreign Policy Blogs

Al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahri Speaks and Unfortunately We Have to Listen


Behind that smile are un-nice thoughts.

Al Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahri spoke out yesterday on an Internet recording about President Obama and his Afghan-Pakistan strategy. I guess we should pay attention whenever a top AQ leader talks as the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan would not be in the position they are now in without their existence. It almost seems like we need to remind ourselves of this once and awhile, but al-Zawahri’s big mouth makes it easier. This latest AQ pronouncements also comes in the context of President Obama’s strong emphasis on defeating and holding down Al Qaeda in the Af-Pak region. Obama’s rhetoric of US/NATO goals in Afghanistan have been more and more centered on the defeat of Al Qaeda and less and less on other goals such as building a strong Afghan state. This was especially true during his trip to Europe, when he stated that the disabling of Al Qaeda was the ‘central’ aspect of US/NATO policy in the conflict.

Anyways, what did Zawahri have to say? To no one’s surprise, Osama’s deputy ridiculed President Obama and his new strategy. He stated:

“What Obama is doing by increasing the troops is adding more fuel to the fire that is already burning.”

This is a near identical claim that members of Al Qaeda made when the Bush administration went into and dug deeper in both Afghanistan and Iraq. This statement no doubt has some truth and there are Europeans and ‘realists’ in the US
that worry about this becoming a long-term reality, that is a conflict that gets worse and worse the more we get involved.

Zawahri also criticized the Pakistani governments pacifying deals in the SWAT land with Taliban sympathetic groups who are busy implanting Sharia law. Zawahri called this plan ‘delusion’ and argued that Obama was supporting such moves, though there is no evidence for this claim. The AQ deputy went on…”Obama is cheating you, the problem will not end there. It will escalate.”

I’m not sure how this recording took place. In my opinion the greatest achievement so far in the US military campaign in Afghanistan is that high level members of Al Qaeda seem to have been relegated to caves and away from any type of civilization, making it very difficult for them to do much harm globally. So when people like Zawahri actually get their voice out of their ‘safety cave’ it is frustrating. However, and this could be unfortunately optimistic, I have a sense that Zawahri and other high level leaders of Al Qaeda, possibly sans Osama, are not nearly as influential as they once were. I wish I had poll numbers from the Middle East and beyond to back this up, but it’s a strong hunch. This in no way means that the group is no longer dangerous as today’s arrest of dozens of Al Qaeda agents in Turkey today showcases, but just that I feel they have suffered from a lose of exposure. Do you think Al Qaeda’s years in the shadows have hurt their local, regional, and global influence? What does al-Zawahri’s latest public statements say to you?