By Alex Derry - Monday, August 15, 2011 - 0 Comments
The drought in Somalia has revealed cracks in al-Shabaab’s tenuous and brutal control over the region
Even with evidence that 29,000 children have died in the last three months, al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group controlling much of Somalia, continues to deny there is any famine in the region at all. In fact, they had responded to the famine by banning international aid groups—whom they accuse of overblowing the scale of the disaster—from entering the worst-afflicted regions, and are actively preventing refugees from trying to reach relief centres. They are, however, using hunger to recruit desperate Somalis into their fold.
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 6 Comments
Massoud Khalili on his dreams for a new Afghanistan, and why forgiveness is so much harder than revenge
Massoud Khalili woke up five days after the 9/11 attacks after drifting in and out of consciousness and near death for a week.
Khalili, son of Khalilullah Khalili, one of Afghanistan’s greatest modern poets, was a close friend of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Afghan guerrilla commander known as the Lion of Panjshir. He was with him in northern Afghanistan on Sept. 9, 2001, when al-Qaeda agents posing as journalists detonated a bomb hidden in a video camera, killing Massoud and filling Khalili’s body with shrapnel.
The assassination was a gift from bin Laden to his host, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who had been fighting Massoud’s soldiers since 1996.
Khalili, then the anti-Taliban United Front’s ambassador to India, was partially blinded in the attack. Lying in his hospital bed, he opened his one good eye and saw his wife of more than 20 years. She watched him wake and recited a verse from the Quran: “From God we come, and to him we will return.”
Khalili thought he might die and wanted to do so with a clean conscience. He asked his wife to forgive him if he had ever raised his voice against her in all their years of marriage. Then he asked what happened to his friends and comrades who were in the room when the bomb went off.
Some are dead, some lived, she said. Massoud is gone.
Khalili asked about the al-Qaeda agents who tried to kill him.
They’re dead, she told him.
Today, 10 years later, Khalili strides with gusto around the garden of his summer home overlooking the Shomali Plain north of Kabul. The garden is full of fruit trees, flowers and birds. “I don’t allow my gardener to use guns here,” he says. “I’ve killed so many men. I don’t want to kill birds.”
Khalili is once again an envoy, but now of a government in Kabul rather than of a tiny and embattled rump state in the country’s north. He is Afghanistan’s ambassador to Spain. When he is home, he lives in a house built for his father by Mohammed Zahir Shah, the former king of Afghanistan. His wife’s paintings cover its walls. There are also many photos of Massoud, including what is likely the last one ever taken of him. Khalili had his camera with him when the bomb exploded. The film survived intact and when developed revealed an image of Massoud in a helicopter reading a biography of the prophets.
There is also a photo of Khalili himself with a bandolier of bullets draped across his shoulders. He sits on the ground, tilting his face toward sun with his eyes closed. It was taken in 1984, in the midst of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. He looks blissfully happy. “The only thing we had was hope,” he says. “The only weapon we had was hope. In the mountains it was a dream to have a parliament and a president and boys and girls going to school. The worst parliament in the world is still something. Because you have it.”
Back in his summer garden, Khalili weaves among fruit trees and points to a distant hilltop. There, he says, is where Alexander the Great made his camp. “Of all the conquerors that we have had, we loved Alexander the Great because he brought us this civilization and thinkers and philosophers and painters. He conquered with this, and we believe that if he wasn’t a prophet, he was one of the saints. My father never called him Alexander, always Sir Alexander.”
He shifts his gaze east, points to snow-covered mountain peaks, and traces a line between them. “That’s the route we would take to hike into the Panjshir Valley from Pakistan,” he says, referring to the days when he and his fellow mujahedeen received weapons from CIA operatives in Pakistan and hauled them back to Panjshir to use against the Soviets. “They couldn’t move on the ground,” he says of the Russians. “But their helicopters would just fly over our houses.” Then, in 1986, the mujahedeen got Stinger surface-to-air missiles from the United States. “They no longer controlled the skies,” he says.
The Afghan mujahedeen eventually forced the Soviets from their country. But the fighting didn’t end. There was civil war, and the war against the Taliban, and then the murder of Khalili’s friend and commander, Massoud. Khalili has returned to their old redoubt in the Panjshir Valley only once since then, to see his tomb. “It was the first time I was there alone. Before it was always with him. Before there was always someone there, someone tall, who I was walking with or following.”
Now, despite a parliament in Kabul and girls in school, war persists. “But there is hope,” says Khalili. “I have an army now, police now, though not very strong. And despite corruption, we have money. And people have not raised their white flags to the Taliban. Some, yes, but not all.” Khalili cautions Afghanistan’s Western allies against a rushed exit from Afghanistan. “We should never leave the snake half-wounded,” he says. “Never fulfill a promise halfway. We would love to see them go when they have finished their job, and when we have completed our job.”
In recent months, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has intensified efforts to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban. Khalili doesn’t think these will amount to much. “I don’t believe in moderate Taliban. You’re in Taliban or you’re not in Taliban,” he says. “They won’t talk. They fight. So what can you do? You defend. My father once wrote that war is the worst possible option. But sometimes it is an option. Because mercy to the wolf is cruelty to the lamb. Some things are so principled that you cannot make a deal on—human rights, rights of women, education. You bring peace to Afghanistan like that, with no freedom; it’s like peace in a graveyard. Stability in a graveyard is good for dead people.”
Yet Khalili doesn’t wish to prolong enmity among his fellow Afghans. Almost 100 years ago, Amanullah Khan, another Afghan king, hanged Khalili’s grandfather. Khalili once asked his father, the poet, why he never said anything bad about Khan in his poems. “He said to forgive is the most difficult thing. The easiest is to seek revenge,” says Khalili.
Khalili’s own son was with him when he woke from his coma following the al-Qaeda attack in 2001. Khalili called him to the bed. “I said, ‘Listen to me. I may be dead soon. Whatever I am about to ask of you, you tell me you’ll agree.’ ” His son initially refused, but Khalili’s wife yelled at him and he gave in.
“I said, ‘Son, I know you’re an Afghan and revenge is part of your culture. And if there is a war and you are recruited, go. Mercy to the wolf is cruelty to the lamb. But listen to me. I want to go from this life with no pain. Don’t fight on my behalf. I have already forgiven the boys who did this.’ ”
By macleans.ca - Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:26 AM - 0 Comments
Experts allege al-Zawahri can’t compare to Osama bin Laden
American officials are welcoming the news that Ayman al-Zawahri will succeed Osama bin Laden as leader of al-Qaeda, saying his divisive nature and lack of charisma will alienate young supporters and weaken the terrorist network’s influence. “He’s just personally disliked by many in al-Qaeda. His personality gets in the way,” Brian Fishman, an expert on al-Qaeda, told The New York Times. Other experts say al-Zawahri is a ruthless and intelligent leader, whose militancy dates back many years, when he started an anti-government group in Egypt when he was 16. Since formally joining al-Qaeda in 1998, al-Zawahri has helped coordinate several terrorist attacks, including the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 9:10 AM - 21 Comments
The terrorist’s death sparks a debate over interrogation tactics
The killing of Osama bin Laden had the potential to be a transformative moment for President Barack Obama. No longer easily portrayable as a vacillating, indecisive leader, he was the commander-in-chief who took a risk and brought down America’s most wanted man—something his predecessor, George W. Bush, had talked tough about but failed to accomplish. Heading into his 2012 re-election campaign, the event seemed likely to take the caricature of a foreign-policy weakling off the table.
But some Republicans quickly sought to portray the successful raid as a vindication of the very policies that Obama had campaigned against and then reversed upon taking office—in particular, the Central Intelligence Agency’s defunct secret prison program where detainees were subjected to an array of what the Bush administration referred euphemistically to as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Critics said those harsh tactics, like the controlled drowning technique called waterboarding, had stained America’s moral standing by giving official sanction to torture. Seizing a chance to redeem their reputations, the former Bush officials, who insist that the tactics did not violate anti-torture laws, argued that the much-maligned program had provided crucial information that eventually led to bin Laden.
“The intelligence that led to bin Laden,” wrote Michael Mukasey, who served as Bush’s attorney general from 2007 to 2009, “began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.”
By Adnan R. Khan - Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 23 Comments
How bin Laden’s murder strengthened anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan
In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, Pakistanis are gearing up for a fight. But contrary to what many people might think, it’s not in defence of the world’s late King of Terror. In fact, Pakistanis have been remarkably silent about his death. Protests reported in the world’s media have been small—a few hundred diehard extremists ushered onto the streets by Islamic fundamentalist parties, the odd prayer session with a few dozen souls to help guide bin Laden into heaven.
Bin Laden was a hopeless cause to most. “He never really gave Muslims anything to believe in,” says Ali Ibrahim, a shopkeeper in Islamabad. “Except violence. But violence and jihad, where has that gotten us?” Dozens of other Pakistanis who spoke to Maclean’s echo Ibrahim’s sentiments. But what even they admit is that the driving force behind bin Laden’s murderous campaign was valid. “Millions of Muslims believe the U.S. is the greatest threat to Islam,” says Omer Malik, a lawyer in Islamabad. “Osama went about it all wrong, but he did prove to Pakistanis that America is the problem.”
The death of bin Laden has only strengthened that view. In the months leading up to his killing, Pakistanis—many fuelled by Islamic extremism—were already building up a solid foundation of anti-Americanism, premised on a decade of violence (which they blame on the U.S., for bringing it to their doorstep), CIA covert operations inside Pakistan, and a barrage of missile strikes from unmanned drones in the country’s Tribal Areas targeting al-Qaeda-linked militants. Now, the daring, dead-of-night operation carried out by U.S. commandos against bin Laden on May 2, apparently without Pakistani knowledge or consent, has hit at the heart of what many Pakistanis fear: the U.S. is willing—and able—to operate in their country with impunity.
By Jonathan Kay - Monday, May 16, 2011 at 9:10 AM - 157 Comments
How one man gave up everything—his family, his friends, his job—to spread the Truth about 9/11
In Among the Truthers, his wide-ranging look at conspiracist thinking on everything from the 9/11 attacks to the causes of autism, journalist Jonathan Kay is less interested in what the conspiracies proclaim than in examining how modern society lost its “consensual view of reality.” As part of that effort, Kay considers the various paths individual conspiracists have followed, and in this excerpt relates his interactions with one very persuasive truther, a popular speaker on the 9/11 conspiracy convention circuit, in the grip of a mid-life crisis.
Of all the truther headliners I’ve seen, the very best is Richard Gage, a balding, mild-mannered, middle-aged architect who heads up a California-based group called Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth. I’ve heard Gage speak three times in three different cities. At each event, the response was rapturous. At a 2009 lecture in Montreal, his crowd sat mesmerized as he spoke for three straight hours—on a night when the Montreal Canadiens were contesting a playoff game, no less. At a speech in New York City a few months later, the audience burst into a spontaneous chant of “Ri-chard! Richard!” Blushing and grinning like an earnest, overgrown schoolboy, Gage blurted out: “Your enthusiasm knocks my socks off!”
His singular focus—laboriously examined in a 600-slide PowerPoint presentation he trots out at every opportunity—is the precise sequence of events leading to the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings. Avoiding speculation on the Pentagon attacks and the machinations of the Bush White House is critical to the mission of Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, he says. “We’re building and technical professionals,” Gage tells his audiences. “We’re not conspiracy theorists.” Gage inevitably elicits emotional gasps and shouts with his slide show. In Montreal, a couple sitting behind me seemed particularly moved. “How can those murderers sleep at night after what they’ve done?” one exclaimed. (She wasn’t talking about al-Qaeda.) Even my own guest, a conservative-minded 65-year-old woman, seemed transfixed, falling silent at points where I expected she’d be chortling and rolling her eyes.
By Adnan R. Khan - Friday, May 13, 2011 at 7:15 AM - 1 Comment
Former Pakistani military officers don’t believe the ISI had no idea bin Laden was at the Abbottabad compound
In the prologue to his 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Ghost Wars, journalist Steve Coll wrote, “In history’s long inventory of surprise attacks, September 11 is distinguished in part because of the role played by intelligence agencies and informal secret networks in the preceding events. As bin Laden and his aides endorsed the September 11 attacks from their Afghan sanctuary, they were pursued secretly by salaried officers from the CIA. At the same time, bin Laden and his closest allies received protection, via the Taliban, from salaried officers in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. This was a pattern for two decades. Strand after strand of official covert action, unofficial covert action, clandestine terrorism, and clandestine counterterrorism wove one upon the other to create the matrix of undeclared war that burst into plain sight in 2001.”
On May 1, that same “matrix of undeclared war” was evident once again after U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden at a compound in Abbottabad, a military garrison city 50 km north of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Its military installations, including Pakistan’s top military academy, make it about as sensitive a place as exists in a country ruled by generals. Finding bin Laden there, and not somewhere in an obscure cave, suggests what Coll already made clear in his seminal book: despite repeated denials, elements within the ISI, the intelligence branch of the military, had continued to provide protection for bin Laden.
Pakistani authorities will obviously not admit to that. But retreat into ignorance will not be enough to appease the world this time, especially the U.S., which has poured billions into Pakistan’s military and civilian coffers over the past decade. What Pakistani officials actually knew about bin Laden’s whereabouts has become a topic of intense scrutiny in Washington. Members of Congress are demanding answers, and threatening to cut funding to the country if solid evidence emerges that bin Laden received protection from elements within the security services.
By Nancy Macdonald - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 4 Comments
With bin Laden’s death, the war on terror has lost its purpose, according to al-Qaeda expert Peter Bergen
Peter Bergen began covering the rise of al-Qaeda long before the twin towers fell. One of the few Western journalists to have interviewed Osama bin Laden, Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, and has written three books about the terrorist organization. In his latest, The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaeda, he argues that 9/11 marked the climax of al-Qaeda’s power. Bin Laden’s organization, he writes, has been in decline ever since. Bergen spoke with Maclean’s from Washington.
Q: Al-Qaeda has now lost its best recruiter and fundraiser. Is this the beginning of the end?
A: Yes. When you joined the Nazi party, you didn’t swear an oath of allegiance to Naziism; you swore a personal oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler. When you join al-Qaeda, you swear an oath of allegiance to bin Laden, not to al-Qaeda or al-Qaedism. Similarly, when groups join al-Qaeda in Iraq, they swear a personal fealty to bin Laden. He’s the grand fromage of al-Qaeda and the jihadi movement. No one can replace him.
By Julia Belluz - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 9:45 AM - 0 Comments
For family members of the Canadian victims of 9/11, bin Laden’s death does little to ease the pain
There was no jubilant eruption in Abigail Carter’s Seattle home when she heard the news. While enjoying a dinner of grilled salmon and curried cauliflower with friends, her daughter Olivia screeched from her bedroom: “Mom! Osama bin Laden is dead! And everyone is celebrating. It’s so weird.” The 15-year-old couldn’t understand why people were so excited about a man’s death—even if the man in question was the mastermind behind the 9/11 plot that killed her dad, Arron Dack, a Toronto-raised vice-president of a financial software company.
In many ways, Olivia’s ambivalence is shared by family members of some of the 24 Canadians who lost their lives when the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. After nearly 10 years, they say they have pretty well forgotten about bin Laden, and don’t believe his death will curb the threat of terrorism. “We may have gotten the face of the organization,” says Abigail Cater, “but the organization continues. It also doesn’t change the fact that Arron is still dead.”
In Winnipeg, Ellen Judd was ﬂipping between news channels in search of the latest on the federal election, when the news out of Abbottabad, Pakistan, broke. “I didn’t want to look at [the joyous crowds],” says Judd, still mourning the death of her partner Christine Egan, who was in the south tower visiting her brother when the planes hit. “If we celebrate this as a military victory, we’ve missed the point.” Bin Laden’s death heightened Judd’s sense of solidarity with everyone who has been touched by the war—especially those in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “I have much more in common with the widows in Afghanistan than I do with anybody celebrating in the streets today,” she says. “They are trying to live their ordinary lives just as Chris and I were trying to do.”
By Charlie Gillis - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 9:35 AM - 7 Comments
The world’s first truly global terrorist organization suddenly faces an uncertain fate
In the spring of 2004, as investigators scoured mobile phone records for evidence in the Madrid train bombings, a disturbing truth about the killers began to emerge. Far from bloody-minded professionals carrying out Osama bin Laden’s orders, these suicide bombers appeared to be novices—self-radicalized warriors who believed themselves to be carrying out the al-Qaeda leader’s wishes. The closest many of them ever had come to the man was reading his polemics on a jihadist website.
This phenomenon wasn’t new. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, cells of wannabes had popped up around the world; most showed all the acumen of Wile E. Coyote hunting the Road Runner. But the coordinated assault on Madrid’s commuter rail network marked a frightening new turn for the world’s first truly global terrorist organization. With its leaders in hiding or on the run, it had managed to outsource its work to self-styled “affiliates”—from the absurdist amateurs of the so-called “Toronto 18” to the homegrown jihadis who killed 52 people by bombing the London Underground. Just when Western intelligence agencies thought they had a handle on the threat, the threat had morphed into something almost as dangerous.
This quicksilver quality had long been al-Qaeda’s key to survival. Bin Laden had assembled his following in the late 1980s from remnants of Arab volunteer brigades who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, and who shared his outrage at the Saudi royal family’s decision to allow U.S. troops on their soil during the 1990 Gulf War. Though the scion of a construction dynasty in Saudi Arabia, he was expelled from the country the next year, and quickly shifted operations to Sudan, where his organization began to live up to its name (in Arabic, al-Qaeda means “the base”).
By Nicholas Köhler and Stephanie Findlay - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 9:05 AM - 2 Comments
How a series of terror attacks totally changed the Western way of life
The ancient Yemeni port of Aden, on the southwest tip of the Arabian Peninsula, reaches into the blue waters separating the Middle East from the Horn of Africa to form a natural harbour. Yet the safe haven for foreign ships has over the years been less than friendly to visiting foreigners. “Aden is a terrible rock, without a single blade of grass or a drop of good water,” the 19th-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud wrote after arriving to work in the coffee trade. It remained a desperate place even a century later, when, in the early 1990s, the United States used the city as a staging ground to service its troubled military venture across the gulf in Somalia, and as an R & R spot for soldiers due back in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
On Dec. 29, 1992, a security guard at the swank, modern Aden Hotel spotted two men apparently fitting a bomb to the underside of a car parked in the hotel lot outside, a not unusual occurrence in wild Yemen. Seeing the guard, one man stood and was striding directly toward him when the briefcase in his hand exploded, dismembering his arm and spewing shrapnel into the guard and the man’s accomplice. Though foiled, the attack was evidently part of a broader plan: later that day, at the Goldmore Hotel, another Aden resort, an explosive device planted in a hallway closet killed a hotel worker and a 70-year-old Austrian tourist who had just sat down to eat dinner with his wife.
Yemeni police later uncovered an arsenal of weaponry associated with the plot, including 25 other explosive devices, two anti-tank mines, two machine guns and a pistol. That stash and the large quantity of cash recovered from a suspect’s apartment pointed to an operation of means and sophistication. The two bombers at the Aden Hotel, who’d survived their injuries, described attending training camps in far-flung Afghanistan operated by a still-obscure religious leader and veteran of the anti-Soviet Afghan mujahedeen campaigns. Osama bin Laden had recently run afoul of the ruling family in his native Saudi Arabia and now lived in the basketcase African nation of Sudan, raising horses, growing sunflowers and using his business acumen to fund terrorist exploits.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, May 9, 2011 at 9:55 AM - 12 Comments
Profiling the world’s most hated terrorist
The compound was neither a mansion, nor a fortress; it was a prison. For months, maybe even years, the planet’s most-wanted man hid behind its high, razor-wire topped walls, trying to obscure his presence from spies, satellites and drones. The house had no phone or Internet connections. Garbage was burned in the courtyard. And afraid of being recognized simply by his tall, skinny frame, he could not even venture outdoors.
In the end, the first real contact Osama bin Laden had with the outside world since he fled Afghanistan in December 2001 came when a team of U.S. Navy Seals touched down at his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hiding spot Sunday. Forty minutes later, he was dead—shot through the head in a bedroom, his blood spreading across a shabby oriental carpet.
The 54-year-old’s death came as he had often predicted, from the barrel of an American gun. Perhaps he even welcomed it. “I’m fighting so I can die a martyr and go to heaven to meet God,” bin Laden once told Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a British-based Arabic language newspaper. “We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the difference between us two,” he proclaimed on another occasion. And few, in the West at least, will term it anything but justice. Author of deadly bombings in East Africa and Yemen, the Saudi-born scion of a multi-millionaire construction magnate had been at the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list since 1998. Then on Sept. 11, 2001, he dispatched teams of hijackers to fly passenger jets into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, murdering 2,933 people. (Forty more died when a fourth plane was brought down in a Pennsylvania field, short of another presumed Washington target.) The fires set that day still burn across the globe.
For a decade now, Osama bin Laden has been the object of our fascination and the repository of our fears. Academics and the press have parsed his hidey-hole communiqués looking for an ideology or explanation. Booksellers’ shelves are crammed with dozens of biographies and oral histories, purporting to deliver the “inside” story of his and al-Qaeda’s rise. Yet the motives, life and now death of a figure destined to go down as one of history’s greatest villains remain muddled.
Some accounts of the bedroom firefight say a woman tried to shield bin Laden with her body. The Americans think it was his wife, although which one, or even how many he had (some sources suggest four, others five) is a mystery. The same for a son reportedly left dead in the compound—one of his 13, or 19, or maybe 23 children. The fate of the terrorist leader’s body, spirited away and said to have been buried at sea, is already the subject of conspiracy theories. Osama’s violent demise may offer “sober satisfaction,” as Stephen Harper put it, but it won’t end the questions. Killing the myth may prove even harder than killing the man.
The date and place of Osama’s birth—March 10, 1957, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia—are clear. But not so much the circumstances. As one of the 52, or maybe 54, offspring that Muhammad bin-Awad bin Laden sired with his 22 wives, perhaps that’s understandable. The elder bin Laden emigrated to the kingdom around 1930. A porter in his native Yemen, he found a new calling in construction, building a palace on the cheap for King Abdel Aziz ibn Saud and securing a lifelong patron. Lucrative contracts for roads and bridges followed, as well as prestigious commissions to renovate Islam’s holiest sites in Medina and Mecca. By the time of Osama’s birth, Muhammad was among the country’s wealthiest men. But he remained renowned for his piety—praying at three different mosques each day, never having more than four wives at one time in accordance with religious law, and renovating the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem at cost. He was also a fierce believer in the prevailing Arab cause. In the wake of the 1967 Six Day War with Israel, Osama once told an interviewer, Muhammad tried to have his company’s 200 bulldozers converted to tanks so he could launch his own invasion.
He had met Osama’s mother, Alia, during a visit to Syria in the mid-1950s. The marriage—his 10th—lasted only a few years and produced just the one child. By some family accounts, Alia was more of a concubine than wife. In others, she was a headstrong and sophisticated woman who demanded a divorce and adopted Western dress when outside the country. What is certain is that Osama adored her. “First comes God and then his mother,” Osama’s half-brother Ahmad Muhammad al-Attas told journalists in the months after 9/11. During his years of exile in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, bin Laden made a point of calling her frequently, even though security officials at home and in the U.S. were surely monitoring the calls.
Osama’s relationship with Muhammad, who died in a September 1967 plane crash, was not as close. One friend claims bin Laden only met his father five times. But he was accepted by his many half-siblings, and given an inheritance—shares in the family firm that were worth somewhere between US$8 million and $250 million, according to widely divergent accounts. Whatever the amount, he didn’t do much with it. Compatriots remember him as a quiet kid, who enjoyed picnics and soccer games, and had one notable passion—horseback riding.
While many of his brothers and sisters travelled and studied abroad, Osama preferred to stay in Saudi Arabia. There have been reports that he once travelled to Sweden as a teen, and Chicago as a young adult, but the only confirmed voyages were annual visits to Syria to see his mother’s family. As a student at the prestigious al-Thager Model School in Jeddah—where the royal family educates its boys—he was considered passably bright. In 1978, he entered King Abdul Aziz University to study economics, management and business administration. Already married and the father of two boys—he had wed his 14-year-old first cousin, Najwa, when he was 17—he didn’t stick at school for long, and was soon back working for the family firm. But what bin Laden did discover during his brief post-secondary career was his first spiritual mentor, a Palestinian firebrand named Abdullah Azzam. A follower of the Muslim Brotherhood, Azzam was a deep believer in the concept of jihad. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the religious scholar issued his own fatwa, declaring it every Muslim’s duty to join the struggle.
Soon after, Azzam left Saudi Arabia for the border regions of Pakistan to minister to the mujahedeen. Bin Laden followed. Some sources suggest the two men worked together raising money and setting up training camps for the fighters. Others like Michael Scheur, in his recent biography of the terrorist leader, claim Osama spent five years doing the bidding of Saudi intelligence, using his family’s equipment to build hospitals and cut roads through the border mountains to ease arms deliveries. By the time they officially set up a joint operation in 1984—the Maktab al-Khadamat (services office)—to welcome foreign fighters, bin Laden had become a recognized force in his own right, possessed with the kind of confidence that made men follow. “He was a natural leader,” Khalid al-Batarfi, a friend, told Peter Bergen, the author of The Osama I Know. “He leads by example and by hints more than direct orders. He just sets an example and then expects you to follow and somehow you follow even if you are not 100 per cent convinced.”
In 1986, bin Laden set up al-Masadah (the Lion’s Den), his own training camp for Arab recruits in the mountains. But the man who was teaching others to fight had yet to see action. In the spring of 1987, the base—garrisoned by 50 or so fighters—came under attack from a much larger Soviet force. According to some accounts, the mujahedeen held out for a great victory. In others, they suffered heavy losses and retreated in disarray. For years afterwards, Osama was always pictured holding a Kalashnikov rifle he claimed to have taken away from a Russian he killed in hand-to-hand combat that week. As reports of the battle spread, his prestige grew. In the following weeks, he and other foreign commanders met to form a loose alliance of jihadis, which would ultimately morph into al-Qaeda. It was the beginning of bin Laden’s legend.
The FBI’s wanted poster is scant on details. “Usama” bin Laden is listed as between six foot four and six foot six and “approximately” 160 lb. His languages are Arabic and “probably” Pashtu. (What is not noted is that he also studied English in high school.) There are no known scars and marks. He is left-handed, walks with a cane, and has used the aliases the Sheik, the Prince, the Emir and the Director. But as of the morning of May 2, one hard fact had been added: the label “deceased” under his picture.
The emerging narrative of his death suggests the $25 million reward the United States government has been dangling for his “apprehension or conviction” played no role in the Abbottabad raid. So too the Pakistani authorities, who managed not to respond to a helicopter assault and lengthy gun battle at a compound located just a kilometre away from their chief officer-training school, the Kakul military academy, and nearby several other bases.
Official links to bin Laden have always been a touchy subject. In addition to Saudi support during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, it has long been reported he and his men also received training and arms from the CIA. Certainly he was once—and given his final location, almost assuredly still— friendly with elements of the Pakistani intelligence service.
In 1989, when the 32-year-old returned home to Jeddah after the Russian withdrawal, he was considered a hero. There were talks with Prince Turki Al Faisal, the head of Saudi intelligence, about overthrowing the Communists in Yemen—although the prince ultimately decided that such a war would be a little too close to home. In August 1990, when Iraq invaded neighbouring Kuwait, bin Laden offered his services and followers to defend the kingdom in the event that Saddam pushed on. He was turned down.
Osama’s rift with the West is often attributed to his anger over the garrisoning of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia in preparation for the first Gulf War, a supposed “desecration” of Islam’s holiest sites. But he had already begun formulating a vision of global jihadism back in Afghanistan, working closely with a new mentor, the Egyptian radical Ayman al-Zawahiri. In 1991, his anti-government proclamations became too much for the Saudis and he was asked to leave the country. He made his way to Sudan, where a hardline Islamic regime had seized power in 1989. Still, in those days he was hardly considered a global threat. In Khartoum, he operated in the open as a businessman, building roads for the government and importing medical equipment and supplies. It was Zawahiri and his continued attacks on Egyptian targets that drew the most attention. His friend bin Laden was considered to be a sympathizer, and perhaps financier.
At the behest of the Saudi government, friends and family continued to visit Osama in Sudan, trying to convince him to sever ties with his former Afghan comrades. At one point he supposedly mused about resigning from al-Qaeda to pursue life as a watermelon and peanut farmer. But in 1994, the bin Laden family found it necessary to take out advertisements in Saudi newspapers officially disowning Osama. (Although money continued to flow his way, and relatives travelled to see him in Afghanistan as late as January 2001 for the wedding of his son, Mohammed.) The Saudi government stripped him of his citizenship and he replied with an open letter calling for the royal family’s violent overthrow.
It was the actions of Zawahiri’s followers, including a 1995 suicide bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, which killed 17, that eventually got the pair expelled from Sudan. In May 1996, bin Laden chartered a private jet and flew to Kandahar, where he was greeted with open arms by the Taliban and its leader, Mullah Omar.
Al-Qaeda’s early Afghan days were idyllic, according to some. Followers, including Toronto’s Khadr family, congregated at a rough compound near Jalalabad. In their retelling, Osama was more like a sitcom dad than the father of a global terrorist movement. “He’s a normal human being,” Abdurahman Khadr told the CBC in 2004. “He has issues with his wife and his kids. Financial issues, you know. The kids aren’t listening. The kids aren’t doing this and that.” His sister Zaynab recalled a man who loved horseback riding, playing volleyball, and target shooting with the kids. Although he seemed a little strict, even by radical fundamentalist standards. The female bin Ladens “have lots of restrictions, where they go, when they go, where they come, when they come, who visits them and how long they can stay in their house and all that,” Zaynab explained.
Osama also harboured some prejudices against creature comforts, forbidding his family from having running water, electricity, or even using ice. “He is against drinking cold water,” said Abdurahman. “He didn’t want them in any way to be spoiled.” Conspicuous non-consumption was a bit of an obsession for the rich Saudi. In the stifling heat of Khartoum, he refused to install air conditioning. “We want a simple life,” was one of his mantras.
What bin Laden didn’t seem to shy away from was publicity. In the late 1990s, as his fame as a terrorist grew, he gave regular interviews to foreign journalists, and even held a press conference with Zawahiri in 1998 to announce the formation of the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Crusaders and Jews. A few months later, al-Qaeda staged its first major operation, bombing the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, killing 224. President Bill Clinton responded by firing more than 100 cruise missiles at bin Laden’s Afghan camps, but al-Qaeda’s leadership escaped unscathed. The Taliban, already internationally isolated, resisted UN sanctions and blandishments like a $5-million reward, and refused to hand the Saudi over. But they didn’t necessarily enjoy the grandstanding. Even long-time bin Laden deputies like Abu Musab al-Suri (captured in 2005 and sent to a secret Syrian prison) found it all a bit much. “I think our brother has caught the disease of screens, flashes, fans and applause,” he wrote in 1999.
It took a good long while for the Americans to figure out that they had missed their chance to kill bin Laden in the caves of Tora Bora in December 2001. The ferocious assault by Afghan tribal militias, backed by U.S. and British war planes, killed more than 100 al-Qaeda fighters, including 18 commanders. Foreign troops, Canadians among them, returned to the scene several times over the following months, looking in vain for the corpses of Osama and Zawahiri. Eventually the CIA obtained a videotape of Osama hiking through the mountains into Pakistan and realized just how close they had come. It showed a U.S. plane dropping a bomb on the caves. “We were there last night,” remarks bin Laden.
Audio tapes from the al-Qaeda leader would surface occasionally. (By 2010 there were more than 40 authenticated messages.) In October 2004, he appeared in a video, looking disturbingly robust and well-groomed. After George W. Bush won re-election, nothing was heard from bin Laden for more than three years. Many speculated that he had been killed in a drone attack, or died from a medical condition, like his supposed kidney diseases. All the time, the hunt—and the wars that flowed out of it—went on.
The secret U.S. commando organization responsible for the terrorist’s assassination, the Joint Special Operations Command, has a budget of more than $1 billion a year. But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to an Afghan campaign that has cost more than $450 billion since 2001, and a loosely related invasion and occupation of Iraq that is closing in on $800 billion. Still, in the afterglow of bin Laden’s killing, which sent euphoric crowds into the streets of Washington, New York and other cities, many will say the expense and effort were worth it.
However, eliminating the face of terror doesn’t rid any of us of the problem. Footage of the Abbottabad compound show a large satellite dish which surely enabled bin Laden to follow the deadly exploits of his followers, clones and imitators around the world.
One can only hope that he found channel surfing much less pleasurable in his final months, as Arabs throughout the Middle East took to the streets to rise up against their dictators. Not in violent jihad, as bin Laden has envisioned, but in largely peaceful protests demanding rights, reform and democracy.
History will record that when revolution finally came to the region it was inspired by a simple Tunisian fruit-seller, Mohammed Bouazizi, who set himself ablaze to protest government corruption and indifference—an unwanted man who may end up having far more influence than the world’s foremost fugitive.
By Michael Friscolanti - Monday, May 9, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 1 Comment
More than once, U.S. officials had bin Laden in their crosshairs
In the end, Osama bin Laden was hardly the righteous martyr he claimed to be. The same terrorist mastermind who murdered thousands of people in a single morning—and urged his followers to “kill Americans wherever they are found,” even if that meant their own demise—was not exactly toughing out the jihad in a dusty cave or secluded mud hut. He was holed up in a Pakistani mansion, in a third-floor bedroom with a king-size mattress, red-and-yellow curtains, and a closet.
John Brennan, the White House’s counterterrorism adviser, summed it up best: “Here is Osama, living in a million-dollar compound,” he told reporters. “It speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years.”
Snippets continue to emerge about the top-secret mission that finally claimed al-Qaeda’s elusive leader, 10 long years after the 9/11 attacks. The tips from Guantánamo Bay. Months and months of tedious surveillance. The dangerous midnight raid, carried out by an elite unit of Navy Seals—and relayed, blow by blow, to nervous officials back in the White House situation room, including President Barack Obama.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 10 Comments
Pakistani intelligence failed to look for Osama, says John Kerry
The discovery of Osama bin Laden, not in some desolate cave in a lawless tribal borderland, but ensconced comfortably in a suburban neighbourhood in the heart of Pakistan, has led to a single burning question in Washington: how could the Pakistani government, recipient of billions of dollars of American aid, not know that for possibly five years America’s most wanted fugitive was living in plain sight, a short walk from a military academy, no less?
For years, Pakistan denied knowledge of his whereabouts, even while the Pakistani intelligence services stood accused of tipping off al-Qaeda’s leaders about American efforts to find them. Anybody who thought that Pakistan was protecting bin Laden was “smoking something they shouldn’t be smoking,” Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, told CNN in 2010.
But those suspicions about Islamabad turned to outrage this week. Relations had already been sharply deteriorating, with the U.S. accusing Pakistan of not being serious in fighting terror—and Pakistanis outraged over U.S. drone attacks against suspected Pakistani terrorist targets. Now, with the news that bin Laden had been living openly in Pakistan, there were calls in Washington for Congress to limit an aid program that has allotted US$7.5 billion over ﬁve years to help strengthen the Pakistani government and win the support of Pakistan’s people. “I think this tells us once again that unfortunately Pakistan, at times, is playing a double game, and that’s very troubling to me,” said Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee. “We clearly need to keep the pressure on Pakistan, and one way to do that is to put more strings attached to the tremendous amount of military aid that we give the country,” she said.
By Jesse Brown - Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 1:26 PM - 6 Comments
That’s how a U.S. official, speaking anonymously with Politico, described the cache of computers and thumb drives Navy SEALS seized from Osama Bin Laden’s Abbotabad crib. Former State Department official Richard Haas told the Toronto Star that this “intelligence harvest” could be “as important if not more important than the actual killing of bin Laden.”
He may be speaking too soon. Remember—OBL was careful enough to forego both phone lines and an Internet hookup to his compound. Assuming he was still active in al-Qaeda communications over the past few years, he would have had to physically hustle USB keys and hard drives in and out of his bunker. If he was that careful, wouldn’t he take the precaution of encrypting his communications as well?
As The Register speculates, such encryption might nevertheless be cracked by the US military—especially if Bin Laden used al-Qaeda’s homebrew scrambler “Mojahedeen Secrets” (no joke).
As tantalizing as the data seizure may be to the hundreds of intelligence agents poring over the drives right now, all involved may want to temper their expectations. We’ve yet to receive any indication that bin Laden has been doing anything but cowering in recent years, and it’s entirely possible that he’s completely out of the jihadi loop.
Given the recent discovery of pungent weed crops by the Abbotabad compound and reports of frequent munchie-runs by OBL’s cronies, America’s best data-crackers may find nothing on the drives but a copy of Super Smash Brothers PC and a badly dubbed torrent of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 4:01 PM - 0 Comments
As referenced by John earlier, here is Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon’s exchange with reporters on the subject of child soldiers and Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 9:07 AM - 0 Comments
Talks to end the war in Afghanistan involve extensive, face-to-face discussions with Taliban commanders from the highest levels of the group’s leadership, who are secretly leaving their sanctuaries in Pakistan with the help of NATO troops, officials here say…
The Taliban leaders coming into Afghanistan for talks have left their havens in Pakistan on the explicit assurance that they will not be attacked or arrested by NATO forces, Afghans familiar with the talks say. Many top Taliban leaders reside in Pakistan, where they are believed to enjoy at least some official protection.
In at least one case, Taliban leaders crossed the border and boarded a NATO aircraft bound for Kabul, according to an Afghan with knowledge of the talks. In other cases, NATO troops have secured roads to allow Taliban officials to reach Afghan- and NATO-controlled areas so they can take part in discussions.
The coordinator of the UN’s Al-Qaeda-Taliban monitoring team considers the way forward.
By Michael Friscolanti - Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 4:10 PM - 10 Comments
The prosecutors are thrilled with all the guilty verdicts, the sentences are a different story
When he wasn’t busy with his day job—fixing computers at the Department of Foreign Affairs—Momin Khawaja was toiling away in his Ottawa basement, building a remote-controlled detonator for aspiring terrorists in the United Kingdom. (He dubbed his deadly creation the “Hi-fi Digimonster.”) Convicted of multiple charges in 2008, Khawaja was staring at a potentially monumental sentence: two life terms, plus an additional 44 years behind bars. The judge gave him 15 years instead. He will be eligible for parole in 2014.
Saad Khalid could be a free man much sooner. A core member of the so-called “Toronto 18,” he confessed to his role in a conspiracy to detonate three simultaneous truck bombs in Ontario, a crime that also carried a maximum life sentence. He got 14 years—minus seven for time already served while awaiting trial. If Khalid behaves himself, parole is a possibility in 2012.
By John Geddes - Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 12:05 PM - 107 Comments
Given that Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler was kidnapped in Niger and held in Al Qaeda’s rough hands for four months before being released last spring, his speech at the Liberal thinkers’ conference in Montreal this morning might well have been entirely coloured by his recent ordeal.
Instead, Fowler delivered a fierce, proud address anchored, not in that personal drama, but in his professional experience through three decades as a federal public servant, a diplomat-mandarin. When he did remind his audience of the kidnapping, it was to deftly accent his broader point.
And that point was barbed. Fowler charged the Liberals in the room with standing for little or nothing when it comes to foreign policy. He was even harder on the absent Conservatives, accusing their government of abandoning a Canadian legacy in the world, and, more specifically, of adopting an “Israel, right or wrong” policy that has undermined Ottawa’s credibility abroad. He asserted that there’s an “iron-clad link” between a failure to push for a fair resolution the Israel-Palestine problem and the rise of Islamist terrorism.
By Cameron Ainsworth-Vincze - Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 10:48 AM - 16 Comments
Islamist extremists are assisting Colombian cocaine smugglers
In a partnership that U.S. authorities are referring to as an “unholy alliance,” Islamist extremists are helping Colombian guerrillas smuggle cocaine into Europe through unstable West Africa to increase their funding.
Marxist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have started collaborating with al-Qaeda in the wake of interdiction efforts on the part of American and European forces aimed at curtailing the amount of cocaine travelling straight from Colombia and other Andean nations to the United States and Europe. “In the mid- to late-1990s when the Europeans became better at maritime interdiction, off the coasts of Portugal and Spain, for example, trafﬁckers started moving their routes southward,” says Jay Bergman, director of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for the Andean region of South America. “So the next progression was to Western Africa.” Indeed, according to the DEA, drug flights from South America to West Africa have greatly increased over the past three years, and officials have seized “ton-sized quantities of cocaine.” Interpol also estimates that two-thirds of drugs sold in Europe in 2009 were trafficked through West Africa.
By Cameron Ainsworth-Vincze - Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 2:31 PM - 9 Comments
Some are wearing it to rebel against a corrupt regime
Egypt has long championed a moderate interpretation of Islam, but some Egyptian women are rebelling against government-promoted secularism. More and more of them are choosing to wear the niqab—a veil that covers the face—in addition to the traditional hijab, which only covers the hair, spreading fear among government ofﬁcials that some Egyptians are embracing hardline Islamic values.
The controversy surrounding the niqab boiled over in October when Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, Egypt’s top cleric and head of the Islamic Al-Azhar University, walked into a high school classroom in Cairo and told a female student to remove her veil. Soon after, Tantawi banned niqabs in classrooms and dorms at his campus, on the grounds that it “has nothing to do with Islam” and that it was unnecessary since the university is gender-segregated.
Egypt’s state-run media have backed Tantawi’s ban by encouraging females to show their faces, citing the “damaging” effects of the niqab on society, while the ministry of religious endowments has gone so far as to distribute booklets that suggest the niqab is un-Islamic. But despite the government campaign, analysts say increasing numbers of women have taken to wearing the niqab, which was almost never seen in Egypt just a decade ago.
Some women are wearing the niqab as a form of rebellion against a government that is widely viewed by the masses to be autocratic, corrupt and uncaring—they feel they should be able to choose their own dress. For others, the decision is based on the belief that wearing the niqab will bring them closer to God, a notion inspired by Salafism, an ultra-conservative school of thought practised in Saudi Arabia that places an emphasis on orthodox Muslim doctrines.
Although most followers of Salafism shun politics, the movement has much in common with the ideology of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, giving the government even more ammunition in its quest to quell the movement.
By Andrew Potter - Monday, December 28, 2009 at 2:44 PM - 8 Comments
From an AP story in today’s Globe and Mail:
Anwar Eshki, the head of…
Anwar Eshki, the head of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies based in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, said al-Qaeda in Yemen “is stronger than it was a year ago and is turning Yemen into its base for operations against the West.” Mr. Eshki’s centre closely follows al-Qaeda in Yemen.
“Yemen is al-Qaeda’s last resort,” Mr. Eshki said. “There’s no doubt that al-Qaeda’s presence in Yemen is more dangerous than its presence in Afghanistan.”
Assume this is true. What effect, if any, should it have on Obama’s decision to send 30 000 more troops to Afghanistan? What effect, if any, should this have on Canada’s determination to end our combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011? What effect, if any, should this have on our ongoing mission in Afghanistan which — according to the most recent quarterly report, is “to leave Afghanistan to Afghans as a country that is democratic, self-sufficient and stable”?
These are not rhetorical questions. Some might not be relevant at all; but given the original rationale for going in to Afghanistan was to deny al-Qaeda a base from which to launch attacks against the West, it might be worth talking them through.
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 1:50 PM - 0 Comments
Survivors of the war are now struggling to feed their families
For years, sectarian fighting in the “Triangle of Death,” the cluster of towns surrounding southern Baghdad, was so intense that hundreds died every day. Sunnis and Shiites, embroiled in a civil war, were killing each other and U.S. and Iraqi forces, summary executions were carried out on the street, and bounties were offered for anyone who killed police, National Guardsmen, and Shiite pilgrims.
As of last year, however, bloodshed in the Triangle had plummeted by as much as 89 per cent, according to the U.S. military. That was thanks in part to new counterinsurgency techniques, but the violence also diminished because Sunni insurgents who had been working with al-Qaeda turned against the terrorist organization. Plus, warring factions have simply “exhausted themselves,” adds the University of British Columbia’s Michael Byers, an expert in global politics. The region has become one of the safest in the country, a showcase for what the U.S. hopes to achieve in Iraq.
Yet new challenges have cropped up. Survivors of the war, many of them women, are now struggling to feed their families, while their husbands, often former supporters of the Saddam Hussein regime, have been detained or left jobless, says Byers. Although the Shiite-led al-Maliki government has promised amnesty to Sunni fighters who renounce al-Qaeda, it remains highly suspicious of them. The underlying tensions that caused violence to spike have not been resolved, and Sunnis may return to violence if they cannot find employment. “This is not a happy society,” says Byers. “We are now seeing the very deep consequences of not planning for the post-invasion phase.”
Across Iraq, the war has laid waste to infrastructure, put ethnic tensions at a boil, and left behind a scarred, displaced civilian population. “Ending conflict,” Byers adds, “is not the only goal.”
By Kate Fillion - Friday, October 23, 2009 at 12:00 PM - 8 Comments
A conversation with Kate Fillion
Gen. Rick Hillier was chief of defence staff from February 2005 to July 2008. As he explains in A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War, the Canadian Forces have long been underfunded, under-trained, underappreciated and overextended. The most visible and outspoken CDS in recent history, Hillier sought to reverse those trends while fighting a war in Afghanistan—and, as it turned out, Ottawa.
Q:In A Soldier First, you write that most Canadians do not know what the rationale behind the Afghanistan mission is. What’s the biggest misperception?
A: That everything is dark and gloomy. What Canadians hear about the mission is that Canadian soldiers have been killed, and they hear about improvised explosive devices and corruption in the government. There are some very bright spots, from the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, to the development of the Afghan national army, to the fact that two-thirds of the country now essentially runs as normal. Canadians hear not a single thing about any of that.
Q: Whose fault is that?
A: I start with average Canadians. They should demand that kind of information from their government when they’ve got their sons and daughters participating in a war. Secondly, the Afghanistan task force has a strategic communications policy, but I wonder where the communications is being done because hundreds of thousands of Canadians don’t know what’s happening. Thirdly, our media have not done a very good job. Very few journalists have actually been outside the wire, because their editors are very concerned about the risks and their insurance policies almost always prohibit them from going out.
Q: Why did we first send troops to Afghanistan, in your opinion?
A: We were going somewhere in 2003, just as a way to relieve the pressure of saying no to the Americans on Iraq, and it ended up being Afghanistan. But I think now we view the world through a more strategic lens: we have to bring stability to places where there’s chaos, to help those areas develop.
Q: Does Canada have a coherent strategic plan for what’s going to happen post-July 2011, when our troops are scheduled to pull out of Afghanistan?
A: That’s very difficult to say. I think Canadians have heard very little about it and are therefore reasonably asking, “What is the plan and what is our strategy there?” When I was chief of defence staff, our view of what we were doing was to try to help Afghans determine, with some assistance, just what it was they wanted as a country and how they wanted to live their lives. We were very, very clear on that. As President [Hamid] Karzai told me the first time I met him, “The number one threat to Afghanistan is our lack of capacity to govern ourselves, to provide jobs for the people and provide for their basic needs, and to provide for their security. The sooner we can be helped to provide those capacities, the sooner we can get going on our own.”
Q: How can you help Afghans do all that after 2011 without troops?
A: You cannot, so the troops, if they’re not Canadian, will have to come from somewhere else. Make no doubt about it: the security mission and therefore the need for forces will not be finished in southern Afghanistan in 2011. You can come up with all kinds of schemes to hide away in a camp and train people for the Afghan army or police, but they lack credibility. If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army or police in southern Afghanistan, you are going to be in combat.
Q: Should our troops stay in Afghanistan after July 2011?
A: Whether they should stay or not will be a decision the government of Canada will make. What I would actually like to see is a strategic discussion, not just about what we do in Afghanistan but about Canada’s place in the world. But in this constant minority government, always in election campaign mode, with a very vitriolic Parliament, it’s impossible to have that sort of strategic discussion. Do I think that if Canadian troops stayed on the ground we could help foster a more stable Afghanistan that would in turn be a stabilizing force in Southwest Asia and help reduce terrorists’ ability to hide? Yes I do.
Q: Do you agree with de Gaulle, that “genius sometimes consists of knowing when to stop”?
A: I teach that as one of my leadership points. But also, you don’t achieve anything by stopping at the first sign of difficulty. If we’d stopped after Dieppe in World War II, where would we be right now as a nation? If we’d stopped before Vimy Ridge, we wouldn’t have been a nation at all. So yes, you’ve got to know when to say “stop” as a leader, you sure do, but you’ve also got to know when to push for the final thing that’s going to give you the full benefit.
Q: You write that when you were chief of defence staff, some of the toughest battles were fought not in Kandahar but against the bureaucracy in Ottawa.
A: I liken it to a boa constrictor. We were at war in Afghanistan, with young men and women laying their lives on the line on a daily basis, and we were trying to move at lightning speed to give them the capabilities to reduce risks and ensure they were set up for success. What we did not see, from the vast majority of the bureaucracy back in Ottawa, was the same sense of urgency. Everything became difficult, really moved slowly, projects were often parcelled into very little bits and pieces. We had to fight a war in Ottawa to get things done, from getting the tanks upgraded to getting helicopters. We should’ve had those things from the time the need was identified, in weeks if not days. It took months, and in several cases years.
Q: You once said, famously, that the Taliban are “detestable murderers and scumbags.” Do you still believe that?
A: Absolutely. I spoke about people who were trying to kill Canadians’ sons and daughters. I would also challenge people to come up with any other description for those who, as part of their policy, want to murder defenceless Afghan men and women.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, October 11, 2009 at 2:10 AM - 59 Comments
With confirmation that four al-Qaeda prisoners and several million dollars were exchanged for Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, here again is the transcript from the Prime Minister’s press conference on the afternoon of April 22, announcing Fowler and Guay’s release.