In the first part of this series, investigative military historian Gareth Porter analyzes al- Qaeda’s demonization of Shi’ites; the rationale behind US special commandos conducting attacks against alleged al-Qaeda and neo-Taliban operatives deep inside the Pakistani tribal areas; the overall counterinsurgency strategy of Gen. David Petraeus; and the surge in Iraq compared with what is now a surge in Pashtun-dominated lands inside Pakistan. Part Two of series published on Friday.


Story Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST: Seven years after bringing down steel buildings with jet fuel, using planes as missiles, and outwitting the most high-tech air force in the most protected airspace in the world for nearly two hours, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two, is celebrating 9/11 with an hour and a half video called “Seven Years of Crusades,” where he basically says that the Persians, the Iranians, are allied with the US to fight Islam in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The US, meanwhile, is stepping up the war on terror deep inside Pakistani territory, with Special Forces commandos targeting the tribal areas. While US corporate media’s transfixed by Sarah Palin the lipstick pit bull, a new [inaudible] is acquiring irreversible momentum. I sat down with investigative military historian Gareth Porter to examine the disconnect between the Bush administration and the US intelligence community, the fact that al-Qaeda now is a very, very different enemy compared to 2001, seven years ago, and the potentially devastating consequences of the US starting a war inside Pakistan.

~~~

ESCOBAR: Gareth, apparently now al-Qaeda’s main enemy are Shiites and Persians, and not the US and the West. Does anybody in the US intelligence community, not to mention the Bush administration, are they aware of it?

GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE HISTORIAN, MILITARY POLICY ANALYST: Oh, I’m sure they are aware of it, no question about it. And, of course, this is not a new thing. I mean, this is something that we’ve gotten based on some captured documents in the past two or three years. The al-Qaeda output has focused on a number of occasions on the supposed alliance between Iran and the United States, and also, even, I would say, more importantly, on the importance of trying to split the United States and Iran, and even to get the United States to go to war against Iran. So I think that this is really part of the al-Qaeda viewpoint, that is to say, they still hope to turn the United States against Iran, to make it part of their overall strategy to damage Iran through the United States. I think it’s correct that you do see a shift from 2001 or even 2002, 2003; you have more and more focus on the Shiites as the enemy, more focus on Iran as the enemy. Certainly that’s true in Iraq, as well as more generally in terms of the al-Qaeda leadership messages. Now, it’s very interesting that in Afghanistan as well you have a very major shift in the nature of the so-called enemy in terms of who’s actually fighting the United States and NATO troops on the ground in Afghanistan. What’s happening is that it’s no longer the original Taliban regime which the United States thought it was fighting in 2001, 2002. There are still some of the original Taliban people who are there in Afghanistan, but to a great extent there has been a shift to the new Taliban, the neo-Taliban, people coming from Pakistan, who’ve trained in Pakistan of course, but whose interests are really generated by the fact that the United States is there fighting in Afghanistan. You now have a broader coalition of people that the United States is fighting in Afghanistan; it’s no longer by any means a unified adversary at all. And that this something that’s constantly shifting, constantly, you know, changing, so that it underlines the fundamental point here that (A) the United States’ military presence in Afghanistan really is the dynamic factor here that brings about changes, you know, in the politics within Afghanistan of who’s fighting us, where they’re coming from, what their motives are. And ultimately, of course, what the makeup of any post-occupation regime is going to be is going to be affected by that very factor. If the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, everything’s going to change again, just as it changed when the United States went in.

ESCOBAR: We can say that the surge in Afghanistan and especially in the Pakistani tribal areas has already started. So let’s say that this is the counterpart of the Iraqi surge. In the Iraqi surge, there was a very, very dirty war. What Petraeus was trying to do, he was trying to isolate and kill the Sunni Arab guerrilla leaders. Is he trying to do the same thing in the Pakistani tribal areas, targeting in this case Pashtun leaders? He’ll be fighting against 40 million Pashtuns, and not only 6 or 7 million Sunni Arabs. Is he aware of that?

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PORTER: I think it’s very important to underline the fact that there’s a lot of hype here from Bob Woodward’s book about this high-tech, supposed secret weapon that was unveiled in Iraq, which was supposedly so successful against the Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda. What fundamentally happened in Sunni Iraq was that the Sunni insurgency, which represented 90 to 95 percent of those who were fighting the United States occupation, decided to turn against al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda was basically opposing their strategy. They were at odds with al-Qaeda for strategic reasons. And it was in spite of the US military presence rather than because of the US military presence that they turned against al-Qaeda, and it was the decision to turn against al-Qaeda politically which determined the ultimate weakening of al-Qaeda, not the high-tech contraptions that the United States brought to bear. That was a relatively minor factor. I think any history of this episode will show that that’s the case. So when you now look at Pakistan, the situation there, of course, is one where the United States has to have some intelligence in order to target these supposed al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership that they’re supposed to be bombing or raiding with their special forces.

ESCOBAR: And they don’t have on the ground intelligence Waziristan [inaudible].

PORTER: They just don’t know enough to be able to target this. An intelligence official of the US government told Eli Lake of The New York Sun this week that the targeting of al-Qaeda and Taliban was so chancy that he called it “shots in the dark.” And he said, “Well, at least if we send the ground troops, the special forces, into Pakistan, maybe they’ll be able to get some information which would improve the target.” So in other words they’re winging it; they really don’t have the intelligence. And that’s the fundamental weakness of this whole idea of going in there with Special Forces and with the drones.

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST: Seven years after bringing down steel buildings with jet fuel, using planes as missiles, and outwitting the most high-tech air force in the most protected airspace in the world for nearly two hours, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two, is celebrating 9/11 with an hour and a half video called “Seven Years of Crusades,” where he basically says that the Persians, the Iranians, are allied with the US to fight Islam in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The US, meanwhile, is stepping up the war on terror deep inside Pakistani territory, with Special Forces commandos targeting the tribal areas. While US corporate media’s transfixed by Sarah Palin the lipstick pit bull, a new [inaudible] is acquiring irreversible momentum. I sat down with investigative military historian Gareth Porter to examine the disconnect between the Bush administration and the US intelligence community, the fact that al-Qaeda now is a very, very different enemy compared to 2001, seven years ago, and the potentially devastating consequences of the US starting a war inside Pakistan.

~~~

ESCOBAR: Gareth, apparently now al-Qaeda’s main enemy are Shiites and Persians, and not the US and the West. Does anybody in the US intelligence community, not to mention the Bush administration, are they aware of it?

GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE HISTORIAN, MILITARY POLICY ANALYST: Oh, I’m sure they are aware of it, no question about it. And, of course, this is not a new thing. I mean, this is something that we’ve gotten based on some captured documents in the past two or three years. The al-Qaeda output has focused on a number of occasions on the supposed alliance between Iran and the United States, and also, even, I would say, more importantly, on the importance of trying to split the United States and Iran, and even to get the United States to go to war against Iran. So I think that this is really part of the al-Qaeda viewpoint, that is to say, they still hope to turn the United States against Iran, to make it part of their overall strategy to damage Iran through the United States. I think it’s correct that you do see a shift from 2001 or even 2002, 2003; you have more and more focus on the Shiites as the enemy, more focus on Iran as the enemy. Certainly that’s true in Iraq, as well as more generally in terms of the al-Qaeda leadership messages. Now, it’s very interesting that in Afghanistan as well you have a very major shift in the nature of the so-called enemy in terms of who’s actually fighting the United States and NATO troops on the ground in Afghanistan. What’s happening is that it’s no longer the original Taliban regime which the United States thought it was fighting in 2001, 2002. There are still some of the original Taliban people who are there in Afghanistan, but to a great extent there has been a shift to the new Taliban, the neo-Taliban, people coming from Pakistan, who’ve trained in Pakistan of course, but whose interests are really generated by the fact that the United States is there fighting in Afghanistan. You now have a broader coalition of people that the United States is fighting in Afghanistan; it’s no longer by any means a unified adversary at all. And that this something that’s constantly shifting, constantly, you know, changing, so that it underlines the fundamental point here that (A) the United States’ military presence in Afghanistan really is the dynamic factor here that brings about changes, you know, in the politics within Afghanistan of who’s fighting us, where they’re coming from, what their motives are. And ultimately, of course, what the makeup of any post-occupation regime is going to be is going to be affected by that very factor. If the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, everything’s going to change again, just as it changed when the United States went in.

ESCOBAR: We can say that the surge in Afghanistan and especially in the Pakistani tribal areas has already started. So let’s say that this is the counterpart of the Iraqi surge. In the Iraqi surge, there was a very, very dirty war. What Petraeus was trying to do, he was trying to isolate and kill the Sunni Arab guerrilla leaders. Is he trying to do the same thing in the Pakistani tribal areas, targeting in this case Pashtun leaders? He’ll be fighting against 40 million Pashtuns, and not only 6 or 7 million Sunni Arabs. Is he aware of that?

PORTER: I think it’s very important to underline the fact that there’s a lot of hype here from Bob Woodward’s book about this high-tech, supposed secret weapon that was unveiled in Iraq, which was supposedly so successful against the Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda. What fundamentally happened in Sunni Iraq was that the Sunni insurgency, which represented 90 to 95 percent of those who were fighting the United States occupation, decided to turn against al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda was basically opposing their strategy. They were at odds with al-Qaeda for strategic reasons. And it was in spite of the US military presence rather than because of the US military presence that they turned against al-Qaeda, and it was the decision to turn against al-Qaeda politically which determined the ultimate weakening of al-Qaeda, not the high-tech contraptions that the United States brought to bear. That was a relatively minor factor. I think any history of this episode will show that that’s the case. So when you now look at Pakistan, the situation there, of course, is one where the United States has to have some intelligence in order to target these supposed al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership that they’re supposed to be bombing or raiding with their special forces.

ESCOBAR: And they don’t have on the ground intelligence Waziristan [inaudible].

PORTER: They just don’t know enough to be able to target this. An intelligence official of the US government told Eli Lake of The New York Sun this week that the targeting of al-Qaeda and Taliban was so chancy that he called it “shots in the dark.” And he said, “Well, at least if we send the ground troops, the special forces, into Pakistan, maybe they’ll be able to get some information which would improve the target.” So in other words they’re winging it; they really don’t have the intelligence. And that’s the fundamental weakness of this whole idea of going in there with Special Forces and with the drones.

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


Gareth Porter

Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.