The SWISH Report

Paul Rogers author pic
Paul Rogers
13 July 2004


You have asked SWISH to undertake an independent analysis of the progress of your campaign, as of mid–July 2004. The report is for your consideration as the SPC, but may also be shown to elements of the leadership. You have asked us to be candid in assessing current threats and opportunities, and also to suggest changes in strategy that may be appropriate in pursuant of your aims.

Al–Qaida aims and context

As we understand it, you have three short–term aims and one long–term strategic objective. The short–term aims are:


  • removal of foreign (especially United States) forces from the Islamic world, with Saudi Arabia as the priority

  • termination of the House of Saud as the unacceptably corrupt and illegitimate Keeper of the Two Holy Places

  • establishment of an independent Palestine that may involve the termination of the state of Israel.

We understand that the last aim is a relatively recent addition, and stems from the current nature of the Christian/Zionist axis and the extreme policies of the Ariel Sharon government, as well as the manner in which these are overriding your supporters' long–standing mistrust of the Palestinian diaspora in the western Gulf states.

Your long–term aim is the establishment of legitimate Islamic governance, initially in the Arab world but also elsewhere, as a prelude to a wider global conversion.

Your movement has developed from writings and teachings dating back several decades, and was initiated in a practical sense during opposition to Soviet rule in Afghanistan. That campaign was successful, even though it was necessary to obtain support from the United States to ensure that success.

After the 1991 Gulf war, your movement consolidated and evolved principally in western Gulf states, Pakistan and North Africa, but with support in many countries, including a number of western states. You commenced paramilitary actions directed primarily against US interests, including the Khobar Towers attack (1996) and the east African embassy bombings (1998). Associates attempted to destroy the New York World Trade Center in 1993. Other associates succeeded in September 2001 and also attacked the Pentagon.

The timescale for your strategy is not fixed but we assume it to be measured in terms of five decades or more. You are currently near the end of the second decade.

We understand that the 9/11 actions, in particular, had three broad aims:

  • to demonstrate the organisation's capacity for major transnational attacks

  • to encourage your supporters and those of associated organisations and increase their recruitment potential, and most importantly

  • to incite the United States to mount very large military operations in Afghanistan and in the wider regions of central and southwest Asia.

Subsequent developments

Your only substantial failure was that the United States did not engage in major ground force operations in Afghanistan.

It did not therefore provide a basis for a vigorous guerrilla war against an external occupying power (although such an interaction is now developing on a rather smaller scale than that originally envisaged).

Instead, the US used a combination of air power, special forces and the wholesale rearming of Northern Alliance warlord forces, with the latter serving as ground troops. While termination of the Taliban regime was rapid, Taliban militia largely dispersed with their weapons and supplies intact. Where there were direct engagements with US forces, as at Tora Bora, the Taliban and al–Qaida militia acquitted themselves well.

The US has since established two major military bases in Afghanistan as well as others in several central Asian republics together with a dispersed military presence in Pakistan. Immediately after 9/11, there were few al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan as they had already dispersed.

Although the loss of your Afghanistan facilities, and the killing or capturing of a substantial minority of your leadership was significant, your opponents overestimated the costs to al-Qaida as a result. Many facilities, and many more personnel, were available to take their place. Moreover, al-Qaida has never been a narrow hierarchical organisation but rather a federation or consortium of like–minded groups with broadly similar aims, able to cooperate on matters such as logistics, paramilitary expertise and finance, and variably willing to adhere to a degree of centralised planning and strategy formulation. We will use the term “consortium” in the remainder of this report.

We note, incidentally, that many of your Afghan bases were primarily concerned with training expatriate militias to support the Taliban in the pursuit of its civil war against the warlords. The loss of your Afghan bases was never going to do terminal damage to the consortium – indeed to believe that it would is to fail to understand the nature of your consortium, let alone your strategy.

The US policy of widespread detention without trial, especially in Afghanistan, Cuba and now Iraq, has been a great help to you and your affiliates. It has been further aided by the systematic use of harassment, sexual humiliation and torture by US forces and their allies.

The civilian death toll in Afghanistan was around 3,000, and in Iraq it is so far about 12,000, with up to 100 civilians still being killed each week. Serious injuries in the two conflicts are likely to have exceeded 30,000. These features of the two conflicts, with close to 50,000 civilians killed or seriously injured, have greatly aided recruitment into your consortium and have also been key factors in enhancing a more global anti–American mood.

Paramilitary actions

Your consortium has faced severe counter–actions from security and intelligence agencies and special forces in many parts of the world, including targeted assassinations, yet you have maintained an impressive level of activity. This includes attacks in Islamabad, Karachi, Jakarta, Bali, Mombasa, Riyadh, Casablanca and Istanbul. Of particular note was your large and coordinated attack in Madrid, achieved in spite of intense intelligence and security operations by the Spanish authorities. It is true that many other actions have been intercepted. Even so, such actions have served to heighten concern in many western states.

We note your subtle but important change of tactics in Saudi Arabia. Recognising that a chaotic overthrow of the House of Saud would incite immediate US intervention, and that such intervention would delay your longer–term plans by damaging a key economy, you are now engaged in a triple strategy of weakening the presence of western expatriates, avoiding Muslim casualties and, at the same time, infiltrating and influencing Saudi governance from within, utilising the substantial existing support for your aims.

Supporting factors

You have been aided in your activities by three somewhat unexpected factors, none of them under your control. The first is the increasing importance of satellite TV channels such as al–Arabiya and al–Jazeera, with their ability to deliver uncensored news information into many millions of households.

The second is the particularly militant nature of the Sharon government in Israel together with its close links with the Bush administration. The activities on the West Bank two years ago and in Gaza more recently have been of huge help in gaining you more support across the region and beyond. The refusal of the Sharon government to acknowledge any deference to the International Court of Justice ruling on the barrier, coupled with the deafening silence from Washington, are further aids to your strategy.

The third, and by far the most important, has been the termination of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq followed by the US occupation of the country and consequent insurgency. This has been, purely and simply, nothing less than a gift from heaven, and has been of immense value to the consortium.

It is ironic that the consortium failed to attract the United States into Afghanistan in the manner hoped for, yet the Bush administration achieved the much more significant feat of inserting around 140,000 Americans as an occupying force into the heart of the Arab world. This has been truly an amazing development and of real value to the long–term achievement of your aims.

Even with our perspectives on the incompetence of your opponents, we have to confess our astonishment that the US occupiers in Iraq have been willing to allow Israeli special forces to operate in the Kurdish areas of Iraq. That the US leadership has supported Israel in gaining direct access to an enclave in an Arab country is frankly astounding and further illustrates the fundamental lack of understanding of the current administration in Washington.

Where you stand – and why

In terms of the achievement of your aims, your only short–term success has been the substantial withdrawal of US forces from Saudi Arabia, although current paramilitary campaigns in the kingdom are already having an effect on business and expatriate confidence and are beginning to indicate a core instability. You have not succeeded in effecting change in any other governments in the Islamic world but your prospects in Pakistan are quite good, Afghanistan remains in disorder if not chaos, and Iraq is ripe for change.

You are operating over a timescale of many decades and in such a context progress has been rather good, but it has to be said that this is not entirely down to your own capabilities but largely to the sheer incompetence of your opponents.

Consider the consequences for your strategy if your opponents were to take the following five actions:


  • a determined western effort to ensure security in Afghanistan, limit the power of the warlords and aid civil reconstruction. This would need to hugely transcend what is currently envisaged and would be more akin to repeated requests and demands from experienced UN officials, Afghans and independent analysts

  • withdrawal of US military force from Afghanistan and elsewhere in central Asia coupled with action against the governmental human rights abuses endemic in much of the region

  • in Iraq, moves towards a genuine democracy rather than the client regime that has now been installed, coupled with UN oversight of the transition and a rapid decrease in the US military presence. This would be paralleled by an avoidance of recourse to crude market forces and an acceptance of the need for temporarily centralised development planning

  • effective pressure on Israel to concede a peace agreement with a viable Palestinian state

  • in parallel with this would be pressure on Arab autocracies to modernise and democratise.

All these, in combination, would present a serious threat to the integrity and viability of the al–Qaida strategy. It is indeed fortunate that none is likely to happen, given the current western political leadership.

At the same time, it does also mean that your current strong position does not primarily stem from your own success. You must therefore guard vigorously against any sense of achievement – too much of it is due to the incompetence of your principle opponent and its British ally.

Indeed, your own statements, with the exception of Osama bin Laden's statement after Madrid, may have been of use to supporters but have been largely counterproductive in addressing a wider audience of potential sympathisers.

Nevertheless, you are currently in a strong position. This poses an important issue: how can the consortium best ensure the re–election of George W Bush in November? We are not suggesting that a Kerry victory would be a disaster but it would present a less attractive environment for your near–term operations. A Kerry presidency might embrace some of the five dangers just listed. A Bush presidency would not.

On balance, we therefore suggest that you consider short–term tactics designed to aid the Bush campaign. It is possible that another major attack in the US would increase support for a “war president”, but we cannot be sure. What would certainly help him greatly would be the detention or capture of Osama bin Laden, especially if this could be arranged within a month or so of the election.

Although the martyrdom factor is important, and it would certainly be unwise for him to be taken without a fight (as was Saddam Hussein), we would, on balance, recommend that he allow himself to be detained during a conflict rather than be killed. As a detainee he would be a powerful continuing focus and, if brought to trial, would be in an exceptionally strong position to make significant pronouncements.

Furthermore, given his current state of health and his frequent need to relocate, he could well be assured of a longer life in US custody, unlike almost all other detainees.


We would conclude that your campaign is going well, has some very strong prospects for further progress in Saudi Arabia, is in a good position in Pakistan and has excellent potential for action in Iraq. In the latter case, in particular, the long–term security of Gulf oil is essential to the United States, and withdrawal from Iraq is therefore highly unlikely. This gives you a remarkable opportunity to develop a range of oppositional policies and tactics.

Thus, the future looks bright. We insist, though, that much of this is due to the actions of your opponents and it follows that any actions that you can take to ensure that they persist with their current policies will be to your advantage. The immediate requirement, as we have indicated, is therefore to aid, in any way within the framework of your core values, the survival of the Bush administration.

South Waziristan

14 July 2004

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