Episode 4: Future of the Conflict in Afghanistan by Dr. Fadl


I’ve begun reading through the episodes and am really enjoying this book.  It’s almost Dr. Fadl’s version of the Looming Tower (by Lawrence Wright) where he walks through the history of AQ via the lens of al-Zawahiri and bin Laden. The biggest difference between the two books (besides the fact that Wright’s version is substantially better written and more nuanced) is that Dr. Fadl is  grinding his axe, indicting UBL and al-Zawahiri as the primary murderers of Iraqi and Afghan Muslims.

Dr. Fadl, like in his previous books, leverages line-by-line critiques of AQ leadership, most specifically al-Zawahiri, by using their own words against him.  He cites al-Zawahiri’s books, including Knights and Exoneration. This is an effective tactic and one that AQ themselves have not only employed themselves, but actually complimented an article that I co-authored for using the same approach against him.  On pg. 258 of al-Zawahiri’s book, Exoneration, he notes:

[the Playbook article is] more equitable than the proselytizer of Rationalization; [the authors] reported the narration from my book (Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet, prayers and peace be upon him) regarding the Atif Sidqi incident.

A couple curious points about Dr. Fadl’s new book so far:

There is a disparity, he argues, between what the global jihadist leadership wants (ambitions) and what they can accomplish (capabilities).  He refers to this as a “difficult equation.”  AQ, he argues, has tried to reconcile this disparity through mass mobilization of the global ummah. To mobilize, they have relied on slogans, inflammatory statements and actions that incite the masses to action: terrorism.

In other words, AQ, he argues, has tried to short-cut their way around this disparity (solve this difficult equation) by exerting minimal effort, which has led to the maximum cost to the ummah.

Brachman’s Summary: AQ is greedy and lazy. They want the world but aren’t willing to work for it. Therefore, they try to outsource it by using inflammatory rhetoric in order to spin up Muslims who then conduct activities that are not in accordance with Islamic law.

Even 9/11, Dr. Fadl notes, was not thought of by AQ but by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who he emphasizes was not officially AQ until post-9/11.

Dr. Fadl quotes the 9/11 Commission Report several times.

He argues that UBLand President George W. Bush actually had a lot in common in terms of their embrace of the “preemptive strike” doctrine.

He discounts arguments that the US planned to occupy Afghanistan with or without 9/11. He contends that the real foreign occupiers of Afghanistan are al-Qaida.


  1. Ryan says:

    This is very interesting

    Fadl seems to put his finger right on the fatal flaw of AQ’s global strategy, which is heavily influenced by foco insurgency theories pioneered in Latin America during the Cold War by Che and others. Foco theory states that action can mobilize independently without the need for prior patient mass political mobilization (as Mao advocated).

    History has proven this doesn’t work out. And so it shall not for AQ…we hope

  2. elmarakchia says:

    I see the influence of foco theory in AQ’s global communications, yet many of their own strategists (esp. Suri) and their internal communications point out the need for ideological education before taking action. When supporters take action without sufficient jihadi “education,” it results in actions that are counterproductive to the larger plan. This is where the “virtual safe haven” falls short…

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