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David Miller: Al-Qaeda Deals the US Another Blow

David Miller Online

Al-Qaeda Deals the US Another Blow

The discovery of a large archive of video footage in the remains of an al-Qaeda training camp could not have come at a worst time for the United States. For one thing, the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks is only a few weeks away. Given that this is the first anniversary of the attacks, there is bound to be widespread media coverage of both the attacks and the memorial services in the US and the world. There is also growing disquiet in the US over the War on Terrorism and the possible widening of the offensive to include Iraq with many in the US government and the general public beginning to question the mandate and potential costs of such a mission. There are also the ongoing operations in Afghanistan, one of which uncovered the videotapes of al-Qaeda’s training methods and operations around the world. The discovery of these tapes and the demonstration of al-Qaeda’s potential capabilities and global reach have once again shaken the sense of security that the US has been trying to build. Not only will replayed images of the attacks remind Americans of the vulnerability to terrorism, the discovery of the tapes will only heighten that concern.

If the ever the US needed proof that al-Qaeda was developing chemical weapons then this is it. For many years, analysts and writers dealing who deal with terrorism have spoken of the potential threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) being developed and utilised by terrorist groups. Although the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in the mid 1990’s remains the only incident where this has happened, the fear has never disappeared. The United States was one country that recognised the growing threat of WMD and took stringent measures to try and counter this. The Clinton Administration was very active in this regard and often spoke of the potential danger and the need to be prepared. If ever the US ever needed proof that this threat existed then it received it with the finding of these tapes. One of these tapes documented alleged chemical testing on dogs and the belief now is that it was sarin that was being produced.

The Bush Administration has labelled the tapes troubling and disturbing and believe that the testing of the agents on dogs shows a strong desire to use the material against human beings. What this has done is give credence to the view that Osama bin Laden now has some chemical capability, whereas up until this point there had been no evidence.

The other troubling aspect of these tapes for the US is the demonstration that al-Qaeda has global reach. Since September 11, al Qaeda is believed to have shifted its operational structure to include the use of super cells that are strategically located around the world. This is at a time when the leadership tries to rebuild after being scattered by the U.S.-led air campaign in Afghanistan. It is reported that there are al Qaeda cells in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Morocco, Chechnya and the movement has links to groups in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Kashmir, Uzbekistan and Algeria, among other places including Western Europe.

When focusing on terrorism, this column has often stated that its power lies in the psychological rather than the physical or material. The discovery of the tapes is just one more example of this. What terrorism does is tell a government and a people that no matter the size of their armed forces, the size and strike power of their weaponry or even the number of nuclear weapons they hold, the military and law enforcement cannot protect them and the Terror on Tape archives will show Americans that a non-governmental force could be as lethal as all the firepower in the arsenal of their own armed forces. One must not forget the time of year in which this discovery was made. For the next month, the images of the planes hitting the twin towers will be replayed over and over again, the pain that day caused will be remembered and revived and once again Americans will reinforce the belief that Osama bin Laden and his network can do them more harm in the future. The viewing of those tapes will add to all that.

While it will be impossible to ever forget September 11, the US must not allow it to heighten their feeling of vulnerability and the potential threat of al-Qaeda. They should remember that day but find the determination to move on and not be afraid of what those tapes and other findings in Afghanistan uncover. If they do not do this and are constantly feeling afraid and under threat by what capabilities they believe al-Qaeda has developed then they have let terrorism beat them. If the US government and people cannot overcome such a threat perception then there will be no return to ‘normality’ because the normality will always be a country and a people living in fear of another terrorist attack and what may lie ahead for them in the future. If this happens, the terrorists have won a major victory.


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