Iraq Effect (continued)
Since the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan has suffered 219 jihadist terrorist attacks that can be attributed to a particular group, resulting in the deaths of 802 civilians. The fact that the Taliban only conducted its first terrorist attacks in September 2003, a few months after the invasion of Iraq, is significant. International forces had already been stationed in the country for two years before the Taliban began to specifically target the U.S.-backed Karzai government and civilians sympathetic to it. This points to a link between events in Iraq and the initiation of the Taliban’s terrorist campaign in Afghanistan.
True, local dynamics form part of the explanation for the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the use of terrorism, particularly suicide attacks, by the Taliban is an innovation drawn from the Iraqi theater. Hekmat Karzai, an Afghan terrorism researcher, points out that suicide bombings were virtually unknown in Afghanistan until 2005. In 2006, Karzai says, there were 118 such attacks, more than there had been in the entire history of the country. Internet sites have helped spread the tactics of Iraqi jihadists. In 2005 the “Media Committee of the Al Qaeda Mujahideen in Afghanistan” launched an online magazine called Vanguards of Kharasan, which includes articles on what Afghan fighters can learn from Coalition and jihadist strategies in Iraq. Abdul Majid Abdul Majed, a contributor to the April 2006 issue of the magazine, argued for an expansion in suicide operations, citing the effectiveness of jihadist operations in Iraq.
Mullah Dadullah, a key Taliban commander, gave an interview to Al Jazeera in 2006 in which he explained how the Iraq War has influenced the Taliban. Dadullah noted that “we have ‘give and take’ with the mujahideen in Iraq.” Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist who is writing bin Laden’s biography, told us that young men traveled from the Afghan province of Khost to “on-the-job training” in Iraq in 2004. “They came back with lots of CDs which were full of military actions against U.S. troops in the Mosul, Fallujah, and Baghdad areas. I think suicide bombing was introduced in Afghanistan and Pakistan after local boys came back after spending some time in Iraq. I met a Taliban commander, Mullah Mannan, last year in Zabul who told me that he was trained in Iraq by Zarqawi along with many Pakistani tribals.”
Propaganda circulating in Afghanistan and Pakistan about American “atrocities” and jihadist “heroics” has also energized the Taliban, encouraging a previously somewhat isolated movement to see itself as part of a wider struggle. Our study found a striking correlation in how terrorist campaigns intensified in Iraq and Afghanistan. The rate of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan gathered pace in the summer of 2005, a half year after a similar increase in Iraq, and in 2006 the rate of attacks in both countries rose in tandem to new, unprecedented levels.
While the Iraq War has had a strong effect on the rise in terrorism in Afghanistan, it appears to have played less of a role on jihadists operating in Pakistan and India, though terrorism did rise in those countries following the invasion of Iraq. (Of course, neither Pakistan nor India has foreign troops on its soil, which accounts, in part, for the high terrorism figures in Afghanistan.) The rate of jihadist attacks rose by 21 percent while the fatality rate rose by 19 percent. There were 52 attacks after the Iraq invasion, killing 489 civilians, while there were 19 in the period before, killing 182. The local dynamics of the Kashmir conflict, tensions between India and Pakistan, and the resurfacing of the Taliban in eastern Pakistan likely played a large role here. That said, there is evidence that the Iraq War did energize jihadists in Pakistan. Hamid Mir says, “Iraq not only radicalized the Pakistani tribals [near the Afghan border] but it offered them the opportunity for them to go to Iraq via Iran to get on-the-job training.”
There is also evidence that the Iraq War had some impact in other areas of Pakistan. In the summer of 2004, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the head of the Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, told followers in Lahore, “Islam is in grave danger, and the mujahideen are fighting to keep its glory. They are fighting the forces of evil in Iraq in extremely difficult circumstances. We should send mujahideen from Pakistan to help them.” And Pakistan, inasmuch as it has become Al Qaeda’s new base for training and planning attacks, has become the location where significant numbers of would-be jihadists–including some young British Pakistanis such as the London suicide bombers, radicalized in part by the Iraq War–have traveled to learn bomb-making skills.
In Russia and Chechnya, the Iraq War appears to have had less of an impact than on other jihadist fronts. This is unsurprising given the fact that jihadist groups in the region are preoccupied by a separatist war against the Russian military. Whilst following the invasion of Iraq there was a rise in the number of attacks by Chechen groups that share a similar ideology with Al Qaeda, the total rate of fatalities did not go up. The Iraq War does seem to have diverted some jihadists from the Russian/Chechen front: Arab fighters who might have previously gone to Chechnya now have a cause at their own doorstep, while funds from Arab donors increasingly have gone to the Iraqi jihad.
Southeast Asia has been the one region in the world in which jihadist terrorism has declined significantly in the period since the invasion of Iraq. There was a 67 percent drop in the rate of attacks (from 10.5 to 3.5 attacks per year) in the post-invasion period and a 69 percent drop in the rate of fatalities (from 201 to 62 fatalities per year). And there has been no bombing on the scale of the October 2002 Bali nightclub attack that killed more than 200. However, jihadist terrorism in Southeast Asia has declined in spite, not because of, the Iraq War. The U.S. invasion of Iraq was deeply unpopular in the region, as demonstrated by the poll finding that only 15 percent of Indonesians had a favorable view of the United States in 2003. But the negative impact of the Iraq War on public opinion was mitigated by U.S. efforts to aid the region in the wake of the devastating tsunami of December 2004–Pew opinion surveys have shown that the number of those with favorable views towards the United States in Indonesia crept above 30 percent in 2005 and 2006.
However, the main reason for the decline of jihadist terrorism in Southeast Asia has been the successful crackdown by local authorities on jihadist groups and their growing unpopularity with the general population. The August 2003 capture of Hambali, Jemaa Islamiya’s operational commander, was key to degrading the group’s capacity to launch attacks as was the arrest of hundreds of Jemaa Islamiya and Abu Sayyaf operatives in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore in the years after the October 2002 Bali bombings. Those arrested included most of those who planned the Bali attacks, as well as former instructors at Jemaa Islamiya camps and individuals involved in financing attacks. And in November 2005 Indonesian security services killed Jemaa Islamiya master bomber Azhari bin Husin in a shoot-out. The second wave of Bali attacks in 2005 killed mostly Indonesians and created a popular backlash against jihadist groups in Indonesia, degrading their ability to recruit operatives. And Muslim leaders such as Masdar Farid Masudi, the deputy leader of the country’s largest Islamic group, condemned the bombings: “If the perpetrators are Muslims, their sentences must be multiplied because they have tarnished the sacredness of their religion and smeared its followers worldwide.”