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THE FUTURE OF AL-QAEDA
RESULTS OF A FORESIGHT PROJECT
is printed with
World Watch: Expert Notes series publication No. 2013-05-01
This report contains the results of a research project led by the academic outreach
program of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to explore the future
of the Al-Qaeda phenomenon. It consists of alternative future scenarios developed during a workshop, as well as four original papers written by individual specialists at the request of CSIS. The report is not an analytical document and does not represent any formal assessment or position of CSIS or the Government of Canada.
All components of the project were held under Chatham House rule; therefore, the identity of the authors and the participants is not disclosed.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com www.csis-scrs.gc.ca Published May 2013 Printed in Canada © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada
THE FUTURE OF AL-QAEDA
RESULTS OF A FORESIGHT PROJECT2012-2013, OTTAWA
T HE F UT UR E O F AL Q A E DA R ESULT S O F A F O R ESIG HT PR O J ECT /// 1
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TABLE OF CONTENTSWHAT COULD AL-QAEDA LOOK LIKE IN 2018? 5 AL-QAEDA CENTRAL AND AL-QAEDA IN IRAQ IN 2018 21 Assumptions 21 Capacity 25 Change Drivers 30 Al-Qaeda Core and Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2018 37 AL-QAEDA IN THE ISLAMIC MAGHREB IN 2018 41 Influence of Transnational Networks on AQIM 43 Current Polarisation and Challenges: Aqimland or Not? 44 AQIM Structures and an Evaluation of their Development 47 AQIM and its Prospects for Regional and 49 Inter-regional Cooperation Towards “Sub-jihadisation”? 50
DEFEAT, DISPERSAL AND DECLINE: BLEAK PROSPECTS FOR 53AL-QAEDA IN EAST AFRICA IN 2018 A Brief History of AQEA 53 Harakaat Al-Shabaab Al-Mujaahidiin
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THE FUTURE OF AL-QAEDA
RESULTS OF A FORESIGHT PROJECTWHAT COULD AL-QAEDA LOOK LIKE IN 2018?
Challenged for more than a decade by a determined global counter-terrorism (CT) campaign, Al-Qaeda (AQ) is facing an uncertain future. The death of Osama bin Laden, the popular uprisings spreading across the Middle East and North Africa, and the global recessionary pressures that are causing governments to re-evaluate their CT strategies are amongst the many far-reaching developments that will influence AQ’s future prospects.
How AQ adapts to the challenges and opportunities that will shape its next decade is a source of spirited debate amongst government officials, academic experts, think-tank analysts and private consultants. Insofar as this lack of consensus suggests that AQ’s path is not yet set, it creates a need to explore its alternative futures. To this end, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) launched a foresight project in September 2012 to explore how AQ might evolve along any one of three model paths over the course of the next five years: gradual decline; incremental growth; and rapid growth.
The project was based exclusively on open-source information so as to combine the expertise and imagination of participants representing a wide array of professional and personal backgrounds and several countries. To set the context, four papers covering the AQ network’s prominent actors were presented at information sessions hosted by the CSIS Academic Outreach program. Written by prominent specialists who took part in the entire project, the papers are included in this report but the identity of their authors is not disclosed because the Chatham House rule was invoked throughout the exercise. The foresight workshop itself took place on 24-25 January 2013 in Ottawa.
Workshop participants recognised that part of the challenge in imagining AQ’s future lies in the very definition of AQ. At its broadest, the phenomenon includes a central group of senior leaders commonly referred to as AQ Core, regional affiliates which together with that core make up the AQ network, like-minded groups in the network’s key operating areas (eg, fellow travellers), homegrown Islamist extremists in Western countries, sympathisers across the
T HE F UT UR E O F AL Q A E DA R ESULT S O F A F O R ESIG HT PR O J ECT /// 5globe and the AQ ideology itself. While remaining mindful of this complexity, participants focussed the scenarios on the AQ elements that will have the most profound effects on the broader phenomenon’s future prospects: AQ Core and its network affiliates (specifically: Al-Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI; Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP; Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM; and Al-Qaeda in East Africa, or AQEA).
Participants similarly appreciated that a wide range of external forces will play an important role in shaping AQ’s future prospects, including shifts in the world economy and changes in the Western world’s counter-terrorism posture.
Accordingly, they kept this broader environment in mind while concentrating on the variable that repeatedly emerged as a powerful point of focus across the AQ network: uncertainty in the future stability and governance of the regions where AQ maintains its primary operational bases.
Workshop participants recognised that the West’s response to AQ, whether or not it wanes, will continue to have direct repercussions on the future of AQ.
Regardless of its future operational profile, be it strong or weak, AQ will not (and cannot) accept defeat so long as its strategic purpose is to wage war against the West. For AQ, to admit defeat—however one defines the latter—is to cease to have a reason to exist.
This paper presents the results of the foresight project. A number of important caveats apply to the scenario-building process and to this report. The most
ii) The scenarios are not intended to predict AQ’s future. They provide a range of credible alternative futures and describe contexts within which to explore the signs and implications of the evolution of AQ to the year 2018;
6 /// THE FUT UR E O F AL Q AEDA RE SUL TS OF A FORE SIG HT PR O J ECTas such, they constitute an additional tool to support analysts’ and decisionmakers’ understanding of the AQ threat and may inform the long-term allocation of resources by countries facing it.
iii) The scenarios project out to 2018. This five-year horizon played a critical role in determining which points of focus emerged as the most essential (eg, stability and governance vs. the long-term implications of transformational political and economic change);
iv) The scenarios are drafted in the present tense. The use of this tense is not meant to imply inevitability.
True to the practice of intelligence, this paper does not offer prescriptions to respond to any of the scenarios, a prerogative naturally left to policy-makers.
That being said, the participants determined that the second scenario of incremental growth represents the most expected, or likeliest, one. All three scenarios are offered to support further discussions by other AQ observers.
BUILDING THE SCENARIOS: AN ANALYTICAL BACKGROUNDThe scenarios presented in this report imagine alternative futures for the AQ network. To understand how AQ could evolve in such different ways, the scenarios are built on the same analytical starting points. Their most basic assumption is that the network will evolve in ways that align with both its external environment and its nature. This assumption centres on three areas of focus: AQ’s external environment; AQ’s network features; and AQ’s character.
Descriptions of each focus area are set out below.
THE EXTERNAL ENVIRONMENTAn exhaustive study of the many variables that will influence AQ’s external environment over the next five years fell outside the scope of this project. In considering which forces will have the most direct and far-reaching impacts on AQ, participants reflected on the significant extent to which AQ seeks out and is nurtured by unstable or weakly governed spaces. Accordingly, the scenarios hold that the relative stability and governance of the regions in which AQ maintains
T HE F UT UR E O F AL Q A E DA R ESULT S O F A F O R ESIG HT PR O J ECT /// 7its primary physical presence is the variable most likely to affect its future prospects.
Uncertainty surrounds the future stability and governance of AQ’s base regions.
In the Middle East and North Africa, for example, a wave of unrest that began in early 2011 has ushered in new regimes, sparked violent revolts and given rise to mass protests. Insofar as the forces driving this unrest are common across the regions where AQ is based, so too is the uncertainty they represent.
Uncertainty in AQ’s base regions will have a significant effect on its future prospects. It will, for example, affect AQ’s popular appeal in those regions and Western countries alike. It will similarly have an impact on AQ’s ability to escape (CT) pressures. In particular, it will affect the extent to which regional and Western security services are preoccupied by other security and order concerns (mass violence, intercommunal violence, regime collapse, etc.). Taken together, these effects will have far-reaching consequences for AQ. At a minimum, they will affect its ability to cultivate popular support; attract new recruits; inspire homegrown Western terrorists; acquire new weapons and funding; secure existing safe havens; and reach into new operating theatres.
THE INTERNAL ENVIRONMENTDetermining how the AQ network might be re-shaped in ways that align with both its external environment and its nature requires understanding today’s AQ.
The network’s key features are described below.
Ideology/Goals: AQ holds that the West is waging a crusade against Islam and that it is the religious duty of every Muslim to join in what AQ ideologues term a defensive jihad (“struggle”). Self-appointed as the vanguard of this jihad, AQ’s goal is to drive the West out of ancient Muslim lands so as to establish a community of states based on Islamic law and restore the Islamic caliphate.
To this end, AQ aims to exploit conflicts between the ummah (worldwide Muslim community) on the one hand, and the West and regional “apostate” governments on the other (ie, Muslims vs. the far and near enemies). The pursuit of that objective has fuelled internal debate in a number of AQ affiliates as to the importance to ascribe to global and local “jihad” respectively.
8 /// THE FUT UR E O F AL Q AEDA RE SUL TS OF A FORE SIG HT PR O J ECTLeadership: AQ’s leadership is in flux. CT operations have cost it mid-level leaders throughout the network and many of its most senior leaders, including co-founder Osama bin Laden. It is not yet clear whether AQ’s new and emerging leaders will have the operational skill, strategic foresight and personal rapport that lent important strengths to its former leadership cadre.
Structure: The AQ network comprises a core made up of senior leaders and a collection of affiliated groups. It is generally accepted that AQ Core provides ideological guidance to the affiliates, but that the affiliates, borne out of local political realities, control their own logistics and operations. Today’s main affiliates already existed when their relationship with AQ Core was established.
The AQ groups that may arise from ungoverned spaces in the future may not have the same origins or organisational structure, adding complexity to the AQ network.
Resource Profile: Recruits, funds and safe havens in which to operate are the mainstays of AQ’s operational capabilities. Recruits are drawn from local and foreign areas; funding is acquired by a variety of means (including kidnappings, trafficking and donations from supporters in the Gulf and elsewhere); and safe havens are made available by a lack of strong central authority, weak or permissive security services and complicit or repressed local populations.
CENTRAL ASSUMPTIONSAQ’s character will play an important role in determining how its network evolves in tandem with changes in its external environment. Accordingly, the scenarios’ analytical foundation included assumptions on AQ’s nature.
Participants in the workshop posited that AQ:
will retain its global aspirations;
i) ii) will accommodate greater fluidity within its network;
iii) might participate in popular political processes—on its own terms;
iv) will not accept defeat.
THE EXTERNAL ENVIRONMENTAQ’s future prospects are affected by stability and governance (or lack thereof ) in its most significant operating environments.
This scenario assumes that, where local governments are seen to be addressing the causes of instability and weak governance, they benefit from widespread legitimacy and support. By alleviating the forces that drive unrest, these developments reinforce the mainstream political system. They also make it possible for the local security services’ CT resources to be allocated to more traditional security and law enforcement concerns. Caught by political forces that clash with its interests, AQ sees a gradual decline in its future prospects.