Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Afghanistan and al -Qaeda, redux

As many of you may know, I recently had a spirited debate with Matt in the comments of my recent post, "Afghanistan and al-Qaeda." Another commenter named D.J. took exception to some of my ideas, and more importantly, facts. So, in the interests of full disclosure, here is his comment in its entirety.

Whoa. This piece could use some better research, because the thrust of it is based on an essentially faulty understanding of history. As implied, you don't 'understand al-Qaeda fully' because you didn't 'go to the start' of it.

Bin Laden started 'Al-Qaeda' at his guesthouse in Peshawar in the 1980s, not Sudan in the 1990s. Now, taken by itself, this sounds like a fairly innocuous mistake (after all, our bombing of Sudan was the first time many Americans heard of "Al-Qaeda), but for those who have actually studied the history of Afghanistan, it's a very revealing error.

In fact, I can't really explain without telling you the history of Afghanistan and the Mekhtab e Khidamat, which would make for a really, really long comment, so instead I just posted it up on my blog.

Now, I was going to give you the benefit of the doubt here and say that you made this mistake out of ignorance, but after looking at your comments on Eric's blog, it becomes clear that you did some cursory research, just not enough. You mentioned Hekmatyar (whose first name is "Gulbuddin," not "Gul") and Massoud (whose full name is "Ahmad Shah Massoud"--he was named after Durrani, it's not an honorific), but you conveniently ignore the full history of Afghanistan and the mujahideen.

On the other hand, I must agree that we didn't "create" Al-Qaeda, the way many liberals wish to imply, and your mention of the ISI shows that you're not completely ignorant about the matter. I don't know what happened between your excellent comment there and your post here, but something was lost in translation.

You do make some good points about the military campaign in Afghanistan; but if you ask me, bin Laden is probably already dead. No matter, he's much more useful as an Emmanuel Goldstein than an actual fugitive at large.

And now my response:

First, let me address some of the minor details. With regard to the names, I was aware of both of the leaders' full names; I had just seen both of them referred to by those shortened versions in previous texts, so my apologies.

As for the discrepancy over when and where al-Qaeda was formed, I offer this explanation. You are correct in stating that al-Qaeda was officially formed in the Peshawar, when the Afghan civil war was drawing to a close. However, al-Qaeda did not become a real player in the terrorism scene until after Osama sought refuge with the National Islamic Front in Sudan. So, in retrospect, I probably should have used a better choice of words. But I feel my point still stands.

I had a bunch more to say, but will have to say it another time because I've been reading a biography of Col. John Boyd and have finally gotten around to starting a study of the Art of War. In other words, the portion of my brain that I devote to strategic thinking has been working overtime the past couple of days.