In any war, one of the most useful opportunities
is a chance to see the conflict through the other side's eyes. A Marine captain
recently sent me a fascinating look at the misnamed "war on terror"
through the eyes of al-Qaeda, in the form of an interview by an al-Qaeda journal,
Sawt Al-Jihad, of Fawwaz bin Muhammad Al-Nashami, who is identified as
the leader of the attack at Khobar, Saudi Arabia, on May 29 of this year in
which 22 "infidels" were killed.
I have no way of determining whether the account is genuine, though internal
evidence suggests it probably is. There is also no doubt that much of what Al-Nashami
says is propagandistic. It is intended to rouse other young Islamic militants
to emulate his "great" deeds and kill more infidels. But al-Qaeda
is a sophisticated operation, sufficiently so to understand that good propaganda
contains as much truth as possible.
The story is a blow-by-blow, hour-by-hour tale of the Khobar raid. From the
standpoint of Fourth
Generation war (4GW) theory, what stands out most strongly is its intense
mix of ancient and modern.
Much of Al-Nashami's account could come straight from Homer. It stresses the
vast strength and great riches of the opponent, contrasted with the weakness
of the four men who made up the al-Qaeda raiding group. Allah is a constant
player, just as gods fought for Greeks and Trojans. Defeated enemies are publicly
humiliated: "We tied the infidel by one leg [behind the car]
watched the infidel being dragged." While the enemy was strong in numbers,
they were also cowards: "We encountered forces that hastened to defend
Their great cowardice was evidenced by their behavior.
They were very far away, and as we approached them they kept withdrawing and
distancing themselves." Heroes boast and show enemy heads: "Brother
Nimr swaggered around inside the compound
we found a Swedish infidel.
Brother Nimr cut off his head, and put it at the gate so that it would be seen
by all those entering and exiting."
Right in the midst of the fighting, when the raiders are hungry they eat, and
when they are tired they sleep. After the first encounter, "We turned to
the hotel. We entered and found a restaurant, where we ate breakfast and rested
a while." Later, surrounded by Saudi security forces, "The brothers
slept for an hour.
Then we decided we would be the ones to attack."
Yet the modern is mixed intimately with the Homeric. Sawt Al-Jihad asks,
"How did you begin [the operation]?" Al-Nashami replies, "We
left the apartment at precisely a quarter to six." Arab timekeeping is
usually like Scandinavian cuisine: there isn't much of it and most of what there
is is bad. Mission orders show up: "We met with the brothers and I explained
to them the goals and plan of the operation." The raiders did multiple
recons, and "we had learned more than one route to the second site."
Most interestingly, the raiders use television both to send and receive information.
In the middle of the raid, they call al-Jazeera and do an interview. When they
need tactical intel, they turn on the TV: "Then I went to one of the rooms.
I watched the news on television
and the news was that the emergency
forces 'were now breaking into the compound.' I split up the brothers to certain
positions in the hotel, and we got ready to repel an attack by the dogs of the
This mix of ancient and modern is a central characteristic of 4GW, and it is
one of the strengths of religiously motivated non-state forces. It is also a
very difficult thing for militaries such as our own to understand. It is central
to our opponents' strength at the moral level, which shows through strongly
in the interview: "Many [of the Arabs and Muslims at the compound] prayed
for our victory and success.
We spoke with them
until their fear
was gone and they began to joke with us and to direct us to the sites of the
On the other side, the reported cowardice of the state security forces illustrates
a problem with hiring people to fight for a cause they do not believe in: "The
tracer bullets frightened these cowards greatly.
We shouted 'Allah Akbar'
and 'There is no God but Allah.
We broke through the first ring [of security],
and the second, and the third." Hireling troops often do not have much
fight in them, as we have also seen in Iraq.
Not surprisingly, the raiders escape with only one killed by a deus ex machina
ending: "We ascended above one of the artificial waterfalls which overlooked
the road. The distance between us and the ground was very great, 13 meters.
But with Allah's mercy, the ground was soft and wet, because of the waterfall."
The only thing missing is Zeus or Athena gently handing the raiders down.
Again, there is no question that the account is propaganda. But propaganda
is itself revealing. It allows us to see our enemies as they see themselves,
and the self-image of al-Qaeda that emerges from this account is one that should
concern us. The seamless blending of ancient and modern, of divinely protected
heroism and technological competence, is potent. That is particularly true when,
as in this case, al-Qaeda's opponent is the hired troops of a corrupt regime
- a regime America depends on to keep the oil flowing.
If, in war, one of the keys to success is pitting strength against weakness,
al-Qaeda knows all too well what it is doing. And its chances of victory are
substantially greater than any tally of resources or troops numbers would suggest.