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Friday, July 15, 2011

What Is Al Qaeda, Part 2

Part one
| Part two | Part three

In the first part of the "What is Al Qaeda" survey, we looked at textbook definitions for the kinds of people and organizations that experts consider to included in Al Qaeda. Click here to read the results.

In the second part, we're looking at what specific organizations those same experts consider to be part of the U.S. government's mandate to wage war against Al Qaeda. The answers are, again, interesting, showing a lack of consensus on key groups, and they do not always sync with the definitions identified in the first question. The bar charts below are once again thanks to Clint Watts of who also set up the survey page and collected and coded its results.

The survey asked respondents to comment on the following groups. The percentage of "yes" answers is given for each organization. Questions which did not achieve a two-thirds consensus are marked in yellow, questions which were close to a 50-50 split are marked in red.

OrganizationYes votes
Al Qaeda in Afghanistan96.3%
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula94.5%
Al Qaeda in Iraq92.7%
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb81.5%
Al Shabab58.2%
Lashkar e Tayyibah48.1%
Afghan Taliban50.4%
Tehrik e Taliban50.9%
Haqqani Network53.7
Libyan Islamic Fighting Group31.7
Revolution Muslim26.7

Once you get past the groups with Al Qaeda in the name, consensus rapidly fell apart in this segment of the survey.

Responses on whether the Taliban should be considered part of Al Qaeda split almost perfectly down the middle, with different groups of respondents coming in all over the map. Academics voted no by two-thirds, while their students voted yes by the same amount. I find that disconnect pretty interesting. Government employees voted yes by just 55.5 percent. Media voted yes by 57.1 percent, and private sector voted no by 54.3 percent.

The status of the Taliban is a crucial question in the wsr in Afghanistan, as the U.S. considers negotiations with the Taliban as part of its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The differences among the various sectors of respondents are less important than the fact that no more than two-thirds of any given segment could agree on the question. Given that no one in government has ever seriously broached the idea that the U.S. could negotiate with Al Qaeda, the question is not a light one.

Pakistani militant group Lashkar e Tayyiba has shared facilities with Al Qaeda Central and provided support to AQC personnel. It would seem to qualify (at best) under "nominally independent extremist networks that provide significant services used in Al Qaeda operations,such as training camps or money laundering." Voters on Question One split 50-50 on whether that description could be considered part of Al Qaeda.

About the same percentage of respondents were willing to include LeT in the U.S. mandate to wage war on Al Qaeda than the Afghan Taliban, whose overt alliance with Al Qaeda was responsible for the invasion of Afghanistan in the first place.

Academics voted "no" by 71.4 percent, while government and media voted no by two-thirds and 62.5 percent respectively. Students and the private sector voted yes by 65.7 percent and 75 percent respectively. Government and academics as a combined group voted no by 68.7 percent, suggesting that there is more agreement among those in a position to know than the overall number might indicate.

Similar numbers were seen on the Haqqani network, within academics voting no by 65 percent, government almost evenly split, and media, private and student groups all voting yes by varying margins. I'd be interested to revisit this question in light of the CTC at West Point paper published this week by Dan Rassler and Vahid Brown on the Haqqani network's interconnections with Al Qaeda.

Outside of Af-Pak, Al Shabab is certainly one of the more pressing questions in counterterrorism at the moment. The Question One category best fitting Al Shabab based on open-source data at the time the survey was taken was "organizations whose leaders have publicly expressed loyalty to AQ or its emir," for which respondents could not come to a consensus, splitting 60-40 in favor of inclusion. Academics split on the question 61 percent against inclusion, while government responders could only muster a slim 52 percent support.

The survey was conducted prior to recent allegations of operational links between Al Shabab and AQAP and a corresponding uptick in U.S. strikes in Somalia. As the American CT effort in Shabab grows, the question of its classification also grows. The breakdown among professions shows very sharp divisions among different groups as to whether Shabab should be part of the U.S. war against Al Qaeda:

Academics voted "no" by a strong majority of 71.5 percent, while government employees voted "yes" by a less convincing 59.2 percent. The government vote is particularly interesting since, individual views aside, the Obama administration has made it crystal clear over the last several days that Shabab is on its targeting list. With votes from both groups taken together, 54.2 percent voted "yes," indicating a massive lack of consensus.

Once you get past those two key demographics, media respondents split 50-50 on the question of Shabab, whereas students and the private sector relatively strongly voted to include the Somali militant group, by 76.5%.

The next post on the survey, probably next week some time, will look at individual people and whether they are considered part of Al Qaeda. These results are all over the map and the most erratic of all three polls when evaluated on a factual basis and in comparison to the principles outlined in Question One, so be sure to check back.

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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