I was in Paris for a conference on American foreign policy under President Barack Obama this weekend when Osama bin Laden intervened with his own analysis for Europeans on the new U.S. administration’s Afghanistan policy.
Undoubtedly reacting to press reports that Obama is reassessing the war and the sober but devastating McChrystal report on how poorly the under resourced war has been fought, al Qaeda released a message from its leader to the people of Europe. The message is short and simple: get out before the Americans abandon you.
Bin Laden predicts America will cut and run from Afghanistan soon and retreat “far beyond the Atlantic” leaving its NATO partners alone to face al Qaeda and the Taliban.
He says to Europe look what happened to your “sister Georgia” last year when Washington promised to protect Georgia but did nothing but send some “tents and laundry detergent” when the Russians intervened. Learn from your Georgian friends al Qaeda warns. You are not the enemy for al Qaeda, America is as 9/11 showed. Leave Afghanistan and stay out of our war with America and there will be no more ‘raids’ like the terror attacks in Madrid and London. Your economy is broken Europe, like America’s, while the jihad is winning in Afghanistan is the confident overall message from al Qaeda.
This message follows one a week earlier from Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader whom bin Laden acknowledges as “the commander of the faithful” in which Omar too urges NATO to quit now before it suffers the fate of Alexander the Great and the British Raj in the graveyard of empires.
It seems to be a concerted propaganda message designed to play on war fatigue on both sides of the Atlantic. As usual, our enemy is watching our debate closely.
For their part, the French I met with were nervous about American resolve but had concluded Afghanistan is a necessary war. They did not buy al Qaeda’s promise to leave Paris alone if France quits Kabul where it is currently lead commander of NATO’s capital region in Afghanistan. They understand the stakes if al Qaeda triumphs in Afghanistan for the region, especially Pakistan, and for the broader Islamic world.
A triumph over NATO in the 21st century would echo the mujahedin triumph over the USSR in the 20th, one said to me. Weary with a war misfought for eight years, the French would like to quit but they know that is not an option.
France will stay if America stays.
ISIS is also keen to target Italy now because it’s one of the few major European countries it hasn’t yet struck. They’re hoping to inspire violence there so that they can say, in effect, 'we’ve already attacked your capitals in London, in Paris, and in Barcelona, and now we’ve attacked Rome. There’s nowhere we can’t reach.'
We know from some of the records we’ve seen over the years from groups like al-Qaeda that they see the United States as a harder place to get into than they do Europe.
The [Barcelona] attacks, to me, show both the strengths and weaknesses. The strengths are obviously that [the Islamic State] has an array of supporters, especially in Europe, that it can call upon to do attacks. The weakness, though, is that it has had difficulty doing more sophisticated operations.