March 15, 2011:
About two decades after declaring war on the West, al Qaeda is backing away from its terror tactics. Osama Bin Laden, via his chief deputy (Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al Zawahiri), recently urged all al Qaeda members to refrain from attacking Moslems, or non-Moslems who might be considered (especially by international media) innocents. Zawahiri also urged Islamic radicals to put more effort into political, rather than terrorist, activities.
This public change of direction is not surprising. Five years ago in Iraq, there was a deadly (shots were fired) debate between Islamic terror groups over attacking Moslem civilians. Critics of the attacks pointed out that killing all these Moslems (eventually over 100,000 would be killed by terrorists in Iraq) was killing al Qaeda popularity throughout the Moslem world. That was nothing new either. Mainstream Moslem clerics and religious scholars condemned the September 11, 2001 attacks, but al Qaeda noted that this sort of thing was popular with a lot of Moslems. That changed as Islamic terrorists killed more Moslems. Even in Saudi Arabia, the "home" of al Qaeda, public opinion turned against al Qaeda when, in reaction to the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, al Qaeda began making attacks inside Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to overthrow the monarchy, so more damage could be done to America and the West.
The same pattern played out in Afghanistan. The Taliban had always been quick to kill local Moslems who disagreed with them. But in the 1990s, the Taliban recognized how dangerous this could be. Afghans killing Afghans starts blood feuds that go on for a long time. So the Taliban accepted the services of an al Qaeda brigade, comprised of non-Afghans (mostly Arabs) to act as enforcers. While this eliminated the blood feud problem, it did not decrease bad feelings towards the Taliban. Thus, a month after September 11, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan with a few hundred troops and CIA agents, and a hundred warplanes overhead dropping smart bombs. This force linked up with the Afghan rebels the Taliban were still fighting. A month later, mainly because so many tribes quickly realized they could turn against the Taliban and survive, the Taliban was out of power.
The surviving Taliban fled back to Pakistan, from whence they came less than a decade earlier. There they helped build a Pakistani branch and began serving as hired guns for drug gangs back in Afghanistan. Thus the Taliban made a comeback of sorts. But killing Moslem civilians did them in. There was no Arab al Qaeda Brigade to do their dirty work this time. Last year, 75 percent of the civilians killed by terrorism or combat operations were because of Taliban actions. A quarter of those civilian deaths were targeted assassinations. Now many Taliban are seriously considering becoming a political party, perhaps funded by the drug gangs. Yeah, that's the ticket.