The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda
Peter L. Bergen
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Ten years have passed since the shocking attacks on the World Trade Center, and after seven years of conflict, the last US combat troops left Iraq—only to move into Afghanistan, where the ten-year-old fight continues: the war on terror rages with no clear end in sight.
In The Longest War Peter Bergen offers a comprehensive history of this war and its evolution, from the strategies devised in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to the fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and beyond. Unlike any other book on this subject, here Bergen tells the story of this shifting war’s failures and successes from the perspectives of both the United States and al-Qaeda and its allies. He goes into the homes of al-Qaeda members, rooting into the source of their devotion to terrorist causes, and spends time in the offices of the major players shaping the U.S. strategic efforts in the region. At a time when many are frustrated or fatigued with what has become an enduring multigenerational conflict, this book will provide an illuminating narrative that not only traces the arc of the fight but projects its likely future.
Weaving together internal documents from al-Qaeda and the U.S. offices of counterterrorism, first-person interviews with top-level jihadists and senior Washington officials, along with his own experiences on the ground in the Middle East, Bergen balances the accounts of each side, revealing how al-Qaeda has evolved since 9/11 and the specific ways the U.S. government has responded in the ongoing fight.
Bergen also uncovers the strategic errors committed on both sides—the way that al-Qaeda’s bold attack on the United States on 9/11 actually undermined its objective and caused the collapse of the Taliban and the destruction of the organization’s safe haven in Afghanistan, and how al-Qaeda is actually losing the war of ideas in the Muslim world. The book also shows how the United States undermined its moral position in this war with its actions at Guantánamo and coercive interrogations—including the extraordinary rendition of Abu Omar, who was kidnapped by the CIA in Milan in 2003 and was tortured for four years in Egyptian prisons; his case represents the first and only time that CIA officials have been charged and convicted of the crime of kidnapping.
In examining other strategic blunders the United States has committed, Bergen offers a scathing critique of the Clinton and Bush administrations’ inability to accurately assess and counter the al-Qaeda threat, Bush’s deeply misguided reasons for invading Iraq—including the story of how the invasion was launched based, in part, on the views of an obscure academic who put forth theories about Iraq’s involvement with al-Qaeda—and the Obama administration’s efforts in Afghanistan.
At a critical moment in world history The Longest War provides the definitive account of the ongoing battle against terror.
Military official griped that “only a handful of countries are doing the real work,” such as the British and Canadians then fighting in the south. The military chain of command in Afghanistan passed through a spaghetti bowl of acronyms—ISAF, CENTCOM, and the many countries that made up NATO—that was so bewildering that only five people in the world could have possibly explained how it was all supposed to work together, and they would have had to do it in French because they all lived in Brussels at NATO headquarters.
Until 2004, Zarqawi ran an organization separate from al-Qaeda, known as Tawhid, whose name corresponds to the idea of monotheism in Arabic. Indeed, Shadi Abdalla, a member of Tawhid who was apprehended in Germany in 2002, told investigators that the group saw itself to be in competition with al-Qaeda. An indication of his independence from bin Laden is that when Zarqawi founded a training camp in Afghanistan in 1999, he established it near the western city of Herat, near the border with Iran, several hundred miles away from al-Qaeda’s training camps, which were in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Yet the curtain raiser for the 9/11 attacks had gone virtually unnoticed in the West; this was the assassination on September 9 of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the coalition of anti-Taliban groups known as the Northern Alliance, which was the only force that stood in the way of the Taliban’s total victory in Afghanistan. Bin Laden was well aware that key Taliban officials, such as the foreign minister, Wakil Muttawakil, wanted to rein him in because he was complicating the Taliban’s desperate and ultimately ill-fated quest for international recognition of their government.
0 Chapter 13: Al-Qaeda’s Quixotic Quest for Weapons of Mass Destruction Part II: Nemesis? Chapter 14: The United States of Jihad Chapter 15: Pakistan: The New Base Chapter 16: The Fall of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Rise of an Iraqi State Chapter 17: The Jihad Within Chapter 18: The End of the “War on Terror”? Chapter 19: Obama’s War Chapter 20: The Long Hunt Note on Sources Interviewees Notes Bibliography Acknowledgments Index Maps 1. Afghanistan and Pakistan 2. Iraq and the wider Middle East 3.
Almost exactly a year later, Cheney didn’t quibble about the term insurgency when he was speaking with Larry King on CNN but instead told viewers that it was in its “last throes. ” And three years into the war, Cheney told CBS that the insurgents were in a state of “desperation” and denied that Iraq was in the middle of a civil war. All of those blithe assessments were quite at odds with the bloodbath that Iraq had become following the invasion. Taking the most conservative figures of Iraqi civilian dead from Iraq Body Count, which relied on morgue data and media accounts, and therefore almost certainly undercounted the total numbers of victims, at least ninety thousand Iraqis had died in the war by the time Bush left office.