(WASHINGTON) — An analysis of newly declassified letters found in Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound shows that the late terror leader was frustrated at his own inability to control the violent jihadi movement he helped create, especially when it came to regional affiliates of al Qaeda.
Bin Laden was angry at his “seemingly inability to exercise control” over regional actors whose attacks often claimed Muslim lives, which bin Laden believed hurt the reputation of al Qaeda in the Muslim world, according to an analysis conducted by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. The Center recently posted the original Arabic-language notes on its website.
“Rather than a source of strength, bin Laden was burdened by what he viewed as the incompetence of the ‘affiliates,’ including their lack of political acumen to win public support, their media campaigns and their poorly planned operations which resulted in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Muslims,” the CTC’s analysis says. “He was at pains advising them to abort domestic attacks and… instead focus on the United States, ‘our desired goal.'”
American officials have repeatedly said that the core of al Qaeda, formerly led by bin Laden and now headed by his old deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, has been considerably weakened in recent years, highlighted by the death of bin Laden himself at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs last May. But National Intelligence Director James Clapper said as recently as this January that the terror organization’s affiliates, most prominently in Yemen and Somalia, have emerged as some of the greatest threats to the American homeland.
According to the CTC, before bin Laden’s death, the senior leadership in al Qaeda was split on how to deal with affiliates. Some wanted to distance themselves completely from any group that acted in al Qaeda’s name without first consulting them. Another side believed it was important to include the affiliates into al Qaeda’s cause regardless of some of their more questionable operational choices. Bin Laden himself, the CTC says, made up a third party: the one who simply wanted to keep the communication lines open so he could urge restraint, “without granting formal unity with al Qaeda.”
Zawahiri appears to have ignored bin Laden’s concerns once he took the reins of al Qaeda, as he was the one to formally announce an alliance between core al Qaeda and the domestically-violent Somalia-based terrorist organization al-Shabaab.
The documents also show direct communications between bin Laden and several top terror suspects, including American-born Adam Gadahn and the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, the CTC said.
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