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Corruption Watch: December 22, 2004

22 December 2004, Volume 4, Number 22
An Arabic-language website broadcast on 17 December taped message purportedly from Osama bin Laden in which the Al-Qaeda leader commented on the recent attack on the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah.

In this, his latest proclamation, parts of which were transcribed by, bin Laden stated: "The necessity of security and safety, the sanctity of Muslims' blood, the necessity of harmony and union, and the dangers of conflicts and separation (division) have been discussed a great deal in Saudi Arabia.... They [the Saudi leadership] have claimed that the mujahedin are responsible for the continuing incidents in Saudi Arabia. But it is very clear that it is the government's responsibility as it has ignored all conditions required to ensure safety and prevent bloodshed."

Bin Laden was apparently referring to the 6 December attack in Jeddah in which five militants drove up to the U.S. Consulate and assaulted the building with small-arms fire and grenades, killing five Muslim members of the consulate's local staff. Saudi special forces moved in on the compound within hours, killing four of the terrorists. A group claiming ties to Al-Qaeda and calling itself the "Committee in the Arabian Peninsula" later took responsibility for the attack.

The attack did not come as a total surprise. According to newspaper reports, the U.S. Consulate has been the target of several drive-by shootings over the past year, but this was the first breach of the heavily guarded compound.

Subsequently, as is a routine after an attack, Western and Saudi security officials evaluate the effectiveness of Saudi security organizations and their ability to prevent further attacks on foreigners, including 35,000 Americans, living and working in the kingdom.

After a 29 May attack on a Western housing compound in the oil center of Khobar in which four Westerners were killed along with 15 Asian, non-Muslim workers, "Stratfor Commentary" wrote on 2 June that the "Saudi security and intelligence understaffed, spread too thin and, in some cases, unwilling to combat the militants."

This view contrasted with a report by "The Economist" of 4 June, which said that "since September 11th 2001, the Saudi authorities have made some headway against terrorism by making their long borders less porous, by controlling suspicious financial transactions, by protecting obvious targets, by purging school curricula of lessons inciting sectarian hatred, and by using the media to inflame opinion against the 'jihadis'. But their struggle ahead is long."


A former intelligence analyst with the State and Defense departments who specialized in Middle East issues, Anthony Cordesman, described the state of Saudi Arabia's security system prior to the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the United States in a paper published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in June 2001 entitled "Saudi Internal Security Forces and Capabilities."

In Cordesman's view, Saudi security at the time reflected "a system of layered forces designed to protect the regime, as well as specialization around different military and internal security missions."

The paper showed that the Saudi monarchy relied heavily on loyal tribes in the National Guard who were separate from the Public Security, Special Security, and General Directorate of Investigation, which were under separate command. At the time, the Special Security and Public Security forces were responsible for antiterrorist operations.

The Coast Guard and the Frontier Force were under yet another command and the regular army, which provided external security, was separated from the other forces.

After 9-11 it became clear that this system was ineffective, cumbersome, and unable to cope with a serious terrorist threat.


Major changes in the security forces -- along with a greater determination to fight terrorism -- were implemented in 2003, and this shake up resulted in the arrests of more than 300 suspected members of radical groups. In the course of the crackdown, police reportedly discovered bomb-making equipment along with cameras, computers, and electronic equipment belonging to suspected terrorists.

In October, Salih al-Awfi, the alleged leader of Al-Qaeda's organization in the kingdom, was shot and killed by police in October. His replacement, Saud al-Utaybi, was reputed to be a lower echelon member of Al-Qaeda who assumed leadership of the group after the depletion of leaders due to arrests and fatalities.

The fact that Al-Qaeda had to resort to a small-arms attack on the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah and not make use of a car bomb or launch a rocket attack on the building could be an indication that the organizational structure has been severely weakened by the Saudi police. Five armed men attacking a heavily guarded installation can be regarded as an act of desperation, meant more to show the flag than do serious damage.

A message posted by Al-Qaeda's Committee in the Arabian Peninsula in which it claimed responsibility for the attack hints at such a scenario. "Know that the mujahedin are determined to continue on their path, and they will not be weakened by what has happened to them," quoted the message as saying.

In a study entitled "Deterrence and Influence in Counter-terrorism" by Paul K. Davis and Brian Michael Jenkins, published by the Rand Corporation in 2002, the authors point out that mission success is vital to the existence and operational capabilities of a terrorist group.

"A foot soldier may willingly give his life in a suicide mission, and organizations may be quite willing to sacrifice such pawns, but mission success is very important and leaders are in some ways risk-averse," the study reads. "Terrorists recognize that their power depends on perceptions of whether they are winning or losing; their leaders are deeply concerned with control; and martyrdom in a stymied mission lacks the appeal of dying in a spectacular, successful attack."

Saudi Arabia's Al-Qaeda unit is seemingly under pressure to perform but apparently is finding it more difficult to arm its fighters and is more willing to risk killing Muslims during attacks. This is sure to create a negative perception of the group as being desperate and its acts as counterproductive.

It is highly likely that bin Laden's latest message of support for the perpetrators of the consulate attack is meant to shore up Al-Qaeda's image despite growing evidence that effective security measures have marginalized it the eyes of Saudi society. (Roman Kupchinsky)

When the Taliban was ousted from power in late 2001 for providing sanctuary to Al-Qaeda terrorists, opium-poppy production in Afghanistan was a scant 185 tons a year.

The Taliban did not induce farmers to stop planting opium poppy with crop-replacement programs, they merely threatened them with their lives if they failed to halt production.

By 2003, the Afghan opium harvest had grown to 3,600 tons per year -- or three-quarters of the world's supply, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Preliminary forecasts by the Tajik Drug Control Agency as reported by ITAR-TASS on 1 June indicated another bumper crop in 2004 with a predicted yield of 4,000 tons.

In response to this growing threat to Afghan security and the ever increasing narcotics epidemic in Europe and Russia, much of whose heroin originates in Afghanistan, the U.S. government recently announced that it has devised a "more aggressive counter-narcotics strategy aimed at greater eradication of poppy fields, promotion of alternative crops, and prosecution of traffickers," "The Washington Post" reported on 15 November.

To fund these measures, the U.S. Congress is expected to shift more than $700 million from other programs into combating Afghan opium, according to the daily.

In February, the UNODC published a study entitled "Afghanistan - Farmers Intentions Survey 2003/2004" that showed that the opium-eradication program promulgated by the Afghan government has not been able to produce any significant results.

According to the preface of this study by Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of UNODC: "Persistent poverty, high opium prices, and access to credit (from traffickers) through the advance sale of the future opium harvest are reported as the main reasons for continuing, or even increasing, opium production in 2004."

The study showed that some 69 percent of all farmers interviewed in poppy growing regions of Afghanistan reported intentions to increase poppy cultivation in 2004 and only 4 percent to reduce it. At the same time, 75 percent of all village headmen interviewed expected opium-poppy cultivation to increase in their villages in 2004 and only 2 percent expected it to decline.

A different study done by the UNODC, the "Afghanistan Opium Rapid Assessment" conducted in March 2003 found that "a general trend that seems to emerge from the Rapid Assessment is that farmers tend to cultivate opium poppy in increasingly remote and inaccessible areas. As a result, opium-poppy cultivation was reported in several districts for the first time."

The main factor that inhibits the cultivation of opium poppy, according to the UNODC study, is that this practice is against Islam. Some 24 percent of the farmers polled and 17 percent of the headman gave this as the main reason. Other factors that were given are that the practice is illegal, fear of eradication, fear of imprisonment, and unfavorable climatic/soil conditions.

Unfortunately, Western efforts at crop replacement as an incentive for farmers to stop growing poppy produced dismal results. At a U.S. Congressional hearing by the House International Relations Committee on 2 June, James Kunder, an official of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USIAD) said that his agency is encouraging farmers to grow other crops, such as olives, but that the economics of drugs works against this effort. Kunder told the committee that: "Today, what a farmer can realize for planting a hectare of wheat is about one-thirtieth of what a farmer can gain by planting a hectare of poppy."

In 2002 the gross income per Afghan family involved in poppy cultivation was $6,500. In 1994-2000 this number was $750, according to the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention report. The attempts by the Afghan administration to implement a program of paying farmers not to grow opium poppies turned out to be a dismal failure for the simple reason that the money being offered was only a fraction of what they were earning by growing poppy. "Jane's Intelligence Review" writes that the growers were being offered $250 per eradicated jirib (there are approximately 5 jiribs to one hectare). But the growers claimed they were making $1,700-$3,500 per jirib by planting opium poppy.


The growing availability of Afghan heroin on the streets of the former Soviet Union and Western Europe has led to increased tensions and acerbic exchanges. Speaking at an international security conference in Munich in February, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was quoted by "The Guardian" on 9 February as saying, "It is understandable that by allowing drug peddling in Afghanistan, the (NATO) alliance ensures loyalty of warlords on the ground and of some Afghan leaders."

Whitehall officials were cited in the same issue of "The Guardian" as saying that the U.S. gives a low priority to the issue "as it needs the warlords to help combat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remnants and other Islamic fighters."

The commander of the 6,500 NATO troops in Afghanistan, General Rick Hillier, was quoted by the "Financial Times" on 14 June as saying that Western governments are being too tolerant of the warlords and their flourishing narcotics trade and linked this to serious instability in the country.

U.S. lawmakers, on the other hand, have placed much of the blame on their traditional allies. Representative Tom Lantos (Democrat, Republican), told a House Committee hearing in June that America's NATO allies are taking a 'free ride' by allowing the United States to do the bulk of work on security in Afghanistan, even though Europe faces the treat of drugs produced there.

A key issue in the fight against the drug trade is the terms agreed upon in the 2002 Bonn agreement by which the Afghan Defense Ministry is to conduct reforms that are to include the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of all the militia groups operating in the country. These terms are not being implemented, according to NATO commanding General Hillier, who told the "Financial Times" that "the DDR process is coming to a spluttering end."

A recent example of the power wielded by local warlords in Afghanistan took place in mid-June when renegade commander Abdul Salaam Khan captured the provincial capital of Ghor Province, Chagcharan, some 220 kilometers west of Kabul.

The 2003 UNODC Opium Rapid Assessment Survey indicated no attempts at opium-poppy eradication in Ghor province and stated that "Reports indicate that poppy farmers from Helmand and Nangarhar were hired to teach local farmers poppy cultivation techniques. The security situation was not good, as the surveyor was asked by the local governor to complete the survey and leave the district immediately."

The success of the new U.S.-backed drive to eradicate opium will largely depend on the Karzai government's ability to come to terms with local warlords. Since U.S. troops will not be used in the eradication program, 30 U.S. Drug Enforcement agents and analysts (the number presently deployed is eight) are scheduled to support the overall mission along with units of the Afghan army and police. Whether they will be successful against combat-tested soldiers loyal to their respective warlords remains to be seen.

However, Karzai seems optimistic, saying in December that the drug trade "hurts our economy, it destroys our government, it brings us a bad name," "The New York Times" reported on 13 December. He added "that his government would eradicate poppy fields over the next two years while helping farmers begin to grow substitute crops." (Roman Kupchinsky)