Yesterday, the AP released an English translation of what appears to be a 2011 Al Qaeda tip sheet. (AP journalists evidently found the document in Timbuktu.) Its author, AQAP senior commander Abdullah bin Mohammed, catalogs twenty-two handy methods by which Al Qaeda fighters can avoid unwanted drone-watching and drone-whacking.
Some of his guidance amounts to little more than common sense—staying on the move, hiding from sight and under tree cover, refraining from electronic communications, avoiding face-to-faces with other fighters in open areas, and so on. Other tips, though, have an eccentric feel. Bin Mohammed recommends, for example, that bad guys set up dolls and statutes, so as to dupe drone operators into believing that a terrorist get-together is ongoing. It also appears the author did his homework: His first two entries note Russian technologies, with which jihadists can infiltrate or even disable UAVs’ control and communications systems.
The tip sheet tells us something about the enemy. Al Qaeda, it seems, keeps track of how the United States’ strategy against the terrorist organization is evolving. The document’s discovery likewise affirms the group’s global reach, and its ability to share information with cells worldwide. That is the tenor of this quote in an AP story today, from Brookings senior fellow Bruce Riedel:
This new document… shows we are no longer dealing with an isolated local problem, but with an enemy which is reaching across continents to share advice.
In that vein, Bruce today also told me:
Over its history Al Qaeda has repeatedly demonstrated it is an adaptive and learning enemy. This is another demonstration of that tendency.
Adaptive, indeed. The drone-dodger’s how-to shows that, at the time of its writing, Al Qaeda thought it understood the reason behind the United States’ increasing reliance on drone strikes: Americans’ preference for a “comfortable war.” Having that in mind, the document proposes a tactic designed to force the United States to change tack. In particular, Bin Mohammed proposes kidnapping westerners, and, in exchange for their release, demanding that the United States cease its attacks on Yemeni “civilians.” This approach, bin Mohammed argues, would galvanize global opposition and beat back American support for the drone program. And of course, the next logical step—in the view of the tip sheet’s author—is the United States’ outright collapse.