OSAMA BIN LADEN has issued many audio- and videotapes to spread his message. But what might he tell his most loyal followers about the state of the global war against the infidels five years after 9/11?
What follows is that fictional speech, using his jihadist ideology as the guide. The sentiments are based on the views Bin Laden is believed to hold. My purpose here is not to parrot Al Qaeda propaganda, but to better understand why it has been so difficult to dent the determination of the jihadists.
"The five years since 9/11 have been difficult. Our Taliban protectors in Afghanistan have been overthrown, our training centers there dispersed and thousands of jihadist brothers worldwide have been thrown into dungeons where the infidels and their henchmen probably tortured them. Our communications are vulnerable to interception. We no longer can move large sums of money easily. Every border crossing is more risky. We face martyrdom daily.
"A number of Al Qaeda's key operational planners have been killed or captured — talent hard to replace. Continual pursuit by the infidel assassins has forced me and the rest of our top leadership to stay on the run. We have decentralized our operations to meet this challenge, but at the risk of fragmentation and loss of unity — our historical weakness.
"Yet despite our evil enemies' best efforts, we remain on Earth to do the work of God, and every success that we experience is his will expressed. God enables us to incite righteous young men to shed centuries of humiliation, join the jihad, take up arms and restore their honor by attacking wherever the infidel is inattentive.
"The jihad is wired. Our public pronouncements providing inspiration and instruction are accessible on a growing number of websites. Production values have improved. We have harnessed the most modern methods of communication to transmit the ancient words of God and our holy prophet.
"Our worldwide campaign continues at an accelerated pace. Since 9/11, our holy warriors have carried out more than 30 major attacks from Mumbai to Madrid, not counting any of the continuing operations in Afghanistan or Iraq.
"If we add to these successes the attempts that nearly succeeded, we are, on average, undertaking an attack every four weeks. Unfortunately, the scale of the operations remains well below that of 9/11. Spectacular attacks involve too many people or take too long to put together, thus exposing the operation to betrayal or discovery by infidel spies. We have a quality-control problem. But we expect that the valuable experience our jihadist brothers are gaining in Iraq will soon raise our operational and technical skills on other fronts.
"Since 9/11, none of the major terrorist operations have directly hit an American target. Operations before 9/11 hit Americans in Saudi Arabia, destroyed their embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and nearly sunk one of their warships off the coast of Yemen. Yes, some infidels were killed in the attacks on the foreigners' residences in Riyadh three years ago. But more Saudis were killed, which obliged us to issue a document disputing the casualty figures and justifying collateral Muslin casualties.
"Sending another team to the United States, as we did in 2001, is beyond our operational capability. We are thus obliged to rely on locals there, and they seem little inclined to action. Our operational prospects are much better in Europe and better still in Iraq. The American invasion of that country was a gift to us. Although we hear from Baghdad that our organization there is in disarray, violence has spiraled beyond the Americans' ability to control it. The late brother Abu Musab Zarqawi's strategy of fomenting a civil war appears to be succeeding.
"The immediate objective in Iraq remains: to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Americans. Despite their military might, they are weakening, and they lack moral conviction. Remember how they fled from Lebanon in 1983? From Yemen in 1992? From Somalia in 1993? When the Americans withdraw from Iraq, chaos will follow. Deprived of American protection, the apostate regimes in the region will tremble and fall. On their ruins, we will control the oil. The shopkeepers of Europe will abandon all support of Israel while the United States licks its wounds.
"We must acknowledge that not since the days of colonial rule have we seen as many infidel soldiers in the Middle East and western Asia. But we must remember that the infidels we confront today are no different from the brutal infidel colonialists who tired to subjugate Muslims and rule the Holy Land, no different from the Crusaders who tried to establish their enclaves in the Middle East centuries ago. They are aggressors and will tighten their grip until they are defeated, once and for all. Their growing military presence and the atrocities their soldiers inflict upon Muslims will galvanize the Muslim world.
"We need not concern ourselves with such new competitors as Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah. He is not our ally, but his defeat of the vaunted Zionist army helps us by demonstrating the impotency of the infidel's modern military technology, just as our heroic fighters are doing in Iraq. We should not focus on our losses — they test our faith. We need not worry exactly how victory will be achieved. God is our strategist. It is our mission to be worthy of his reward.
"It has been 10 years since we declared war on the United States, 15 since we first assisted attacks on the United States in Yemen and Somalia, 18 years since the creation of Al Qaeda, and a quarter of a century since I first went to Afghanistan to participate in the first truly global jihad, against the Soviet Union. For Americans, this is a long time. For us, it is a mere instant in a conflict that began centuries ago and will last until Judgment Day."
Brian Michael Jenkins has studied terrorism for more than 30 years at the Rand Corp., a nonprofit research organization. He is the author of "Unconquerable Nation."
This commentary originally appeared in Los Angeles Times on September 11, 2006. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.