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Al Qaeda’s Strategy Paper on Its War of Attrition

January 24, 2012

German authorities recently uncovered a strategy paper drafted by al Qaeda’s leadership in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area that describes its war-of-attrition strategy against the West. From German daily Der Tagesspiegel on January 23 (translation via Open Source Center):

According to information obtained by Der Tagesspiegel, terror organization al-Qa’ida plans to fight a war of attrition against Germany and other Western states. Security sources say that a strategy paper drafted by the al-Qa’ida leadership based in the Pakistani-Afghan border area suggests that a combination of smaller and larger attacks “will drive the enemy to despair.” Other documents describe the taking and subsequent killing of hostages, the use of toxic substances, and how to give cover to fighters smuggled in.

Al-Qa’ida expects that growing fear among the general population and increasing reprisals on the part of the security authorities will marginalize Muslims. As a result of such escalation, Muslims will join the Holy War in ever larger numbers, security sources quote from the papers.

These documents, hidden in coded electronic files, were discovered by Germany’s Federal Office of Criminal Investigation on a 22-year-old Austrian citizen who was presumed to be an al Qaeda member, Maqsood L. (It is the custom of German authorities to withhold the full last name of suspects.) German authorities arrested Maqsood L. and a 26-year-old Turkish-German from Berlin named Yusuf O. in May of last year, and both face trial beginning Jan. 25; given the date of arrest, the strategy paper referenced above was almost certainly drafted prior to Osama bin Laden’s death. Der Tagesspiegel notes: “Security experts stress that some of the documents have given the German authorities a first-ever insight into the strategic planning as pursued by the al-Qa’ida leadership.”

This strategy won’t come as a surprise to readers of Bin Laden’s Legacy, but data points providing a glimpse of how al Qaeda’s senior leadership views its conflict against the West that a) come from the leadership itself, and b) are internal to al Qaeda rather than intended for wider public consumption, are rare in the open source. Moreover, this strategy paper shows that the group continues to depend on the West’s reactions to advance its objectives, demonstrated by its expectation that “increasing reprisals on the part of the security authorities will marginalize Muslims,” thus causing more Muslims to flock to al Qaeda’s jihad. I won’t reiterate the idea of al Qaeda’s rope-a-dope here, but it is worth being cognizant of to understand how the jihadi group used American reactions to strengthen its own hand over the past decade.

  1. January 24, 2012 6:51 pm

    What wonderful timing, as I’m writing a paper on this very subject for my War & Insurgency course at King’s. Is there a publicly available translation online?

  2. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross permalink
    January 24, 2012 7:14 pm


    I haven’t seen a publicly available translation of the full strategic document. But if you e-mail me (daveed AT I will send you the full translation of the Der Tagesspiegel article, so that you can use it for your paper.


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