Merchant of Death
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The Iraq-Afghanistan Network Grows, Posing Acute Danger
Al Qaeda and related groups are increasingly able to coordinate forces and training among groups fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, forming a dangerous and growing nexus on two fronts.

While the al Qaeda contingent in Iraq is not dominant in Iraq's Sunni insurgency, its combatants are gaining valuable experience there and helping breathe new life into the Islamist/jihadist forces in Afghanistan that is now spreading and gaining strength.

For some time now many of us have written about the evidence of transmission of knowledge and tactics from one theater of operation to the other, with groups in each area learning and improving on tactics originated with the other.

This use of trained networks with the facility of movement that these groups have poses a long-term threat, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in the countries of origin of the combatants.

One can trace the Arab networks that began in Afghanistan to Bosnia, then on to Sudan, Somalia, back to Afghanistan and elsewhere. These are made of cadres of trusted individuals who know each other, have access to different valuable resources and skills who can reach each other.

At hearings earlier this week Gen. Hayden, the director of central intelligence, raised the issue of cross-pollination between Iraq and Afghanistan several times.

"The direct tissue between Iraq and Afghanistan is al-Qaeda," said Hayden, who visited both countries recently. "The lessons learned in Iraq are being applied to Afghanistan."

Al Qaeda is openly discussing these lessons now in documents and on web sites. A recent al Qaeda/Taliban document released in Afghanistan explains some of "lessons learned."

"One of the Taliban commanders, Mullah Dadullah, says that they have learned from the Iraqi experience; that as Afghanistan used to be the training ground for Mujahedin to go to Iraq, it is now the reverse: they are picking up the tactics that they use in Iraq - like suicide bombings - and applying those to Afghanistan, which is something different than what was happening before."

The "direct tissue," as Hayden says, is now the core of a movement that will, in a few years, be the core of armed movements that we will likely see spring up around different part of the world. While many will likely be low-level conflicts, they will be destabilizing and resource-intensive to combat.

There is an equally dangerous flip side to the Sunni jihadist movements, and that is the Shi'ite groups. The same type of networks, now spreading from Iraqi Shi'ite militias to Iran, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere are seldom mentioned in looking at the radical jihad movements.

What they share with their Sunni counterparts is the desire to destory the West. And, while the groups likely have little love for each other, they are clearly capable (as in the case of the diamond trade) of using each other's infrastructure when necessary.

This, to me, is one of the great dangers that is least easy to combat: Overlapping and competing networks of radical Islamists from different branches, with experienced operatives and amble financing, sent back to countries and regions that they know well and where small groups can have an amplified effect.

The creation of these networks is well under way. With the constant need to put out fires, and the lack of time and resources to dedicate to tracking and understanding networks, it is likely we will be dealing with them for many more years.

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