Abizaid Details al Qaeda's Long-Term Goals
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2005 Al Qaeda terrorists hope to drive American influence from the Middle East and install a global Muslim leader in Saudi Arabia, Army Gen. John Abizaid said today.
Speaking during Senate testimony, Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, said al Qaeda's objectives are clear. "They believe in a jihad, a jihad to overthrow the legitimate regimes in the region," he said. "In order to do that, they first must drive America from the region."
Al Qaeda believes the most important prize is Saudi Arabia, which is home to the holy shrines in Mecca and Medina. If al Qaeda terrorists manage to take control of Saudi Arabia, they will try to create and expand their influence in the region and establish a caliphate, Abizaid said.
The term harkens back to the immediate successors of Muhammed and means a land led by a supreme secular and religious ruler. Al Qaeda insists that re-establishing a caliphate would mean that one man, as the successor to Muhammad, would possess clear political, military and legal standing as the global Muslim leader.
Abizaid said al Qaeda would then apply a very narrow, strict interpretation of Sharia, Islamic law, not believed in or practiced anywhere else in the world today. Such conquest in the Middle East "would certainly allow al Qaeda and their proxies to control a vast oil wealth that exists in the region," he said. "They intend to destroy Israel in the process, as well."
The next goal would be to expand into non-Arab Islamic countries. This would include the middle of Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia, the general said. The organization would operate from these areas and also from cyberspace. He said al Qaeda uses to Internet to transmit their hatred. "They aim to take advantage of open societies and will strike at those societies when they are ready at their time and place of choosing," he said.
In an allusion that is probably distasteful to American companies, Abizaid said al Qaeda is not a monolith like IBM. Rather, it is a franchise operation like McDonald's. This makes it very difficult to cut off the head of the organization. The group uses any and all means to further its goals: drugs, smuggling, so-called charitable organizations and others.
To beat al Qaeda and affiliate organizations requires military action but also "all elements of international and national power to put pressure throughout the network over time in order to squeeze the ideology, defeat its sources of strength, and ultimately allow the good people of the region to have the courage and the ability to stand against this type of organization," Abizaid said.
The United States and its coalition allies are doing this, he said. The key to success is helping the people of the region develop the will and capabilities to challenge al Qaeda. The "long war against terror" will be won by "self-reliant partners in the region who are willing to face the enemy within their own countries," he said.
U.S. and coalition forces must remain in the region long enough to "stabilize Afghanistan, stabilize Iraq, continue to deter Syria and Iran, and protect the flow of oil vital to all the peoples of the world and the economies of the region," he said.
The United States must make it clear that America has no territorial designs. "We must make clear that we fight with them out of mutual respect and mutual benefit," Abizaid said.