"The attack on 9/11 makes no sense at all from a military point of view. Even if the 9/11 attack would have cowed the US, there was no way that al Queda could take advantage of the situation. The US was always going to ensure it had access to mideast oil by one means or another."
I think you mistake Al Qaeda for an organization with ordinary military aspirations. They're not out to 'defeat' a 'military'. There is no way they can ever defeat the US military.
You have to consider their mindset, their capability, and their goals before you evalute their strategy in terms of military sense.
Al Qaedas primary goal has been stated as getting the US to disengage from the Mideast. Now, they do not have the capability to do that with conventional means.
Instead they have to turn to exploiting the weaknesses inherent in the political structures of wealthy nations depending on population support. That weakness is not a weakness of resolve on the part of the political leadership. The weakness is the very wealth of the nations; the unwillingness of the population to sustain long term low grade warfare in terms of monetary cost and bloodshed for nebulous goals.
That means they have to fight a war of attrition, where the goal is to get the enemy to spend as much resources as possible, for as little gain as possible, while at the same time ensuring the organizations survival.
As 'believers' they have the resolve to fight for generations, as long as they can generate a stream of recruits. Remember that 'getting killed' is not a loss, as long as they're replaced.
Al Qaeda is not a 'military organization' with the goals of taking and holding real estate. They're a mental virus, dealing in mindsets, resolve, belief and psychological warfare.
That gives them a time frame and mindset that for many western voters is incomprehensible.
Now, consider that pre 9/11 expenditures in terms of wealth, comfort and bloodshed of the US mideast presence were not near enough the point where the US population would get weary of funding it, economically or socially, any time soon. Now draw up a strategy tree for reaching the Al Qaeda goal, and reconsider the 'military' sense of the assymetric warfare strategy of 9/11, from their point of view.
Consider every possible response by the US administration and compare with the goal fulfillment degree of 'sapping resources', 'increasing discomfort for US population' and 'generating members'. And remember again, that 'getting killed' does not count as a loss as long as there's a positive influx in total membership.
Having thought it through myself from their twisted point of view, I cannot see any possible response that would not count as a win. I can think of some that would not mean the total Jackpot strike they generated, but no responses that would not be a win in one way or another.
Which means it makes eminent military sense.
"The attack on 9/11 might have been a sort of publicity stunt to encourage the faithful to rally around al Queda."
And to goad their enemy into a situation where they spend huge amounts of wealth, and to discourage the US population.
"The Taliban assumed they could hold Afghanistan against all attacks."
The Taliban assumed no such thing; they were pretty much falling over themselves to be accomodating in the last weeks before the attack was launched (As far as their idea of 'being accomodating' went. Remember, yet another mindset there.).
"But the example of al Qaeda on the run and the Taliban out of power is working against al Queda."
'Holding Afghanistan' was not necessarily a primary goal for Al Qaeda, however much it was for the Taliban. Recruiting a lot of Taliban into their organization would be a win. Using the revitalized opium trade as a source of revenue (that hurts the western nations in yet another way) would also count as a win.
"While al Queda was practically coddled, and some might say they were almost encouraged to attack the US, Japan was dealt with harshly."
Japan was a military enemy. You could set up military goals to defeat it. You can destroy their support. You can occupy the territory.
Al Qaeda isnt a military enemy. The US's very own weapons might as well be carrying warheads labelled 'Al Qaeda Virus', for all the good they do. Each weapon fired represents a piece of lost wealth for the US population, and each person killed by it potentially has relatives who'll sign up to join Al Qaeda.
They can be temporarily weakened, disorganized and impaired in their purely military activities with conventional means, but they'll quite likely emerge stronger and closer to their goals. Truly inflicting real losses on them is very hard, and requires very different strategies.
As in an ordinary war, you need to attack their weaknesses, not their strengths.
Intelligence is supremely important, but here you'll also have to consider what constitues a win for them. Huge expenditures and causing discomfort for the US population means a win for Al Qaeda.
The only 'win' situations against them is when you, quitely, nail members of the organization, cause them to be less efficient through distrust or betrayal, or decrease their popular support, thus causing non-replaced and non-replacable losses in the organization.
Strategies to deal with terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda need to be developed with those goals in mind.
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