It’s Al Qaeda, not the Taliban

One puzzling error repeatedly made by media is their continual referral to John Walker Lindh as “the American Taliban” and David Hicks as “the Australian Taliban.” The only reason I can think for this misreporting is that they don’t really understand the dynamics of pre-Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan. Or, perhaps, it just sounds cooler to them.

In fact, the difference is easy to define: The Taliban are an indigenous, all-Afghani movement. Taliban fighters are recruited or impressed into service from the local populations. Al Qaeda is an international terrorist movement that draws fighters from the global community. Whenever Afghanis refer to a fighter as “foreign” or “Arab” they speak of imported al Qaeda operatives. When captured al Qaeda fighters refer disparagingly to another fighter as “dumb,” “ignorant,” or use a racial slur, they refer to Taliban.

Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan during the early days came from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, North Africa and the Horn, Europe, the U.S., Australia, the Middle East, Russia, China, and every country whose name ends in “stan.” And this is just a partial list.

There is little love lost between the two elements. They will band together to fight a common enemy, but otherwise tolerate each other’s presence.

Lindh and Hicks were pure al Qaeda. They each went through a period of conversion to Islam, radicalization, and ultimately commitment to jihad as a way of life. Separately they were offered an opportunity to participate in “martyrdom” missions – suicide operations – and they each declined. While cowering in the depths of icy, filthy water under assault by Northern Alliance forces at Qala-i-Jangi, Lindh reportedly tried to dissuade his fellow fighters from killing themselves, quoting the Koran’s imprecations against suicide.

Both Hicks and Lindh trained extensively at al Qaeda camps like al Farouk and Tarnak Farms and each pledged fealty or bayat to Usama bin Laden personally. They volunteered to translate al Qaeda training material into English for the use on training non-Arabic speaking recruits. They both took up arms under orders from al Qaeda leaders – not Taliban – and fought against Northern Alliance and Coalition forces.

So what’s the big deal?

Essentially nearing a decade post-9/11 and we – certainly the media – still does not recognize the enemy sworn to our destruction as a country and as a civilization. These seemingly little points of distinction – caused by confusion, both intentional and ignorant – are essential to our ability to fight against and defeat this enemy. This continued intellectual ignorance hampers efforts to educate the American people on the reality of the struggle and stands in the way of ultimate success.

Get the full story on Hicks (and a great deal on Lindh) in my book Inside Gitmo.

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