In a new audio tape released Friday by Al Qaeda's propaganda arm, a voice purported to be Osama bin Laden's followed up on a series of threats made by more junior Al Qaeda members in recent months against America's European allies in the Afghan war, warning that if they don't pull out there will be retaliation against "the oppressor on behalf of the oppressed."
The tape was released by Al-Sahab Media productions with both English and German subtitles, an apparent attempt to sway this Sunday's German election. A new poll shows the race has sharply tightened, in part over doubts about Germany's commitment to NATO forces in Afghanistan after their troops were involved in their deadliest use of forces since WWII earlier this month.
Seeking to influence US debate
Mr. bin Laden also appears to be trying to influence the current debate in America over deepening the military commitment to Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of ground troops there, has called for more troops and a strategic overhaul. Vice President Joe Biden has called for a smaller presence more focused on Al Qaeda and its allies, with less involvement in nation-building and securing the Afghan people.
"It won’t be long before the dust of war clears in Afghanistan, at which point you won’t find a trace of any American, because they will have gone away far beyond the Atlantic, Allah permitting," Bin Laden said. "And just us and you will remain, for the oppressed to retaliate (against) his oppressor."
Though Germany is not specifically mentioned by Bin Laden, his comments were preceded by a number of Al Qaeda tapes in recent weeks in which a German speaker, believed to be the Moroccan-born German national Bekkay Harrach, called on Muslims in Germany to wage jihad against their own government and warned of a "rude awakening" for the German people if Chancellor Angela Merkel isn't ousted from power. German subtitles are also not commonly added to Al Qaeda's propaganda messages.
Over the years, bin Laden and the group's chief ideologue, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have focused their statements for specific audiences at specific times, sometimes playing up the evils of "Zionism" and the need to expel "crusaders" from all of the Middle East when talking to Arabs and Muslims, and at other times saying ahead to Western publics that piece is at hand if only they would give up on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
German poll shows Merkel's lead shrinking
While German voters may not consider bin Laden's statements when making their choices, he has a tendency to position himself so his movement can take credit for outcomes they had very little hand in.
A poll released by Germany's Forsa on Friday found that the lead for Mrs. Merkel's center-right coalition had shrunk to its smallest during the entire campaign, with about 25 percent of German voters still undecided less than 48 hours before the country heads to the poll. Merkel's Christian Democrats and their preferred partners, the Free Democrats, have support from a combined 47 percent of likely voters. While Merkel's party is likely to be the single largest vote-getter (the poll found they have 33 percent support) they may be forced to form a government with, and make more concessions too, the left-leaning Social Democrats.
Europeans ambivalent on NATO role
Bin Laden's tape is clearly seeking to play on the ambivalence of Europeans about the NATO commitment to Afghanistan. Most European voters say they no longer support the war.
Bin Laden starts out by saying that his message is "to the European peoples,'' and follows that up by saying "that one of the greatest forms of injustice is to kill people without right yet this is exactly what your governments and soldiers are commiting under the umbrella of the NATO alliance in Afghanistan. They are killing women, children and elderly men whose only crime was that Bush became angry with them although you know that they didn’t perpetrate any aggression against Europe." [This text is taken from the English subtitles and has not yet been fully checked against the Arabic that was spoken.]
The Al Qaeda tape also says, without any apparent intended irony or regard for the Sept. 11 attacks he helped initiate, that "it is a shameful thing for a person to be in a coalition whose supreme commander has no regard for human life and intentionally bombs villagers from the air."