National Journal’s National Security Expert blog asks:
Al Qaeda-led or -inspired terrorist attacks in Europe, Iraq and Saudi Arabia have all declined, but Al Qaeda still has significant capacity to launch attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and perhaps India. It also has a growing presence in Algeria and Yemen, and it has used the latter two countries and Pakistan as staging grounds for successful regional, but not international, attacks.
Does this signal a change in Al Qaeda’s strategy from a global one to a regional one, or is it that their ability to carry out global plots has been effectively diminished by constant pressure from the U.S. and our allies? Or has there been, as the Director of National Intelligence’s 2009 annual threat assessment says, “notable progress in Muslim opinion turning against terrorist groups like Al Qaeda” and consequently, Al Qaeda today is “less capable and effective than it was a year ago”?
Heritage Senior Fellow James Carafano answers:
Al Qaeda has waxed and waned in its war against the United States. The debate over whether its stock is currently rising or falling is not nearly as important as ensuring al Qaeda gets dumped in the waste bin of history.
There is more than enough evidence to suggest that as long as al Qaeda has a sanctuary it will figure out a way to fight to get back in the game.
Indeed, Iraq proved that al Qaeda really is a problem. Despite the crushing defeat that ejected Bin Laden out of Afghanistan, he set up shop in Pakistan where his organization encouraged the terror campaign against the coalition forces in Iraq and tried hard to create an Iraqi civil war. That failed.
When al Qaeda’s operational arms were pretty much broken off, its leaders undertook an unprecedented psychological warfare campaign that included everything from the Internet to DVD sales. Luckily, the al Qaeda message has fallen on tough times. It continues to turn some to radical agendas, but a message that so far has only gotten many Muslims killed is increasingly less popular in the Islamic world.
Undaunted, al Qaeda turned on Pakistan, encouraging groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LET) to not just step up its war with India but turn on the Pakistani government as well. True, according to former CIA analyst Lisa Curtis, al Qaeda’s links with LET go back further than the attacks on Mumbai. Shoe bomber Richard Reid was allegedly trained at a LET camp. One of the London subway bombers spent time at LET facility in Muridke. Abu Zubayda was found at an LET safe house in Faisalabad. Still, the latest collusion between al Qaeda and LET shows the devil never stays idle for long. Encouraging LET to set Pakistan and India on fire is the latest in al Qaeda’s efforts to continue its war on the West.
As long as Bin Laden can hold out in Pakistan, his organization is a threat to innocents.