Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 7, 2009

Disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 7, 2009

Tuesday morning President Obama visited the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) outside Washington D.C.  His remarks focused on the counterterrorism mission he articulated during the campaign and in his March strategy statement on relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Following is the core of the President’s message and some commentary:

Because of you, and all the organizations you represent, we’re making real progress in our core mission:  to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and other extremist networks around the world.We must never lose sight of that goal.  That’s the principal threat to the American people.  That is the threat that led to the creation of this Center.  And that must be the focus of our efforts to defend the homeland and our allies, and defeat extremists abroad.

Disrupt, dismantle and defeat AQ et alia.  John Brennan, founder of the NCTC and now Deputy National Security Advisor, has given particular emphasis to violent extremists beyond AQ.  Please see Mr. Brennan’s prior comments.

We know that al Qaeda and its extremist allies threaten us from different corners of the globe — from Pakistan, but also from East Africa and Southeast Asia; from Europe and the Gulf.  And that’s why we’re applying focused and relentless pressure on al Qaeda — by sharing more intelligence, strengthening the capacity of our partners, disrupting terrorist financing, cutting off supply chains, and inflicting major losses on al Qaeda’s leadership.

Even with the broader attention to violent extremism, there is a particular concern with AQ.  Last week the current director of the NCTC told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental affairs, “Despite our counterterrorism (CT) progress, al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates and allies remain resilient and adaptive enemies intent on attacking US and Western interests—with al-Qa‘ida’s core in Pakistan representing the most dangerous component of the larger al-Qa‘ida network. “

It should now be clear — the United States and our partners have sent an unmistakable message:  We will target al Qaeda wherever they take root; we will not yield in our pursuit; and we are developing the capacity and the cooperation to deny a safe haven to any who threaten America and its allies.

Is the President signaling imminent Pakistani operations against the safe haven in Waziristan?  Or highlighting the successful Drone attack on Baitullah Mehsud?  He might be making an oblique reference to the recent special forces operation in Somalia or others that are known to his audience, but not to us.

We also know that success against al Qaeda must go beyond destroying their network — it must be about the future that we want to build as well.  And that’s why we’re putting forward a positive vision of American leadership around the world — one where we lead by example, and engage nations and peoples on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect.

Echoes of Cairo.  Is there a compelling “mutual interest” for a US role in shaping an Afghanistan (and Pakistan too) less susceptible to violent extremism? How do we best lead by example and engage there?  The McChrystal assessment suggests a full-scale counterinsurgency strategy.  The President is looking for other effective options, if he can find them.

As one counterterrorism expert recently observed, because of our efforts al Qaeda and its allies have not only lost operational capacity, they’ve lost legitimacy and credibility.  Of course, nobody does a better job of discrediting al Qaeda than al Qaeda itself, which has killed men and women and children of many faiths in many nations, and which has absolutely no positive future to offer the people of the world.

In September the Pew Global Attitudes Project reported widespread rejection of AQ and its methods in nine predominantly Islamic nations.  A survey of Pakistani public opinion completed in August found that those having an unfavorable view of al-Qaeda has increased from 34 percent to 61 percent over the last year.  Unfortunately 62 percent of Pakistanis also consider the US their enemy. Pakistanis say,  a pox on both your houses.

So even as we target al Qaeda and its bankrupt vision, we also know that we have to be vigilant in defending our people at home.  And that takes aggressive intelligence collection and skillful analysis.  And that demands the effective and efficient coordination between federal government and our state and local partners.

Monday Secretary Napolitano told the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, “Effective information sharing is essential to our partnerships with state and local law enforcement as we work together to secure our country. DHS will continue to strengthen fusion centers and other collaborative initiatives across the country to enhance our capabilities to combat terrorism and serious crime.”

Eight years ago today US and British forces began air operations over Afghanistan after the Taliban government refused to hand over the 9/11 conspirators.  The unpopular Taliban regime was quickly defeated.  But al-Qaeda disappeared into the Hindu Kush where — among other efforts — it nourished a renewed and expanded Taliban.  Eight years later that core al-Qaeda element remains “the most dangerous component” of a battered but persistent threat to the United States.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 7, 2009 @ 4:34 pm

Just for the record expect major Taliban ops before the winter closes in in Af-PAK!
Increasingly small unit combat seems to be swinging Taliban way. Correct me if I am misreading the facts some of which I gain from Juan Cole’s blog “Informed Comment”.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 8, 2009 @ 5:05 am

Received some messages asking why I mentioned the Taliban in my comment on this post! Believe or not the US government has substantially declared victory (in error IMO) over the AQ! AF-PAK Theatre again IMO is largely conventional warfare with some COIN elements against Taliban [which has separate leadership in the two countries]! Prevention and detection and INTEL of AQ ops is now largely a matter of policing and information sharing not use of conventional forces. Perhaps SOC but not sure even if that because of International Law concerns. Wonder if STATE and DOJ have signed off on all the Predator Strike legal issues? Oh that’s right–The President is a Constitutional Lawyer and probably does not need the advice of his lawyers (joke)!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 8, 2009 @ 7:10 am

A bit more on the Taliban-AQ connection: They are not identical, but they are tough to operationally disentangle. For at least three years there has been a multi-party effort to open meaningful discussions with Taliban elements that might be willing to forsake AQ. The results are not promising.

I have been unable to find an entirely satisfactory analogy for the Taliban-AQ relationship. But here’s one rough try. Very late in the history of the Western Roman Empire the seriously weakened emperors extended their remaining gold and (even more important) prestige to various barbarian favorites. Through this relationship, the late imperium was able to extend its life and, in retrospect, shape what the post-imperial period would look like. The late emperors, though ineffectual in many ways, still inspired the ambition and action of their barbarian minions.

In modern terms, AQ is franchising its mission through the Taliban. Or AQ is the venture capitalist behind the entrepreneurial Taliban. There are, again, distinctions. But where intention begins and action ends is usually hard to decipher.

Bill, I disagree with your perception that USG has essentially declared victory against AQ. I cannot find anyone credible at any level who, even after two drinks or more,seems ready to underestimate AQ. If anything, I sometimes worry they are too focused on AQ and not sufficiently attentive to Brennan’s broader target of “violent extremists.”

Comment by christopher tingus

October 8, 2009 @ 10:24 am

Unfortunately despite all the good intentions of those wonderful and dedicated individuals, organizations and parties seeking a better AfPak environment for the majority hoping for more tolerance and respect, despite reported ongoing disagreement and tension between religious parties and Islamic insurgent movements in the region, reigning in the vigilante violence as many refer is a very daunting task for westerners for few understand the commitment of the fundamentalist and such organizations as the JI in particular in its clear pursuit of regional Islamization and others who seek to even bring Islam to the local variety store across the street from 11 Downing Street!

It is obvious for instance that the Islamic discourse continues between the JI and the JUI-F (less direct approach)and the the inevitable gains by the Taliban continue as their influence broadens. AQ, yes, a threat to America, however AQ and the Taliban loathe the Europeans and the German led EU and its partner, the Vatican.

To some observers, it is almost like the Americans have little grasp on the reality of those long in power influencing the AfPak regional issues, however AQ and the Taliban do not underestimate the objective of the German led EU and the Vatican and its ongoing slanted commentaries toward Islam, thus both are much more a threat to the stability of Europeans as after all, their close proximity obviously casts issues for both sides.

From the perspective of those of us in the coffee shop on Main Street USA there is so much good ‘ol politics taking place especially in the EU these days as Germany pursues center stage in the Middle East seeking oil for its manufacturing complex and revival and contiinues to do its utmost in upsetting the US global stance in every political issue as well as trade rnegotiations and trade routes and competitiveness trying to undermine the US in every move.

At the coffee shop, we often talk of the continued harshness of the Germans and their sleek new modernized army and naval vessels sailing the Meditarranean despite WWII agreements.

In parallel, we talk of the bunch of indifferent beltway politicians and local legislators here who can no longer be “entrusted” to act to uphold the even the principles of the Constitution and the Rights of (legal) citizen in their lack of transparency and votes increaseing fees and taxes, fees and taxes…

It is impossible for these elected citizens supposedly pledging their oath to serve the public to understand the complex social and religious issues of the AfPak region. I bet most do not know the nation’s state capitals or the cost of a gallon of milk!

So many worry about my dear friends in Latvia and the Baltics for instance, where we talk about the unfunded social security trust fund debt here reportedly $17.5 trillion; unfunded medicare trust fund debt is $89 trillion; total unfunded US obligations are $118 trillion and bank charges to the little guy for $39 bucks as well as interest on the credit cards with interest rates at 3500% and Congress looking the other way….$3 to take out money from an ATM? No wonder more and more talk of seeking a fed reserve audit for the bailout of the bankers has no trickle down affect to Mr. & Mrs. Citizen Joe whatsoever despite youMr. President and your promises.

From our perspective, the US should have no more troops than anyone else on the ground in AfPak, In fact, the Europeans whould be swarming all over the place for they are in peril. With Barzil’s economy moving forward – despite interest rates to be raised shortly – fewere and fewer jobs are available here on Main Street and stores are for lease everywhere….

The US cannot go it alone to the extent it has or as the principal in this regional and global challenge from religious dictate. We must address the citizenship issues here and we must stregthen our borders. Homeland security as out priority as well as cybersecurity…that’s where the money should be appropriated.

Unless those nations big and small who understand the dynamics of the region and its affect on humanity finally work out support for one another and develop a really comprehensive and globally cohesive strategy to challenge this Islamization, as the Chinese astutely stockpile their nuts for the future and spin off a new reserve currency at least partially backed by gold foregoing the US midddle and upper class consumer for they have their own consumers now, it is not only the federal reserve and the central bankers who duped us into the impoverishment of America, but the politics of the narrow minded who seek only their self-agenda (Germany and Russia) and the Taliban and even AQ will have more substantial influence on the global sphere, though I do believe that neither the Taliban or AQ will win the prize they seek locally, regionally or even globally for their Islamic expansionist views already threaten the perspectives of the Vatican and Germany and neither will tolerate such and strong positions will make it quite clear of the EU’s lack of tolerance and diversity.

Another perspective which must be looked at is global projected population figures which really must alarm the Europeans for their birthrate is much lower than their religious and cultural adversaries. This is a fact! A fact the Germans and Vatican know quite well!

While we should not underestimate AQ and more importantly the Taliban, by no means should they underestimate the Germans and the powerful and influence of the Vatican! Its walls and secret tunnels and vaults still stand as centuries and armed bandits have passed by….The last of the crusades are mounted and prepared to address the reality of the political and religious issues before us all!

As for us here in America, yes, grow weary of the local, state and national government and the intentional usurping of the Rights of the individual and family. It will not only be the seatbelt and health insurance you will be mandated to adhere to, but a government dictating much in the way you carry out your daly Life unless you come to the realization, stock your bullets and guns, support your local law enforcement and walk the streets together protesting and ousting these bandits as they just did in Greece where the Hellenes would no longer tolerate this self-agenda of the public servant!

Christopher Tingus
64 Whidah Drive
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 8, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

Phil! In reality referring to AQ as operational force in AF-PAK! There may be hosting by the Taliban but is this symbiois or parasitism. Difference in last era of Roman Empire is some “barbarians” were attracted to elements of Roman culture, society and wealth. I see no evidence that anyone seems attracted to US equivalent. Perhaps this is reflected in Mr. Tingus analysis which demonstrates that reality is USA almost bankrupted by its leadership whatever the merits of the political classes choices for average citizen. UBL must wonder where the replacements were for the original 19 highjackers. Clearly if AQ could it would. Perhaps it has to rely on UBL making it to 10th anniversary of 9/11 to declaim victory. Would a single major attack that is successful mean US efforts all for nought. NO! But might prompt a witchhunt as to culpability.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 9, 2009 @ 5:36 am

Based on recent revelations in MSM including March report it now appears the issue in AF-PAK is whether to continue effort based on AQ or Taliban or both. My judgement is that we (US) don’t have a clue as to what is driving either threat or limitations on capability.
It does appear that if either threats also includes the capability to encourage dollar devaluations and loss of standing of dollar as reserve currency and as basis for oil contracts then these threats will have warped into forces effective in rapid demise of US power projection for any purpose. Peace will not be brought about by speeches but only deeds. Read the writings of Robert Fiske a British Jouralist and Juan Cole an American academic. US policy is at a dead end and looks like it will remain so throughout the first and last Obama Administration. Another group, the DEMS, that just does NOT get it.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 9, 2009 @ 6:17 am

My attempted analogy was clearly unhelpful. I had intended for AQ to be recognized as the “late emperors” and the Taliban as the “barbarians.” Since this was not self-evident, the analogy fails on first glance… and the deeper connections I had wanted to suggest are lost beyond hope.

The mix of motivations in Afpak, as in much of life, is very complicated. It is tough to accurately characterize the nature of the relationship between Taliban and AQ, Afghan Taliban with Pak and Uzbek(and other) Talibans, between Taliban and Pakistan, and so on and so on.

But while the context is exotic and we have too few experts on which to call for advice, I don’t see why, in principle, this issue is any more impenetrable than, say, our economic crisis or local-state-federal relations in the US.

In each case we are faced with multiple players — some with evil intent — complicated interactions, unexpected outcomes… all the typical aspects of a complex system. In other words, typical reality.

In my original post above — and in related posts on October 3 and 9 — I am trying to describe what I perceive as a reasonable process that the White House is using to engage a complex reality. I have not yet reached personal conclusions as to outcomes, and it would seem neither has the President.

But I find it helpful to see (and be able to participate in) a principled process. The President has set out his goals, engaged a wide range of players in the discussions, and communicated progress, or lack of progress, along the way. Politically, I think this is a risky, but worthwhile effort. I am learning more as the process unfolds. I may end up with different conclusions than the President, but I appreciate the public and principled process being applied.

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