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.