Opinion: Al-Qaida threat morphs, expands

February 1, 2013


— The Obama administration is working with its allies to frame a strategy to combat what might be called “al-Qaida 2.0” — an evolving, morphing terrorist threat that lacks a coherent center but is causing growing trouble in chaotic, poorly governed areas such as Libya, Yemen, Syria and Mali.

U.S. officials liken this new problem to the spread of cancer cells: al-Qaida nodes emerge in diffuse places, feeding off local issues and grievances. These cells have only a loose, ideological connection with what remains of the core leadership in Pakistan, but they are stubborn and toxic.

Striking at these local nodes — as the French are doing now in Mali — can disrupt the new terrorist cells. But analysts stress that there will be consequences: The cells may metastasize further, drawing new jihadists into the fight and potentially threatening targets in Europe and the U.S.

The basic U.S. counterterrorism strategy is similar to the one adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: The CIA seeks to build up the security services of regional allies that can help penetrate and disrupt the terrorists in ways that would be impossible for the U.S. acting alone. But the 2.0 version of the counterterrorism coalition is more complicated than the earlier effort launched by then-CIA Director George Tenet, for several reasons:

Some key liaison partners, such as Libya, Egypt and Yemen, are no longer as helpful because of the changes brought by the Arab Spring. This revolution has swept away authoritarian regimes and the intelligence services, known as moukhabarats, that helped sustain them. That’s a gain for democracy and human rights but a setback for counterterrorism efforts.

Libya under Col. Moammar Gaddafi was a repressive dictatorship. But his intelligence service stopped al-Qaida terrorists from operating in or transiting Libya. The new Libyan government wants to be helpful. But in the chaotic current conditions, especially in eastern Libya, it’s unable to offer any real counterterrorism, or CT, assistance.

The Egyptian spy agency retains much of its old tradecraft and competence. But under the government of President Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptians are a less aggressive CT partner. That’s understandable, given that Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies were once targets of the moukhabarat. But it means the Egyptian service, now headed by Gen. Mohamed Raafat Shehata, is reluctant to move without political cover from Morsi.

The U.S. had planned to use this regional coalition strategy for dealing with the spread into Mali of al-Qaida in the Mahgreb, as the North African affiliate is known. The idea was to build up intelligence services in Mali and neighboring Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria. But this strategy was complicated by AQIM’s rapid move south in Mali. When the group moved toward the capital of Bamako, the French feared it could have a safe haven for attacking France.

The French military mission may prove costly. U.S. officials believe the effort will require two to three years and will inevitably bring retaliatory attacks in the region and also, perhaps, against France and its Western allies. Mali may also become a magnet for jihadists, as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most dangerous new al-Qaida threat may be the Al-Nusra Front in Syria. Though it emerged as an affiliate of al-Qaida in Iraq, it’s now seen by U.S. analysts as independent, in terms of funding and personnel, and increasingly able to consider attacks on targets in Europe. If the Syrian war continues on its current path, analysts expect to see a fragmentation of the country, a serious counterterrorism problem, and a very serious chemical weapons problem. Yet, astonishingly, the U.S. still lacks a coherent response.

The mainstays of the U.S. counterterrorism coalition remain reliable European allies, such as Britain and France, plus increasingly sophisticated Arab partners in the monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. They can help the U.S. bolster regional security services with modern capabilities, training and leadership.

The Obama administration also wants to avoid the rhetoric and entanglements of a global “war on terror” this time around. “Our CT approach is to do things where possible through our partners, and not necessarily by ourselves,” says one senior administration official.

So long as the cancerous nodes of al-Qaida don’t threaten the American homeland, U.S. officials want to avoid using drone attacks or other kinetic strikes. But as the local cells adapt and spread, al-Qaida 2.0 will almost certainly move through the global bloodstream toward targets in the U.S.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Ray Parker 1 year, 2 months ago

If Muslim terrorists hate America's benevolent attitude, alliance, and aid toward Israel, then by all means, strengthen America's benevolent attitude, alliance, and aid toward Israel. Americans would like nothing better that to severely disappoint Muslim terrorists with a firm anti-terrorist pro-Israel foreign policy. Are you afraid such a foreign policy would make Muslim terrorists want to kill Americans in large numbers? They want to do that anyway, every chance they get.

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09/11 Muslim attack by parkay

Benghazi Muslim attack

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KansasLiberal 1 year, 2 months ago

Oh, please. There is no threat from Al-CIAda and there never was. All of this b.s. was just an excuse for war contractors to steal from the American taxpayer.


Liberty275 1 year, 2 months ago

It looks like we can't blame alquiada for the Turkey bomb. That is looking like some left-wing extremist group.

I like Obama's idea of just using drones to pound known terrorists involved with organizations that attack America.

What is the most dangerous job in the world? Alquaida's second in command. If they decentralize, we'll just have to build more drones.


joe_blow 1 year, 2 months ago

Subterfuge: Barry Hussein Obama Soteoro's favorite tactic.


Cant_have_it_both_ways 1 year, 2 months ago

Hillary has done a fine job. She and Obama might as well fly over there sit cross legged and sing Kum-by-yah. We are in deep do do at this point. Not only has our President blessed our children with additional debt, but he is assuring them that many will get issued desert cammies, a boom stick and a power of attorney.


weiser 1 year, 2 months ago

Give a few more billion to Egypt, "stop the war on terror!" "Lead from behind"..... aka Hussein Obama.


rockchalk1977 1 year, 2 months ago

Obama has described Al Qaeda as “decimated,” “on the path to defeat” or some other variation at least 32 times since the attack in Benghazi, according to White House transcripts.

It's hard to believe anything this lame-duck president says or does. Hopeless change.


Abdu Omar 1 year, 2 months ago

The reason we have problems with terrorists is so simple I can't believe we haven't talked about it. Our support for Israeli expansion in the West Bank is part of the problem. We need to take a stand and say "no more". But we don't because the Israeli lobbies in the US are so strong, congresspeople are afraid to offend them and lose the millions of dollars of campaign funds they give. Our Congress' first concern is not American problems or solving them, but Israel. Chuck Hagel, a good man for "Defence" is being harrassed because he looks at Israel in a different light and that makes him suspect.

Let the American people, who are the most magnanamous people on earth, live their lives without constant reminder of the problems Israel faces because of her existence. I don't have a problem with her existence, but I do with her ideas of expansion to the West Bank, then to Lebanon and then to Syria (they just bombed Syria because Syria is "an existential threat to Israel": Really? They are wrapped up in a civil war and then they are going to attack the great powerful Israel with American backing? I don't think so!


Nubrick 1 year, 2 months ago

Bin Laden is dead 2.0!!! Egypt is Brotherhood Arab Spring !! Libya is Brotherhood!!!! Long live Barack H.0!


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