The American Enterprise Institute sponsored an expert panel Thursday titled “Getting it right: a better strategy to defeat Al Qaeda.”
Al Qaeda is a radical Islamist terrorist group founded by the late Osama Bin Laden. AQ was responsible for the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks, among many others throughout the globe. Its main “core” along with its direct and indirect affiliates continue to substantially threaten the world at large.
Thirteen years into the War on Terror, many questions remain regarding Al Qaeda’s current influence around the world. Has the United States and its allies done enough to stop Al Qaeda’s march? If not, what went wrong, and how did we get off-track?
Frederick Kagan, the director of AEI’s Critical Threats Project, stated, “We have to start by recognizing that pretty much everybody recognizes that groups that are formally affiliated with Al Qaeda, including groups that call themselves Al Qaeda franchises, are actually doing distressingly well around the world.”
AEI’s Mary Habeck said the United States should concentrate on “how much is associated with Al Qaeda… Secondly, what should our response be to this problem?” Habeck established that over the past few years, since 2011, we have seen an overall “growth of violence in the Muslim-majority world that is associated with Al Qaeda.” In addition, Habeck warned that since January, Al Qaeda’s influence has spread more fully into Libya and Egypt, specifically the Sinai peninsula.
Habeck highlighted key policy issues in which the Obama administration, as well as the Bush administration, has effectively “prevented us from dealing with a successful strategy for dealing with Al Qaeda.” Habeck’s first issue: “The definition of the enemy. How do we define the enemy?” Habeck notes that although she searched through the intelligence community’s and other government agencies’ documents, she was unable find a government-sponsored definition of Al Qaeda. In January 2014, she notes, Al Qaeda was finally defined as “all of those people who participated in 9/11.” She also made it abundantly clear that the U.S. government does not consider new Al Qaeda recruits, whether direct or indirect, to actually be part of “Al Qaeda core” because they were not directly involved in the 9/11 attacks.
Katherine Zimmerman, a specialist on Al Qaeda and Associated Movements, said of the current Al Qaeda network, “Its a different beast today, and we have to bring a different fight.” Zimmerman warned of Al Qaeda’s mobility, specifically its new-found structure created during the Syrian civil war, and suggested American policy needs to adapt to these new realities on the ground.
Bruce Hoffman, Director of the Security Studies program at Georgetown University, spoke about the necessity of “dealing with strategic issues” involving Al Qaeda. “Al Qaeda’s presence is in twice as many countries as it was six years ago,” Hoffman continued. “We have seen that Al Qaeda’s brand and its ideology has prospered at a time when we were more inclined to count them as having been completely irrelevant.” Hoffman reminded the audience that now is not the time to disengage from the world: “Despite all the temptations and the drive to declare victory and to come home, this is an ongoing challenge. Al Qaeda has a strategic vision and strategic plan. We will only effectively counter it when we adopt one as well.”
Thursday’s panel discussion coincided with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck which “analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of Al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.”
The entire expert panel discussion and Q & A can be viewed here.