U.S. Has No Idea Whether Al-Qaida Is Beat
A year ago today, Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, a capstone event in the decade-long war on terrorism. Bin Laden’s death, coupled with other setbacks for the terrorist movement he led, has allowed U.S. officials to muse openly about the ultimate defeat of al-Qaida. There’s just one problem: U.S. counterterrorism officials do not know how they would know if the terrorist movement is actually destroyed.But as much as U.S. officials might look ahead to a world without al-Qaida, they might not know when they’re staring it in the face. On a conference call with reporters on Friday, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official who would not speak for the record conceded that envisioning an actual, definitive end to al-Qaida “isn’t a science, where we have a yardstick that says ‘we’re halfway toward strategic defeat, we’re 60 percent of the way.’”
There is an argument to be made that the U.S. has already defeated al-Qaida. The core organization is under such pressure from the drone war in tribal Pakistan that it has outsourced attacking the U.S. to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula — which failed in two attempts at striking the U.S. in 2009 and 2010. Even if either attempt had succeeded, neither would have come close to killing the 3000 Americans that al-Qaida murdered on 9/11. What’s more, according to U.S. intelligence officials, the major al-Qaida offshoots in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia and the African Sahel are currently focused on attacking local targets, not the faraway United States.
“Some could argue the organization that brought us 9/11 is essentially gone,” the senior counterterrorism official added. Even the Somali-Americans who have alarmingly traveled to Somalia seemingly to join the Qaida-affiliated Shebab organization have more often than not done so out of “Somali nationalism,” said the official, rather than sympathy for al-Qaida’s ideology.