Thursday, July 20, 2006

Terrorism expert: Al Qaeda has regrouped, is on the march

Front paged at ePluribus Media

Well, this can't be good news. At Tuesday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing regarding Islam and the West, terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman of the RAND Corporation testified on Al Qaeda and his testimony wasn't of the warm and fuzzy type.


In discussing Al Qaeda, counterterrorism efforts in the US and the UK, as well as the "propaganda war" and the current situation with respect to terror groups, Hoffman painted the administration's rosy outlook on defeating and destroying Al Qaeda as false.


Quite the contrary, according to Hoffman, whose comments indicate that Al Qaeda is actually thriving in its ability to adapt and regroup after the initial blows it suffered in Afghanistan. Needless to say, this is as much an indictment of the Republican Congress and Administration's approach to counterterrorism and their dangerous incompetence in this area needs to be exposed so we can actually use our counterterrorism resources effectively.


The full testimony is linked above, and to give a bit of background on the RAND Corporation, the following should help:

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis.


For nearly 60 years, decisionmakers in the public and private sectors have turned to the RAND Corporation for objective analysis and effective solutions that address the challenges facing the nation and the world. These challenges include such critical social and economic issues as education, poverty, crime, and the environment, as well as a range of national security issues.


RAND researchers and analysts continue to be on the cutting edge of their fields, working with decisionmakers in both the public and private sectors to find solutions to today's difficult, sensitive, and important problems. The high caliber or our researchers is well-known, as evidenced by the many Nobel Laureates who have been affiliated with the RAND, either as employees, consultants, or in an advisory capacity.


So, they are pretty good at what they do.


As for the testimony, there is a good synopsis here. Hoffman talked about the UK counterterrorism efforts, and the fact that while they are one of the best in the world, they were still clueless to the UK-based Al Qaeda cell that carried out the London bombings last year. In fact, his testimony has the following quotes from UK counterterrorism officials, both made this year about the London bombings:

"We were working off a script which actually has been completely discounted from what we know as reality." (Andy Hayman, Assistant Commissioner of Specialist Operations, Scotland Yard)


"I think the more we learned over this period of several years, the more we began to realize the limits of what we knew . . ." (Tom Dowse, Chief of the Assessments Staff)


Hoffman goes on to describe Al Qaeda as being broken down into four categories:


(1) Al Qaeda central, which is the remnants of the pre-9/11 leadership and some other high level Al Qaeda officials;

(2) Al Qaeda associates and affiliates, which consists of other terrorist groups who have benefited from Bin Laden's support at one time or another;

(3) Al Qaeda locals, which have some direct contact at some time or another, and may or may not have former terrorism experience; and

(4) Al Qaeda network, which are "homegrown radicals" with no real connection to Al Qaeda but believe in "the cause".


His testimony goes on to discuss the "wishful thinking" approach taken by the US and the UK in the aftermath of 9/11 with respect to terrorist attacks - and uses the UK example that I cited above as one in making the point of how the "just because you don't want to believe it doesn't make it so" approach taken is false (and to me it sounds pretty dangerous).


Some of his quotes with respect to the US are as follows:

"Today, al-Qaida has not only regrouped, but it is on the march," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the Rand Corp. "Al-Qaida is now functioning exactly as its founder and leader, Osama bin Laden, envisioned it."


---snip---


"Today, al-Qaida is also frequently spoken of as it if is in retreat: a broken and beaten organization incapable of mounting further attacks on its own and instead having devolved operational authority either to its carious affiliates and associated or to entirely organically produced, homegrown, terrorist entities. Nothing could be further from the truth," Hoffman told the committee.


The Afghan attack "pulverized" al-Qaida, Hoffman told United Press International Wednesday.


"I think we did do that, but this is a movement with enormous regenerative capacity -- its message resonates, and it's not wanting for volunteers," Hoffman said. "They've adapted and adjusted to even our most consequential countermeasures."


In the ensuing four years since the attack, the organization has evolved into what bin Laden set out to create: a fractured, worldwide movement inspired by bin Laden and united by a single vision, as well as a central organization that continues to direct the implementation of terrorist attacks.


"To the idea al-Qaida is on the run -- how can that be if al-Qaida was directly responsible for the most consequential terrorist incident of the last year? (The London bombings) was not Sept. 11 but it was still a very significant attack," Hoffman said. "It's wishful thinking."


Hoffman does talk about a "new counterterrorism strategy" by talking about how the current "kill them all before they kill us all" approach won't work. And frankly, isn't that an obvious one? Like there is a finite number of people out there that are devoted to this cause, and the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, the saber rattling with respect to Iran as well as the perception (and I don't want to go further than this here) about the US support for Israel against Palestine and Lebanon haven't created more animosity towards the US and its policies?


His suggestions include looking at this from something other than a military solution - to create a "global counterinsurgency" that looks beyond next week or month to the "next generation".

Such an approach would a priori knit together the equally critical political, economic, diplomatic, and developmental sides inherent to the successful prosecution of counterinsurgency to the existing dominant military side of the equation.


Such a new approach would necessarily be built upon a more integrated, systems approach to a complex problem that is at once operationally durable, evolutionary and elusive in character. Greater attention to this integration of American capabilities would provide incontrovertible recognition of the importance of endowing a GCOIN with an overriding and comprehensive, multidimensional policy. Ideally, this policy would embrace several elements: including a clear strategy, a defined structure for implementing it, and a vision of inter-government agency cooperation, and the unified effort to guide it. It would have particular benefit with respect to the gathering and exploitation of "actionable intelligence." By updating and streamlining interagency counterterrorism and counterinsurgency systems and procedures both strategically as well as operationally between the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the intelligence community, actionable intelligence could likely be acquired, analyzed and disseminated faster and operations mounted more quickly. A more focused and strengthened interagency process would also facilitate the coordination of key themes and messages and the development and execution of long-term "hearts and minds" programs.


So on one hand, this is some sobering news about the lack of a plan to deal with Al Qaeda, the capabilities of Al Qaeda, and the absolute mess that this administration and the neocons have put this country, and the world in. However, this also gives another expert's view on how to better deal with this mess that has been made.


Either way, the obvious takeaway here is that Bush, the neocons and the Republicans haven't gotten the slightest clue as to what they are doing, what they are facing, how to get out of this mess and how to make us safer.


Which makes it all the more imperative to get this message out and get competent people in charge.

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