Al Qaeda Getting Stronger

Al Qaeda is getting stronger, mostly in Pakistan, a new State Department report states.

Al-Qaida has rebuilt some of its pre-Sept. 11 capabilities from remote hiding places in Pakistan, leading to a jump in attacks last year in that country and neighboring Afghanistan, the Bush administration said Wednesday.

Attacks in Pakistan doubled between 2006 and 2007 and the number of fatalities quadrupled, the State Department said in its annual terrorism report. In Afghanistan, the number of attacks rose 16 percent, to 1,127 incidents last year. The report says attacks in Iraq dipped slightly between 2006 and 2007, but they still accounted for 60 percent of worldwide terrorism fatalities, including 17 of the 19 Americans who were killed in attacks last year. The other two were killed in Afghanistan.

[…]

In Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, al-Qaida and its affiliates remain “the greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its partners” despite ongoing efforts to combat followers of Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to the report. It says Zawahiri has emerged as the group’s “strategic and operational planner.”

“It has reconstituted some of its pre-9/11 operational capabilities through the exploitation of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, replacement of captured or killed operational lieutenants, and the restoration of some central control by its top leadership, in particular Ayman al-Zawahiri,” it says.

[State Department counter terrorism coordinator Dell] Dailey, however, stressed that al-Qaida is still weaker overall than it was before Sept. 11, 2001.

Well, that’s a relief. But shouldn’t al Qaeda be getting progressively weaker? We’ve been fighting them on multiple fronts for over six years, after all.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    Well, that’s a relief. But shouldn’t al Qaeda be getting progressively weaker? We’ve been fighting them on multiple fronts for over six years, after all.

    Not in Pakistan, no.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    James,

    You do realize that by posting this information, you’re only emboldening al-Qaeda, right? Why are you helping the terrorists, James? Why?

    After all, everybody knows that the proper way to approach information about terrorists in order to ensure an American victory is to close your eyes tight, put your fingers in your ears, and shout as loud as you can “LALALALALAI’MNOTLISTENINGLALALALA”…

  3. Michael says:

    Not in Pakistan, no.

    Occasionally we have, but you’re right, without a concerted effort in Pakistan (either by NATO or Pakistani forces), we will only be able to attack what Al Qaeda decides to make available to us.

  4. anjin-san says:

    Bin Laden has been able to tie our forces up in Iraq for years, simply by maintaining that Iraq is “the central front”.

    It’s a win for him on many levels. He ties up a large number of US military assets and impacts our ability to project power. His forces have a training ground, where they have been able to assess our battle tactics and capabilities. Our presence in Iraq inflames Arab nationalism and does his recruiting for him. He sacrifices pawns in Iraq, and looses no sleep over it.

    Meanwhile, our economy is bleeding. Keep in mind that Bin Laden has said that he wants to destroy our economy. He is not stupid, and he knows that he cannot defeat America by means of military force.

    Our country, which was completely unified by 9.11, is now bitterly divided by the war in Iraq.

    Meanwhile, Al Qaeda has been able to rebuild.

    I wonder if Bush’s nose is sore from having been led around by it for so long…

  5. glasnost says:

    Well, that’s a relief. But shouldn’t al Qaeda be getting progressively weaker? We’ve been fighting them on multiple fronts for over six years, after all.

    When support for Al-Queida, and its infrastructure, passes a certain threshold of prevalence within a country, it becomes very hard to remove it surgically or cleanly. A lot of damage ends up being done to the body of the patient – meaning the society of the host country and its citizens individually. The body doesn’t like being hurt.
    Here the metaphor breaks down, because a human body doesn’t begin to actively support its tumors because it dislikes its surgery.
    AQ is still more popular in Pakistan than either us or the government. Unless they start engaging in community-level slaughter, that may not change.

    There’s a point here: we’ll never beat AQI in Pakistan while its government is autocratic and unpopular and its citzens feel adversely affected by counter-terrorism operations. Pakistan’s new government is right to try and reach peace with the tribes and affiliated militants. We need to be trying to kill and disrupt specific international terror plots, as well as Zawahiri himself – and otherwise focus on bringing peace between Pakistan and India. Without that forty-year cold war, Islamic militancy would be a lot less relevant.

  6. Beldar says:

    Compared to what they would have been had we not been fighting them, al Qaeda has been getting progressively weaker.

  7. Beldar says:

    That, by the way, is the only relevant measure.

  8. Michael says:

    That, by the way, is the only relevant measure.

    It’s also pure speculation. I could just as easily say that if we had not been fighting them, Al Qaeda would have been completely disbanded by now.

    See, it’s easy to say what could have been, when there is no way to actually test the hypothesis.

  9. Bob says:

    Unless you kill every member of AQ then it exists. Beware the relative comparisons since this year if it had one member and next year it has two then the headline reads “Al Quaeda strength doubles”. Compared to 9/10/2001 Al Qaeda now is much less capable. If the baseline is 2005 then they are probably more capable today. Until we go into the tribal regions of Pakistan they will use the proven VC strategy of late 1960’s – attack, be beaten, declare victory via press release, limp back into sanctuary country, refit, and repeat.

  10. Bithead says:

    That, by the way, is the only relevant measure.

    Well, that and how many would have died had we not acted.

  11. Michael says:

    Well, that and how many would have died had we not acted.

    Which again, is nothing but speculation.

  12. Bithead says:

    To a point, if you’re after actual numbers. The trends, however, up until the time we actually DID react, are not all that hard to follow.