Defense & National Security

Bin Laden’s death marks end of an era in young war on terror

Nearly one year ago U.S. Navy SEALs swooped into a Pakistani compound, killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and then dumped his body into the Arabian Sea. The master terrorist is dead but his ideologically inspired franchises continue to threaten global peace in spite of a senior Obama administration official’s claim that “The war on terror is over.”

Bin Laden evaded capture for nearly a decade until the pre-dawn hours of May 2, 2011 when SEAL Team Six raided the terrorist’s heavily fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  The commandos flew away with the terrorist’s body and a treasure trove of intelligence. 

That intelligence, according to James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, demonstrated that bin Laden’s roughly six years of isolation made him almost irrelevant to his terrorist network. His importance slipped significantly, Clapper told Voice of America, even though he continued to hatch new plots and issue aspirational and delusional guidance.

Clapper said bin Laden evidently believed al Qaeda’s ideology was sidelined by the “Arab Spring” movement which is installing Islamic governments across the Middle East and North Africa.   But bin Laden should have been encouraged because countries like Egypt are falling to global Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and ultra-conservative Salafists which gave rise to the likes of al Qaeda.  Besides, al Qaeda adapted to challenges by diversifying its network, which today makes it larger and stronger than ever.

Al Qaeda’s franchised global threat is stronger today, which defies the Obama administration’s naive wish — “The war on terror is over.” And while bin Laden’s radical Islamic ideology continues to inspire a global network, the only significant change post bin Laden is that al Qaeda’s core leadership is no longer operationally in charge.

Rather, the decentralized al Qaeda-inspired network of franchises pledge cooperation among themselves, share money and weapons and often train together.  They are not likely to pull-off massive attacks like the 9/11 assault on America but smaller-scale attacks relying on a “strategy of a thousand cuts.”

The single exception to the rule of no “massive attack” potential is al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) which President Barack Obama called al Qaeda’s “most active operational affiliate.”  AQAP has been a major threat having twice tried to attack U.S.-bound flights including a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

AQAP controls much of Yemen’s south and recruits Westerners such as the now dead radicalized American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who inspired the U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan charged with murdering 13 soldiers at Fort Hood.

The Somalia-based al-Shabaad, “Movement of striving youth,” is the latest addition to al Qaeda’s network.  It shares similar ideologies with al Qaeda and was designated a U.S. foreign terrorist organization in 2008.   

It has a transnational record and cadre that could eventually impact the U.S.   Al-Shabaab recruits from Minnesota and elsewhere in the U.S. to man its insurgency in Somalia and since 2010 it has operated outside that country.

It claimed credit for suicide bomb attacks against two targets in Kampala, Uganda, on July 11, 2010 that killed 74 and wounded another 70.  The group’s spokesman said the attacks were in response to Uganda’s participation in peace enforcement operations inside Somalia.

Last October, a Kenyan affiliated with al-Shabaab conducted a grenade attack in Nairobi, Kenya.  Similar attacks this March at a busy bus stop in central Nairobi killed six and wounded 63.  Last week, the U.S. embassy in Nairobi warned of possible attacks due to Kenyan troops pressuring al-Shabaab in southern Somalia.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is primarily focused inside North Africa but allegedly harbors ambitions to strike outside the region, especially against its former colonial master France.  The Algerian-based group played a role in the success of the recent Turareg rebellion in Mali and allegedly has a large arms cache due to smuggling during Libya’s recent revolution.   An estimated 5,000 man-portable air defense weapons are reported missing from Libya.

Boko Haram, “Western education is forbidden,” is a Nigerian-based al Qaeda and al-Shabaab affiliate.  It reportedly killed 550 – most of whom were Christians — last year in over 100 attacks in the oil rich country.  Last week, it exploded two vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices in the offices of several Nigerian news agencies but the government’s response has been ineffective. 

Al Qaeda has associates in Libya who recently flew the group’s flag, complete with Arabic script reading “There is no God but Allah” and full moon underneath, at the courthouse in Benghazi, the seat of Libya’s revolution.   Al Qaeda will thrive in Libya because the Shar’ia (Islamic law) based transitional government doesn’t control much of the land mass which could become a safe haven for radicals.

Al Qaeda continues to be active inside Iraq.  During the Iraq war al Qaeda worked with Sunni insurgents to attack American and Iraqi security forces.  Recently, as sectarian tensions grew, al Qaeda took credit for spectacular attacks that killed many innocent Iraqis.

Next door Syria, which is racked by an uprising against President Bashir al-Assad, includes an al Qaeda component.  The group works with Sunni rebels to make inroads and recent bombings in Damascus are thought to have an al Qaeda nexus.

Approximately 100 al Qaeda fighters operate inside Afghanistan alongside their Taliban ally.  Other al Qaeda operatives under the leadership of Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri remain in safe havens inside Pakistan where they plot how to attack the U.S. with nuclear dirty bombs and biological weapons.  The U.S. has given Pakistan $25 billion in aid since 2001 to assist with the fight against al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda also influences Pakistan-based franchises like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), “The army of the pure,” which focuses its operations against India with the alleged help of Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence.  LET’s biggest attack was the November 2008 assault on India’s commercial capital Mumbai, which killed 164 people and the U.S. State Department contends LET has a global agenda that advocates terrorism and propagates virulent rhetoric against the U.S.

Bin Laden may be dead but al Qaeda’s core and its many franchises are very much alive, spreading their hatred through violence, and now enjoy more welcoming environments thanks to the “Arab Spring.” 

Al Qaeda is joined on the terror front by other groups like Iran’s terror proxy Hezbollah which also has American blood on its hands.  Hezbollah has a global network of supporters including some in North and South America who are assisted by Iran’s clandestine service, the Quds (Jerusalem) Force.

The war on terror is young — not over — and from all indications is likely to get much worse as the Muslim world embraces sympathetic Islamist governments vis-à-vis the “Arab Spring.”  Those governments will undoubtedly embrace Shari’a law and then radical Islamic groups like al Qaeda and Hezbollah will use those countries as platforms from which to continue their war of terror.

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