Panel 1: The Future
Fragos Townsend noted that
the two foiled Al-Qaeda plots in 2004 and 2006 prove that Al-Qaeda ought to
still be taken seriously. She stated that “North Africa is more significant
than most people talk about…[and] is a threat to the U.S.
because of immigration through Western Europe.”
The recent attacks on the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad,
Pakistan and the U.S.
Embassy in Yemen
also prove that Al-Qaeda is still a threat. She argued that Al-Qaeda is an
intelligent organization that understands geopolitics and has historically
timed their attacks with important elections.
Hoffman –Hoffman argued that “Reports of
Al-Qaeda’s death will also prove to be greatly exaggerated…[and] Al-Qaeda
remains the most serious threat to the U.S.” Overall, Al-Qaeda has
re-strengthened, because the organization is offered a safe haven in the tribal
areas of Pakistan.
He believes that “It is precisely when we are lulled into complacency…that
Al-Qaeda can strike.” Defeating Al-Qaeda in the long-term requires a dual
strategy of killing and capturing members and breaking the cycle of terrorist
Coll – Coll stated that he would attempt
to offer the unique perspective of a “writer” on the subject of Al-Qaeda. Coll
stated that “Al-Qaeda has now returned to the scene of its birth” referring to
various tribal areas in Afghanistan
He also noted that Al-Qaeda as an organization has failed in a few significant
regards – it does not offer social services, own governments, or have
significant support of the public. The danger, however, is that “Al-Qaeda is
embedded in a weak state – Pakistan.”
Bergen – Bergen
stated that “Al-Qaeda in Iraq
has committed something of a suicide, albeit an assisted suicide.” Bergen detailed the
various motivations behind Al-Qaeda, and argued that Al-Qaeda as an
organization is in the process of imploding. Bergen went on to list important insights
that are oft-forgotten when thinking about terrorism including that (1)
“terrorism is a bourgeoisie endeavor” and not exclusive to the impoverished;
(2) often, terrorist attend western-styled schools, not religious madrassas; and
(3) historical influence of the CIA is not to blame.
Panel 2: the War of
noted the importance of media for international jihad. The newly termed, “jihadist media” has created its own brand
and forums, and has been picked up by the mainstream media and broadcast
throughout the world. Technology also brings a new wave of terror, in which a
couple of computer guys in India
can damage intricate systems of information. Daniel also pointed out that Youtube has opened new horizons for
disseminating ideas; it offers easy access for all.
Eliza Griswold is a poet who has travelled
extensively throughout Asia and Africa while
writing about their Muslim societies. She stated that eighty percent of the
world’s Muslims live outside of the Middle East.
The various cultures affect the religiosity and militancy. No religion is a
monolith. There are splits in the organization that shape reality. But Eliza
pointed out that religious identity is crucial for most of the world, often
more important than nationhood. Any perceived “anti-Islamic” sentiment will be
felt around the world.
began by speaking about Dr. Fadl, the primary Al Qaeda theologian, who has been
the voice of reason and forbidding the killing of civilians. Lawrence discussed the important internal
discourse within Islam and even groups considered extreme. He opined that this
is an important time for the US
to reorient towards Islam by reducing the visible presence in Iraq, focusing on the Kashmir region, and
working to separate the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Lawrence insisted that the State Department
needed to launch an intensive public diplomacy initiative focused on
predominantly Muslim countries. Important steps would be: closing Gitmo,
increasing development aid, and communicating with locals.
Panel 3: The Taliban
and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan
Seth Jones said
that while the Taliban is perceived as unified and organized, in reality it is
a loosely collected system of militant groups, political parties, tribes,
criminal organizations and state agencies—al Qaeda included—among whom both
links and tensions exist.To defeat the
Taliban, Dr. Jones argued that the United States
should work with NATO and the governments of Pakistan
to target Taliban senior leaders and to separate supporters from their
leadership on the local level.
Christine Fair addressed
the issue of militant groups in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan.While the Pakistan
government has played some role in targeting and removing top militant leaders,
it has no overall strategy to meet the U.S. goal of uprooting the groups
at large.Thus, Dr. Fair concluded, the United States will need to establish a strategic
relationship with the Pakistan
military, and to address anti-Americanism and an alienated Pakistan population.
Nir Rosen spoke the
loss of American influence in Afghanistan.However, he also spoke of pragmatism in the
Taliban leaders with whom he interacted, who rejected suicide bombers,
expressed interest in negotiating with the Afghan police under certain
conditions, and approved of girls’ enrollment in school.Mr. Rosen concluded that the United States
should attempt to engage with this pragmatic strain of Taliban leaders.
Panel 4: Al-Qaeda in
the Arab World and Europe
Abdel Bari Atwan gave
a broad overview of the threats Al-Qaeda poses through its operations in North
Africa and Afghanistan.
In North Africa, Al Qaeda is the only organization that can unify Burghers and
Arabs and may also serve as a safe haven for other Islamist groups from Libya.
In Afghanistan, “Al Qaeda
isn’t attacking the US
because the US
has come to Al-Qaeda”.
Brian Fishman explained
some of the factors that have contributed to Al-Qaeda’s weakened position in Iraq.
The US Special Forces, the Sunni Awakening, and forward military command posts
have all contributed to taking away Al-Qaeda’s sanctuaries. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda
has suffered from the large number of foreign fighters who have joined their
ranks creating logistical problems, language barriers, and popular resentment
among the Iraqi public.
argued that Al-Qaeda has suffered a “strategic defeat” in Iraq. Al-Qaeda has recently made a
video expressing their anger at the Sunnis, who have been their allies in the
past. Iraq is transitioning
from a failed-state to a rentier state, and “the only long-term strategic
threat that Al-Qaeda in Iraq
can pose, is if they leave Iraq
and head to Algeria or Lebanon”.
focused on the complicated relationship between Al-Qaeda and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden has tried to
build up Al-Qaeda’s role in The Kingdom but failed. “In Saudi Arabia, Classical Jihadism
has always been stronger than Global Jihadism”. The symbols of Global Jihadism,
Muslim suffering at the hands of non-Muslims, are not as influential in The
Kingdom as they are in Iraq
Counter-radicalization: What Works?
Boucek described the ambitious ‘soft’ Saudi de-radicalization policy in the
Middle East, which shows that the Saudi
government takes its anti-terrorism efforts very seriously. Saudi Arabia enforces Saudi-type-solutions,
which involve rehabilitative programs rather than focusing on punishment. In addition, the Saudi government also
provides the families of poor criminals with financial support.
described the disengagement programs of Southeast Asia,
where thousands of people are arrested for prejudice. The disengagement programs
try to defend the rights of innocent people who are detained in those
countries. Sixty percent of victims who are arrested in Singapore and sixty-five percent in Malaysia
have been released unconditionally or conditionally as a result of this
Ballen emphasized the importance of the Saudi counter-radicalization
program as a role model for other countries. Though it is too early to develop
definitive conclusions, the Saudi program has made significant progress toward
eradicating extremism in that country.
Counterterrorism and American Security
Mudd discussed the differences between the homegrown threat facing the U.S.
and the Al-Qaeda central leadership threat. The AQ central leadership threat
has improved its operational capacity because of safe havens allowing them to
plan more, but is reduced as an ideological threat due to attacks on civilians.
The homegrown threat is our greatest threat. Mudd made an important note that
it is no longer useful to think of terrorists as operating in cells. We should
look to them as clusters, in the sense they are ideologically motivated
together, but have not idea of what they are going to do.
Sageman began his discussion with the process of radicalization as a “path
to political violence.” People, mostly young males, begin with a sense of moral
outrage of what they see or read about, they empathize with this and frame it
in the context of Islam. They then cluster to together with ideologically
similar individuals. His policy recommendations are to reduce the U.S. footprint in Iraq, challenge the thought that
there is a war on Islam, reduce discrimination in labor markets, and eradicate
local terrorist networks.
Mitchell Silber discussed the nature of
the radicalized threat moving forward. Attacks committed after 9/11 showed that terrorists
are now acting without control or funding from AQ central leadership, these
terrorists are funded by local residents and are inspired by AQ. Since
9/11, U.S. authorities have
uncovered radicalized clusters of individuals intent on committing violent
jihad; these arrests, along with intelligence operations, indicate that
radicalization and self-recruiting are taking place in the U.S.
Joseph Zogby spoke about how policies
that violate civil liberties undermine our counterterrorism efforts. A
counterterrorism policy that respects human rights will ultimately assist with
this effort and improve the image of the U.S.
Ambassador Michael Sheehan ended the conference with
a discussion of the AQ threat and recommendations to the next administration.
Quoting Bill Parcels, “you are what your record is,” Sheehan noted that in 37
months from Aug 1998 to Sept 2001, AQ successfully executed 3 strategic attacks
against the U.S.
In 7 years after 9/11, AQ has been unsuccessful in every attempted attack
against the U.S. Sheehan noted we need to keep pressure on AQ to marginalize
them over the next 20 years.
by Timothy Little, Doga Cigdemoglu, Chris Knight, Alex Kahan, and Josh Meah, Researcher
Interns for the American Strategy Program
Russell Senate Office Building, Caucus Room 325
See map: Google Maps