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The National Intelligence Estimate released yesterday is the latest report of a rebuilding al-Qaeda working to kill Americans.  

Specifically, the NIE states that al-Qaeda:

  • Has a safe haven in the Pakistani Federally Administered Tribal Areas;
  • Has regenerated its leadership structure; and
  • Is using our occupation of Iraq to recruit new members and finance global operations.

Right now I’m reading Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War, and the author does a good job of conveying what I see as a key flaw in the Administration’s strategy post-9/11.  After we toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan, the decision was made to broaden our focus beyond al-Qaeda.  Woodward lays out three motivations for this decision:

  • Fear of elevating Bin Laden and his organization to a higher level of status among those with extremist sympathies;
  • The overly ambitious goal of wiping out all terrorist organizations – a preemptive approach at stopping possible future attacks instead of directly going after the one terrorist group that declared war on America; and
  • Wolfowitz’s and other neoconservatives’ desire to attack the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The problem with this strategy is that we greatly expanded our list of enemies and pushed many players in the region into the arms of al-Qaeda.  These groups are threats to the United States, but one group among them has declared that it will kill any American, anywhere, we should refocus on them specifically before we disperse our resources in pursuit of so many other enemies.

The consequence of our lack of focus is made clear in the NIE.  We have given al-Qaeda a chance to regenerate its central leadership and gain capabilities not seen since before 9/11. Our first priority should have been the targeting of al-Qaeda’s top leaders and their organization, and our resources must be allocated accordingly.  But right now we have the majority of our military assets focused in Iraq.  It is essential that we refocus on the Afghanistan / Pakistan border and other hotbeds of al-Qaeda activity if we are to effectively protect Americans from terrorist attacks.

Recent news reports indicate that the peace agreement between local tribal leaders in Northwest Pakistan and the Pakistani government may have broken down.  This could be an opportunity for us to work with the Pakistanis to go after our common extremist enemies, but first we have to gain the trust of the Pakistani people.  The Pakistanis in this region face crushing poverty, and if we work with them to build a better society, we can both gain their trust and reduce the incentive for local populations to join groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban.  

The report also includes warnings about al-Qaeda’s use of modern communications technology to organize and proselytize.  Earlier this year, the House Armed Services terrorism subcommittee, which I chair, heard similar warnings from expert witnesses that the Internet has become a crucial battleground in this struggle, and that if we do not treat it as such, we will not defeat these terrorists.  The U.S. must improve its effort to monitor and counter these groups’ use of online communications.

The bottom line is that al-Qaeda has largely rebuilt itself and is working to attack us at the earliest opportunity.  It is crucial that we redeploy our assets currently tied up in Iraq if we are to get the fight against this deadly enemy back on track.

Originally posted to US Rep Adam Smith on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 10:47 AM PDT.

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