September 14, 2010

September 14, 2010 | Commentary on Terrorism

No Time for U.S. to Go AWOL in Terror War

So, nearly a decade after the horrors of the 9/11 attacks, where do we stand in our War on Terror?

It’s a mixed picture: There’s some good, some bad and some ugly in our ongoing fight with violent extremists.

First, the good:

We’ve not suffered another catastrophic attack on the scale of 9/11 and we have foiled upward of 30 plots.

We continue to kill lots of senior al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas with missiles from Predator drones.

Osama bin Laden has been mute since March of this year, no doubt in large part due to pressure from our forces. His deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, hasn’t squeaked much either.

The surge of U.S. troops in Iraq helped cripple al-Qaeda there.

Due to their attacks on Muslim innocents, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and others of their ilk have lost popularity in the Islamic world.

Then there’s the bad:

Central al-Qaeda’s numbers are smaller than on 9/11, but it’s still able to recruit new foot soldiers and find funding for its evil plans.

We’ve had more than 10 terror attempts or attacks on our soil in just over the last year, notably at Fort Hood last fall, on Christmas Day over Detroit and in Times Square last spring.

The Afghan Taliban, numbering some 25,000, is relatively strong and giving us a fight in Afghanistan - and if allowed to triumph, they’d let Osama return.

The Pakistani Taliban is arguably stronger than its Afghan counterpart. It was behind the nearly-successful Times Square plot in May.

Al-Qaeda continues to find new, dangerous allies such as Yemen’s Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia’s al Shabab.

Al-Qaeda is increasingly looking for recruits who lack the names or looks associated with the Middle Eastern or South Asian terror hotbeds.

And, finally, the ugly:

We haven’t had a bead on Osama since late 2001. And even though he’s hunkered down, he’s a strong inspiration for current and future terrorists. Getting him is important for many reasons.

Al-Qaeda remains committed to a global campaign and is hell-bent on attacking our homeland in a big way.

Osama still hopes to acquire weapons of mass destruction and will use them against us. Absent that, aviation continues to be a target of choice.

Al-Qaeda and its allies are particularly skilled and deadly overseas.

Some Americans are major players in foreign terror groups - such as Anwar al-Awlaqi of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who was involved in the Fort Hood and Detroit airline plots.

Here at home, U.S. citizens and legal residents are being radicalized. Of the 110-plus suspects in the 30-some terror plots since 9/11 here, 50 were American citizens.

We’re not out of the woods. Our security is earned 24/7/365 by our intrepid spooks, soldiers, G-men and others. But as time rolls on, 9/11 is increasingly further behind us. While we’re safer than we were then, we’re by no means safe from the threat of terrorism. Now is no time for complacency.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in The Boston Herald