September 11, 2010

September 11, 2010 | Commentary on Terrorism

Terror War Update

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

It's a bit of a mixed picture: There's some good, some bad and some ugly in our ongoing fight with violent extremists such as al Qaeda and the Taliban.

First, the good:

* We've not suffered another catastrophic attack on the scale of 9/11 in nine years now -- and have foiled upward of 30 terror plots since that tragic day.

* We continue to kill lots of senior al Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas with missiles from stealthy 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 US troops in Iraq helped cripple al Qaeda there, dealing a blow to the terror group's prestige and image of invincibility.

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

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 -- and could be a serious challenge to Islamabad. It was behind the nearly-successful Times Square plot in May.

* Beyond ties with the Taliban, al Qaeda continues to proliferate, finding new, dangerous allies such as Yemen's Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia's al Shabab. They also see America as a target.

* Al Qaeda is increasingly looking for recruits who lack the names or looks associated with the Middle Eastern or South Asianterror hotbeds, perhaps letting them fly under the radar of our security services.

And, finally, the ugly:

* We haven't had a bead on Osama since late 2001, despite an intense effort. And even though he's hunkered down, he's a strong inspiration for current and future terrorists. Getting him is important for a lot of reasons.

* Al Qaeda remains committed to a global campaign and is hell-bent on attacking our homeland in a big way, including a devastating blow to the US economy.

* 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, such as the suicide attack on the CIA base in Afghanistan and bombings of World Cup fans in Uganda.

* 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, US citizens and legal residents are being radicalized -- presenting a troubling homegrown- terrorist threat. Of the 110- plus suspects in the 30-some terror plots since 9/11 here, 50 were American citizens.

* As evidenced by successful terror attacks and a number of close calls, there are still challenges in connecting the dots.

The fact of the matter is we're not out of the woods yet. Our security is earned 24/7/365 by our intrepid spooks, soldiers, cops, G-men and others who go in harm's way, battling those who would do us harm -- again.

As times rolls on, 9/11 is increasingly further behind us. And while we're safer than we were on that fateful day, we're by no means safe from the threat of terrorism, meaning 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 New York Post