March 11, 2012 | Commentary on Terrorism, National Security and Defense

Al Qaeda's Deadly Next Wave is Coming

Helicopters dodged Pakistani air defenses and delivered the 23-man special forces team right on target: 34°09?N latitude and 73°13E longitude, Abbottabad. Within minutes, Osama bin Laden was dead.

The SEAL's take-down of the terrorist leader was, undeniably, a triumph of justice. But subsequent events suggest the chapter on al Qaeda is far from closed.

In Yemen, the local insurgency against the government is rooting in. That's worrisome. Worse, they are strengthening their ties to al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula.

The recent drone-strike that killed members of the Foreign Operations Unit -- an AQAP team specifically organized to direct attacks against the West -- did nothing to discourage this rapprochement.

Recently, Yemeni militants slaughtered a score of government soldiers and captured heavy weapons. The new president is no better than the old. In short, Yemen is just a weave short of being a basket-case.

Across Iraq, terrorists allied to al Qaeda have launched a string of bombings and attacks since American combat forces left. Last week, after an early morning attack left 25 Iraqi policemen dead, the killers proudly hoisted the al Qaeda battle flag.

In announcing the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the White House claimed, the Iraqis were quite capable of conducting counterterrorism and counterinsurgency missions. Evidence to the contrary grows daily.

What of Syria? Few doubt that al Qaeda wants to be player there. The violence offers opportunities to open a new front.

And in Somalia, the terrorist group al Shabaab openly flaunts its ties to al Qaeda. Question: If al Qaeda is a sinking ship, why are Somali terrorists jumping on board?

Al Qaeda has always had a tough time getting traction in North Africa -- until now. Boko Haram -- a group that proudly waves the al Qaeda flag -- is launching attacks in Nigeria with ever-increasing ferocity.

Finally, in Afghanistan the Obama administration has once again announced its determination to draw down U.S. troops as quickly as possible. Consequently, the prospects for the Taliban to come storming back and re-establish sanctuaries for al Qaeda grow greater every day.

Al Qaeda, of course, has a host of problems: money woes, lost leaders and a narrative that can't compete with the freedom-loving image of Arab Spring.

Further, it is routinely hunted in its own backyard -- the major reason it has been unable to organize or inspire a major successful attack against the West for years.

But al Qaeda is not just a terrorist group. It is a wannabe global Islamist insurgency.

Unfortunately, President Obama and national security officials in his administration don't seem to grasp that crucial fact. Instead, they continue to see al Qaeda as a pest control problem that can be handled with a few well placed drone strikes, some whiz bang, Acts-of-Valor special forces ops, and local policing here at home. It all adds up to a serious underestimation of the enemy.

Transnational threats like al Qaeda wound up on the front burner after 9/11 precisely because they were put on the back burner after the Cold War. Obama seems poised to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Not playing to win in Afghanistan is a big mistake. Gutting conventional forces and relying on special forces as the tip of the spear (without the spear) won't work either. Abandoning the field in the war of ideas is equally unwise.

During his first year-and-a-half in the Oval Office, the Left accused Obama of being Bush-lite on terrorism. There was a measure of truth to that. But those days are over. And Bush-lite is looking better every day.

James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First appeared in The Washington Examiner