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U.S. Says al-Qaida Has Been Degraded, but Is Still a Threat

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Staff Writer

Washington — The terrorist group al-Qaida remains a significant security threat to the United States but is finding it tougher to raise money, train new recruits and plan attacks outside of South Asia, says the U.S. coordinator for counterterrorism.

“The group is under severe pressure in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the [United States] and its allies have succeeded in severely degrading its operational leadership,” Ambassador Daniel Benjamin said.

In addition to these setbacks, al-Qaida has not been successful in carrying out attacks that would disrupt governments in the Arab world, which has been a long-term focus of the group, Benjamin said December 9 during a Jamestown Foundation conference on terrorism held in Washington. The terrorist group long has sought to mobilize the masses in the Arab world in an effort to establish Islamic emirates throughout the region, he said.

However, indiscriminate targeting of Muslim civilians in Iraq and Pakistan has alienated many who had previously been sympathetic to al-Qaida’s larger aspirations, Benjamin added.

“The result has been both popular disaffection and a backlash from clerics in Muslim countries who have issued fatwas (religious edicts) against the killing of other Muslims, notably in Iraq,” Benjamin said. In addition, al-Qaida’s ideological hard line has alienated more pragmatic organizations and individuals who might previously have been receptive to insurgency, he said.

Denunciations of al-Qaida by clerics have damaged the group’s attempts to claim any religious legitimacy and called into question the proper use of violence, especially in countries where there is no overt military action, he said. Finally, al-Qaida and its affiliated groups have become increasingly vague about who their enemy is, which has caused confusion among insurgent groups about their strategic direction, he added.

But Benjamin said al-Qaida has also proven to be adaptable and resilient, especially in ungoverned and undergoverned areas where there are tribal conflicts, and among some radicals who have persuaded extremists to adopt their cause.

“Faced with this continuing and evolving threat, President Obama has articulated a clear policy — to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and its allies” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Benjamin said. “That is our overriding objective, and to achieve it we are using all the tools at our disposal.”

The United States is working with local authorities in weakly governed areas of the region to bolster security forces to prevent al-Qaida operatives from securing safe havens, he said. U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies and those of allies continue to disrupt terrorist plots in the United States and elsewhere. The United States is also working with the international financial community to deny resources to al-Qaida and its supporters, he said.

Because funding sources are being denied to al-Qaida affiliate groups, they have increasingly turned to kidnappings for ransom to raise new funds, Benjamin said. In response, U.S. officials are encouraging governments to adopt no-concessions policies with terrorist groups that use kidnapping and other criminal activity to pay for their operations, he said.

But, Benjamin said, that is not enough. He said governments need to confront the political, social and economic conditions that enemies exploit to win new recruits.

“The threat is global and our enemies latch on to grievances on behalf of the entire Muslim world, so we must work to resolve the long-standing problems that fuel those grievances,” Benjamin said. “At the top of the list is the Arab-Israeli conflict, and … President Obama, Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton and Special Envoy George Mitchell are working very hard to resolve it.”

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.  Web site:
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