Status of the War on Terrorism. Dr. Gary Samore U.S.-Islamic World Forum Doha, Qatar February 18, 2008

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1 Status of the War on Terrorism Dr. Gary Samore U.S.-Islamic World Forum Doha, Qatar February 18, 2008 Let me begin by defining terms because I think War on Terrorism is a very imprecise and misleading phrase. I m going to focus on the military and political struggle against Al-Qaeda and similar groups the Jihadist movement - which advocate a very austere and aggressive brand of Sunni Islam, use violence (especially martyrdom operations) in the name of Islam to defend the faith against the infidels (led by United States) and seek revolutionary objective of overthrowing the existing political order in the Arab and Muslim world and restoring the international Caliphate. I m not including groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, who also are religiously based and who also use suicide operations, but have much less ambitious objectives. Nor am I including nationalist groups, like the Tamil Tigers or Basque separatists, who use terrorism in pursuit of secular political ends. I think we can assess the status of struggle against Al Qaeda and similar groups in two dimensions: First is the tactical level - battle of arms -which is the back and forth of action and counter action in the different theaters of the conflict in America and Europe, the Middle East, Iraq, South Asia, Southeast Asia and so forth. 1

2 Second is the strategic level battle of ideas - extent to which Moslems believe that the Jihadist movement is a legitimate and effective response to external and internal threats to the Moslem community and ultimately, the extent to which young men (mainly young men) are willing to fight and sacrifice themselves on behalf of Jihad. I emphasize suicide operations because this has become the signature weapon of Al Qaeda and related groups. Al Qaeda did not invent suicide bombing, but they have developed and expanded the technique far beyond earlier practitioners like Hezbollah. It s their most effective means to inflict damage and inspire terror, but by its nature suicide operations require fresh replacements (human ammunition) to carry on the fight. I think Al Qaeda s ability to recruit and train and indoctrinate suicide bombers is a very good measure of its strength and appeal within the Moslem community. On a first dimension the tactical or military had been a mixed year for the Jihadists. On one hand, Al Qaeda and its affiliates were not been able to carry out spectacular martyrdom operations in the West, the Arab Middle East (except for Iraq) or Southeast Asia over the past year. In part, this was due to luck. But, it also reflected greater resources and attention that government authorities have devoted to combating the Al Qaeda as the threat as become more direct and irrefutable. For example, European police and intelligence agencies have used informants and double agents to infiltrate and disrupt terrorist gangs before they could execute their plots. 2

3 In Iraq, which had been the Jihadist s most important battleground to demonstrate its resistance to American aggression, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia suffered a serious setback when the Sunni Awakening Councils turned against Al Qaeda and accepted a cease fire with U.S. forces. I think the main Sunni motivation was to obtain a respite from fighting the Americans and acquire U.S. assistance to build up their strength for the coming struggle with the Shia after U.S. forces eventually leave. But, it also reflected an Iraqi reaction to the arrogance, intolerance and cruelty of the foreign Mujhadeen. Basically, Al Qaeda wore out its welcome. Of course, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is still able to carry out martyrdom operations in Iraq, mainly focused on killing its former Sunni allies and Shias, but its operational effectiveness has been substantially reduced. And, as long as the tactical alliance between Awakening Councils and American forces continues, it weakens Al Qaeda s narrative of resistance against American occupation and it may ultimately reduce the flow of suicide cannon fodder from Sunni countries into Iraq. On the other hand, what Al Qaeda lost in Iraq, it gained in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In alliance with its Taliban allies, Al Qaeda defeated efforts by the Pakistan military to pacify the Tribal Areas and they ve exploited political instability in Pakistan to consolidated their stronghold in the Tribal Areas and extend their reach into Afghanistan north of the Pushtun areas and into Pakistan proper with substantially increased suicide operations, including (of course) the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. In Pakistan (as in Iraq) there are some signs of backlash among the local population against Talibanization, but Al Qaeda and the Taliban stand to gain if today s elections in Pakistan do not produce a stable government. With a secured sanctuary in the Tribal Areas, Al Qaeda may be 3

4 more able to improve its ability to carry out operations in the West in the coming year, using Pakistanis as the human ammunition. Let me turn to the strategic level the battle of ideas which I think is mainly a debate or struggle within Islam itself on how to respond to modernity and how to recover Islam s previous stature in the world, although this internal dynamic obviously interacts with and is influences by relations between Islam and the West. This probably hasn t changed very much since the post 9/11 invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. is still widely hated, feared, resented and distrusted throughout the Middle East, which supports Al Qaeda s narrative that America is out to destroy Islam and creates a breeding ground for suicide volunteers. President Bush would have to pull off a miracle like a peace treaty between Palestine and Israel - to fundamentally change that negative image. The next U.S. President will have a better opportunity to make a fresh start. For example, all of the leading Presidential contenders have called for Guantanamo to be closed down. I think it will be especially interesting to see how Moslem countries react if Senator Obama is elected because it will be harder to sustain the image of a hostile America if the President s middle name is Hussein and his father was a Moslem. Nonetheless, even under a President Obama there will continue to be enduring points of tension between the U.S. and Islamic countries. Palestine (I suspect) will continue to be a source of resentment and hostility, the U.S. is likely to maintain substantial military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Persian Gulf for years, Washington will continue to oppose 4

5 expansion of Iranian influence and nuclear development, and of course, the U.S. and its allies will keep trying to destroy Al Qaeda and its allies. What I don t know is how this relates to the internal dynamic within Islam and I hope we can get into that during our discussion. In general, I think its extremely difficult for the U.S. as a non-moslem power to speak with any authority or standing on Islamic issues or to empower moderates to oppose the Jihadists. I like to think that the Jihadist movement will eventually burn itself out because its morality and intolerance are not attractive to most Moslems, its violent tactics are counterproductive and cruel, and its objectives are ultimately unobtainable. But, I suspect it will be a long struggle, perhaps generational. How will we know when the struggle is over? When young Moslem men decide they have better things with their lives than blow themselves up for God. 5

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