Al Qaeda Today

The Telegraph has an interesting article on the current status of al Qaeda:

For several years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, [bin Laden and al Qaeda’s “core” group] were engaged in little else than avoiding capture and fleeing the American-led offensive in Afghanistan.
Today, by contrast, they are probably secure enough to give strategic direction to al-Qa’eda cells across the world.

The Telegraph’s reporter, David Blair, says that the view of al Qaeda as a “franchise” operation is probably outdated, and that the organization’s leaders are now trying to take a more direct role in events. Their most significant success appears to have been the incorporation of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), an Algerian terrorist group, into al Qaeda.
That success, such as it is, comes in the context of a lot of failures. Many of al Qaeda’s top operatives have been killed or captured. Blair notes, further, that toppling the Saudi royal family and General Musharraf in Pakistan are high priorities for bin Laden:

British officials say al-Qa’eda’s decision to attack Saudi Arabia was a major strategic error. After the network carried out a series of attacks on foreign and economic targets in 2003 and 2004, the Kingdom’s security forces responded with ruthless efficiency.
At least 2,000 suspects have been arrested – 172 were rounded up in a single operation last month. In Pakistan, Gen Musharraf clings to power, despite al-Qa’eda’s best efforts to assassinate him. *** So the “apostate” general is still in office and the Saudi royal family, who have been bin Laden’s sworn enemies since they invited US troops into the Kingdom in 1990 and stripped him of his Saudi citizenship, are probably more secure today than they were in 2001.
Elsewhere, al-Qa’eda’s efforts to subvert Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world, have been successfully countered. Jemaah Islamiyah, the Indonesian group responsible for the bombing of a nightclub in Bali in 2002, has been crippled by hundreds of arrests and its spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, is now behind bars.
Neither America nor Western Europe has suffered a mass-casualty terrorist attack since the London bombings almost two years ago. Financing terrorism has become harder and cooperation between the world’s intelligence agencies is closer than ever.

Blair concludes that the war on terror has probably “reached a stalemate,” with “[n]either side … close to achieving their goals.” Perhaps, but this assessment seems to charitable to bin Laden and his fellow refugees in Waziristan. While it may be true that the final extermination of al Qaeda is a long way off, what we have is a situation where al Qaeda wants to inflict massive damage on the West, and the West wants to prevent the infliction of such damage. It seems to me that as long as successful, large-scale terrorist attacks aren’t occurring, the contest is hardly a draw.
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