US has ‘eliminated most of the threat’ in Pakistan, SecState Kerry claims

Remember when, two years ago, unnamed US counterterrorism and intelligence officials claimed that there are only two top al Qaeda leaders left in Pakistan? We do. Now, it seems that US Secretary of State John Kerry actually believes this, and told a Pakistani news channel that the US drone strikes could end “very, very soon” as “we have eliminated most of the threat.” From The New York Times:

Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that the United States had made significant headway in its drone campaign and that he hoped the strikes in Pakistan could end shortly.

“I believe that we’re on a good track,” Mr. Kerry said in an interview on Pakistani television. “I think the program will end as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it.”

Asked if the United States had a “timeline” for ending the drone strikes in Pakistan, Mr. Kerry said: “Well, I do. And I think the president has a very real timeline, and we hope it’s going to be very, very soon.” But he did not specify what the timeline was, and a State Department statement issued later said, “Today, the secretary referenced the changes that we expect to take place in that program over the course of time, but there is no exact timeline to provide.”

We here at The Long War Journal have argued numerous times that while US drones have killed some of al Qaeda’s top leaders, the US has nowhere near “eliminated most of the threat” that the group presents. The drones have focused only on the very tip of al Qaeda’s spear — the leaders and operatives based in North and South Waziristan. The problem is that al Qaeda has an extensive network in Pakistan: just look at where Osama bin Laden was killed (Abbottabad), or where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Bin al Shibh, Abu Faraj al Libi, Younis al Mauritani, and Umar Patek were captured (Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Karachi, Mardan, Quetta, and Abbottabad, respectively.)

Additionally, over the last 12 years al Qaeda has tapped into the plethora of Pakistani and Central Asian jihadist groups to replace leaders killed in drone strikes. We’ve documented numerous times the incestuous relationships between al Qaeda and groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Turkistan Islamic Party, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, and Harkat-ul-Muhajideen. Often it is difficult to distinguish where one begins and the other ends.

Just like the claims by US officials for three years straight that there are only 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, the claim that al Qaeda is all but defeated in Pakistan is preposterous. Serious Pakistan watchers should recognize that Kerry’s statement is both unserious and unhelpful.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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19 Comments

  • KaneKaizer says:

    If we suddenly splash every single significant AQ leader in the next month in drone strikes, then I’ll happily take this back: Kerry is a moron and an imbecile.

  • Nic says:

    On stand-down+1 all Hell will break loose.

  • Arjuna says:

    Kerry is just telling the Pakistanis a new bedtime story so they will sleep better and let us keep mowing their jihadi lawn for them (at least in the kill boxes). Kerry would not have closed all these diplomatic facilities if he didn’t believe in the AQ threat. He knows the trainers in Pakistan are more dispersed and there are fewer of them, mostly because there are fewer juicy targets in theater and they are farming out external operations to affiliates. AQ will likely strike the US again from Yemen or North Africa or Europe; the heavy firepower they are developing in Pakistan and Syria can wait for the next phase of battle (2016>). The Long War (which America is losing massively in terms of return on investment, btw) marches on! Where we are winning is on domestic defense, which has been successful at preventing another 9/11. Where we are losing most is Egypt, Irag, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, Mali, Sudan, where the jihadis are digging in deep for a long, costly conflict.

  • mike merlo says:

    Too funny. Kerry is just another clown in this unending Carnival of clueless characters. Whats even more depressing is knowing that our opponents are as much aware of these Keystone Kops in Government as those elements of the general public that know better.

  • Mike d. says:

    Declare victory and withdraw. Bitter, but necessary. Lets get out of that region of the world. Arguably the most disfunctional human societies, along with continental africa. Lets develop our hydrocarbon resources here in the americas, so that we don’t have to commit our valuable human and financial resources to ensure our standard of living. We need to revisit the monroe doctrine. P.s. if we left iraq after the two week invasion and left it in it’s own rubble, it would of sent a message to the world: mess with the us, you will experience the stone age!

  • Fred says:

    Anjur,
    I think it is debatable as to whether or not we have truly made progress on the domestic defense.
    Al Qaida’s strategy was to bait the United States into a costly occupation, which they did with 9/11. Not saying that they completely gave up on attacking the US but it is apparent that attacking the US is not afforded the priority that it once was.
    The US has had some intelligence successes in stopping plots but it has been lucky on a few occasions (Richard Reid, 12/25/2009). Likewise, the expensive bureaucracy created as a result of 9/11 actually hinders the US’s efforts IMHO.

  • Michael Green says:

    Thank you Mr. Kerry for continuing the policy of lies and deceit of the Obama administration. An administration which refuses to acknowledge that there has been and currently is a global war on the West being waged by Muslim Jihadists.

  • Keith says:

    Boy, Fred. That’s quite a statement.
    “Al Qaida’s strategy was to bait the United States into a costly occupation, which they did with 9/11.”
    Have any proof of that? Other than after-the-fact, post invasion claims by al Qaida–in all likelihood–issued in order to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear?
    I can never understand people’s desire to knowingly support a blood enemy by restating its own propaganda. Something the left-wing media does ad nauseum.
    Maybe you can explain that to us.

  • Keith says:

    Mike, I can’t agree with you more. Practically, there is no way to defeat al Qaida as a movement without continuing to dump money at the problem.
    All these al Qaida faction have a multitude of aims–few of which are directed at the US. We’ve killed or captured almost every last one of those responsible for 9/11, dispossessed the Taliban of their country and left them with little opportunity to retake control while killing and capturing tens of thousands.
    I’d say my blood-lust has been sated.
    I might add that attempting to maintain our position as world-cop leaves us constantly open to attack and makes enemies of even our supposed allies, while costing us hundreds of billions of dollars for no purpose other than to protect those who already hate us.
    I would love nothing more than to give the world exactly what its asking for, then withdraw and watch them hang themselves.

  • Alan Hawk says:

    And the reason the American Embassy is being closed this Sunday is…

  • Fred says:

    Well Keith,
    Al Qaida pretty much did lure the United States into Afghanistan and wage a protracted guerrilla campaign against it as a means of grinding the US’s will down and turning OEF into a costly occupation.
    Al Qaida and Co. also greatly contributed to making Iraq a costly endeavor, though it can be debated as to how much 9/11 contributed to the US’s decision to go into Iraq.
    Al Qaida’s strategy and propaganda generally match up in this case. Al Qaida’s grand strategy vis the US is to bleed it to bankruptcy.
    I personally do not see how pointing out the obvious is supporting the enemy. If we had a better understanding of the enemy’s strategy, maybe we would not be in the position we are in. It is not as if al Qaida did or could bleed the United States to bankruptcy by itself.

  • EDDIED. says:

    I bet the Pakistan people were laughing at Kerry so much that he thought he had his red clown nose on. I know the Americans were. What a fool!

  • Keith says:

    Fred, you seem to have started with an outcome and then divined the reason for it. Once again, you restate what you initially said without offering any evidence other than “doesn’t it seem like . . . ”
    Well, it may make sense to you that al Qaida did what they did in order to elicit the response they got but it might also be concluded that they didn’t even believe that they would be found out and hoped to, in effect, get away with it.
    Why would one consider this far more likely? Because bin Laden didn’t even want to acknowledge his role in 9/11 until long after he was kicked out of Afghanistan. The Taliban denied it as well.
    This is not what one would predict of an outfit whose ultimate goal was to lure us into their diabolical trap.
    Of course, your theory would make perfect sense to someone fast to make any claim to get us out of Middle East involvement–even if it means sacrificing the truth and giving succor to the enemy. Or someone who can’t form a distinction between desired outcome and reality.

  • blert says:

    Fred…
    The track record of AQ led Big Z and OBL to believe that they drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan.
    It’s a conceit that’s embedded in all of their early propaganda.
    Their crew really believes it, too.
    Consequently, AQ thought that spanking America would be just a step up from that conflict.
    And, if they were really lucky, America would attack Saudi Arabia — ALWAYS number one on Osama’s hit list. (His father was a born and bred Yemeni. So, even though he was inducted into Saudi citizenship by the King, himself, all and every still consider him — AND HIS SONS — to be Yemenis.)
    The idea that his crew would be forced to run for the hills — and kiss Pakistani hands — was NOT planned for.
    The adverse flow of military events in Afghanistan has almost nothing to do with AQ, per se.
    Everything turns on the ISI and yet OTHER fanatics in the FATA. AQ has to play second fiddle to the ISI. Witness where OBL was found and dispatched: an ISI safe house in their primary military city.
    [ Western readers still don’t comprehend the status of Abbottabad. It’s a military city in the same way that Los Alamos was — in WWII. You’re ONLY there with official permission. You CAN’T drop in like the Beverly Hillbillies, no matter how many dollars you bring to the table. Renting a house there is like booking a hotel room — in wartime — you have to produce your documents. The heathen rabble of the big cities are not allowed to live near retired Pakistani Army officers. There are no beggars in its streets. ]
    AQ also is NOT happy to see the MB take center stage. Big Z has been on the outs with the MB for decades. (They’re too mild for his taste.)
    No, AQ is — like a cock at dawn — taking credit for how events have turned out — when they can, however they can.
    That’s how they roll.
    I’m reminded of the Imperial Japanese — who professed of a rising tide of victories — right up until they surrendered. ( That propaganda is the primary reason why their fellow citizens were bowled over. Many though that the Emperor’s sole audio announcement meant that Tokyo had ended the war by WINNING it. !)
    AQ will NEVER admit to military reverses. Consequently, they have a credibility gap the size of the Pacific Ocean.

  • . says:

    John Kerry needs to find a new line of work.

  • Fred says:

    Keith,
    Reality is that after 10+ years of war, al Qaida is still alive, the US completely withdrew from Iraq and is looking for an excuse to get out of Afghanistan. The US economy is in the tank and the American public appear overwhelming in their desire to get out of Afghanistan.
    Al Qaida played a major role in both wars, has benefited from the US withdrawal from Iraq, and will almost certainly benefit from a US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
    Blert,
    Unlike the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, AQ did play a large role in fighting US forces in Afghanistan. Military events in Afghanistan have lots to do with AQ. That said, AQ never intended to defeat the US by itself.
    Likewise, AQ has maintained ties with Islamist groups in Pakistan and entities in both the NWFP and rest of Pakistan for decades. Through moles and sympathizers, AQ and Co also hold a fair amount of sway in the ISI.
    Regarding the MB, Zawahiri’s arguments against the democratic process have generally been based on rationality and events such as the FIS experience in Algeria. Recent events in Egypt will only bolster his argument.
    As far as Saudi Arabia goes, it is not coincidence that a disproportionate number of AQ cadres come from Saudi Arabia. Likewise, it is highly unlikely that AQ wants the US to invade Saudi Arabia.
    Lastly, Al Qaida has admitted to military setbacks and the inevitability of future setbacks. AQ and Co. have also engaged in strategic discussions that could be classified as more frank and productive than most dialogue that goes on between US policymakers.

  • Keith says:

    I’ll take that as a accession to the point I made. Although I still don’t think you’ve got a firm handle on the difference between validity and hogwash.

  • Mr T says:

    So how much territory as AQ gained over the last 10 years? Any seats and influence in political bodies? How’s that Caliphate thing going? More caliphate now than in 2000?
    10 years worth of fighting and they have nothing to show for it other than they made the other guy work while tens of thousands of their own side die and suffer. Yeah, real smart plan those guys have.

  • Fred says:

    Keith,
    Both al Qaida and the Arabs in general showed themselves aware of the potential of economic warfare prior to 9/11.
    Likewise, al Qaida and affiliates have engaged in certain economic warfare tactics such as short-selling and currency manipulation. Economic targets also tend to be given priority by al Qaida.
    I think US policymakers would do well to not underestimate the US’s foes and recognize “alternative” strategies such as economic warfare can easily be used by other foes. In fact, I would say that they already are.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis