Some remarkable facts about the ‘US Strategy for Counterterrorism’

In an interview on Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that US operations against al Qaeda will decline in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that US operations will now focus on groups in Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa.

As the US winds down operations in Iraq and begins its methodical withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. military has increasingly focused on Africa — particularly the north, where insurgents have found sanctuary.

What has caused this change in focus? According to the US government, the threat from al Qaeda in Pakistan has declined.

US officials have acknowledged that as the threat from al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan declines — largely due to U.S. strikes that have killed insurgents or kept them on the run — affiliated groups in Africa and Yemen have taken on more active and dangerous roles.

To some, the statement that the threat from al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan has declined to such an extent is … remarkable, to put it mildly. But it should come as no surprise. In June 2011, the Obama administration published its “National Strategy for Counterterrorism,” which spelled out official US strategy on counterterrorism. It contains the same positions stated by Secretary Panetta.

I have the extracted the relevant passages below, as well as some others that the reader may also find remarkable. In particular, see underlined passages [emphasis added].

Al Qaeda central has been weakened:

Since the beginning of 2011, the transformative change sweeping North Africa and the Middle East– along with the death of Usama bin Laden–has further changed the nature of the terrorist threat, par¬ticularly as the relevance of al-Qa’ida and its ideology has been further diminished. Usama Bin Laden’s persistent calls for violent regime change in the Arab World and perpetual violence against the United States and our allies as the method to empower Muslim populations stands in stark contrast to the nonviolent movements for change in the Middle East and North Africa.In just a few short months, those movements achieved far more political change than al-Qa’ida’s years of violence, which has claimed thousands upon thousands of victims–most of them Muslim.Our support for the aspirations of people throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and around the world to live in peace and prosperity under representative governments stands in marked contrast to al-Qa’ida’s dark and bankrupt worldview.

To put it simply: We are bringing targeted force to bear on al-Qa’ida at a time when its ideology is also under extreme pressure.

Al Qaeda in Pakistan is on the path to defeat:

From its base of operations in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), al-Qa’ida continues to pose a persistent and evolving threat to the U.S.Homeland and interests as well as to Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Europe, and other targets of opportunity. Sustained pressure against al-Qa’ida in Pakistan–in particular since 2008–has forced the group to undergo the most significant turnover in its command structure since 2001 and put al Qa’ida on a path to defeat. Despite these losses, al-Qa’ida is adapting.

Our CT efforts in Pakistan have far-reaching implications for our global CT efforts. Al-Qa’ida continues to capitalize on its safehaven to maintain communications with its affiliates and adherents and to call on them to use violence in pursuit of its ideological goals. Therefore, the operational dismantlement of Pakistan-based al-Qa’ida will not eliminate the threat to the United States, as we are likely to face a lingering threat from operatives already trained as well as from the group’s affiliates and adherents in South Asia and in other parts of the world. Disrupted terrorist attacks in 2009 and 2010–including al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula’s role in the failed December 25, 2009 aviation bombing and the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan’s involvement in the May 1, 2010 failed attack in Times Square–suggest that the determination of an expanded and more diverse network of terrorist groups to focus beyond their local environments may persist even with the ultimate defeat of al-Qa’ida in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater.

In Pakistan our efforts will continue to focus on a range of activities that are pursued in conjunction with the Government of Pakistan to increase the pace and scope of success against key al-Qa’ida and affili¬ated targets. It is unlikely that any single event–even the death of Usama bin Laden, the only leader al-Qa’ida has ever known–will bring about its operational dismantlement. Therefore, a sustained level of intensified pressure against the group is necessary. As such, U.S.CT activities are focused on working with our partners to ensure the rapid degradation of al-Qa’ida’s leadership structure, command and control, organizational capabilities, support networks, and infrastructure at a pace faster than the group is able to recover as well as on further shrinking its safehaven and limiting access to fallback locations elsewhere in Pakistan.

The major threats are al Qaeda affiliates outside of Pakistan:

Even if we achieve the ultimate defeat of al-Qa’ida in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater, an expanded and diverse network of terrorist groups determined to focus beyond their local environments is likely to persist.

The principal focus of the National Strategy for Counterterrorism is the collection of groups and individuals who comprise al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents.

Affiliated movements have taken root far beyond al-Qa’ida’s core leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including in the Middle East, East Africa, the Maghreb and Sahel regions of northwest Africa, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. Although each group is unique, all aspire to advance al-Qa’ida’s regional and global agenda.

Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

The United States faces a sustained threat from Yemen-based AQAP, which has shown the intent and capability to plan attacks against the U.S.Homeland and Yemen is struggling to contain AQAP amidst an unprecedented confluence of security, political, and economic challenges. Yemen’s instability has direct implications for the United States. Even as we work to support Yemen’s stability and the aspirations of the Yemeni people, the defeat of AQAP will remain our CT priority in the region, and we will continue to leverage and strengthen our partnerships to achieve this end.

The United States faces two major CT challenges in the Arabian Peninsula–the direct threat posed by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and the large quantity of financial support from individuals and charities that flow from that region to al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents around the world. In confronting both challenges, we will look chiefly to our partners in the region–Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, and others–to take the lead, with and assistance.

Al-Qa’ida in East Africa and Al-Shabaab

Al-Qa’ida elements continue to be the primary CT focus of the United States in light of clear indications of their ongoing intent to conduct attacks. Their presence within al-Shabaab is increasingly leading that group to pose a regional threat with growing transregional ties to other al-Qa’ida affiliates and ambitions on the part of some to participate more actively in al-Qa’ida-inspired violence.Influenced by its al-Qa’ida elements, al-Shabaab has used terrorist tactics in its insurgency in Somalia, and could–motivated to advance its insurgency or to further its al-Qa’ida-agenda or both–strike outside Somalia in East Africa, as it did in Uganda, as well as outside the region.

Other Terrorist Concerns Requiring Focus and Attention

Although al-Qa’ida is our strategic as well as tactical CT priority, other designated terrorist organizations pose a significant threat to U.S.strategic interests. Hizballah, HAMAS, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) remain opposed to aspects of U.S.foreign policy and pose significant threats to U.S.strategic interests as regional destabilizers and as threats to our citizens, facilities, and allies worldwide.

Iran and Syria remain active sponsors of terrorism, and we remain committed to opposing the support these state sponsors provide to groups pursuing terrorist attacks to undermine regional stability.

Thus, the shift in US strategy:

Although we continue to pursue those components of our CT strategy that have proven so successful in recent years in degrading al-Qa’ida, we must at the same time be prepared to adjust our strategy to confront the evolving threat prompted in part by that very success. It is clear that al-Qa’ida the organization has been degraded and has, out of weakness, called on individuals who know the group only through its ideology to carry out violence in its name.

In this Strategy we have redoubled our efforts to undercut the resonance of the al-Qa’ida message while addressing those specific drivers of violence that al-Qa’ida exploits to recruit and motivate new generations of terrorists. And even as the core of al-Qa’ida in Pakistan and Afghanistan continues to be dismantled through our systematic CT actions, we have expanded our focus in this Strategy to articulate the specific approaches we must take to counter al-Qa’ida affiliates and adherents on the periphery, be they established affiliated groups in Yemen or Somalia or individual adherents in the Homeland who may be mobilized to violence in al-Qa’ida’s name.

Let me reiterate. This is the official US policy at the highest level.

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  • gerald says:

    Better not to fixate on one target. This game is more WhackAMole than Air Hockey!

  • JRP says:

    This is a “sales” job being given to the American people ’cause the Administration feels there is very little else it can do now that Pakistan has formally withdrawn as our ally in the War on Terror. Until Ayman al Zawahiri is accounted for, there can be no victory declaration over Al Qaeda. And AAZ is most probably hiding out in or being actively sheltered by the Pakistan Intelligence Service.
    It would take a great deal of Political courage, but I would hope that this or the next U.S. President cuts off all economic aid to Pakistan until Pakistan turns AAZ and his remaining cohorts over to us.
    The Pakistanis may play their “China Card”, but they know full well, as does the rest of the World, that when push comes to shove, as bad as reliance upon America may seem to be, it’s still far better than having to rely upon any other country.

  • James says:

    This current regime’s logic (or should I say lack thereof) never ceases to amaze me.
    Bill or anyone else concerned may want to view this article:

  • jhenry says:

    @JRP- Pakistan played the China card after the UBL raid and lost. China pulled out of a major investment plan involving multiple industries citing security concerns. Then they started to warm up a bit.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    Personally I don’t think we should keep our eye off the ball in Afghanistan or Pakistan. We need to kill whats left of Al Qaida in both countries and the Taliban and Haqqanni leadership. If that means threatening to withdraw aid from Pakistan, untill they start doing buisness with us on the up and up Obama needs to do that now or if he gets re-elected. We should also increase our focus on Yemen, North Africa and Somalia. Also Lebanon, and Hezbollah.
    As for the report that our drone over Iran was “downed” by Iranian “cyber warfare” as was reported in the CSM…I say it’s a bunch of BS. The CSM’s source is an Iranian engineer, that is not exactly a “reliable” source and the CSM has gotten alot of stories wrong in the past. The drone malfunctioned and crashed that’s all IMHO.

  • RT says:

    And where have the plots in the last 5 years been coming from? I actually have a lot more faith in the current intelligence leadership than the previous. They have proven they wont pull punches, and have been forward thinkers. I really like Panetta, specifically.
    They may just be right. I mean, the narrative displayed in the article is common here, and rather churlish. While I admire this sites insight into the inner workings of Pakistan, Ive never understood the criticism of the US stance in this relationship. Yes, we would all like the US to hold Pakistan more accountable, and maybe even sever the relationship entirely (which really cannot happen), but the people who make those decisions deal in the real world, not the blogosphere.

  • Jeff Edelman says:

    Al qaeda is like a bead of mercury that you try to mash with you finger.

  • Qadder Ahmed says:

    United States strategy in Afghanistan are Disarray . This strategy shows a failure to Afghanistan. United States is loosing the war in Afghanistan and given Taliban’s a space for safe haven in Afghanistan.

  • Charu says:

    Great strategy! Declare victory and quit. Never mind that this is certainly going to bite us in the ass; just like it did after we declared victory shortly after 9-11 and then fought an unnecessary war in Iraq. The problem all along is that we focused on all the wrong enemies – Afghanistan and Iraq – while the real enemy all along was Pakistan (and ultimately China who is relishing our screwed-up strategy), and to a lesser extent Somalia, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

  • mike merlo says:

    So much for Obama’s Asia centric ‘foreign policy.’ Just another example of the President’s geoplitical feeble mindedness. The Indian Ocean & adjoining ‘areas’ obviously escaped the ‘brillant one’s’ understanding of what’s at stake & involved.

  • James says:

    “As for the report that our drone over Iran was “downed” by Iranian “cyber warfare” as was reported in the CSM…I say it’s a bunch of BS. The CSM’s source is an Iranian engineer, that is not exactly a “reliable” source and the CSM has gotten alot of stories wrong in the past. The drone malfunctioned and crashed that’s all IMHO.”
    Devin, with all due respects for your comments, isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? We should never just assume anything or take anything for granted when it comes to analyzing an adversary’s strategy during war.
    We are not going to win this war (or even succeed in it) by expecting these drones to do everything.
    You can not win wars in the air. They have to be won on the ground.
    Notice that the bin laden raid involved drones AND ground troops.

  • Eric says:

    Oops! the disclaimer Header was inadvertently deleted from the report: It should have said “FOR PROPAGANDA PURPOSES ONLY – NOT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AS AN ACTUAL THREAT ASSESSMENT” across the top of each page – how did they miss that? I sometimes feel bothered by the inane statements of how few Al Quaeda there are still working both sides of the Af-Pak border in official US press releases, but we know the true assessments are not for public consumption – it just does no good at all to be reporting openly about what we can see and what we cannot to these enemies, especially while they still enjoy such robust state support from the Iranian and Pakistan army and intelligence services. Keeping what we truly know under our hat while we work the problem is well and good. But at times, I just about lose my game face when they release Junk-Mail reports like these two from JCS and and Foggy Bottom.

  • David says:

    It seems much more likely to me that the Iranians had a lot of Russian or Chinese help, in exchange for letting them take the thing apart. From what I have read (CSMonitor article) there are significant vulnerabilities in our GPS system, and that the Russians are more than savvy enough to know how to exploit them. Shame on us for not addressing the vulnerabilities, and thinking that the Iranians would stay (technically) dumb, when they have smart friends.

  • Mike says:

    I really admire the work that LWJ does and I’m usually impressed with your articles, but this particular post is awful. As an outside observer without any bias as to the accuracy of govt policy or this author’s views, I find it disturbing that he throws out the term “remarkable” over and over without providing any actual evidence proving that the govt assessment is misguided. Yes, I know there are plenty of reports highlighting the continued threat from AQ in AFPAK, but there is also plenty of evidence for AQ’s decline in that region. While the author may be 100% correct with his assertions, the lack of support for his claims renders them meaningless.

  • Bungo says:

    This “new” prioritization seems about right to me. There is a lot more “Al Queda” activity in Somalia and Yemen than there is in AfPak right now. It doesn’t mean we’re going to abandon anti-Al Queda operations in AfPak more than it means we’re going to really gear up operations in Somalia and Yemen. We will still whack Al Queda HVTs in AfPak whenever we get the chance, not to worry. Even as we draw down conventional forces from Afghanistan our overall strategy of getting Afghanistan security forces on line moves forward and our CIA operatives and analysts will remain in Afghanistan for as long as possible. I concur with Panetta. The man knows his intel whether you agree with the current administration or not. The Afghanistan adventure is coming to an end so you may as well get used to it. I say let the Afghans sort out their own religious prevarications. Screw ’em all.

  • RD says:

    I have never commented on here and usually bottle up most anger, but this needs to get out.
    When I read or hear various forms of media proclaim “America is losing the War in Afghanistan,” it is expected. But when reading it in the Comments Section on LWJ from our own people, it always stings. I am a loyal LWJ reader and it is one of the daily readings both when here and over there when possible. I like to believe our readers are of a higher intellectual class, but articles/comments like these make me wonder.
    Has anyone in here actually ever fought there?
    Just because you read LWJ doesnt mean your “in the know” or your “read on” to what is actually going on. It should mean your quite a bit closer to the truth, but “should” is a evil word in my world.
    We are only losing the war in 2 facet, and neither of them origionate in Afghanistan..or Pakistan.
    1. We are losing the war in the Media. But the media we are slaves to is our own.
    2. We are losing the war of common sense. Americans are dumber and dumber every day. Why? Because you believe anything you hear on CNN/FOX/MSNBC and ESPN.
    The American Military Brass is no different. For instance:
    We let a dope smoking hippie who works for Rolling Stong, take down one of the greatest Leaders America had. No vetting necessary.
    He wrote it, we believed it and 3 days later, we are saying “well i guess the President had to let him go for saying that….”
    We continually attempt to win the IO War against a foe who could be one of the greatest liars in recorded history. How do we combat their inflated claims? We stoop to their level and counteract their lies with our own. Neither sides story is even remotely close to what actually happened.
    I constantly laugh at our version of the truth that we publish about ops that I have been part of or have close knowledge of.
    All it takes is someone to stand up and throw the BS flag.
    If one is trying to win an argument against a retard (Tali), even if you win you still look retarded in the end.
    So no, WE as in the American Military, are not losing shit.
    YOU, the general American Tabloid News consuming Audience, is losing the battle of your brains ability to throw the BS flag and stand up for your boys.

  • James says:

    RD, honestly, hopefully you are right and I am wrong.
    Thank you for your service.
    It’s not just over there you have to win hearts and minds, it’s over here too (Congress included). That’s just the reality of the situation at hand.
    I may not agree with it. You may not agree with it. But that’s just the way it is.
    Hopefully, whoever the administration is that will be in power after the next election will reevaluate the situation in Afg/Pak without being unduly influenced by the political ramifications of the situation.


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