Or instead of a counterterrorism approach we could assess that our enemies are conducting a sophisticated global unconventional warfare strategy of which terrorist attacks are one visible manifestation of the strategy and therefore rather than counterterrorism we need to consider developing a counter-conventional warfare strategy.
The inability to grasp the gathering threat from al-Qaeda prior to Sept. 11 was deemed a failure of imagination.Given the globalized nature of terrorism and the ability of transnational terrorist, militant and criminal groups to collaborate and morph, we are now at risk of failing to imagine how the terrorist threat may be changing — well beyond the exclusive al-Qaeda prism.…
We therefore cannot assume that the terrorist threat to the United States will manifest itself as it has in the past. Identifying threatening groups or cells will be difficult — as seen in Benghazi. Distinguishing between terrorism, local militancy and criminality will grow more challenging — as seen in West Africa. Predicting which affiliates or groups present an imminent threat to the United States may become a nearly impossible task — as seen in Yemen.…The debate around the Authorization for Use of Military Force should address how we define the enemy and preserve the ability to fight whatever emerges from this cauldron of conflict. Just as President Obama was given the tools and strategies needed to fight al-Qaeda — and amplified many of them — his administration must continue to ensure that the country can adapt to looming threats.Now is the time to shape a counterterrorism approach that is not simply reacting to battles of the past but preparing for the tide of threats that may reach our shores. The fight against the al-Qaeda core may be coming to an end, but we can’t blind ourselves to the terrorist adaptations already underway.
Terrorism’s shifting face
By Juan Zarate and and Thomas Sanderson, Published: August 5
opinions/terrorisms-shifting- face/2013/08/05/e610e486-fde3- 11e2-96a8-d3b921c0924a_print. html
Juan Zarate is a former deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. Thomas Sanderson is the co-director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The new threat warnings of an al-Qaeda-driven plot in the Middle East and North Africa have reminded Americans that the terrorist threat persists even though Osama bin Laden is dead and the core of al-Qaeda is decimated. They are also a timely wake-up call to the broader terrorist threat now entrenched throughout an “arc of instability” — from South Asia to West Africa, where our diplomatic posts have been closed because of the reported threats — that we can’t ignore.
The inability to grasp the gathering threat from al-Qaeda prior to Sept. 11 was deemed a failure of imagination. Given the globalized nature of terrorism and the ability of transnational terrorist, militant and criminal groups to collaborate and morph, we are now at risk of failing to imagine how the terrorist threat may be changing — well beyond the exclusive al-Qaeda prism.
The U.S. government has been surprised by terrorist adaptations including al-Qaeda affiliates and fellow extremist group plots aimed at an airliner flying over Detroit; New York’s Times Square; andMumbai, India , where an American helped planned the 2008 attacks. Even the fact that the Boston Marathon attackers gained ideological grounding from the violent extremism in the Caucasus seemed to have caught officials and the public off guard.
Though the al-Qaeda core has been decimated, its regional affiliates have adapted — embedding themselves in local insurgencies such as al-Shabab in Somalia; supporting operations between groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram in Nigeria; and engaging in criminality, including smuggling, drug trafficking, bank robberies and kidnapping in the Maghreb, Iraq, Southeast and Central Asia.
Militant groups in this arc of instability exploit havens where weak or corrupt governments have neither the will nor the capacity to constrain their reach. Our recent fieldwork in South and Central Asia — including in Afghanistan and Pakistan — reveals a patchwork of violent extremist groups, fractured yet adapting to wage international plots after years of U.S. counterinsurgency operations. They are waiting for the withdrawal of U.S. troops to energize a narrative of defeat of the world’s remaining superpower — equating 2014 to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. Meanwhile, the Internet amplifies terrorist ideologies and messages for a global jihadi community.
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