Washington Free Beacon
Experts testified Wednesday before the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence on the increased threat posed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The Yemeni-based terrorist group was behind the unsuccessful underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009, the attempted Times Square bombing in 2010, and a plot to smuggle bombs in printer cartridges on cargo planes.
The group gets its strength from its myriad local connections, though it is still bent on attacking the United States, attempting an upgraded version of an underwear bomb to take down an American flight in May 2012.
"This is probably a very bad analogy, but they're kind of the Kevin Bacon of al Qaeda," said Frank J. Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University, referencing the concept of six degrees of separation.
"There's a lot of utility infielders that are being swapped between, among, and across these various organizations," Cilluffo said. "They're fellow travelers, both operationally and ideologically."
"They've connected with a lot of different organizations," he said. "So I think we've got to stop thinking about it in a traditional hierarchical approach."
"It is the most dangerous organization," said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow for the Center for American Progress. "It is a hybrid form, in that it has both local goals and the goal of attacking the United States and international targets."
Katherine Zimmerman, a senior analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, testified that the hierarchical strategy to kill core leaders of al Qaeda has been ineffective in dismantling the network.
"This is no longer George Bush's al Qaeda," she said. "But we're still fighting with George Bush's tactics."
Her recent report documents how al Qaeda's interwoven structure has allowed it to adapt and thrive with local groups operating on the grassroots level. According to Zimmerman, America cannot achieve victory against al Qaeda without a change in strategy.
Contrary to claims made during the election campaign by President Barack Obama that al Qaeda has been "decimated," the consensus at the hearing was that al Qaeda is resurgent. Cilluffo said the terrorism threat has "metastasized" in recent years.
"Unfortunately, in many ways, the al Qaeda network is stronger today than it was before 9/11 because it has footholds in so many locations," said Chairman Peter King (R-NY).
"It comes in various shapes, sizes, flavors, and forms," Cilluffo said, referencing al Qaeda in Iraq, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Ansar al-Dine in Mali, and al-Shabaab in Somalia. "You're talking about huge swaths of territory and land."
"I think that anyone who thinks that since the death of Osama bin Laden--yes, he may be dead--but the witch lives on," he said.
Turmoil in the Middle East out of the Arab Spring has led to members of different al Qaeda groups meeting each other on the battlefield, translating into stronger connections and a greater threat.
"They're meeting one another in Syria today, or whether it was Iraq, whether it was Yemen, or whether it was Somalia, or whether it was Mali, or whether it's--you name the Jihadi hot spot of the moment," said Cilluffo.
Zimmerman warned that current unrest in Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia could threaten American homeland security in the long run.
"They create conditions on the ground that let extremism thrive in a way that we haven't seen before," she said. "And that will in the next few decades come back to the US"
She said AQAP is reminiscent to what Osama bin Laden was doing in the 1990s, building up local groups who share the idea of radical Islam.
"When you look at that, it is very concerning to see a group pushing its message and pushing its capabilities abroad," Zimmerman said.
The group argued for a change in strategy to counter al Qaeda, but emphasized that that does not necessarily mean more military engagements for the United States.
"Though we may be war weary, al Qaeda is still attempting to attack the United States," Zimmerman said. "The strategy to counter it doesn't need to be solely based on a military strategy."
"What we're trying to say is no more nation building and going in with boots on the ground," Katulis said. "All of us are saying that."
He stressed building institutions and stronger governments so countries in the region can combat the threats themselves.
"We can start to counter al Qaeda by countering issues in governance, in human rights," Zimmerman said. "On the softer side, where there's much broader appeal for the American people."
READ FULL SOURCE ARTICLE: 09/19/2013
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