Winning: Al Qaeda's War So Far
September 11, 2006: In the five years since the unprovoked attacks on September 11, 2001, there is a natural question: Who's winning? A quick look at how the landscape of the world has changed can answer the question. The United States has made major strides in the war on terrorism in five years, although much remains to be done.
On September 12, 2001, the day after the attacks, there were seven countries designated as state sponsors of terror by the State Department: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, and North Korea. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan was not recognized by the United States government, and thus Afghanistan was not formally listed by the State Department. This makes for a total of eight countries that sponsored terrorism.
Five years later, three of these governments that sponsored terrorism are now off the board. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq were taken down in military campaigns. In December, 2003, Libya proceeded to abandon its support for terrorism and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. This represents 37.5 percent of the governments sponsoring terrorism as of September 11, 2001. The biggest loss al-Qaeda suffered were the training camps in Afghanistan. This reduced their ability to get well-trained terrorists to replace those lost in murder-suicide attacks or those who were captured or killed. In Afghanistan and Iraq, five elections have been held, despite al Qaeda's best efforts to disrupt them. Now, al Qaeda faces two emerging democracies in the Middle East that are growing stronger.
It has not been five years of just bad news for al Qaeda. Large portions of the Taliban leadership remain at large, and the Taliban still has some control over the tribal areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Somalia, the Islamic Courts Union has been slowly establishing a religious dictatorship that operates much like the Taliban regime did. However, getting from Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan to the new potential safe haven in Somalia is not going to be easy.
In 2001, al Qaeda boasted a leadership structure consisting of experienced terrorists from around the Islamic world (including Egypt) and a safe haven to train new operatives in Afghanistan ,a country where the Soviet Union had been driven out of after eight years of hard fighting. Al Qaeda had managed to carry out major attacks against the United States in 1998 (the bombing of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya) and 2000 (the attack on the USS Cole) in addition to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, al-Qaeda launched some major attacks, but most have failed. Al Qaeda's only unambiguous success has been the Madrid bombings in 2004, which resulted in the election of a Spanish government that pulled its forces out of Iraq. Other bombings in Casablanca, Bali, and London failed to cause any political shift, and in some cases, alienated local populations.
The al Qaeda leadership structure has also taken numerous major hits. The leadership structure on September 11, 2001, has a lot of well-trained and experienced terrorists who planned some of the more successful operations. Now, a sizable chunk of these experienced terrorists are either dead, or they are in custody and talking to interrogators. For instance, out of eight terrorist training camp commanders, six are either dead or in custody. The United States also has fifteen operational commanders in custody. These are probably more important for intelligence purposes than Osama bin Laden himself, since they do the actual planning of attacks and training of terrorists.
Dead leaders are bad for al Qaeda, since dead men do not train new recruits or plan operations. The captured leaders have been even worse for al Qaeda, since their interrogations have yielded information that has allowed countries to break up terrorist cells and thwart attacks. These cells are often composed of well-trained terrorists that al Qaeda cannot replace without safe havens and training camps.
In the past five years, the United States of America has not had an easy task, but so far, it has managed to inflict very severe losses on al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Al Qaeda, despite a lot of threats on videotape and audiotape, has not managed to carry out a single attack on an American target since 2001. That is probably the biggest - and most unheralded - sign of success. If they could carry out attacks against the United States, they wouldn't be blustering on tapes sent to al Jazeera. - Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)