There are three vital fronts in the war
against Al Qaeda. After escaping Afghanistan in 2001, elements of Al
Qaeda holed up in the Pakistan border region. "The survivors split into
two wings," Gunaratna recently explained to the Los Angles Times.
"Internal operations ran combat in Pakistan and Afghanistan, [helping
the Taliban regroup]. … External operations oversaw attacks elsewhere."
of the international efforts showed only a modicum of success. Iraq was
an exception. Groups in the region aligned themselves with Usama bin
Laden; one even renamed itself "Al Qaeda in Iraq."
the poor security conditions in the country, they targeted U.S. troops
and Iraqi civilians with a vengeance. Pipelines were set up to import
foot soldiers from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa into Iraq.
After its humiliation in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda has staked its
reputation on demonstrating it can make America fail in Iraq. Iraq,
without question, has become a central front in the war against Al
This stark conclusion comes from an expert who thought the American effort in Iraq was a mistake from the beginning.
direct and immediate threat to the United States, its allies and other
friendly nations is terrorism, not Iraq," he told the International
Herald Tribune in 2003. "A U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to disarm the
regime of Saddam Hussein, especially if it is seen to lack the
authority of the U.N. Security Council, will weaken the international
campaign to counter Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups."
that was then, now is now. There are no do-overs in war. Today Iraq is
the central front. He believes leaving Al Qaeda to prosper in the
country would be a disaster.
Gunaratna also believes winning in Afghanistan and Pakistan is vital,
as well. Both countries might be able to keep the Taliban confined to
tribal regions, but leaving Al Qaeda to continue to operate there would
be a mistake.
Bin Laden has taken globalization
to heart. Unable to effectively manage a global terror network, he has
taken to outsourcing — inspiring extremist groups to adopt terrorist
It’s not just the occasional bin Laden
video on al-Jazeera that’s the problem. Bin Laden’s propaganda
factories are cranking out a steady stream of material — hundreds of
DVDs and videos that are finding their way throughout the Muslim world.
Increasingly distributed through the Internet, they tell the
disaffected whom to hate and how to kill them.
working at Rohan’s center at Nanyang Technological University have
identified a few dozen Web sites that are Hate Central. These sites
provide the tools for individuals and groups to self-radicalize.
course, policing the Internet and eliminating the Web-based threat is
impractical — maybe impossible. Getting online and waging a battle of
ideas in the chat rooms is a better tactic.
still is ripping out the heart of the movement. That means driving Al
Qaeda out of Pakistan, humiliating its members, ripping any legitimacy
away from its evil doctrines and giving it no place else to go — no
safe harbor. That requires winning on all three fronts in the long war.
running for president may want to pick their wars. Experts fighting in
the trenches of global struggle against transnational terrorism — the
ones who live in the real world — realize America doesn’t have that
James Jay Carafano recently visited with Rohan Gunaratna at his research center in Singapore.