WASHINGTON – Osama bin Laden's vision of a global movement is “manifesting in the actions of his followers,” Adm. Eric T. Olson said at a congressional hearing Wednesday.
The House Terrorism,Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee met to receive testimony on the threat posed by al-Qaida across the globe.
Garry Reid,deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism,and Ambassador Daniel Benjamin,the counterterrorism coordinator,also testified.
Al-Qaida has been working with extremists groups in North Africa,the Horn of Africa,the Arabian Peninsula,Afghanistan,Pakistan,Iraq,India,Southeast Asia and the United States,Olson said.
Several committee members asked how to prevent recruitment and stop terrorism at its roots.
“There's still a lot we don't know about why people turn to violence,” Benjamin said.
He said research should be conducted on the matter.
We need to figure out what we should be doing “in these microenvironments to address socioeconomic factors,” he said.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
The al-Qaida core in Afghanistan and Pakistan relocated to mountains on the Afghanistan Pakistan border,Reid said.
“Al-Qaida retains its safe haven in Pakistan … but not without a price,” he said. “Many of al-Qaida's senior leaders have been killed.”
The group “continues to suffer significant setbacks and losses,” Benjamin said. Still,they “continue to represent an enduring and potent threat.”
What is being done: The Department of Defense will provide equipment,training and assistance to Pakistan's security forces to help them fight al-Qaida and other extremist organizations,Reid said.
In north-central African,al-Qaida has been “engaged in a region-wide kidnapping campaign to terrorize U.S. and European travelers,” Reid said.
In these regions,al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb,an Algeria-based Sunni Muslim jihadist group that joined al-Qaida in 2006,gains funding by extortion,kidnapping,donations and narcotics trafficking,Reid said.
“In June,a private U.S. citizen was shot and killed in Nouakchott [Mauritania] in an apparent kidnapping attempt,” he said.
What is being done: DOD plans to counter AQIM with the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership,a multi-year program aimed at defeating terrorist organizations by strengthening security force cooperation in the region,promoting democracy,discrediting terrorist ideology and reinforcing regional ties with the U.S.,Reid said.
In East Africa,al-Qaida has been “fanning the flames of an already combustible situation that shows few signs of abating,” Reid said.
Al-Qaida has managed to recruit an unknown number of foreign fighters – including some Americans,Benjamin said.
What is being done: The U.S. will use an “indirect approach” to counter extremism,strengthening African nations so they can prevent conflict on their own,Reid said.
The Arabian Peninsula
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula “poses the greatest threat to the U.S.,” Reid said.
Al-Qaida in Yemen conducted the September 2008 attack on U.S. Embassy Sanaa. In January,the Saudi and Yemeni al-Qaida branches joined forces,Benjamin said.
Together,they killed tourists and attempted to assassinate Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayef,Reid said.
This group was also responsible for the attempted Dec. 25 attack on a U.S. commercial airliner.
“What is most concerning about this attack is the manner in which al-Qaida sought out,recruited,trained and successfully dispatched their operative under the close scrutiny of U.S. intelligence,” Reid said.
What is being done: The U.S. is working closely with Yemeni security forces,Reid said. “Since 2006,we have provided over $98 billion” to the Yemeni government to allow it to counter terrorism.
The U.S. will also help train the Yemeni coast guard and navy,he said.
Al-Qaida is “still capable of dramatic suicide bombings,” Reid said.
However,the group has been declining in the region since the 2006 U.S. operation that led to the death of former al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,he said.
“Their once-powerful foreign fighter pipeline is greatly diminished,” he said. “Their focus is on disrupting the transition to Iraqi control.”
“Their violent behavior has turned potentially supportive populations against them,” Benjamin said.
What is being done: “The U.S. military continues to provide training and assistance to Iraqi counterterrorism forces,” Reid said.
Al-Qaida “has always been attracted to the large population of Muslims in Southeast Asia,” Reid said.
Al-Qaida has been using Jemmah Islamiyah,an Indonesian extremist organization,to conduct bombings,he said. Indonesian security forces have had significant successes,including killing Nordin Mohammed Top,the most want JI member,he said.
What is being done: The main U.S. antiterrorism organization in the region is the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines,composed of about 500 military personnel. The JSOTF-P “does not engage in combat,” but provides support to defeat terrorism at the request of the Philippines government,Reid said.