Entries in Counterterrorism (11)


Terrorism, Counterterrorism Changed Two Years After bin Laden’s Death

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- It has now been two years since U.S. Navy SEALs dropped into a dark compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, and killed Osama bin Laden. It was an event that stopped the nation in its tracks and was seen as a turning point in America's fight to stop al Qaeda's terror network.

In those two years the al Qaeda terror network has become so decentralized that its affiliates in Yemen and elsewhere now pose a greater direct threat to the U.S. Though weakened, counterterrorism analysts believe al Qaeda will continue to inspire potential Islamic extremists for years to come.

The raid was seen as a turning point in the war on terror and provided a "treasure trove" of documents that revealed the surprising degree of operational control bin Laden still had over the terror network.
Bin Laden's death was undoubtedly a severe blow to al Qaeda, but counterterrorism analysts continue to see the group as a potential threat to the U.S., though its role has evolved.

"The threat from Al Qaeda and the potential for a massive coordinated attack on the United States may be diminished, but the jihadist movement is more diffuse," James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) told Congress in April. "Lone wolves, domestic extremists and jihad-inspired affiliated groups are still determined to attack Western interests."

Surprisingly, the terror threat posed by al Qaeda and other terror groups did not top this year's version of the Worldwide Threat Assessment prepared by the DNI. It was the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that the terror threat was not ranked as the number one threat to U.S. national security.

"Senior personnel losses in 2012, amplifying losses and setbacks since 2008, have degraded core al Qaeda to a point that the group is probably unable to carry out complex, large-scale attacks in the West," said Clapper. Those losses have come from the CIA's controversial drone strike program in Pakistan's tribal areas where al Qaeda leaders are believed to continue to operate.

While "core al Qaeda" has been weakened, its affiliate in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has pursued attacks on U.S. interests like the unsuccessful underwear bomber attack in 2009. A similar attack was thwarted last year around the time of the one year anniversary of bin Laden's death.
The threat posed by AQAP led to an expansion of the CIA's drone program into Yemen targeting the group's leaders including American born Islamic cleric Anwar al Awlaki.

Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert at Georgetown University, says bin Laden's death in May 2011 was regarded "as a decisive corner having been turned in the war on terror" and agrees that it hastened the terror network's decline. However, he is concerned by what he calls the "rise in al Qaedism" whose message of Islamic militancy targeting the U.S. has resonated in places like northern Africa where last September's deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was believed to have been carried out by al Qaeda supporters.

"We see the threat of its ideology to places where hitherto it really was not terribly strong or salient and we see almost a revival of its brand," says Hoffman. He adds that Islamic terrorists continue to cite al Qaeda as an influence and "aspire to emulate al Qaeda's ideology" of a violent struggle against the United States.

"I think the challenge of al Qaeda remains," says Hoffman. "We may want to wish it away, and we may want to believe that killing bin Laden killed off the brand, or killed off the ideology, but we don't see any evidence of that."

Brian Jenkins, with the Rand Corporation, agrees that bin Laden's death had "an immediate impact" on the group's morale and believes it became even more decentralized and dependent on its allies and affiliates since his death which could erode the group's ideological focus of a violent struggle against the United States.

"One of the things bin Laden did by his very existence was maintain a unanimity of focus, a degree of unity, a single-minded focus on its ideology," says Jenkins. While bin Laden's successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, has struggled to maintain that ideological focus Jenkins believes it could continue to erode and al Qaeda could fragment into many localized movements.

Jenkins is concerned that an "opportunistic" al Qaeda could be resurgent in Syria and Afghanistan. In Syria, Islamic extremists are playing a growing role in the fight to topple President Bashar al Assad leading to concerns about what a post-Assad Syria might look like. In Afghanistan, Jenkins is concerned that al Qaeda could once again find a safe haven in that country should the Taliban expand its control after U.S. combat forces pull out by the end of 2014.

"We have to presume this sort of thing will go on," said Jenkins. "All of these are opportunities for al Qaeda. It's not the same al Qaeda it was on Sept. 11. It's very different and it's still there, and I for one wouldn't exaggerate its death, but I'm not writing its epitaph right now."

Another possible indicator of al Qaeda's diminishing role is the decrease in the number of the CIA's drone strokes in Pakistan this year. Hoffman speculates the decrease could be the result of fewer al Qaeda targets or because "we don't have the intelligence to identify emergent al Qaeda leaders and single them out." He also thinks it might be possible that al Qaeda has gone underground in Pakistan's large cities.

Though credited with reducing core al Qaeda's operational capability, even some of the drone strike program's supporters are now expressing concern that it may be creating longer lasting negative effects that could undermine long term efforts to combat extremism.

"We're seeing that blowback," Gen. James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in March at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. "If you're trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you're going to upset people even if they're not targeted."

Last month, Cartwright said at the first ever Congressional hearing on the drone program that the U.S. risked losing "the moral high ground" if it did not reveal additional details about the program's legal basis and oversight.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Pakistan Drone Attack Targets Haqqani Compound

Stocktrek Images/Getty Images(PESHAWAR, Pakistan) -- A drone attack in northwest Pakistan killed at least two suspected militants on Thursday and left another four seriously wounded, according to initial reports out of the region.

The four-missile strike targeted a North Waziristan compound belonging to Haqqani loyalists located near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

No information regarding their identities was immediately available.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Predator Drones Flying Out of Ethiopia, US Confirms

Ethan Miller/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration confirmed Friday that it had been quietly operating unarmed Reaper drones out of an airport in eastern Ethiopia as part of the ongoing U.S. counterterrorism effort targeting al Shabab in Somalia. Al Shabab is a militant group affiliated with al Qaeda that has created an unstable security situation in Somalia.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the drones were operating from Ethiopia “as part of our partnership with the government of Ethiopia to promote stability in the Horn of Africa.”  He added, “The UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] are not conducting any strike missions from Ethiopia. There are no U.S. military bases in Ethiopia. ”

Asked why the drones were being sent to Ethiopia, a U.S. official confirmed it was to focus on al Shabab activities in neighboring Somalia.  In recent years, the U.S. has focused counterterrorism efforts on al Shabab as it’s become more evident that the group may want to conduct terrorist strikes against American targets.  

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. has “an intense partnership” with the Ethiopian military in training peacekeeping troops and counterterrorism assistance.  “We are working together on a broad, sustained and integrated campaign to counter terrorism. And in doing so, we are harnessing all tools of American power. So obviously, the Ethiopians themselves don’t have these advanced drone aircraft that can provide intelligence surveillance reconnaissance, so we support their counterterrorism efforts with these aircraft. ”

The administration’s acknowledgement of the previously undisclosed drone program in Ethiopia was prompted by a story in the Washington Post.

Master Sgt. James Fisher, a spokesman for the 17th Air Force, which  oversees Air Force operations in Africa, said the drone flights “will continue as long as the government of Ethiopia welcomes our cooperation on these varied security programs.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Six Men Arrested in British Counterterrorism Operation to Appear in Court

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Six men who were arrested as part of an extensive counterterrorism operation by British police last week will appear before a court in London on Monday.

The men, aged between 25 and 32, were all detained near or at their homes in Birmingham between Sept. 18 and 19 for allegedly preparing to carry out a terrorist attack in the U.K. or failing to disclose pertinent information.

According to West Midlands police, three have been charged with "planning a suicide bombing campaign/event."  Out of those three, two have also been charged with "travelling to Pakistan for training in terrorism including bomb making, weapons and poison making."

The six men will make their appearance at West London Magistrates Court Monday afternoon.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


British Police Arrest Seven in Counterterrorism Operation

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- A large counterterrorism operation by British police has led to the arrest of seven people in Birmingham, according to authorities.

In a statement, West Midlands police said six men aged between 25 and 32 were detained near or at their homes between Sunday night and early Monday morning "on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism in the U.K."  Another suspect, a 22-year-old woman, was arrested at 6:30 a.m. Monday for allegedly failing to disclose information that could be pertinent to a terrorist attack.

All seven are being held for questioning as police conduct searches on their homes and seven other properties in Birmingham.

Marcus Beale, the West Midlands assistant chief constable, said he couldn't go into detail about the nature of the suspected offenses because the operation was still in its early stages.

"However, I believe it was necessary to take action at this time in order to ensure public safety," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Clinton: US to Convene First Global Counterterrorism Forum

Alex Wong/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Speaking on the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce Friday that the United States will host the first ever Global Counterterrorism Forum.

A State Department official tells ABC News that this will take place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting later this month.

Excerpts from the speech provided by the State Department Friday morning make no mention of the current terror plot.

“Until now, there has been no dedicated international venue to regularly convene key counterterrorism policymakers and practitioners from around the world,” Clinton will say about the upcoming Forum.

“We’re bringing together traditional allies, emerging powers and Muslim-majority countries around a shared counterterrorism mission in a way that’s never been done before,” she will add.

According to the excerpts, Clinton will explain what the Obama administration is doing to combat terrorism and urge policy makers to continue the pressure.

“While we have significantly weakened al Qaeda’s core leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, today we are reminded that they can still conduct regional and international attacks and inspire others to do so,” she will say, referring to the terror group’s affiliates in Yemen and elsewhere which officials now believe pose a greater threat to the United States.

Clinton will deliver her speech at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Top Counter-Terror Officials Envisioning al Qaeda's Demise

CNN via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- For the first time, counter-terrorism officials have begun to "envision the demise of al Qaeda," top U.S. counter-terror official John Brennan said Wednesday while unveiling the White House's counter-terrorism strategy.

Brennan,  assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counter-Terrorism, described how U.S. and allied counter-terrorist efforts have battered al Qaeda, killing top leadership, strangling their finances around the globe and, in effect, leaving Osama bin Laden as a discouraged recluse before he was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs on May 2.

"We have affected al Qaeda's ability to attract new recruits. We've made it harder for them to hide and to transfer money, and pushed al Qaeda's finances to its weakest point in years. Along with our partners in Pakistan and Yemen, we've shown al Qaeda that it will enjoy no safe haven, and we have made it harder than ever for them to move, to communicate, to train and to plot," he said. "If we hit al Qaeda hard enough and often enough, there will come a time when they simply can no longer replenish their ranks with skilled leaders that they need to sustain their operations. That is the direction in which we're headed today."

Brennan said that before the notorious terror leader's death, bin Laden was frustrated by his operators' inability to carry out major attacks.

Brennan also said that bin Laden was apparently concerned about the PR war with the West and considered efforts to rebrand the group by changing its name.

Despite significant counter-terrorism developments against core al Qaeda recently, Brennan warned that the group remains viable and dangerous -- especially al Qaeda's affiliates in Yemen and Somalia.

Brennan underscored that in the wake of bin Laden's death, the U.S.'s relationship with one of its allies in the War on Terror, Pakistan, remains rocky at times but is critical to U.S. interests in the region.

Discussing the rise of bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to the leadership role of the terror network Brennan warned he "may very well attempt to demonstrate his leadership and al Qaida may try to show its relevance through new attacks."

Brennan said that al Qaeda affiliates, such as al-Shabaab in Somalia and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, still pose a "serious direct threat" to the U.S.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


CIA Ramping Up Counter-Terrorism with Drone Strikes in Yemen

CIA dot gov(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. officials say the CIA is planning targeted drone strikes in Yemen against al Qaeda militants in the country.

President Obama authorized the heightened counter-terrorism efforts in Yemen over a year ago, according to the Los Angeles Times, citing the increasing threat of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who are responsible for the failed bombing of a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day 2009 as well as cargo planes bound for the U.S. carrying bombs.

Extremists have recently taken advantage of the current unrest in Yemen.  President Ali Abdullah Saleh is recovering from injuries he suffered last week from an attack on his palace.  Saleh's association with the U.S. on matters of counter-terrorism have been sporadic, but the Yemeni president has approved similar strikes by the U.S. military in the past.

But because of different legal constraints, a CIA operation will allow for more freedom to carry out strikes even if Saleh revokes his approval of the military strikes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Panetta Says Yemen Still Cooperating in Counterterror

AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday to be the next defense secretary, CIA Director Leon Panetta said that despite the turmoil in Yemen, the United States is receiving cooperation for going after terror targets in that country.

The comments come on the heels of news Thursday that the U.S. launched an airstrike last Friday in Yemen that resulted in the death of an operative of the terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

U.S. officials tell ABC News that Abu Ali al-Arithi was killed in southern Yemen last Friday in the airstrike, which was from a U.S. military drone. U.S. fighter aircraft were also part of the operation and were in the vicinity of the drone strike, but did not launch missiles. This is a similar situation to what happened in a drone strike in May that nearly missed AQAP leader Anwar al-Awlaki.  The report of Friday’s airstrike in Yemen was first reported by The New York Times.

Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that the situation in Yemen is “dangerous and uncertain” as President Saleh’s government struggles to hold onto power.  However, he said, the United States is still receiving counterterrorism cooperation from Yemen.

Panetta said of Yemen, “It's obviously a dangerous and uncertain situation, but we continue to work with elements there to try to develop counterterrorism." 

Later he was more specific in saying Yemeni authorities were still cooperating in going after the AQAP terror network. “We are continuing to work with those individuals in their government to try to go after AQAP.  And we are continuing to receive cooperation from them,” he said.   

Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that the security situation in Yemen had led the approximately 100 American military trainers working with that country’s counterterrorism force to suspend their training.  

Panetta said Awlaki is a threat because his computer-savvy has enabled him to urge and recruit potential terrorists online, “particularly in this country, to conduct attacks here.  So that's a concern.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Looking at Counter-Terror Forces Used in Yemen vs. Tribal Forces

GAMAL NOMAN/AFP/Getty Images(SANA'A, Yemen) -- There are media reports out of Yemen that the Saleh government has deployed U.S.-trained special forces against the armed fighters of the tribal leader whose opposition to the Saleh regime has turned Sana'a into chaos.
The Financial Times quotes government spokesman, Tareq al-Shami, as saying the counterterrorism unit of the Central Security Forces had been deployed. That unit has received millions of dollars a year from the U.S. for training to fight al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He justified their use was legitimate saying, “They [the forces] are meant to combat terrorism, and that’s what these clashes represent," according to the Financial Times.
Friday, Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said there was no evidence the counterterrorism forces have been used against protestors.  However, he said “we have seen media reports that they have been used against armed forces, we are looking for more information into that aspect.”  
He added that the Pentagon was looking into the reports.  Might there be implications for aid to Yemen if the reports turn out to be true? Lapan said it was still too early and that for now they were just looking into the reports.    
The fighting in Sana’a is between fighters loyal to Hashed tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar, who has ended his support for Saleh.  There have been reports that Yemeni army units loyal to Saleh have fired on protestors in the southern city of Taiz.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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