As we begin 2014, it's worth reflecting on where we stand in our fight against al-Qaida and global terrorism.
Over the past year, in my role as chairman of the Terrorism Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I've held a multitude of hearings examining the threat from al-Qaida and its affiliates.
Dozens of renowned terrorist experts and Obama administration officials gave their input on the current state of play. After all that, I'm left with the unfortunate conclusion that we are not winning this war. We don't even have a strategy.
Throughout 2012 and much of 2013, the administration has toed the line that al-Qaida is on the path to defeat and with it, that terrorism is no longer the threat it once was. Nothing could be further from the truth.
During his landmark counterterrorism speech in May 2013, President Barack Obama all but declared an end to the global war on terror. He said that al-Qaida was "on the path to defeat" and that the threat we now face is similar in scale to the threats we faced before 9/11, suggesting that this was somehow a positive revelation.
I'd like to remind the president that the terrorism threat pre-9/11 was actually pretty frightening and led to the destruction of the Twin Towers, part of the Pentagon, and more than 2,740 deaths, not to mention a crippling effect on the U.S. economy. Pre-9/11, al-Qaida maintained large-scale operations in South Asia, complete with training camps and operational capabilities.
I'm not sure what he considers a "victory," but that's certainly not my definition.
In fact, even before the president's counterterrorism eulogy, the White House touted the death of Osama bin Laden as the death knell to al-Qaida.
All of this really makes me wonder if the White House understands al-Qaida, the threat, and its expansion over the past few years. Right now, al-Qaida controls or operates in more territory around the globe than at any point since its creation in 1988. Al-Qaida and its affiliates are resurgent in Iraq, a major player in Syria, a force in Yemen and Somalia, still active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, operational in the Caucasus, and in pockets throughout the Middle East and North Africa. This isn't what I'd call success.
Today, al-Qaida is a complex, adaptive, and resilient organization. The administration's successes against high-value targets have fostered a false sense of security.
Over the past several years, al-Qaida has developed a new strategy to foster affiliate groups that still maintain strong connections to the core. Take Syria for instance. A terrorist named Abu Khalid al Suri is fighting for a hardcore jihadist organization named Ahrar al-Sham. Ahrar al --Sham does not self-identify as al-Qaida. Yet Suri is a leading figure in the movement and serves as al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's main representative in the Levant, according to the Long War Journal.
Having been a former trusted courier of bin Laden himself, Suri is about as plugged-in to core al-Qaida as you can get.
So although al-Qaida may not have its name plastered all over the Middle East or publicly announce its affiliations and locations, it is always lurking beneath the surface. This doesn't mean al-Qaida is weakened or on the verge of defeat, it means it has altered the way it conducts its terror campaign and spreads its roots. Burying our heads in the sand and pretending it isn't so only increases al-Qaida's likelihood of controlling territory or launching successful attacks.
I, along with many of my colleagues in Congress, believe the American public is no safer today than we were a year or two years ago. Unfortunately, a rise in domestic fatalities from terrorist-related acts and terrorists' connections to increasingly specialized and dangerous technology means that even more trouble could be on the horizon.
Moreover, specialized training for a jihadist is no longer limited to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. In Syria, legions of al-Qaida acolytes from all over the world, including Europe and the U.S., are joining its cause on the battlefield. Eventually, they will return home and continue their fight against freedom.
In early 2014, the White House plans to update the administration's National Security Strategy. The last National Security Strategy was released in 2010. Much has changed since then, and it's clear that we must overhaul our approach to dealing with the threat of al-Qaida and its affiliates.
For the sake of our nation and our future, I hope the administration can open its eyes to the true threat surrounding us and confront al-Qaida as it is, rather than how we would like to see it. And that's just the way it is.
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, is Chairman of the Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
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