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Killing a Washed-Up Old Yemeni Hasn’t Slowed al-Qaeda’s Progress

January 30, 2013 By: Scott Spiegel Category: War on Terror

AQ-in-SahelPresident Obama, you may have heard, personally and with his bare hands made the phone call ordering Navy SEALS to execute former al-Qaeda leader and September 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in Abottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011.

Over the six years of the Iraq War before he took office, Obama railed against the Bush-initiated conflict, insisting that the good war was in bin Laden’s adopted home of Afghanistan.  Obama maintained that we wouldn’t make significant progress in the War on Terror until we had killed al-Qaeda’s former leader, whom all evidence indicated was a graying arthritic hermit dwelling in a cave somewhere.

Upon bin Laden’s death, Obama became strangely detached from Middle Eastern affairs, as though his work fighting Islamic jihad were done and Americans could at last breathe a sigh of relief.  (It was almost as if he had flashed a “Mission Accomplished” sign!)  But bin Laden’s former terrorist group appears to have marched on without him in the face of Obama’s utter lack of interest in exerting any effort to halt their progress.

Counterterrorism expert Bruce Riedel argues that, since bin Laden’s death, we are witnessing the third incarnation of al-Qaeda—al-Qaeda 1.0 lasted until the fall of the Taliban, and al-Qaeda 2.0 until the death of bin Laden—and that al-Qaeda 3.0 is the most dangerous version yet.  Al-Qaeda has fanned out to new regions and established fresh bases of operation in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, in Syria, Libya, Algeria, and now Mali.  Al-Qaeda has exploited Obama’s shortsightedness in dwelling obsessively on whether bin Laden still had a pulse, and has built safe havens, expanded the ranks of its recruits, and multiplied its financial resources from a decade’s worth of kidnapping ransoms.

Following the Muslim Brotherhood’s hostile takeover of Egypt—which Obama facilitated via his encouragement of Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow and his friendly discussions with the group’s candidate Mohamed Morsi—the nation now faces renewed threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda.  After bin Laden’s successor Ayman Zawahiri recently called for members of the network to kidnap and kill Westerners worldwide, a horrific Mumbai-style terrorist plot to murder hundreds of British tourists staying at the Sharm el-Sheikh resort was narrowly thwarted.  The presence of Safali Islam fundamentalists tied to al-Qaeda remains strong in Egypt, and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have been attacking soldiers, gas pipelines, and churches.

In Syria, al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra is exploiting the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime by fighting alongside rebel forces, riding their momentum and waiting to grab power when al-Assad falls so they can restore an Islamic Caliphate.  Al-Nusra has committed dozens of suicide bombings, ambushes, raids, and assassinations in Damascus, Aleppo, and other Syrian cities, and has videotaped shootings and beheadings of al-Assad soldiers and posted them online to intimidate the opposition.  Al-Nusra hopes to replace something bad—al-Assad—with something even worse—a Taliban-style theocracy—in the same way that the Muslim Brotherhood helped protestors topple Hosni Mubarak in Egypt only to elbow their way into power and impose their own heavy-handed agenda.

Meanwhile, in Benghazi, al-Qaeda is targeting British and German tourists, whose governments are urging them to leave Libya for their own safety.  Benghazi, you may recall, is the site of the embassy storming last September that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, and was planned by al-Qaeda—or maybe it was a spontaneous protest over an amateur video; what difference does it make?

Then there’s the shocking hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant last month, one of the largest and most sophisticated such operations in the region, which resulted in the murder of dozens of Westerners.

And Gadhafi’s ouster freed gun-runners to smuggle caches of Libyan arms, and legions of resistance fighters to flee, to Mali.  French troops are currently beating back al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in the North African country, an effort Obama won’t commit the U.S. to making.

One military commander in Benghazi notes, “Libya became a haven for [al-Qaeda].  The Westerners are fearful that what happened in Algeria will take place in Libya.  And here, just like Mali and Egypt and Iraq, these groups have extensions.”  These groups have extensions in many other countries in the region, and we are soon about to find out the hard way which ones.

Liberals cite Obama’s bin Laden killing as proof that Democrats are tough on terror—maybe even tougher than misguided Republicans.  But in fact, bin Laden’s assassination made no dent in the War on Terror.  It will merely serve as a shield to hide Obama’s noninterventionist, ineffectual, crisis-precipitating Middle East policy for the next four years.


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