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U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy Said To Focus On 'Demise' Of Al-Qaeda

  • Richard Solash

John Brennan, President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, seen second from right in an official White House photo of U.S. officials watching the conduct of operation in May to kill Osama bin Laden.

John Brennan, President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, seen second from right in an official White House photo of U.S. officials watching the conduct of operation in May to kill Osama bin Laden.

WASHINGTON -- The White House has unveiled its National Strategy for Counterterrorism, formalizing the approach it says it's been taking for the past 2 1/2 years under President Barack Obama.

But the document also considers new challenges -- namely, defeating Al-Qaeda in a post-bin Laden era, combating terrorism originating within the United States, and managing Mideast unrest.

The strategy was unveiled in a speech at Washington's Johns Hopkins University by John Brennan, Obama's top counterterrorism adviser. He suggested the United States would carefully select from its offensive, defensive, and diplomatic toolboxes to target Al-Qaeda where it's vulnerable, combat homegrown extremism, and make sure terrorists don't profit from turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.

"Guided by the strategy we're releasing today, we will never waver in our efforts to protect the American people," Brennan said. "We will continue to be clear and precise about our enemy. We will continue to use every tool at our disposal, and apply them wisely and judiciously. We will continue to forge strong partnerships around the world and build a culture of resilience here at home."

On June 22, Obama declared that the United States was meeting its goals of defeating Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and would bring home 33,000 U.S. troops -- one-third the current U.S. force -- over the next 18 months.

On May 2, U.S. Special Forces killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at a secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Brennan said bin Laden's death and the deaths of several top Al-Qaeda leaders "allows us for the first time to envision the demise of Al-Qaeda's core leadership in the coming years."

Winning Hearts And Minds?

He said information seized from bin Laden's compound reveals weaknesses inside the terrorist organization and shows that "bin Laden clearly sensed that Al-Qaeda is losing the larger battle for hearts and minds."

But the White House strategy says the group will continue to be targeted until it is defeated.

Brennan said thinking behind how to achieve that goal has changed in the decade since Washington launched its costly, and controversial, military offensives in Iraq and Afghanistan under former President George W. Bush.

"Going forward, we will be mindful that if our nation is threatened, our best offense won't always be deploying large armies abroad, but rather, delivering targeted, surgical pressure to the groups that threaten us," Brennan said.

That strategy, Brennan added, was used to full effect in the covert operation that killed bin Laden -- an operation he said was also the product of a better coordinated, whole-of-government approach to counterterrorism.

"Today our personnel are working more closely together than ever before, as we saw in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden," Brennan said. "That success was not due to any one single person or single piece of information. It was the result of many people working closely together over many years and that is what we will continue to do."

Evolving Threat

The White House says that while the U.S. response to Al-Qaeda has evolved over more than two years, so too has the nature of the threat posed by the terrorist network.

Its new strategy -- citing the case of Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American who attempted to blow up a vehicle in New York's Times Square in May 2010 -- is the first to focus on Al-Qaeda's ability to inspire attacks originating within the United States.

Maintaining vigilance, which includes partnering with Muslim communities across the country, can counter the threat, the strategy says.

The White House is also factoring in the potential for terrorists to take advantage of power vacuums opened as a result of the uprisings sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

Brennan said that U.S. diplomacy would be key to avoiding that scenario.

"It's true that these changes may bring new challenges and uncertainty in the short-term, as we are seeing in Yemen. It also is true that terrorist organizations, and nations that support them, will seek to capitalize on the instability that change can sometimes bring," Brennan said. "That is why we are working closely with allies and partners to make sure that these malevolent actors do not succeed in hijacking this moment of hope for their own violent ends."

In Yemen, months of unrest marked by protests against the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh have stirred fears that the local Al-Qaeda branch, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), could make gains.

On June 29, Brennan said that AQAP "remains the most operationally activate affiliate" of Al-Qaeda.

Along with Al-Qaeda, the strategy identifies Hizballah and Hamas as organizations that continue to threaten U.S. interests.

It also says Iran and Syria remain leading state sponsors of terrorism.

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