2011 could be end of al-Qaida

Brooklyn native Vinny Viola seldom strayed from the Big Apple until he left for West Point. After soldiering with the 101st Airborne, he returned home, graduated from law school and went to work at NYMEX, the New York Merchantile Exchange.

In 2001, he became the NYMEX chairman. His resolute leadership following 9/11 helped the exchange recover from the turmoil.

But Vinny took the attack on his city personally. He wanted to help fight back. Though Vinny no longer wore a uniform, he turned to his alma mater, helping found and fund the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

The center combats terrorist threats to the U.S. through education, research and policy analyses. Center staff work with cadets, along with the Pentagon and law enforcement agencies at all levels of government. They produce some of the world’s best work on
transnational terrorism.

The center’s latest product, “Self-Inflicted Wounds: Debates and Divisions within al-Qa’ida and its Periphery,” is a must read. No better “state of the enemy” assessment exists. It concludes that the Islamist terrorist movement has not weathered the global war well.

External pressures and internal divisions have taken their toll. “Self-Inflicted Wounds” describes the jihad movement, helmed by al-Qaida, as “one that lacks coherence and unity, despite its claims to the contrary.”

Osama bin Laden’s organization has suffered reversals on virtually every front and shows “clear signs of decline.” The Taliban lost its state. Islamists who rebelled against the Saudi regime were driven into the remote deserts of Yemen. Israel still stands. And the U.S. remains a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East.

One of al-Qaida’s greatest strategic errors, the report says, was its willingness to sanction the killing of Muslims by Muslims. Most of the innocents killed in the Long War were slaughtered by “holy” warriors.

Such attacks, the report concludes, “delegitimize the group in the eyes of the Umma — the global Islamic community of believers and al-Qa’ida’s hoped-for constituency.”

Yet the war is far from over. The enemy is resilient. And bin Laden remains popular among the most extreme elements of the Islamist movement.

Yes, threats to U.S. interests are now largely fragmented. But that requires adapting strategies and tactics. There is no cookie-cutter solution, no silver-bullet answer to diminish the threat further.

Finishing the job in South Asia, eliminating any terrorist hope of securing sanctuary there, remains Job 1. The recent military assessment delivered to the White House contained both good and bad news, but it made one thing perfectly clear: More U.S. troops has made a big difference. Now we must leverage military success into political success in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On the Afghan side, the U.S. must play a bigger role in convincing the defeated and disaffected Taliban to disarm and reconcile with the Afghan people. On the other side of the border, American officials must convince Pakistan to move beyond trying to “manage” the Taliban. Islamabad must consider the tremendous costs of letting Taliban extremists regain influence in Afghanistan and become a force to reckon with in Pakistan.

Next, the U.S, must deal more nimbly with the “Balkanization” of
al-Qaida. Increasingly, extremists are going online to knit their activities together. Taking away their cyber assets must be a priority.

“Self-Inflicted Wounds” recommends erring “on the side of disrupting, rather than monitoring, jihadi communications. Jihadis cannot work out their differences if they cannot communicate effectively.”

The report has a lot more wisdom. Those who want to win this war should read it — closely.

Examiner columnist James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at The Heritage Foundation.

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