DeM Banter: Interesting we say…”The deaths of Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda officials in Pakistan has fueled U.S. confidence that al Qaeda’s core leadership can’t mount attacks on the U.S. and that U.S. drone strikes there could be phased out over time. ” I wonder what model of leadership we are using to make that assessment? Are we thinking bureaucratic/ Industrial Age / traditional hierarchy leadership or are we thinking Information Age type leadership? Or are we thinking Spider and The Starfish type leadership paradigms? It’s all about leadership….and if the US is confident that there is no leadership left…then what is happening all over the Mid East? Why do we close our Embassies if the enemy can not mount an attack? We are on about Al Qaeda OS 4.0 right now…they will continue to morph. We need to continue engaging–even though, we really don’t want to…there is still a threat–I think this makes that obvious….no? Thoughts?
Wall Street Journal
August 5, 2013
Embassy Closures, Travel Alerts Reflect Heightened Security
Widespread U.S. embassy closures and travel alerts prompted by al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen show how the group has proved stubbornly resilient despite more than two years of American strikes against its leaders.
The State Department Sunday extended some embassy closures for the rest of the workweek, citing a need to “exercise caution” and take “appropriate steps” to protect American diplomats, local employees and visitors. Officials said the move wasn’t an indication that the U.S. had any new intelligence about the suspected plot or plots.
The high level of concern from U.S. officials underscores what many in the intelligence world have long warned. While al Qaeda’s central leadership may be weakened, the rest of the group has morphed into smaller entities and dispersed, which has made the threat harder to predict and track. This process was accelerated by the turmoil of the Arab Spring.
Officials briefed on the latest intelligence say the new warnings show that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is as determined as ever to attack the West, but it is unclear whether the group is as capable of following through as it was before the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command started targeting its leaders in Yemen in parallel campaigns.
The deaths of Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda officials in Pakistan has fueled U.S. confidence that al Qaeda’s core leadership can’t mount attacks on the U.S. and that U.S. drone strikes there could be phased out over time. But al Qaeda affiliates, the most active and lethal of which is AQAP, have shown themselves to be increasingly capable and autonomous organizations, making it harder for the U.S. to track and target their leaders.
A major concern for the U.S. is AQAP’s chief bomb-maker—a Saudi citizen named Ibrahim al-Asiri—who is thought to still be at large and has been active both experimenting with new bomb designs and training other bomb-makers, according to American officials and analysts.
Beyond Yemen, al Qaeda in Iraq has reconstituted itself. Its branch in Syria is drawing in hundreds of foreign recruits each month. And in Mali, al Qaeda-linked fighters fled French warplanes and commandos and have set up a rudimentary base in the Libyan Desert outside Paris’s reach.
“The problem we face today is there are probably more al Qaeda cells and affiliates across the Arab world in 2013 than there have ever been before because of the chaos that’s followed the Arab Spring,” said Bruce Riedel, a Central Intelligence Agency veteran and now director of the Brookings Intelligence Project.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday the terrorism threat that led the Obama administration to close most U.S. embassies in the Middle East is more specific than other recent examples and was directed broadly at Western interests, not just those of the U.S. “There is a significant threat stream, and we are reacting to it,” Mr. Dempsey said in an interview with ABC’s television show “This Week.” The exact target of the planned terrorist attack was unspecified, but the aim was clear, Mr. Dempsey said.
On Friday, prompted by the intelligence, the Obama administration issued a world-wide travel alert for all of August.
Initially, U.S. intelligence suggested the attack or attacks could take place on Sunday. But officials believe the U.S.’s public disclosure of the suspected plot may have prompted militants to shift their timeline to a later date, a possibility reflected in Sunday’s decision to keep embassies closed longer.
A senior administration official described the potential threat as “significant.”
“This is probably one of the most specific and credible threats I’ve seen perhaps since 9/11,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas) on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday.
Mr. McCaul said the threat was notable because of the link to the al Qaeda faction in the Arabian Peninsula. “Their expertise is chemical explosives hitting the aviation sector,” he said.
A debate has been growing for months within U.S. counterterrorism and defense circles about whether U.S. pressure on AQAP is adequate to keep the group from launching new attacks, according to officials involved in the discussions.
A senior counterterrorism official cited concerns the Yemeni government may have curtailed some of its offensives against militants aligned with AQAP in recent weeks. Some intelligence officials believe that means the terror group has been freer to draw up plans to target the West.
American officials made clear to Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi during his visit to Washington last week that “counterterrorism cooperation needs to continue and you guys have to continue to take that threat seriously,” a senior administration official said.
A Yemeni official said he had heard no American complaints about Yemeni pressure on AQAP. The official cited a number of counterterrorism operations by Yemeni forces in June and July and noted that a major focus for American officials meeting with Mr. Hadi during last week’s visit was the pace of the country’s democratic transition.
The embassy closures and travel alerts followed the U.S.’s interception of communications between AQAP leaders who were overheard plotting new attacks against the U.S. and Western interests.
Such intercepted communications sometimes can be suspect because it is difficult to determine whether militants are describing real plans or trying to manipulate spy agencies who they think may be listening in on their conversations.
U.S. officials say they are more confident about the accuracy of the intelligence underpinning the current alerts because other so-called “threat streams” also point to stepped up AQAP plotting. “We get ‘chatter’ all the time. This is a convergence of multiple streams of reporting,” said a senior administration official.
Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate has targeted U.S. airline and naval interests in the past and has an expertise in bomb making.
In 2012, the U.S. launched more than 40 drone and missile strikes against alleged AQAP targets in Yemen. So far this year, there have been approximately one dozen, according to Yemeni officials, who work closely with their U.S. counterparts to support these missions. The U.S. drone war in Yemen is highly unpopular in many parts of the country, as many locals see it as the indiscriminate use of force against rural populations living in the rugged, isolated country.
Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University, said the pummeling AQAP has taken from drone strikes may have led some outsiders to overestimate the extent to which the group’s operational capacities have been diminished.
The death of several high-ranking members of the group and the absence of any serious threats for more than a year “may have lulled us into thinking the threat from that group had passed,” he said.
–Victoria McGrane, Kristina Peterson and Gary Fields contributed to this article.