It's 9/11 again... do you know where Osama Bin Laden is? Why not? Inquiring minds want to know! Why after nine years of the greatest global manhunt in history have we failed to put this mass murderer away for good? And if not Bin Laden... then why haven't we captured his cohort Ayman al- Zawahiri, paraded him down Broadway and deservedly hanged him from the highest flagpole in lower Manhattan by now?
Yes, it matters! It matters because nine years later 'Al Qaeda Central?' is still plotting attacks against America in the name of a global jihad. It matters because the families of those whom Al Qaeda murdered have not had their rightful day of justice. And finally, it matters because our solemn annual commemoration of 9/11 is degenerating into a partisan parlor game fueled by the incendiary antics of an un-American, xenophobic pastor and an insensitive Imam who protesteth inter-faith harmony but revels in the needless commotion and divisiveness he is creating at Ground Zero. The mission against Al Qaeda is being drowned out... and that strengthens our enemies.
After what this nation has sacrificed since 9/11, Americans deserve better.
Frankly, the eventual location of a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan matters far less to the safety of American troops and diplomats abroad than the threatened 30's Nazi-like book burning of the Koran. It is painful to hear any American assert that it would be no fault of his if other Americans die as a direct result of a potentially malignant act of theological felony murder.
The jihadist chat rooms are running out of space. The English and Arabic jihadi websites are downloading every stupid statement against Islam uttered by the Gainesville gang and anyone who has joined in the anti-Islam game...and it is but a matter of time that we may hear once again from either Bin Laden or al-Zahwahiri who will surely find comfort and joy in the spectacle befalling us.
And if and when either talks... from what position of strength are they talking?
Undoubtedly, the Al Qaeda of 2010 is somewhat a shadow of its former 2001 self. Yet, Al Qaeda has proven quite resilient. It remains a substantial threat to America's homeland, capable of plotting massive attacks on U.S. soil, however fortuitously unsuccessful the attacks have turned out to be. And determined to deploy some form of a weapon of mass destruction against us.
In the past two years alone, Al Qaeda has proven that it is still very capable of mounting centrally-commanded missions, such as the 2009 attempted Delta aircraft Christmas Day attack and the 2010 Times Square attack.
Core Al Qaeda strength remains a secret. But in Afghanistan, their number is less than 100. The likely central command structure is somewhere dispersed in Pakistan, where the high command may be and where several hundred "free agent" foreigners from Arab and Central Asian lands are.
Under siege in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al Qaeda has dispatched many of its operatives to other regional "hubs" to remove them from immediate harms' way. And it is from those so-called Al Qaeda "hubs" that more and more regional threats and plotting against U.S. and European targets is taking place.
Those hubs are:
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQIP): Yemen has become Al Qaeda's preferred Arab world sanctuary. Under the tutelage of U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki -- the so-called "Bin Laden of the Internet," Al Qaeda has successfully transformed southern Yemen into a base of operations, where al-Awlaki has inspired scores of jihadi recruits to plot, plan, and train other recruits in the in's and out's of navigating America's homeland defenses.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM): An offshoot of the Algerian salafist jihadi cutthroats, AQIM has been ravaging the northern Sahara, kidnapping foreign tourists for ransom (benefiting to the tune of $30 million so far), and killing local officials. In 2010, AQIM abducted and executed a French engineer, and the year before killed 4 French tourists in Mauritania. AQIM is galvanizing its command and control structure to turn its attention against targets in Europe. Just this month, a jihadist on the Shumukh al-Islam forum based in North Africa posted a message on September 6 providing satellite images and other photos of seven Spanish nuclear reactors for possible targeting.
Al Qaeda in East Africa (al Shabab): The latest Al Qaeda-inspired atrocity in the Ugandan capital of Kampala was committed by its Somali sub-agent al Shabab, which bombed a café killing 74 persons this past July. Somalia - the poster-child of failed states, has become Al Qaeda's most convenient source of funding from pirates operating in the Straits of Aden. Foreign Al Qaeda commanders have usurped top leadership positions in Al Shabab, and the FBI has been arresting and tracking several Americans of Somali descent who have become the latest group of second generation American Muslims attracted to the jihadi creed.
Iran: YES IRAN!
According to senior U.S. military officials, Iran is providing logistical and facilitation assistance to help link senior terrorist leaders and affiliate groups spread out around the Middle East and South Asia. According to General Petreaus' testimony before Congress on March 10, 2010, he stated that Al Qaeda "continues to use Iran as a key facilitation hub, where facilitators connect Al Qaeda's senior leaders to regional affiliates." Other CENTCOM commanders have stated on the record that Al Qaeda members have used Iran as a trans-shipment point into Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Obama Administration's inspired and valiant secret drone war against Al Qaeda -- now the single most effective weapon against Al Qaeda -- has surgically knocked off scores of Al Qaeda operatives -- since 2004, U.S. airstrikes have killed 15 senior and 14 mid-level Al Qaeda leaders.. Indeed, counterterrorism officials credit the increasingly sophisticated drones with killing more than a dozen senior Al Qaeda leaders, eliminating more than half of the CIA's twenty most wanted "high value targets."
The CIA has fortuitously made it very dangerous to be a #3 in the Al Qaeda's food chain. Just a few weeks ago, the U.S., with Pakistan's assistance, knocked off Al Qaeda's latest #3 leader, Mustafa al-Yazid. Al-Yazid was the 10th third-ranking Al Qaeda leader killed by the U.S. since 2001. Al Qaeda's bench may be deep, but it is not easy to replace a #3 chief operating officer.
U.S. Special Forces are also keeping regional hub Al Qaeda operatives under the gun. Aid and training Yemeni, North African and East African governments in counter-terrorism, the Obama Administration has forged an increasingly effective military and counter-terrorism strategy that has minimized the need to dispatch large U.S. forces to these regions.
Additionally, the U.S. counter-terrorism campaign has increasingly thwarted Al Qaeda's "hearts and minds campaign" via its media wing -- as-Sahab (the "Clouds") by infiltrating jihadi websites... spreading false and factual information to thwart propaganda, and creating counter-websites. And it is in its own ideological backyard that Al Qaeda has suffered its greatest defeat. An increasing number of major Islamic scholars -- notably Saudis -- have issued fatwas against Al Qaeda, condemning its ideology and, more importantly, its wanton killing of fellow Muslims. Have these so-called "counter Fatwas" had any impact on the underground jihadi recruiting quota? Probably. But no one knows for certain, and events deemed anti-Islamic inside the U.S. have the potential of neutralizing the helpful impact of these anti Al Qaeda fatwas.
Two years into its own war against Al Qaeda, the Obama Administration has begun to effectively turn the tables on the organization-- doing what I have long sought -- making any senior Al Qaeda operative worry if he is going to wake up the next morning or die in an American-planned operation. But this is becoming a long war that has tentacles on many continents.
In the final analysis, 9 years after its attacks on U.S. soil Al Qaeda remains a cornered, yet lethal terrorist organization that has repeatedly proven that its master target list is not limited to failed attacks against the U.S. Whether targeting the Danish embassy in Islamabad; executing French tourists in North Africa, committing suicide attacks in Baghdad, or masterminding suicide bombings in Uganda, Al Qaeda is incessantly regrouping its command and control structure; and Its operatives have succeeded far too many times avoiding the traps and dragnets sent for them when targeting Europe or the U.S. Until its leadership is disowned or disemboweled, it remains a potent organization capable of harming America, which on this 9/11 anniversary finds its #1 target ironically making valuable donations to its depleted propaganda machine.
Follow Amb. Marc Ginsberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ambmcg