by DAVID AXE
“In an important way, Al Qaeda has been defeated,” Jon Alterman writes for the Center for Strategic and International Studies:
At one time, many Muslims admired the organization for its courageous opposition to Western domination, and many Westerners feared that Al Qaeda might draw Muslim communities into a battle with the West. Immediately after the events of September 11, 2001, it was not always clear how the battle for Muslim hearts and minds would end up. With the passage of time, we now know, and Al Qaeda has lost.
Which jibes with the consensus among analysts that the main Al-Qaeda organization is also out of money, for it relied heavily on fraudulent “charitable” donations for its revenue. Without a popular base, that money dried up. To be clear, small-scale terror is not expensive: even major attacks such as those on September 11, 2001 can cost less than a million dollars. Still, a lack of financing limits Al Qaeda’s options and increases its risks.
That the main Al-Qaeda group is broke and growing unpopular does not diminish the danger posed by “franchise” groups that adopt Al-Qaeda ideas and branding in pursuit of particular political goals in particular venues. Take, for example, Al Shabab, the Somali extremist insurgent group that aims to retake that country from the U.S.- and U.N.-backed moderate Islamic government. Shabab claims Al-Qaeda ties and has adopted Al-Qaeda-style tactics, but its true goals are nationalistic, however bad they might be for the average Somali.
Nor does the collapse of Al Qaeda immediately mean an end to freelance terror attacks by highly-motivated individuals. And even Al-Qaeda-supported attacks will continue, though they will probably — hopefully — be ever smaller and rarer.
“It is true that Al Qaeda continues to threaten Western interests,” Alterman writes, “and the organization and its affiliates are likely to do so for some time.”
But the task of containing the damage from perhaps a few thousand fighters is a more achievable task than defeating more than a billion people. We feared that we would have to fight the larger battle, but the battle against a few thousand is the one we are fighting.
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