The Decline of Al-Qaeda Central; The Rise of Al-Qaeda Affiliates; The Arab Spring; and Implications for US Security
Feb 27, 2012Posted by Amit Kumar, Ph.D.
Over the last ten years, Bin-Laden's Al-Qaeda organization has suffered attrition; Al-Qaeda affiliates have risen in strength and numbers; and Islamic democracies have replaced despots, often western supported or at least tolerated, in what is called the Arab Spring. These developments carry serious implications for US security interests. This piece delves into these implications and comes out with measures to secure US interests.
Decline of Al-Qaeda Central
American and Western counterterrorism efforts at decimating the leadership and cadres of Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda over the years that culminated in his killing last year may have resulted in the decline of what is interestingly called Al-Qaeda Central, the organization that was established by Usama Bin Laden to implement a three point agenda, namely i) to orchestrate the overthrow through violence of American and western supported despots in the Arab world who were apparently quelling democratic dissent; ii) to wage a violent war against the US and its interests outside the Arab world; and iii) to set up a global Islamic Caliphate. To a large extent, these counterterrorism efforts resulted in the diminution of Al-Qaeda Central's finances as well.
Rise of Al-Qaeda Affiliates
The US hunt for Al-Qaeda Central and the loss of financial support for the Bin Laden organization led to the mushrooming and self-reliance of Al-Qaeda affiliates in Africa and Asia that wanted to champion local resentment against Western supported potentates and translate an Islamic vision for their regions into violent jihad by adopting the ideology and practices of Al-Qaeda Central. These franchises fused local aspirations with the ambition to make their movements a part of the quest for a global Islamic Caliphate on the lines espoused and propagated by Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the Sahara-Sahel region; Al-Shabaab in Somalia; Boko Haram in Nigeria; Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in Iraq; the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) in Libya; Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, the Taliban in Afghanistan; and the Lashkar-e-Tayibba in India and Pakistan are some such affiliates.
The proliferation and strengthening of these Al-Qaeda affiliates proved to be a dilemma for the United States. On one hand the US was successful in causing and hastening the attrition of Al-Qaeda Central; on the other hand it had to deploy its counterterrorism assets against a slew of these affiliates, often in partnership with governments who were fighting these affiliates. What complicated this effort were the seemingly dubious intentions of these partnering governments. While their populations were in most cases rabidly anti-American as well as anti-despot, the leaders were adopting a pro-Western stance as well as trying to play to the anti-US sentiments of their populations.
The Arab Spring
Over the past little more than a year, these disgruntled populations started what is known as the Arab Spring, when democratic, sometimes violent uprisings against unpopular potentates in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen resulted in the overthrow of these dictators and the establishment of Islamic governments in their place, some of whom had a history of association with Al-Qaeda; while others were moderately Islamic. All of these movements had strong American and western support.
Implications for US Security Interests
While these movements have resulted in the overthrow of despots and ushered in what seems to be a modicum of democratic rule, most of these movements have brought in Islamic forces which are either against the US or are very skeptical of any American influence in their countries. The time when Americans were gleefully rejoicing at the onset of democratic rule in these Arab countries may have passed. The rise to prominence of former LIFG figures in Libya; the anti-American attitude of the Muslim Brotherhood dominated government in Egypt manifest in the recent arrests and trial of American NGO officials; the uncertain political future of Yemen after the resignation of President Saleh and the continuing pernicious growth of AQAP; the possible rise of Al-Qaeda in Iraq in the eventuality of a post-Assad Syria; and the recent official merger of Al-Shabaab with Al-Qaeda in Somalia all seem to be harbingers of the grave and serious security and terrorism related challenges that are staring the US in the face. While these democratic movements may have co-opted Al-Qaeda's vision of freeing their countries from the yoke of oppressive despots, its anti-Americanism and its aspirations for these countries to be part of a global Caliphate still remain unfulfilled—it is a possibility if not a certainty that these movements may veer towards playing by the Al-Qaeda ideological rulebook. The US has to be cautious about the future trajectory of the Arab Spring and be prepared to adopt strong measures against anti-US interests in these and other countries affected by the Al-Qaeda malaise.
The US may be wise to forge or continue to maintain strong military, counter-terrorism, and developmental cooperation with all these fledging democratic countries that benefited and may continue to benefit from the transformation towards popular rule. The US may also want to ensure that it does not allow any terrorist group with prior or current links to Al-Qaeda to gain ascendancy in any democratic set-up. Any drive or desire towards violence on the part of the actors in these movements to achieve democratic objectives for the sole purpose of fomenting anti-Americanism needs to be quelled. The US may also like to encourage regional stakeholders to play a salient role in implementing strong counterterrorism measures. For example, the actions of the Kenyan and Somalian governments against Al-Shabaab; Algeria's cooperation with Mali and Mauretania in wearing down the AQIM; and Pakistani, Afghani, Iranian, and Indian cooperation in tackling the Taliban menace deserve kudos as measures to advance US security interests. The US should urge the United Nations counterterrorism regimes to continue to work steadfastly to ensure that the countries experiencing the Arab Spring, and other countries where Al-Qaeda's ideology is popular, build strong, effective, and lasting Counterterrorism and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) capacities.
Al-Qaeda Central may have declined, but the Al-Qaeda ideology still appears to hold sway in certain regions. Its violent methods may be seem less attractive now but its guiding principles of anti-Americanism and the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate do and may continue to find new recruits in the Al-Qaeda affiliates that are still championing its ideology. America has to remain ever vigilant that the democratic populations of newly emancipated countries that ushered in the Arab Spring do not subscribe to this ideology. Or else the hope of the Arab Spring may give rise to the despair of its aftermath.The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for National Policy.
Amit Kumar, Ph.D.
|SUBSCRIBE TO THIS AUTHOR|
MORE FROM THIS AUTHOR
The Monitoring of the Implementation of United Nations Financial Sanctions against Al-Qaida: An Assessment and Steps for the Future
Feb 25, 2013
Comments on FATF's Threat to Suspend Turkey's Membership
Oct 23, 2012
The Current Threat from Al-Qaeda and US Counterterrorism Strategy
Sep 11, 2012
Terrorism in South Asia II - Lashkar-e-Tayibba
Apr 30, 2012
Terrorism in South Asia I - The Taliban
Apr 23, 2012