Last week, the Obama administration announced that it was prosecuting Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame for terrorism-related charges in the federal court in New York City. Warsame, who is perceived to have been a connector between al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia's al Shabaab, was reportedly seized in April and held aboard a U.S. Navy ship for two months. National security experts welcomed the decision to bring Warsame to New York for federal prosecution, but it has sparked a surprising reaction from the right. Evoking controversial but unrelated state court decisions, and experience gained not in law enforcement but on television, some Congressional conservatives responded by calling for the use of military commissions, which have proven at best ineffective at prosecuting terrorists and at worst harmful to America's counterterrorism efforts. By contrast, the administration's comprehensive, effective approach to has drawn the support of key experts, editorial boards and public opinion.
As we approach the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, experts in and out of government are reviewing the successes and mistakes of the approach to counterterrorism that has dominated the decade. Yesterday, the Obama administration released its first National Counterterrorism Strategy outlining its overall approach to combating terrorism. It highlights the need for whole-of-government efforts that go beyond any one agency or tool; for partnerships built on trust between nations and within our own society; and for standing strongly with our own institutions and values to face terror with resilience. These lessons have been outlined again and again by experts in terrorism and national security. New polling this week also showed that the American people clearly prefer this results-oriented approach to doubling down on failed policies of the past.
Today, a panel of top terrorism and homeland security experts testified before the House Homeland Security Committee on "The Evolving Nature of Terrorism - Nine Years after the 9/11 Attacks." The message on the current state of the threat from al Qaeda was that the organization "pose[s] a real but not catastrophic threat to the United States." Al Qaeda's limited abilities to project a catastrophic threat, in particular to obtain weapons of mass destruction (WMD), creates a changing and evolving environment to view the terrorist threat. While the chances of a large-scale attack are reduced, the potential for smaller, one-off attacks that are specifically designed to cause an overreaction remains. Today's panel stressed that terrorists explicitly seek to generate 24-hour media coverage and "exploit political fissures within our society." Maintaining calm and resilience, and hewing to our Constitutional values and traditions of openness and tolerance will prevent terrorists from gaining a "big bang for the buck" and deter future attacks. America's strength and resilience is something that our enemies cannot take away from us.
Early this week, reports emerged that Mustafa Abu al Yazid, al Qaeda's third in command, was killed in a mid-May drone strike. While the number three position in al Qaeda has been taken out a number of times over the past decade, al Yazid (A.K.A. Sheik Saeed al Masri) was a founding member of al Qaeda and experts say that he played a more important role in the organization than his predecessors. Though this is a significant blow to al Qaeda's operational capabilities, they are still intent on perpetrating a massive attack against America. But it's also apparent that an a growing threat is that of a smaller, more improvised attack perpetrated by loose al Qaeda affiliates or even those simply inspired by the group. Counteracting this requires a comprehensive approach that's not based on fear but instead based on the strength and resilience of our nation. Because of the multifaceted and ever-changing nature of terrorism, a strong, multi-faceted and integrated approach is the best strategy for countering these ongoing and evolving threats.
In the wake of the failed Times Square bombing, there was a marked difference between how national security leaders and experts, as opposed to conservatives, reacted to the event. On the one hand, the leaders and experts responded with sober, practical analyses and provided advice on solutions going-forward. On the other hand, conservatives resorted to overreaction, theatrics and hysteria, attempting to score cheap political points out of national security. From radical proposals such as stripping Americans of their citizenship rights, to the hypocritical rejection of realistic measures to prevent terrorists from obtaining guns, conservatives have proven this week that they are more interested in politics and attacking the Administration than they are about protecting the country. While we continue to take the fight to the terrorists, that we also continue to protect what's most important - an America that lives up to its values.
Iraqi and American security forces scored a significant victory yesterday against al Qaeda in Iraq, killing two of the group's chiefs. The deaths of the Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, during a joint operation by U.S. and Iraqi forces, were in U.S. Commander General Ray Odierno's words, "potentially the most significant blow to al Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency." Such operational success demonstrates the growing effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces. As Vice President Biden said yesterday, "Iraqis led this operation, and it was based on intelligence the Iraqi security forces themselves developed following their capture of a senior AQI leader last month." The operation demonstrates the viability of the Obama administration's approach, which emphasizes transitioning responsibility to Iraqis.
Two separate attacks took place in Northwest Pakistan this morning, including one against the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar. Following an attack on a political ceremony held in Lower Dir, militants, believed to be members of the Pakistani Taliban, assaulted the consulate with bombs and rocket launchers. While there were no reported U.S. casualties, a local police official reported that four militants and three Pakistani security personnel had been killed. The Pakistani Taliban took credit for the attacks, reportedly claiming that they were in reprisal for the wave of drone strikes conducted on militants operating along the country's border with Afghanistan. These attacks reaffirm the importance of the Obama administration's engagement policy towards Pakistan.
Yesterday, a New York City court brought the suspect of the biggest terrorism plot since 9/11 to justice, as Najibullah Zazi pled guilty. His plot involved training in Pakistan and homemade explosives intended to be set off on the New York City subway. From the start, the Obama administration utilized a crucial tool in combating terrorism: the rule of law. The Zazi success is the latest in a string of terrorism cases where the use of the criminal justice system has worked to thwart attacks and gain important intelligence. Yet conservatives in the media and Congress still continue to ignore these successes.