As American forces leave Afghanistan, some officials are expressing fear that al-Qaida is gaining ground.
At a Tuesday hearing, members of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade debated the appropriate response to the continuing terrorist threat, agreeing that some sort of military action will be key.
“We need to call this like it is — al-Qaida is a robust global organization. It’s not on the path to defeat,” said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee.
“We can’t ignore the obvious — that they are the enemy and it’s always our military that goes after them,” Poe said.
Former Sen. Joseph Lieberman agreed, saying that while the United States has made strides in the fight against al-Qaida, that progress is both fragile and reversible.
“If the United States withdraws all of our military forces from Afghanistan at the end of the year, the so-called ‘zero option’ as some now advocate, you can be assured that al-Qaida will regenerate, eventually on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border,” said Lieberman, who represented Connecticut as an independent in his last term.
The Obama administration has said Americans forces will depart by the end of 2014 after 13 years of war in the troubled region. Meanwhile, outside Afghanistan, the terrorist network continues to grow and pose security challenges.
In places like Syria, Somalia, Yemen and North Africa, where al-Qaida-affiliated groups have taken advantage of political instability to recruit members, large-scale military involvement by the U.S. is not the right choice, according to Seth Jones, associate director of Rand Corp.
Jones said “the large U.S. presence contributed to radicalization” in Iraq. Instead he suggested deploying special operations forces in regions threatened by terrorists — similar to those used in Pakistan against Osama bin Laden in 2011 and in the successful hunt for Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.
According to State Department testimony, an al-Qaida affiliated group has approximately 2,000 fighters in Iraq, and was able to take control of parts of the country earlier this year.
“Based on current trends, the United States will likely face a persistent threat from terrorist groups operating in such regions as North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia,” Jones said. “A U.S. failure to directly engage special operations forces or intelligence units could severely jeopardize U.S. national security.”