LAT on Al Qaeda
A major article in today's LA Times claims:
Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda was a loosely organized network, but core leaders exercised considerable control over its operations. Since the loss of its base in Afghanistan and many of those leaders, the organization has dispersed its operatives and reemerged as a lethal ideological movement.
Osama bin Laden may now serve more as an inspirational figure than a CEO, and the war in Iraq is helping focus militants' anger, according to dozens of interviews in recent weeks on several continents. European and moderate Islamic countries have become targets. And instead of undergoing lengthy training at camps in Afghanistan, recruits have been quickly indoctrinated at home and deployed on attacks.
The United States remains a target, but counter-terrorism officials and experts are alarmed by Al Qaeda's switch from spectacular attacks that require years of planning to smaller, more numerous strikes on softer targets that can be carried out swiftly with little money or outside help.
The gist of the article's normative argument is that the Bush administration has not responded to these developments:
U.S. and foreign intelligence officials said the Bush administration's focus on the "body count" of Al Qaeda leaders and its determination to stop the next attack meant comparatively few resources were devoted to understanding the threat. ... Anti-terrorism experts who fault the administration's strategy and its optimism argue that concentrating on individual plots and operatives obscures the need to address the broader dimensions of Islamic extremism and makes it impossible to mount an effective defense.
OK. The apparent switch in Al Qaeda's tactics is a welcome thing. We can stop "smaller, more numerous strikes on softer targets" more easily than the years-in-the-making large target attacks.
The long planning cycle for the large scale attacks makes them more robust from a planning standpoint and less likely to make mistakes. This approach typically involves extensive intel gathering and analysis followed by ongoing rehearsals to iron out any rough spots in the operational concept. Contingencies are also planned for as they are discovered during this deliberate planning/rehearsal cycle. This also makes it difficult for unknown personnel--read undercover agents--to infilitrate the sponsoring organizations as the players all know each other during a long association. New faces stand out.
The smaller cells will lack the coordination and resources to do real damage. It also means that attacks will not be run as efficiently nor will organization members be as familiar with one another--and that leaves a door open for the HUMINT specialists to infiltrate. It also means that even if these smaller attacks are successful the emergency management personnel will have an easier time handling the immediate crises as they arise bacause they are on a smaller scale.
Another point to consider is that the Jihadists within Islam are duty-bound to rush to the defense of any Muslims or Muslim nation that is under attack, especially by an outside--infidel--force. Most fanatical, fundamentalist Muslims flock to Afghanistan and Iraq to join in the fight to repel the "infidel" invaders. This, IMHO, quite nicely accomplishes a major National Security goal--that being to keep terrorists out of the US and engage them where they live.
Keeping the pressure on the hierarchy of al Qaeda will keep the flow of Jihadists--not all, but the majority of them--will keep them flowing away from our shores and into the able hands of our military.