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What’s next for refocused al-Qaida? Experts say terror organization is morphing, waiting for opportunity

(MSNBC) NEW YORK – There is a saying in the tribal areas that span the Afghanistan-Pakistan border lands, one that is usually expressed with a sly smile: “The Americans have the watches. We have the time.” 

The underlying message, of course, is quite clear: Al-Qaida and the Taliban have the patience they need to reconstitute and refocus their operations, using different models than those they used prior to Sept. 11, 2001, and working perhaps on different targets. 

And things certainly seem to be changing. Roger Cressey, former deputy director of counterterrorism at the National Security Council and now an NBC News analyst, points out that, once again, al-Qaida has morphed into what another analyst, Peter Bergin, calls “al-Qaida 3.0.” 

The first version was a hierarchal organization; the second was more inspirational, meant to spur a series of loosely affiliated groups allied around a central idea.  

“We are now dealing with a hybrid phenomenon,” Cressey says. “Al-Qaida the organization has reconstituted in a way that they can reach out to the jihadi movement and provide homegrown terrorists with facilities and empowerment, particularly through links in Pakistan.” 

But have the terrorists lost anything in that morphing? Are they as capable worldwide? And are the changes — with their accompanying lack of major support mechanisms and reliance on simpler and more local organizational structures — forcing it to postpone attacks on the United States and other Western targets? That would be the ultimate act of patience. 

Four NBC News military and counter-terrorism analysts, including Cressey, along with other experts, disagree on the many of the answers. Some point to a number of events the last several months that could indicate a resurgence of the al-Qaida threat across the world. But others believe that those same events show al-Qaida has made a conscious decision to think smaller — to focus on moderate Sunni Muslim regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Algeria, as well as weak states like Iraq — rather than trying to mount attacks on the United States.  

For these analysts, al-Qaida is doing what other terrorist groups do on a smaller scale: Avoid the hard target and focus more on the soft.  

Success on Pakistan border
One thing is clear: Everyone consulted agrees that the organization is doing well along that Afghanistan-Pakistan border, a position Bush administration officials have, reluctantly, come to accept.

On May 8, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified before Senate Appropriations Committee on the issue, becoming the first high-level official to state what has been circulating in the upper levels of the administration for some time now. 

“Al-Qaida has expanded in organization and capabilities” said Gates, adding that it “reestablished itself in western Pakistan [and is] training new recruits.” 

A senior U.S. intelligence official says that Gates’ comments are reflected in what has been circulating inside the intelligence community. 

“The tribal areas in northwest Pakistan are a growing problem,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re not talking about the kind of stuff we saw before 9/11 in Afghanistan, where thousands were trained.” Rather, it’s now a case of “training the trainer,” who returns home to teach his comrades.  

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May 23, 2007 - Posted by | Blogroll, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror

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