The Terror Boom Right Under Washington’s Nose: ‘We’re a Long, Long Way from Defeating al-Qaeda’
House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen talks to PJM about al-Qaeda, the Sahara, and heads in the sand.
November 8, 2013 - 9:57 am
That was followed by a drone strike at the end of the month that reportedly killed Ibrahim Ali Abdi, the commander of Shabaab’s bomb-making division. But to confront the overall threat, Ros-Lehtinen said, “we need a comprehensive strategy” to deny safe haven to these terror groups and “prevent escalation of emerging threats.”
That doesn’t mean boots on the ground, but coordinating with countries whose instability sends a ripple effect across the region and not reacting just when there’s a crisis.
“The people of these countries do not want to be taken over by these jihadists,” she added. Indeed, Nigeria, where Boko Haram has terrorized the populace, is Christian in the south and Muslim in the north, and residents of Mali cheered their French liberators after jihadists imposed harsh and unfamiliar Sharia on towns such as Timbuktu.
And when the West experiences a setback such as a failed attempt to grab an Al-Shabaab leader, “you just keep at it and keep at it.”
“I fear we don’t have the staying power to see this through,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “…We have made a dent if we stay in this fight long enough. I’m very worried that this administration does not have the staying power.”
Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee heard at an Oct. 3 hearing from Seth Jones of RAND Corp. that the Westgate attack demonstrated that “Al-Shabaab does have a competent external operations capability.”
“The Westgate Mall attack was well-planned, well executed, involved impressive intelligence collection, surveillance, reconnaissance of the target. It had operatives prepared to ask a range of questions the individuals before killing them or letting them go inside the mall. These skills, obviously, could be used to attack the United States and its interest in that region,” Jones testified. “…Americans from cities like Phoenix and Minneapolis for the past several years have traveled to Somalia to fight with Al-Shabaab. We’ve had a number of suicide bombers from other American cities, Boston, Seattle, Washington, San Diego, Columbus, Lewiston, Maine, have seen individuals either recruited or left for Somalia.”
“Why is it that we spend millions of dollars on counterterrorism and still American citizens are disappearing and fighting alongside with Al-Shabaab?” asked witness Mohamed Farah of Ka Joog, a Somali-American youth organization in the U.S. “…Ka Joog and the rest of our community lack the vital resources to safeguard our children and most importantly, to safeguard our freedom here in the United States of America.”
“I urge you — this committee and our federal government, my government, to stand with us, to fight Al-Shabaab and take this — and eliminate this cancerous ideology and take this fight to Somalia,” Farah added.
Ros-Lehtinen told PJM that “we have to have more undercover investigations, more stings to get these folks” as the incidence of terrorists coming from within the U.S. is “alarming.”
“This is not acceptable and everyone’s got a role to play,” she added.
The congresswoman understands that the U.S. is war-weary and not keen on the idea of dipping into a fresh War on Terror battleground, but “we cannot be isolationist in our approach.”
“Because we have so many economic woes at home, debating the budget, Obamacare, people are very much attuned to domestic ills,” and understandably so, she said.
But with “only so much political oxygen in the air,” the chairwoman added, it’s “hard to concentrate on very real threats that our country is facing overseas.”
“We’ve got to tie in why foreign affairs matter to our constituents,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Make it real.”