Dempsey: Al-Qaeda a Vast Network that Could Take 30 Years to Fight

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stressed to the Atlantic Council today that al-Qaeda is not a unit in Pakistan near destruction, but an evolved network that could take 30 years or more to dismantle.


Gen. Martin Dempsey said he strategizes by the “heavyweights” in terms of issues of global security — China and Russia — and the middleweights — Iran and North Korea, then a pair of networks including international crime syndicates and al-Qaeda.

Dempsey defined the al-Qaeda network as “al-Qaeda and affiliates that stretch from Afghanistan, Pakistan, across the Arab Peninsula, certainly in eastern Syria, western Iraq, Yemen, over into Somalia, across North Africa and into West Africa, all the way to Nigeria.”

“And it’s a network. And it doesn’t mean that that network is one single, coherent, ideologically linked or financially linked organization. But they syndicate themselves when it works to their convenience. And so we have to think of it as a network. And frankly, that network is a generational challenge, which is to say, 20 or 30 years,” he said.

“…So now what we’ve got to do in the face of those security issues is understand that they each require a different approach. You can’t — you deter nation states. You use the instruments of power, all of them — diplomatic, economic, and military — differently whether you’re dealing with a nation state, whether you’re dealing with a middleweight power who is — aspires to have more influence than it warrants and who can go rogue from time to time.”


Dempsey stressed that “certainly networks are not responsive to the kind of pressure that nation states are.”

“How best to apply, in my case, the military instrument of power against adversaries and potential adversaries, each of whom respond differently to different kinds of pressures?” he asked. “Our Joint Force is agile. It’s adaptable. Some of you have heard me testify, it embraces change. It’s actually eager for change. It may not always seem that way, but it is.”

“But what it isn’t eager to accept is uncertainty. And we’ve got a little bit too much uncertainty in our — in our budget condition right now. Not a little bit too much uncertainty; we’ve got significant uncertainty… But the two words are agility and innovation. And we’re challenging ourselves to see just how agile we are. And if we’re not as agile as we need to be, what are we going to do about it?”


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