By all accounts, the attack was planned with care and executed with precision. At two notorious Iraqi prisons, Abu Ghraib and Taji, al-Qaeda combatants last week used mortars, small arms, suicide bombers, and assault forces to free 400 prisoners, including several who had been on death row. AQ spokesmen hailed those released as “mujahedeen,” holy warriors, who will rejoin the jihad on battlefields throughout the Middle East and beyond.
Soon after, we were seeing headlines such as this: “Al Qaeda Is Back.”
Where had al-Qaeda gone? Dig deep in the memory hole — all the way to last summer. At the prestigious Aspen Security Forum, Peter Bergen, CNN’s national-security analyst and a director at the New America Foundation, gave a talk titled, “Time to Declare Victory: Al Qaeda Is Defeated.”
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Lynch III (retired), a distinguished research fellow at the National Defense University, was writing and speaking widely on the same theme. And President Obama’s reelection campaign was making similar claims, e.g. “The tide of war is receding,” “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.” Mitt Romney hardly attempted to rebut the thesis.
I don’t like to say “I told you so” — oh, who am I kidding? Of course I do. But in this instance there is more than ample justification. Scholars at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in particular Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, have argued consistently and forcefully, based on solid evidence, that the May 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, followed by the elimination of other al-Qaeda leaders, did not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean the demise of al-Qaeda.
Instead, it led AQ to adapt, evolve, and morph. It is essential to study these changes and probe their strategic significance — an assignment unlikely to be seriously undertaken by those convinced al-Qaeda swims with the fishes.
On July 18, Joscelyn testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, attempting to make clear to members of Congress that AQ has become “a global international terrorist network . . . that, despite setbacks, contests for territory abroad and still poses a threat to U.S. interests both overseas and at home.”