Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Terror Experts Expect the Worst

Terrorism conference highlights the ISIS and al Qaeda risks the U.S. still faces world-wide.

The U.S. is losing the war on terrorism.

Bruce Hoffman, who runs Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, said at a the recent Jamestown Foundation annual terrorism conference that there is no stalemate, but rather that the U.S. is actually losing. In fact, terrorist seeds are “constantly regenerating,” and militants are just biding their time for new, major attacks.

Despite President Trump’s optimistic view in announcing the Syria drawdown in December, Hoffman numbered ISIS terrorists at some 25,000 to 30,000, and Al Qaeda’s at about 30,000. Some 40,000 foreign terrorists from 120 countries joined ISIS for the wars in Syria and Iraq, with some 15,000  having fled to other countries or returned home. He said they represent an immense challenge to European security services. There was no “decisive strategic victory” in Syria, and we can expect more major terrorist attacks. Also they still are very focused on downing commercial passenger jets. Details of Hoffman’s talk and the following two speakers can be heard at the conference link.

Bruce Riedel, a 30-year veteran of the CIA and now with Brookings Institute, spoke about “Saudi Arabia’s Polarizing effect on Regional Stability.” He said that Saudi Arabia depends mainly upon America for its security. He said that its Crown Prince and ruler, Mohammed bin Salman (called MBS), had upended its government’s old system of consensus among the ruling family, and now exerted almost total power with “unprecedented suppression” of the Saudi people. Riedel decried the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen caused by the Saudis saying that it’s costing them some $5 billion per month.

Furthermore, he said that Washington’s supposed sale of $110 billion of weaponry was actually only $3 billion contracted for so far. Riedel said that a new problem for Washington was its upcoming yearly list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism” published by the State Department. It was obliged by law to put on the list any nation which had committed more than one such act and the Saudi prince is accused of many beyond murdering the journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

Michael Ryan, Jamestown Senior Fellow, said that the threat of biological weapons in terrorist hands has increased because of “new, easily available biological agents.” He said we should expect more attacks on Americans and American interests, that both Al Qaeda and ISIS still have tens of thousands of followers. He said that even those who had become “de-radicalized” might readily return to terrorism upon being called upon by the right “dog whistle.” He quoted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, as explaining that setbacks were just “sent by God to prevent us from feeling too proud,” and that one of ISIS great appeals was that of providing comradeship and purpose for many lonely young men.” Ryan is author of Decoding Al-Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America.

Andrew F. Knaggs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Combatting Terrorism, spoke on the importance of non-military measures in the fight against terrorism. He described the difficulty of meeting the full range of threats “below the threshold of war.”

Meanwhile, Ahmed Hashim
spoke on “The Islamic State’s Way of Warfare,” as being the way of the weak, that its first objective was not to be defeated. He explained how most of the foreign fighters ISIS recruited were untrained and not very effective, that they were mainly used for suicide missions. He said ISIS military effectiveness was low to mediocre at the local level but “successful at grand strategy in posing considerable obstacle to U.S. goals.” His speech at the conference is here, followed by the three panelists below.

Pavel Baev of Russian origin and now at Brookings Institute, spoke on “Russia’s Future Role in Syria.” He said Russian political strength, its “soft power,” was constrained by its limited economic resources, that its government did not know what to do about Israel’s continued bombing (of Iranian troops) in Syria.

Nicholas Heras spoke on Syrian Al Qaeda and about Turkey’s policies in Syria. His speech follows Baev on the link to Hashim above.

Allison Pargeter spoke on “The Future of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.” She explained how it was unrelated to ISIS and was staying with its non-violent practices, that it was a force for conservatism and tradition, and promised above all to offer a non-corrupt government. It calls itself Muslim democrat. Jacob Zenn, an expert on Boko Haram and terrorism in the Trans-Sahel, mainly in northern Africa, spoke about his latest report on terrorism in Nigeria and neighboring nations. Brian Perkins, editor of Jamestown’s Terrorism Monitor, talked about his own work on Al Qaeda in Yemen.

General John Allen, President of Brookings Institution and former commander of American forces in Central Asia, served as the keynote. He said the U.S. must stabilize nations after it invades them or terrorist threats will just rise up again. He implied that America should help in the cost of rebuilding Syria. He warned that attacking Iran would instigate Shia terrorism which now is insignificant with most terrorism coming from Sunni Jihadists.

Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.




Become a Member today for a growing stake in the conservative movement.
Join here!
Join here