The reason why Josh's latest series of posts is extremely important is because it enables us to determine the operational attack strategies and methods of Al-Qaeda. Terrorists intend to spread a political message through violent activity, and continuously target economic sources and activities to do so. A 2007 RAND (Center for Terrorism Risk Management Policy) study entitled, "Economically Targeted Terrorism," explains that Al-Qaeda either attacks a) interdependent economic streams to break down activity, such as transportation, or b) economic networks that spread effects, such as food or water contamination.
AQ's ability to plan and execute either small or large-scale attacks relies on their own economic stability; i.e. funding. "Truly hobbling a large, stable economy is likely to be beyond the means of most terrorist groups. However, a variety of potential terrorist operations could produce sufficiently...sizable numbers of casualties and damage or destroy large amounts of property..." It is important to identify that the objectives of AQ are witnessed in two ways, namely, to generate a) broad disruption and/or b) large-scale destruction.
Ironically, but not surprising, the economic stability of AQ depends largely on the economic instability of other nations. This is a trend that I established concerning the criminal activity of trafficking. AQ thrives in impoverished areas. For example, The Economist declared that the worst country on earth in 2010 is Somalia, home of "piracy, poverty, and perdition." Similarly, Al Shabaab calls it home, too: "...according to the UN’s World Food Programme, more than 40% of the population need food aid to survive, and one in every five children is acutely malnourished. The constant fighting has internally displaced more than 1.5m people, with a third living in dire, makeshift camps. Aid workers have been able to supply them with less than half the daily water needed."
Conditions such as these have caused both the US and international agencies, such as the UN, to provide financial, nutritional, and military support. As I discussed with US Operation Restore Hope, scenarios as the one Somalia and other countries face - as they have faced in the past and continue too now - can be miscalculated and result in financial loss and/or military conflict. As The Economist article states, "The world's most failed state, regrettably, threatens to become a bigger problem for the rest of the world."
Sadly, this theory holds true, as the 2009 worst country on earth was none other than Afghanistan. Michael E. O'Hanlon, Director of Research and Senior Fellow of Foreign Policy at The Brookings Institute, identified Afghanistan as the first crisis region in a report entitled, "Four Global Crisis Spots." He discusses the strategic opportunities for the US as well as the multi-disciplinary resources needed to counter terrorist growth, increased violence, and social and economic hardship.
Mr. O'Hanlon's former colleague (Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy, 2006-2009) and now US Ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, has recently co-authored "Confronting Poverty" with Susan E. Rice - (December 2009). He argues that due to the connections between poverty and fragile states, "alleviating poverty and shoring up weak states are not only humanitarian and economic imperatives, but key components of a more balanced and sustainable US national security strategy." The "War on Terror" has taught us - and shown us over and over again more than we like - that the most sustainable US strategy should not focus on singular states but interconnecting states within a region, as AQCL is now affiliated with terrorist and criminal organizations operating throughout regions like a spider. It is a chess game.
The most effective counterterrorism strategy, then, is forward thinking, matrix-like, and multidimensional, especially when combating a morphing and expanding ideology and image, tactics and strategies. My colleague, Pat, makes a fantastic point, stating: "As we consider the future of irregular warfare and terrorism, it’s critical to monitor the threat posed by regionally-based terrorist groups who become increasingly mobilized in line with a global Islamist ideology." Pascual/Rice argue that the US needs to "invest in poverty alleviation and capacity building in weak states to break the vicious cycle of poverty, fragility, and transnational threats." If The Economist's theory holds true again, then we need to act now in order for the cycle not to worsen in Yemen; for our common human experience alone shows that once the cycle begins it is rarely broken but only slowed or subdued.
We need to stay ahead of the emerging, developing, threat of Yemen becoming the fertile land of AQCL and/or affiliates. As a result, AQAP and Al Shabaab, and perhaps AQIM's, tentacles will grow: The region will become within the next decade the haven for AQ to plan micro and macro terrorist plots targeting economic activities and networks to generate broad rupture and/or large-scale destruction. Al Sahwa does not want Yemen to be the worst country on earth in 2011. If so, then criminal activities such as trafficking will regularly occur like it has in Afghanistan and social displacement will increase as witnessed in Somalia. As stated before, the scenario "threatens to become a bigger problem for the rest of the world."
In conclusion, Yemen is directly connected to Afghanistan and Pakistan; it is gradually becoming the rook of AQ. In order to stay ahead of the cycle in Yemen, the US needs to win The Exchange by taking the rook and using the knights (Iraq, Afghanistan - forking) and the bishop (Pakistan - endgame) to our advantage: We will set ourselves in a strategic location to successfully disrupt, dismantle, and work towards defeating the morphing and expanding AQCL and affiliates.