I am looking forward to Pat's upcoming analysis on "...the wider strategy that the US is waging against AQAP." He plans to take an holistic and comprehensive look at our diplomatic, information, military, and economic efforts in Yemen. For the time being, I wish to focus on one more of the many important strategic aspects for countering AQ, namely, psychological rehabilitation. It is increasingly becoming more a part of US discussions as a viable avenue for achieving diplomatic and economic success.
On 14 December, 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton designated AQAP as a foreign terrorist organization. This step is important for two reasons: a) it enables the U.S. to target and prosecute AQAP members and their network affiliates; and b) it opens the door for further cooperation with the Yemeni Government. For example, officially adding top-tier leaders such as Nasir al-Wahishi and Said al-Shihri, as well as al-Zindani, to the F.B.I.'s Most Wanted List empowers the Department of Justice to work in cooperation with President Salih's Prime Minister for Security and Defense, Rashad Muhammad al-Alimi along with others.
The work is already beginning, as Clinton has met with Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi to discuss effective ways to "control [Yemen's] borders, conduct counterterrorist activities, [and] improve services to the people of Yemen. But, it is imperative to note, as al-Qirbi stated earlier, that "Yemen welcomes U.S. and foreign troops for training, intelligence and logistical support." In confirmation of this, President Obama has stated repetitively that "grounds troops" will not be sent, and the US is only seeking to further aid the host nation with its capabilities and resources throughout 2010 as General Petraus says here.
Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment reiterates al Sahwa's perspective that a successful counterterrorism strategy must be holistic, and adds that professionals have reason to conduct a "greater evaluation" of soft security measures such as psychological rehabilitation programs that incorporate prevention and aftercare methods. He quotes that the program now being used by the Saudi Arabian Government, which has treated 3,000 prisoners, boasts an 80-90% success rate. Such a program surely promises a multi-disciplinary approach to combating extremism, but is it a viable aspect of a comprehensive strategy?
U.S. local, state, and federal police organizations have traditionally used rehabilitation methods to combat gang-warfare and culture in order to protect citizens and families and prevent socio-economic hardship. Speaking in terms of statistics alone, 80-90% is not successful or promising when considering the objective of defeating Al Qaeda. When the percentage is applied to both criminal gang activity and international/transnational terrorist jihad, it simply means that 1-2:10 persons remain either committed to or openly vulnerable to becoming committed once again to carrying out micro and/or macro attacks.
At first glance, soft counter-terrorism methods offer only a positive perspective and limited promise for realistic results. It is positive because it does give reason to evaluate further as Boucek argues, but it is limited because a) it may only work for certain regional populations and/or b) it has proven to work only to a certain degree.
As Bill Roggio examines on LWJ, Shihri himself was released from Guantanemo Bay in 2007 and wasted no time getting back into the game. Furthermore, an interesting article in Foreign Policy (15 January, 2010) entitled, "Camp Nowhere," states;
"Indeed, between 2000 and 2005, the Sanaa government supported a rehabilitation program for its own prisoners, the Yemeni Committee for Dialogue...Reports suggest that several graduates returned to their violent ways, many of them in Iraq. Moreover, plans for renewing and improving deradicalization efforts [through religious dialogue and reintegration into society] are still in the very early stages."
The fact that even a small percentage returns to jihad is enough reason to not implement such a program into the holistic and comprehensive strategy. Moreover, as I learned in my "Crisis Management" course while an MBA student, it is not always the amount of times an event happens but the severity of one event happening that results in broader disruption and/or destruction. The return of 1-2 AQ fighters is enough to determine the global impact of its network; for these members spread harm on many fronts.
The implications inherent in the philosophy of soft counter-terrorism techniques begets the argument once more that "Al-Qaeda is an organization to be destroyed, not to be negotiated with in any manner..." President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and participating agencies such as the FBI can successfully protect America by "continuing to press the Yemenis to defeat al-Qaeda, not to talk with them."
After further assessment, soft counter-terrorism methods seem to not dismantle a terrorist's personal and group willingness - and if I may say, inner yearnings. Another case paramount to understanding the dynamic which we are facing is that of Othman Hadi al-Umari, an AQ weapons smuggler who surrendered to Saudi Arabia authorities in 2004. He was, at the time, number 25 of 26 on their most wanted list. Al-Umari (also written Omari) "renounced his earlier thinking but later rejoined the organization and was captured [in 2009] with the cell of 11 terrorists" The Interior Minister has affirmed that AQ uses the rehabilitation program to further their ideological objectives, stating that "Al-Qaeda has managed to lure back about 11 returnees from Guantanamo that had benefited from the programs."
In conclusion, despite the return rate of "rehabilitated" terrorists to jihad, psychological programs cannot be implemented into a comprehensive strategy at this time but need to be explored further so that the US and host nations can identify successful soft counterterrorism techniques to evaporate jihadi extremism and prevent radicalization amongst the youth populations. I argue, above all proposals, that educational programs promise the greatest deliverance from ideological growth and violent activity. This is where such a program can be as effective as police-oriented gang programs.
As an aspect of my next post, I plan to discuss the effectiveness of the F.B.I.'s Community Outreach Program (C.O.P.) and its opportunity to integrate business networking, educational institutions, and religious communities to combat terrorism. The analysis will be important for understanding further how host nations such as Yemen can potentially implement a framework for community programs to aid in the disruption of AQ networks.
For now, "The economic issue is key to Yemen's challenge in shutting down al Qaeda -- not just in re-educating militants, but in preventing militancy." It is evident that in order for this to be successful, the US and Saudi Arabia must aid in the stabilization of Yemen's economy, as I discussed here.