Little al-Qaedas Loom Large

The terrorist group's franchise operations are a threat. Here's how to deal with them

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The second strategy would be counterterrorism--using drones, missiles, Special Forces and other kinetic tools to disrupt al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. By anyone's measure, the Obama Administration has been aggressive on this front. Obama has used more drones in each year than Bush did in his presidency. In fact, many experts believe that Obama's counterterrorism strategy has been too aggressive. Gregory Johnsen, author of a detailed account of the U.S. war in Yemen, argues that drones have been overused in that country, triggering considerable backlash. He points out that drones have worked better in Afghanistan and Pakistan because the people killed were often foreigners--Arab militants--rather than locals with deep ties in their communities.

The third possible approach to the new threat of terrorism is to try to get local governments to fight the terrorists. But the places where al-Qaeda affiliates have sprung up--like Somalia and Yemen--are, almost by definition, ungovernable. At the moment, only the U.S. has the technology, missiles and troops to disrupt terrorist plots being hatched in those countries. Yet the best policy in the long run would be to shift the struggle over to locals, who can most effectively win a long war against militants in territory they know better than any outsiders. It also shifts the struggle over to Muslims, who can most effectively battle al-Qaeda in the realm of ideas. The U.S. can help by building up the legitimacy and capacity of these governments in various ways, encouraging reform and providing aid and technical know-how. Of course, this is the softest of the three strategies and would probably draw the most fire from Obama's critics were he to pursue it more fully.


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