One week after announcing plans to begin a drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, the Obama administration released an outline of its new counterterrorism strategy on Wednesday, a plan that emphasizes a shift in focus from big wars to taking on the terrorist group al-Qaida in peripheral battlegrounds.
In a speech that came as the White House released its National Strategy for Counterterrorism, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, said the United States will not to play into an al-Qaida strategy that “seeks to bleed us financially by drawing us into long, costly wars that also inflame anti-American sentiment.”
“Under President Obama, we are working to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan responsibly,” Brennan said in a speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. “Going forward, we will be mindful that if our nation is threatened, our best offense won’t always be deploying large armies abroad but delivering targeted, surgical pressure to the groups that threaten us.”
The unclassified report offered little new, but emphasized the administration’s belief that al-Qaida is less of a danger than it is in peripheral battlegrounds, such as Somalia and Yemen, where post-Arab Spring civil strife has pushed the nation to precipice of collapse. Brennan also said that the new strategy will put particular emphasis on combating al-Qaida and its affiliates' ability to inspire people within the United States to carry out attacks on American soil. In his speech, Brennan noted the threat of al-Qaida leaders Adam Gadahn and Anwar al-Awlaki, U.S.-born operatives operating out of Yemen.
In addition to the killing of Osama bin Laden in May, Brennan argued that since Obama has taken office, U.S. and international forces have eliminated more key al-Qaida leaders and their affiliates than at any time since the September 11 attacks, noting the killings of al Qaida’s third-ranking leader, Sheikh Saeed al-Masri; Ilyas Kashmiri, one of al-Qaida’s most dangerous commanders; and Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban.
“Taken together, the progress I’ve described allows us—for the first time—to envision the demise of al-Qaida’s core leadership in the coming years,” Brennan said. “It will take time, but make no mistake, al-Qaida is in its decline.”