Expert Study Finds ‘Growing’ Foreign Extremist Threat

Yemeni soldiers stand near a rocket launching during a major offensive against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in the Shabwa province on Wednesday. A new expert study is warning that Sunni extremist groups in Yemen and elsewhere pose a "growing" terrorism threat to the United States.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
June 4, 2014, 10:48 a.m.

A new ex­pert study ar­gues that the “grow­ing” threat of for­eign ex­trem­ist groups re­quires a con­tin­ued U.S. fo­cus on the Middle East and North Africa.

The RAND Corp. re­port, re­leased on Wed­nes­day, urges Wash­ing­ton to main­tain its for­eign coun­terter­ror­ism fo­cus in spite of nu­mer­ous oth­er se­cur­ity chal­lenges that are clam­or­ing for the coun­try’s at­ten­tion and money.

“Based on these threats, the United States can­not af­ford to with­draw or re­main dis­en­gaged from key parts of North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia,” re­port au­thor Seth Jones said in a provided state­ment.

Jones, as­so­ci­ate dir­ect­or of the In­ter­na­tion­al Se­cur­ity and De­fense Policy Cen­ter at RAND, re­com­mends that a “more ad­apt­ive” coun­terter­ror­ism policy be de­veloped that re­lies on dip­lomacy, spe­cial forces and in­tel­li­gence cap­ab­il­it­ies “to con­duct pre­ci­sion tar­get­ing of these groups and their fin­an­cial, lo­gist­ic­al and polit­ic­al sup­port net­works — where there is a high threat to the U.S. and a low loc­al gov­ern­ment ca­pa­city,” ac­cord­ing to a RAND press re­lease.

U.S. Pres­id­ent Obama last week asked Con­gress to au­thor­ize up to $5 bil­lion in new fund­ing for the es­tab­lish­ment of a Coun­terter­ror­ism Part­ner­ships Fund. The money, as out­lined by the ad­min­is­tra­tion, would be used to im­prove the abil­ity of part­ner na­tions to com­bat loc­al ex­trem­ist groups. However, the pro­spects of that fund­ing be­ing ap­proved in the next budget cycle do not look good, ac­cord­ing to a Tues­day re­port by De­fense News.

In writ­ing his re­port, Jones looked at thou­sands of pub­lished primary source doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing pub­lic pro­clam­a­tions and in­tern­al memos writ­ten by seni­or op­er­at­ives from al-Qaida and oth­er ter­ror­ist groups. Jones also re­lied on a data­base that tracks char­ac­ter­ist­ics of Sunni-ji­hadist groups and the activ­it­ies that they are in­volved with.

The study points to a nearly 60 per­cent in­crease in the last four years of the num­ber of op­er­at­ing ex­trem­ist Is­lam­ic groups, and to a roughly 300 per­cent in­crease in the num­ber of strikes car­ried out by al-Qaida and its fran­chises. Ter­ror­ist groups based out of Afgh­anistan, Pakistan, Syr­ia and Ye­men rep­res­ent the most ser­i­ous threat to the United States, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

It is im­port­ant to note, however, that the doc­u­mented up­tick in ter­ror­ist activ­ity is largely re­gion­ally fo­cused, says Daniel Drezn­er, a Tufts Uni­versity pro­fess­or of in­ter­na­tion­al polit­ics.

In a Wed­nes­day blog post for the Wash­ing­ton Post, Drezn­er ar­gues that “I’m not see­ing all that el­ev­ated of a threat to the United States home­land. … These groups seem far more con­cerned about loc­al polit­ics rather than world polit­ics. It’s cer­tainly more ac­cur­ate to say that these groups threaten ‘U.S. in­terests in the Middle East,’ rather than just ‘the United States.’”

Jones con­tends, though, that the ac­tions of al-Qaida in the Ar­a­bi­an Pen­in­sula — which has been be­hind mul­tiple botched plans to dir­ectly strike the U.S. home­land — and rad­ic­al­ized in­di­vidu­als such as the Tsarnaev broth­ers — who are ac­cused of com­mit­ting the 2013 bomb­ing of the Bo­ston Mara­thon — shows that Sunni ter­ror­ist ideo­logy still ser­i­ously threatens the United States.

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