For awhile now, U.S. intelligence officials have believed al-Qaida had a diminishing role in worldwide terrorism. Other, freelancing terror cells sympathetic to, but not controlled by, Osama bin Laden were believed to be popping up in various places.
This may indeed be true, but a New York Times report this week, citing unnamed U.S. intelligence officials, makes it clear that new evidence shows al-Qaida is alive and well, and that a new crop of leaders has emerged, and they still are taking orders from bin Laden. These new leaders are believed to be familiar with American culture (one was born in California), and they are battle hardened.
Two things can be said about this development. One is that U.S. efforts to this point have not been as crippling to al-Qaida as originally thought. Bin Laden remains in hiding, and coalition forces have thwarted several plots to carry out attacks. But like an infestation of roaches, his terror network has been growing in the shadows.
The second thing to be said is that this is no time for the United States to retreat in its fight against terror. Congress seems obsessed with the desire to set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. Regardless of the merits of the U.S. invasion there, Iraq has evolved into an important battleground in the war against terrorism. Its other civil conflicts may complicate matters, but they do not minimize this important aspect.
This latest information also lends credence to those who repeat what, unfortunately, has become a cliche, that if the United States leaves Iraq prematurely, the terrorists will follow the soldiers home.
The attacks of 9/11 took years of careful planning and patience. Americans should not be lulled into a false sense of security just because al-Qaida has not carried out a successful attack here since then. As the former head of the bin Laden tracking unit at the CIA told the Times, "To say that al-Qaida was out of business simply because they have not attacked in the U.S. is whistling past the graveyard."
Rather than trying to score political points by passing withdrawal demands that are certain to face presidential veto, Congress should be working with the president to strategize for victory in a war that, at least in the minds of the enemy, is nowhere near over.