News that the CIA had foiled yet another attempt by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to bomb U.S. airliners using some sort of new “underwear bomb” further confirms the big shift that has occurred in terrorist circles during the past decade: al-Qaeda “central,” based in Pakistan, has gotten less and less important even as its fellow travelers and affiliates have gotten more sophisticated and dangerous.
AQAP is at the forefront of these off-shoots in trying to attack the American homeland, but it is hardly alone–the Pakistan Taliban, a group sympathetic to al-Qaeda but not formally allied with it, was also discovered trying to attack Times Square with a car bomb. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in Iraq piled up carnage on a level undreamt of by other terrorist groups–so much killing that even Osama bin Laden thought it was counterproductive because most of the victims were fellow Muslims. AQI now appears to be expanding its sphere of operations into Syria.
This is symptomatic of the ability of jihadist groups to adapt and survive on a changing global battlefield where certain avenues of attack may be closed off to them (it seems unlikely anyone will ever again hijack an American airliner with a box cutter), but other opportunities are presenting themselves, especially as political turmoil spreads across the Middle East. Jihadist groups are parasites that breed in areas where no lawful authority is established; thus it is not surprising to see them operating in places like the tribal regions of Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.
We will see more threats from this direction in the future, which is why it is imperative that the CIA and Special Operations Forces continue their drone strikes and commando raids to keep the terrorists off balance. The “global war on terror” may have been banished from the official lexicon under the Obama administration, but in the field it continues to be waged with ferocity as great as ever–on both sides.