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Bin Laden Is Dead . . .

But al Qaeda isn’t. We should build on our success in Abbottabad by redoubling our efforts to defeat his movement.

May 16, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 33 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN and KIMBERLY KAGAN
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More remote scenarios could see the rise of al Qaeda franchises or fellow travelers in Egypt, elsewhere in North Africa, the Levant, or Equatorial Africa, but there is no need to belabor the point. The struggle with al Qaeda, to say nothing of the larger struggle against militant Islamism generally, is far from over. Clear and present dangers are, in fact, emerging. It can be tempting to argue that these threats merely show the wisdom of withdrawing from Afghanistan, which is not now a center of al Qaeda activity, to focus on more pressing problems elsewhere. We must resist that temptation. Our struggle against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will not be helped by our giving its affiliates and allies free rein in Afghanistan and returning Taliban leader Mullah Omar, whom all al Qaeda affiliates recognize as “the leader of the faithful,” to a position of power. 

Success in Afghanistan and Iraq remains vital. American withdrawal from either commitment will be taken throughout the Islamist community as a sign of weakness and indecision. But success in those two thea-ters is not enough. This moment in the war with militant Islamism is the time to take stock of our global strategy and to develop coherent approaches to the dangers already visible on the horizon. No one wants to invade Yemen, Somalia, Libya, or any other country. But the strategies we have been relying on in Libya and Yemen are failing, and we have never had a strategy for Somalia. The United States must seek every possible way of averting the dangers of stalemate, state collapse, and the triumph of al Qaeda groups, preferably without deploying more of our own forces. 

It may be that, in the end, America simply cannot be secure if terrorist groups with international ambitions have uncontested control over sanctuaries and resources. But the U.S. government has never yet focused its attention fully on these challenges, let alone focused resources on them. It is past time to do so. Those sincerely concerned with America’s security should be demanding that kind of commitment and should reject utterly the notion that bin Laden’s death will allow us to declare “mission accomplished” and withdraw from the Middle East, and the world.

Frederick W. Kagan is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and director of its Critical Threats Project. Kimberly Kagan is president of the Institute for the Study of War.


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