What new strategy?

by Steven R. Corman

In today’s Washington Post, Bruce Hoffman published an op-ed piece entitled “Al-Qaeda has a new strategy. Obama needs one, too.” I have a lot of respect for Hoffman and whatever he says about terrorism bears consideration. But in this case I’m not too sure what he’s driving at.

As evidence for the existence of a new AQ strategy, Hoffman offers the following:

  • They have graduated people from multiple countries from training camps and sent them to conduct operations.
  • They are being opportunistic and are monitoring our defenses for openings in our security efforts
  • They have killed our operatives in a foreign country
  • They have involved our citizens in their organization and have used them to conduct attacks and attempted attacks here and abroad

Little of this strikes me as new.  The 9/11 attackers were AQ training camp alumni, and they conducted that attack by monitoring and exploiting our security weaknesses.  They killed our operatives in Iraq (though actual military ones rather than the quasi-military ones killed in the attack against the CIA in Afghanistan).  I suppose the involvement of Americans in high profile attacks is somewhat new.  On the other hand they have had involvement from American and British citizens for some time, and have always wanted to use those people to attack the West.  The recent attacks in the US have neither been numerous nor large in scale.

If there is a new strategy here, I wish Hoffman would tell us what it is. Or maybe I’m just being dense. If so please enlighten me with a comment.

In the rest of Hoffman’s piece there is little to disagree with:  We’re still being reactive, we’re defencing against yesterday’s threats, and we are not focusing enough on radicalization and recruitment.  But then again none of that is really new, either.

2 Responses to “What new strategy?”

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  1. Right on. I share the respect for Hoffman as a terrorist researcher, but in this case it seems as if he is fueling the already confused debate on “strategy”.

  2. Mark Laity says:

    You know, I think Hoffman is making a fairly fmailiar mistake, which is to confuse a new strategy with the better implementation of the old one. We see the same thing in ISAF, where the new team talked all the time about a new strategy, which on analysis was not new at all. To some degree they were just reinventing the wheel (new teams never acknowledge old teams) and to some extent they were focussing on new methods of implementation and calling it a new strategy. After all it’s so much more sexy to develop a new strategy than just do better with the old one! The brutal truth is of course the strategy may not be easy, but comparatively it is often the easiest bit, and it’s the humdrum grind of putting it into effect that is the real challenge.
    In this respect I totally agree with Steve, AQ don’t have a new strategy, BUT it is a very effective and sophisticated application of the old one, and frankly that’s far more scary.