With all the hullabaloo of a government shutdown, media coverage for the United States’ prime military target has been a bit lax. Unfortunately, a government shutdown does not mean al-Qaida has taken time off in its quest to bring down the Western world as we know it; on the contrary, the group has been quite busy. Not to worry, dear reader, allow me to fill you in on some of al-Qaida’s recent business.
Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, also known as Abu Anas al-Libi, was picked up in a raid conducted by Seal Team Six and the U.S. Army’s elite Delta Force Oct. 5. He was the mastermind of the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. Following an interrogation by military investigators aboard a U.S. Naval vessel in the Mediterranean, al-Ruqai was brought to New York to stand trial. Now that al-Ruqai has found his way into the American court system, he is entitled to the rights of any other American prisoner, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
In Africa, the U.S. has increased its military assistance in an effort to combat terrorism from groups such as al-Shabab (Arabic for ‘”the youth”), al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram, a terrorist group in Niger with ties to al-Qaida.
A recent article in The New York Times gives a breakdown of how nearly 100 missions across the continent will take place over the next year. Roughly 3,500 soldiers from the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division, historically known as “Big Red One,” will deploy throughout the African continent by December to train military forces in combating terrorism, al-Qaida and other jihadi entities that have gained footholds in Somalia, Chad, Niger, Mauritania and Algeria. Gen. David Rodriguez, commanding general of the U.S. African Command, commented on the plan in The New York Times.
“As we reduce the rotational requirement to combat areas, we can use these forces to great effect in Africa”, Rodriguez said.
Once a battlefield for almost exclusively special operations units, drawdowns in the Middle East and southern Asia have opened Africa to regular Army units.
In Syria, rebel forces continue to pound away at the al-Assad regime’s forces. A 105-page report recently published by the Human Rights Watch, an international NGO responsible for research and advocacy in the area of human rights, cited an Aug. 4 attack in the Latakia region of northwestern Syria in which 190 civilians were killed and 200 were taken prisoner. The civil war, currently in its second year, has seen a sharp rise in sectarian polarization between the Alawite (a branch of Shiite Islam) regime of Bashar al-Assad and the mostly Sunni rebels. The Latakia raid was conducted by roughly 20 rebel groups, at least five of which have connections to al-Qaida or other militant groups. Although the West has aligned itself with the rebel forces, both sides have been accused of atrocities by the international community.
Having seen how busy al-Qaida has been in the past few weeks, the U.S. is certainly in no position to let its guard down in the wake of a budget crisis. Protests in Libya Oct. 8 called for retaliation following the U.S.-led raid on Tripoli. According to Al Jazeera, the Libyan General National Congress referred to the raid as “a flagrant violation of national sovereignty.” The United States is in no position to think al-Qaida is no longer a threat. With a budget showdown sure to resurge in the coming weeks, a careful balance must be struck to ensure both national and economic security.