Several seemingly-unrelated events seem to me to be important and pointing toward important new directions in the struggle against radical Islamist groups. The first is the optimistic report by CBS News that al Qaeda is publicly acknowledging the damage to its cadres caused by drone-fired Hellfire missiles.
In the communique posted online, al Qaeda leaders say “the harm is alarming, the matter is very grave,” due to the drone attacks. “So many brave commanders have been snatched away by the hands of the enemies. So many homes have been leveled with their people inside them by planes that are unheard, unseen and unknown.”
That pressure on core al Qaeda may be one of the reasons its affiliated groups have been ratcheting up their activities in other parts of the world, to show the organization is still alive and well and able to carry out attacks. Or perhaps the original core AQ strategy of spinning of large numbers of autonomous but sympathetic groups is gaining more traction.
What is clear is that the focus of attention for the new Islamist groups-either because they targeted the region or simply found room to operate there in regions that are sympathetic to Islamists and have little state control-is Sub-Saharan Africa.
The most notable resurgence of Islamist activities have been in Nigeria, where up to 700 people were killed in fighting in several northern states as the army fought the Islamist Boko Haram-the name means “Western education is sacrilege”-in a bid to eradicate the radical movement.
At the same time, Yemen is becoming a more active hub for violent Islamist activities. As the NEFA Foundation reports, U.S. citizen Anwar al Awlaki in Yemen has issued a triumphalist statement about recent fighting between the mujahadeen and Yemeni army, claiming a great victory.
In January the Christian Science Moniotor reported that the Yemeni and Saudi branches of al Qaeda officially merged, prompting the US Director of National Intelligence to say that Yemen was “reemerging as a jihadist battleground and potential regional base of operations for Al Qaeda.”
Somali, too, continues to bubble along, with the al Shabaab movements seeking to complete its takeover of power. And Sudan, despite the ill considered and harmful statements by Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration (ret) that Sudan is now going swimmingly remains a radical Islamist state bent on genocide inside its country and spreading chaos in the region.
So, while core al Qaeda may be, as Juan Zarate told CBS news, badly hurt and in worse shape than any time since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the cancer has spread to a broad range of regions outside the Af/Pak border, and is far from eradicated.