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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Where are we fighting al-Qaeda?

America is at war with al Qaeda — on that surely we can agree — and we know that al Qaeda has bases in Pakistan. In fact, it is probable that Osama bin Laden resides at one of those bases. But we can’t fight al Qaeda in Pakistan because Pakistan is an ally, and America does not violate the territorial integrity of its allies.

Al Qaeda is active in Gaza, according to Egyptian and Jordanian intelligence. Al Qaeda supports Hamas which has just waged a bloody — and successful — civil war against Fatah, its Palestinian rival. But we’re not about to invade Gaza in pursuit of al Qaeda. Even Israel, which withdrew from Gaza two years ago, is not eager to return there. In Lebanon, Fatah al-Islam, which is fighting the Lebanese government, is believed to be linked to al Qaeda. But the last time U.S. troops were in Lebanon, they were attacked by suicide bombers dispatched by Hezbollah, a terrorist organization directed by the regime in Tehran. There is no way the U.S. is going to send troops into Lebanon again.

Groups linked to al Qaeda are in Somalia. We have supported Ethiopian troops fighting there. But a serious effort by Americans against al Qaeda in Somalia seems unlikely.Al Qaeda cells operate in Europe. But it is problematic for American operatives to kill or capture terrorists there: To do so sparks allegations from the “human rights community” and the media about violations of international law, torture and secret prisons. Also, as has happened in Italy, it can lead to criminal prosecutions of Americans thought to be involved. So America’s ability to fight al Qaeda in Europe is limited.
There are probably al Qaeda cells in the U.S. too. One hopes the FBI is monitoring them. But until the members of these cells commit crimes, there is not much that can be done. On what basis could Mohammed Atta, ringmaster of the 9/11/01 hijackers, have been arrested on 9/10/01? What’s more, some judges and legal activists are now insisting that even combatants illegally in the U.S. are entitled to all the rights enjoyed by American citizens. If this view prevails, fighting al Qaeda within the U.S. will become even harder.