Global Terrorist Whack-A-Mole

While I’ve been somewhat sympathetic to the Obama Administration’s desire to limit “safe havens” — particularly through the use of Predator drones — for terrorists abroad, I think this article in the New York Times today evinces some of the folly of this particular strategy.

WASHINGTON — American officials say they are seeing the first evidence that dozens of fighters with Al Qaeda, and a small handful of the terrorist group’s leaders, are moving to Somalia and Yemen from their principal haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas. In communications that are being watched carefully at the Pentagon, the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency, the terrorist groups in all three locations are now communicating more frequently, and apparently trying to coordinate their actions, the officials said.

Obviously, terrorists on the run are terrorists who are less likely to hatch a plot successfully against the United States, but as I was reading the article on the train this morning, I thought sarcastically to myself (it was hilarious), “well here come the drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia.” But then reading further in the article, I learned there’s some indication that’s exactly what the Administration intends to do.

But the emergence of new havens, from which Al Qaeda and its affiliates could plot new attacks, raises difficult questions for the United States on how to combat the growing threat, and creates the possibility that increased missile strikes are in the offing in Yemen and Somalia.

Now, in fairness, the report doesn’t credit an official with raising this specific possibility, but it would seem fairly random to include speculation with no basis in truth whatsoever. In any event, it’s hard to see this strategy bearing fruit in the long term. That is, the world as a truly enormous place, and a fair number of terrorists are going to be able to elude capture if they so desire and I’m not so sure whether it’s worth the cost to be playing global whack-a-mole. After all, the 9/11 attacks were planned in Germany and carried out in the United States, not incubated in “safe havens” and launched from abroad. Of course, there’s obviously value in disrupting organizational and infrastructural systems, but I’m not sure how clear the value is when you consider that this is precisely the reason terrorists operate in cells.

Anyway, it seems to me there’s a definite tipping point where the cost and time spent chasing terrorists around the globe fails to match the benefit. I’m not sure when exactly that is, but I’d guess actions that might further destabalize places like Somalia are a good place to start looking. Ultimately, the fight against terrorists will be won politically.

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