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Believing in the Tooth Fairy

"Oh, how the media doth spin the yarns," or as Mark Twain once wrote, "the report of my death was an exaggeration." The same may hold for al Qaeda and the Taliban. Some sentiment exists that espouses the belief that the al Qaeda ideology of global jihad is in decline.

With its central leadership thrown off balance as operatives are increasingly picked off by missiles and manhunts and, more important, with its tactics discredited in public opinion across the Muslim world. "Al Qaeda is losing its moral argument about the killing of innocent civilians," said Emile A. Nakhleh, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency's strategic analysis program on political Islam until 2006. "They're finding it harder to recruit. They're finding it harder to raise money."

Yet another view is that al Qaeda is fractionating and being replaced by a "generation of dispersed, aspiring terrorists linked largely by the Internet -- who still pose a danger, but of a lesser degree."

Is that truly any less dangerous than the somehow coordinated efforts of al Qaeda prime? Or further, is this "simply" an evolution of the thinking from the 2005 treatise by by Spanish-Syrian strategist Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, "The Call for a Global Islamic Resistance." Key to that document was the concept of "nizam, la tanzim," or 'System, not organisation.' Jihadist groups should develop a template that allows them to create structures wherever they are, and carry out recruitment, fund-raising and attacks. One thing that should be certain is that the recent spate of seemingly disconnected terrorist incidents in the United States should be disconcerting to everyone.

The threat is here, even if it comes from "there." When people can go to training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan, learn about bombmaking, become indoctrinated in the beliefs of the ant-West jihad, the War on Terrorism is in your town, it's on your street.

The recognition of the threat of internal jihadist attacks in the United States is reinforced by Walid Phares writing in the Counterterrorism Blog. Simply, the essential element here is that over time, it was projected that "Jihadists, individuals and cells will be mushrooming and expanding inside the United States within few years from then and that they will precisely do what they are trying to do now." He wrote further:

The North Carolina cell, the New York subway plot, the Dallas attempt, the Illinois case, added to the previous cases of the shooting of a soldier in Arkansas, the precedent New York cells, Georgia's young Jihadists, all the way back to the infamous Virginia paintball network, if anything gives us the genome of what is morphing inside the country -- a vast body of dispersed cells with at least one binding force -- the Jihadi ideology. The question thus is to find out who is propagating the doctrines of Jihadism: who is funding it; who is protecting the indoctrination operation which leads naturally to the rise of homegrown or foreign linked, lone wolves or packs of Jihadists, Terrorists. That is the real question: where is the factory? If the Government doesn't counter this ideological growth, Jihadists will keep coming. And in fact they kept coming, spreading crossing the barriers of ethnicities, races, nationalities and geographical frontiers. The Jihadists committed to harm the US, and based inside our borders, are now by the hundreds.

Indeed, where is the factory? A common thread to all of these recent events is the access to terrorist or jihadist training camps. In the case of Zazi, it is clear that he went to a training camp in Pakistan where he was instructed in tactics and in bomb making. If that is the case, others have begun asking the question of where we should be fighting terrorism. Is there war in Afghanistan? Or is the "real" war in the mountainous regions of Pakistan where al Qaeda's proxy, the Taliban may have found a new haven?

It is a troubling question. The fact is that Najibullah Zazi, the apparent leader of what now may be a failed bombing plot against NY City subways, traveled to Pakistan for his training. So while General McChrystal argues that more troop strength is needed in Afghanistan to ensure "victory," and the President ponders the next policy, the terrorist training camps in Pakistan continue to turn out jihadi bombers and fighters, and Taliban violence against Pakistanis is unrelenting.

Pakistanis remain primarily concerned with their own prideful sovereignty. "Unilateral action by the Americans inside Pakistan would be a diplomatic and political disaster," the Pakistani paper the Dawn opined Wednesday. "The Americans must remain sensitive to Pakistan's internal political dynamics." Meantime, on Tuesday the Taliban blew up an empty girls school just outside Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan, the latest in a string of similar attacks. The attackers then retreated to their tribal-area safe haven.

Is stabilizing Afghanistan more important than rooting out the terrorist training camps in Pakistan? Others with more insight to the multinational issues might differ, but the history of the region suggests that the Taliban do not see a border between the two countries, especially when they cross the mountains.

As recently as August there was a belief that while the threat posed by al Qaeda will continue for two decades, it is more likely to pose a conventional, rather than WMD threat. That's a fairly bold prediction considering a 20 year predicted threat, and the uncertainty of what will happen tomorrow. Further, continued instability in the world, especially in the region of Afghanistan and Pakistan where the Taliban ruled and then protected and spawned al Qaeda, suggests that the extremism of September 11, 2001 remains unchecked.

It is also possible that al Qaeda in one form or another could continue to plague the World stage for 50 years. It may morph and change and adapt, but will it disappear? Perhaps if you believe in the tooth fairy, you can also believe that al Qaeda is dying (or dying off).