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A Resurgence Of Al-Qaida Likely, Expert Says

BRUCE RIEDEL: The Afghan Taliban, with whom we have indirectly negotiated Mr. Bergdahl's release, is a close ally of al-Qaida and has been for the last 15 years.


That's Bruce Riedel, director of the Brookings Intelligence project. Riedel worked for the CIA for nearly 30 years and served as an advisor on South Asia and the Middle East for the last four presidents, including President Obama. I asked him about the strength of al-Qaida in Afghanistan today.

RIEDEL: The al-Qaida apparatus infrastructure in Afghanistan and Pakistan - and it is one infrastructure - has been badly damaged over the last five years, particularly by drone operations. But it has not been destroyed. And as drone operations become less and less frequent, and as American forces depart Afghanistan, we are likely to see a resurgence, a resurrection, a revival of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is not an argument for keeping 100,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan or even 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. It is an argument for trying to retain, as best we can, some unilateral counterterrorism capabilities in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.

RATH: Can we say, when it comes to that region, how strong al-Qaida is now compared to where they were? You know, the president says that they're decimated, that they're basically shadow of what they used to be.

RIEDEL: You know, I'm not disagreeing with the president's characterization. I wouldn't use the word decimated. I would use the word they've been severely degraded.

In Pakistan, al-Qaida has deep roots. It's been in that country for the better part of two decades. It has close connections, not just with the Afghan Taliban, but with a host of other terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that attacked Mumbai in November of 2008. So the likelihood is that once the pressure comes off of al-Qaida in Pakistan - no matter how severely decimated it is today, there will be some level of resurgence and regrowth. And we have to plan a strategy for dealing with that over the long term.

RATH: You know, obviously this is not just a problem for South Asia. There are threats coming from places like Syria, from conflicts in Africa. In terms of the global threat, how dangerous do you think al-Qaida is to America now?

RIEDEL: Al-Qaida has evolved and metastasized. I call what we face now al-Qaida 3.0 or the third generation of al-Qaida. It's not just an organization. In many ways, what's more important is an ideology, a narrative. al-Qaida-ism if you like. Al-Qaida-ism is thriving today from North Africa - all the way across the Arabian Peninsula and increasingly into sub-Saharan Africa. Boko Haram, for example, is not formally a member of the al-Qaida global jihadist network. But Boko Haram is very much an offshoot of al-Qaida-ism in it's own Nigerian context. And you see deep connections between Boko Haram and al-Qaida core in Pakistan that go back years and years and years. In that sense, al-Qaida-ism is thriving today. It is a very serious and difficult problem, which we are going to be dealing with for the foreseeable future.

RATH: Bruce Riedel is the director of the intelligence project at the Brookings Institution. Bruce, thanks very much.

RIEDEL: My pleasure. Thank you for having me on the program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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