Al-Qaeda is likely to get bigger, stronger and more unpredictable in next five years CSIS report says ~ Stewart Bell, National Post - June 12, 2013
Al-Qaeda will likely become bigger, stronger and more unpredictable over the next five years, according to a Canadian intelligence study that attempted to peer into the future of the evolving terror network.
The report, The Future of al-Qaeda, was the result of a “foresight project” by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which asked unidentified “prominent specialists” the question: What might al-Qaeda look like in 2018?
The participants examined scenarios that saw al-Qaeda undergo gradual decline, incremental growth or rapid growth. The second was considered the “most expected,” said the report, recently posted on the CSIS website.
“Incremental growth gradually changes the threats posed by AQ. They become less predictable as AQ leaders, become more autonomous and opportunistic, and they become more potent as AQ avails itself of new weapons and recruits, new funding sources and new safe havens,” it said.
The issue resurfaced three weeks ago, when U.S. president Barack Obama said in a landmark speech that he intended to redefine and narrow the global anti-terrorism campaign launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But all three of the projections in the Canadian study — the result of a two-day workshop hosted by the CSIS Academic Outreach program in January — assumed al-Qaeda would not accept defeat and would continue to mount attacks.
Even under the most optimistic scenario, al-Qaeda was seen as moving toward a strategy of more frequent, “small rudimentary” attacks, inspiring homegrown terrorists in the West and forging regional alliances.
The darkest chain of events presumed al-Qaeda would capitalize on worsening violence, poverty, insecurity and regime collapse to gain control of states with nuclear weapons, dramatically raising the threat to global security.
But the report said the “likeliest” prospect was that al-Qaeda would slowly but steadily gain ground by selling its violent, anti-Western, religious-based zeal to populations frustrated and disillusioned by the failure of their governments.
The conflict in Syria “has potentially breathed new life into the al-Qaeda brand,” the study said, adding the demographic of “disenfranchised, disillusioned and marginalized youth” that Islamist extremists draw from had not gone away.
“There is no evidence that the potential pool of young ‘hot heads’ to which the [al-Qaeda] core’s message has always been directed will necessarily dissipate or constrict in light of the Arab Spring,” it said.
Their numbers could actually increase as they become impatient over the slow pace of reform, and the “losers and disenchanted” of the popular protests that toppled Arab dictators become “a new reservoir of recruits,” especially in North Africa and the Middle East, which have high populations under 20 years of age.
The incremental growth forecast said that in West Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Sinai Peninsula, al-Qaeda affiliates would reinterpret the terror network’s message in order to better exploit local grievances, creating “ideological divergences” and debates over which “enemies” to attack.
The growth will make al-Qaeda more decentralized, as new leaders emerge to replace senior members taken out by counter-terrorism operations and as newly formed armed groups align themselves with the network and its brand.
“Together, these overlapping forces cause the network to become less cohesive and predictable. Yesterday’s unified, shrewd and forward-looking leadership is replaced by a more fractured, impetuous and short-sighted one,” it said.
The study said al-Qaeda would become a “flat, loose but efficient network” that posed a greater threat as al-Qaeda-linked groups proliferated and operatives “slip into refugee flows to Western countries.”
As bad as that sounds, the study said Western governments could make it worse through complacency, budget cutbacks and troop withdrawals. “The result is severe: The West grows increasingly vulnerable at the very time that AQ grows incrementally more capable.”