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tv   Conference on Counterterrorism Future of Terrorism Panel  CSPAN  September 11, 2017 3:48pm-4:23pm EDT

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[ indiscernible speaking ] members of congress marked today the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. at ground zero this morning, house speaker paul ryan says the years pass but the shock does not. it never will. we will never forget and senator mcdurban tweets the horrific morning of september 11th, 2001 was one of the worst in hour history. the heroism was the very best of america in its aftermath. the bipartisan policy institute
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looked at the evolution of terrorism since 9/11 and the effectiveness of u.s. counterterrorism strategies. analysts looked at the future of terrorism including al qaeda and the role youth play in the strategy of terror groups. this runs 45 minutes. >> and being mindful of the jam-packed schedule that we have today i want to go ahead and transition right to our next panel as governor kane said it's important to every once in a while reassess the nature of the threat and as chairman mccall said the threat persists. and to discuss what that threat looks like going forward, what we can expect from isis, al qaeda and other terrorist groups and what the prospects for further radicalization given conditions on the ground in the middle east. we have an expert panel for you today. i'll go in alphabetical order
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but first hasan hasan, a senior fellow from italy's policy who has really written an excellent analysises of the situation and syria and iraq as well within militant islam. proceeding the certain civil war which identified the ground work for possible sectarian jihadist conflict in syria. it was a impression analysis and he remains one of the best analysts in the situation that i know of. kristen lord, the president and ceo of irex, who has had a long and distinguished career including as the acting vice president of the united states institute for peace and as the director of studies at the center for new american studies.
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both are members of our task force and finally katherine zimmerman from the critical threat projects at the american enterprise institute. katherine's article or monograph from the summer of america's real enemy is an excellent read that i commend to all of you on the threat of this whole jihadist movement. as our moderator, we're very pleased to have kim barker from the "the new york times" who has tremendous experience reporting from afghanistan and pakistan, whose excellent book i also commend to all of you. let me turn it over to kim. >> thanks very much for having us all here today. i'm excited to talk to these folks and we'll open it up to questions from the audience. can everybody hear me? if anybody has any problem hearing anybody here just raise your hand and we'll try to adjust that. i want to get right to it and ask everyone on the panel about
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what they think the strategy of various terrorist groups is going to be in the future. you have a conventional wisdom that isis is up against the ropes, that al qaeda is irrelevant and i want all of you to talk about this. we can start from my left and if you'd like to start. >> thank you for having me here. it's a privilege. i think the strategy has gone forward is the same strategy that they have had for a while, both of them obviously the islamic state and the al qaeda but one thing they agree on is this idea that it's the little things that matter in terms of militantism or militaryism. this idea they call it the nakao, which translates into something war of attrition. for example, one thing they both -- makes the argument that during the time of the crusaders
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in the war between -- it wasn't really the major battle that we know, the iconic, the battle that can change the balance and enabled them to defeat the crusaders, the small battle that happened before that is the little things like with the bands of militants fighting here and kidnapping and doing all this small stuff. so when they reached the point of that major battle, the enemies were already depleted and exhausted and weakened. and this is an argument that isis has made privately and publicly. they say, for example, over the past -- ten years ago, when isis was active in iraq or its previous incarnation in iraq, the united states was or had the
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appetite to send thousands and thousands of american troops into iraq to defeat it in the surge of 2007, but ten years later, they don't have the same appetite, whether the obama administration or the trump administration, in this case, they don't have the same appetite to send troops and they say this is vindication of their strategy of nakai. they say that's working. obviously that's wrong. analysts would say that the new strategy of by, with and through which both the obama administration and trump administration using to deploy in iraq and syria which is relying on locals to do the fight for them while they provide close air support from the sky and logistical and advisory support from the ground. they don't have to send the troops but they see that in terms of their strategy as a success, that they have done
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that much damage to american resolve in fighting them. and they say, this is what we're going to do next. that's why, for example, both al qaeda and isis, they still disagree with each other because they think they're strategy is working and they don't have to change their strategy, even though they have lost all their territory in the case of isis over the past three years. they see that that's progress. they're going to continue with this ceaseless war of fighting and eroding their enemies going forward. i think it's important to keep that in perspective because we see the headlines very positive isis is vanishing and i don't think that's -- that's the healthy thing to have in mind, the mindset. i think it's important to think -- to think of their strategy as what i said, it's the little things that matter and as long as they have the
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will to fight, i think they will continue to have that threat or continue to be that threat. >> maybe, you could build on that idea a little bit, talking about whether you think isis's ambitions are more to stay safe, stay home, encourage more act wherever you are, homegrown terrorism in other countries versus maybe trying to go to another country? >> well, the -- let's begin with this idea of why they target the west. it is not their primary ambition. they're thinking on targeting u.s. is that they will make the cost so high for the west, to the point where they are left alone in they're thinking, the jihadist thinking both islamic and al qaeda is that they want to neutralize the situation
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whereby the west or western countries, western powers intervene in the region on behalf of the regional allies. so that's one thing that they said. if we presume there is a creature called jihadist strategist and we try to think through the problems as they do, i feel there is a difference between al qaeda and the zurkowist so we don't get into the whole isis, isil, there's even a couple more, they have a certain style and approach. and the big question now, what happens next? are they going to recede? are they going to find a little margin where they can lick their
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wounds and try to remain relevant? or, which i think to be the correct or the more accurate way of understanding them, they're going to keep trying to go big. they're not going to regress into margins and what is meant here by margins is that, places like libya or an argument can be made for yemen too, they're still going to go big because the threshold of their brand, after trying to attempt to calaphate in syria and iraq, these are potent symbols of trying to recapture glory in those lands, going back to, you know -- going back to the village after seeing the shimmering lights of the city is not how they think and the question becomes, okay, what can they do, all right, or what remains for them to do, how much of a fight remains in iraq and
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syria and do they have other options, the other options could be egypt, turkey or saudi. i think at least -- have been telling us that they intending to to saudi. whether that is -- whether they have the capacity or there's opportunity there, that's a big question but, see, this is all part of their style. when they went to iraq in 2002 and then had the gull to try to attempt to launch a jihad in 2003, the reality, the demographics, the might of the u.s. army, a lot of things, the moral of the jihad after their defeat, a lot of things were working against but he went ahead. he saw something that others did not see and from their point of view they were successful. so whether you look at places like egypt, turkey or saudi
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arabia. we have to be mindful that maybe we don't see what they see and their style suggests they will he try to keep going big. >> so to follow up on that, katherine, if you could talk about is al qaeda dead? what's happening with al qaeda as isis is grabbing all the headlines? >> great question, i focus on al qaeda and i just read a report that argued against distinguishing between al qaeda and the islamic state as threats because they're both from the same ideological movement and our episodic focus on one group or another has allowed the other side to actually continue to strengthen and while we've been focused on defeating isis inside of raqqa and mosul, al qaeda itself has strengthened not just inside of syria but inside of afghanistan, much stronger in yemen. it retains control of -- so what
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we're looking at is the united states and the west has focused on the threat from the islamic state, which is significant and certainly the dog that's barking, but in the meantime, al qaeda has gone below the radar. it is issued attacks against major western targets, yes, it's conducted regional attacks but it has avoid drying the policy attention back and what it is doing is pursuing its primary objective. it is not seeking to kill americans as a number one objective. that's what we see. al qaeda and jihadist is focused on the muslim majority world. that's where the effort is. that's where al qaeda's been focusing. the efforts we've seen from al qaeda are not just the military side of the equation, the fact that al qaeda was and now is one
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of the strongest groups in the syrian opposition, but that al qaeda has pursued governance and sought to win over the hearts and minds. it's something that we as a nation have struggled to do as we get involved in conflicts and al qaeda had struggled as well. it's learned its lessons and it's actually poised to move forward in a way where it is embedding itself within local populations and insinuating itself into conflicts that will let al qaeda be much stronger in five, ten years. it hasn't given up on those terrorist attacks, the big attacks that bring down airliners, the bomb maker that was al qaeda and yemen signature bomb maker, he's still at lashlg. still training individuals so we should expect to see something come from al qaeda in the next five to ten years, if not before that. the question is when it turns its attention back on the united states and i think that as we're looking at this, this is where
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our counterterrorism strategy is falling short, because from our counterterrorism perspective we focus on the terrorists. they're the ones that are conducting the attacks, they're the ones that are proving to be a threat to the united states. meanwhile, the jihadi movement, both al qaeda and isis have focused on the people. the people in which they are -- within which they are operating and the people that are the focus of their efforts and so we could win the war by killing isis, we could win the war by killing off additional al qaeda terrorists but we've lost it in terms of preventing them from gaining strength within populations, not ideological support but support because the conditions are driving people to accept the presence of these groups for a variety of different reasons. >> before we start talking specifically about what the strategy is of the west and what we should be doing, i'd like to ask kristen about how does the youth bulge play into the
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jihadist strategy in terms of recruitment and what you see coming in the future because of all the folks who are under 30 right now particularly in muslim majority countries? >> thanks, very much. i think as many people know there is a huge youth boom across many parts of the world, the middle east, africa and south asia where terrorist groups are prevalent and also gaining ground and the reason why people in organizations like my own that focus on new development actually say a youth boom rather than a bulge is, you know, middle aged ladies like myself think the word bulge has a negative connotation and so does much of the world, the real key to this youth population is certainly this is a potential threat. if this group of young people are not engaged, do not have opportunities, are angry, can be appealed to by certain ideologies and given a purpose
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in their life, it's a tremendous threat, yes, and it will compound the existing threat many times over given the size of this demographic. but the youth boom is also a potential opportunity. we are not fighting the same people we were fighting on 9/11. many of those people were preschoolers or in grade school. the future recruits are still very young. they're still an enormous opportunity to engage these people in a positive way. these people could positively transform their nations and the strategic landscape but i'm afraid there's been all too little attention paid to this issue. as we were talking about before the session, my question is, for how many years, with how many lives and dollars will we continue to play whack-a-mole. if we actually want to transform the strategic landscape, the military solution is part of it, but it is far, far from being
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the only part of the solution but unfortunately, i fear that it is dominated, both the budgets and the strategic discussion and i do think the youth populations are key to actually changing the situation. >> with that idea, let's talk about strategy, what the west has been doing, what it should be doing as specifically as possible and feel free to talk about failures you've seen in the last 16 years and also about what -- what solution us see going forward, because it's so easy to point out problems, what's really difficult is talking about how to actually change things in the future and why don't you start talking about kristen, you were pointing out problems, talk about possible solution. i'd like you guys to talk about what's happening with the state department right now and how you see the military focus versus what we're doing in terms of trying to do more soft power things?
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>> i think step number one is pay attention. i'm coming out of the national security community, i'm a very unusual person to be running an educational program. i was stunned, shocked, floored to find out how few of even our existing development and diplomacy resources go to young people over the age of 10. the budgets for youth are already quite small relative to the overall budgets. i'm not even talking about comparison to military budget, i'm talking about diplomacy budget. most of the money is going towards young children and yes, there have been some huge advantages in term of survival rates and children who have entered primary school and those are things about which we should be very, very proud. if we actually want to talk about countering terrorists and terrorist networks and undermining the conditions that feed them, then we need to spend many more of our resources and
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young people ages 10 and up making sure they actually have a successful transition to adulthood, our dollars need to go not just into primary education in k-3, they need to go into giving people secondary school education and jobs and work and giving people a job is not going to make sure they don't become a terrorist, all of the evidence points against it, but it's part of a holistic strategy that gives people something in their lives besides bored dom, anger, lack of a future which makes them susceptible when some friend, brother or neighbor comes to them and offers them the opportunity to do something with their lives and feel important. >> katherine, take the question. >> this is where we have a slight point of disagreement. >> sweet. i was looking for that. >> i very much value development and the opportunities that come forward from it, but i see the solution as being much more targeted against popular grievances had which do include
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some of the education opportunities and the lack of employment going forward, but are not simply the providing the opportunity for a job for a group of people but rather insuring that they have a future to go forward in something to look at and it is -- it is -- the idea that we don't need to replicate an american life abroad but we simply need to be insuring that people are living their life to the fullest as they see it, many m of the grievances are griffin by the government's lack of interest, the foreign government's lack of interest in development and the allocation of what money that should be going to schools and teachers and infrastructure diverting it to the military, but to pursue a program for the sake of doing it, i've seen it fail in conflict zones because it's not actually hitting the people we saw it fail many times over in afghanistan. we don't need to rehash that
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debate. but it is the grievances that are allowing these groups to move in and there are anecdotal stories of al qaeda coming in with a teacher because a community has asked for a teacher for a decade and the government never responded and finally al qaeda said we'll provide the teacher and so the teacher comes in and provides the ideology alongside their lessons which is a major problem. >> i want to respond. i hate to disappoint but i actually don't think we disagree because i agree -- you need these targeted strategies. what we need in counterterrorism is a holistic tratgy and i hate to see that because it's such a washington buzz word. there is something to this one at at least. if you think about a set of nesting dolgz, the centerpiece, the most important or a target for darts, the centerpiece is the terrorist themselves and the people most at risk of joining and the more targeted
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interventions that katie's talking about but there is this broader ecosystem. i think the problem with the strategy, the farther you get away from the center of the bull's eye, where you're raining hell fire on to a specific individual, anything that's going beyond that specific circle of the bull's eye, our strategy gets weaker and weaker and that's the point i'm trying to make and why we may not disagree. >> can you talk about this idea and also feel free -- i know you've written about trump's visit over to saudi arabia and the promises he felt before hand and what you think of what's come after, so feel free to talk about that? >> well, i'll go even further in the disagreement, all right. this conversation about root causes and whether a youth gets a job or not, that's really fallen down the list of priorities at least in how young people i imagine across different demographics think in
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the middle east. many parts of the middle east, young people think there's a war going on. they've been fed this idea, that there's a narrative, there's a war, there's a one aspect of it is tech tearion, iran is extending its reach, the sued niece are being beaten up on and what we are going to do about it? now, i think it's too late, actually for these kinds of macro strategies to be put in place. several windows have closed. i think the last one that closed which is what i wrote about is that, sure, the u.s. was not going to go in in a big way, but syria's this big festering wound in the middle east. it's -- the scale of it is unclear i think to many people.
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it's still a shock to syrians themselves and a shock to the region, and i think me and hassan would disagree on this, but i see for example, with the syrian army reaching or breaching the isis line to get to that pocket, that's very symbolic. the syrian regime will say that this is victory, all right? whether that is analytically correct is beside the point. that narrative will provoke a response from somebody who sees that victory as a loss and defeat for them. and maybe i was suggesting there was a window of time, the last six months where the u.s. can get turkey and saudi with all their logistical problems, with all their political problems, internal political problems, but call them to task as allies and go in there and put a sunni face at least to the last blow being
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directed against islamic state in a place like -- to prevent the narrative of a syrian regime winning. that to me was the last macro possibility. what we have going forward, i think, is too much unpredictability to be able to put together any programs and what happens next is just reactive which also marks policy for the last 15 years in the middle east. >> what do you think about that? >> i actually share the sentiment, the possess mist view. i see jihadism as unwinnable war. i don't think there is a capacity the u.s. doesn't have the capacity, the europeans and even regional governments to of compat to defeat such a movement. it's a wave that will take some
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time. it will transform but it will not die out. maybe something can be contained, but in some years -- and i think the problem is we -- officials don't grasp the gravity of the problem and how things play out in the region and there's so much kind of optimism when there's when you defeat an organization. although, the massive resources deployed to fight an organization like isis over three years, i don't know how you call that a success. in the beginning, for example, u.s. officials have been saying -- have been saying that in the beginning when they went to muslim countries and asked their leaders why in your opinion did your citizens join isis or some of your citizens and the question the officials say the answer to that is
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because of the idea of the -- because it's galvanized and people want to go and join an organization like this. they don't think the regimes are legitimate and so on and so forth. i think that was true -- sorry -- and then the -- like the -- they continue and say once you defeat the -- once the idea crumbles, once the government of isis crumbles, you defeat the idea and i think that's true in the first year, maybe in the second year, but it's too late to defeat the organization now. you've been fighting the organization over three years, it has transformed into something, it has lost its government, it has lost the idea of the okay la fit maybe over the past three years, it has become a transnational organization that might be better and more favorable to isis than the calafhite and its
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ability to attract people. maybe it has lost it but it has won something in the return which is the transnational organization and isis -- i'll go back to the idea of the two threats coming out of or emanating from al qaeda or isis. a lot of people have this what i call the sillical pun den tri. when isis goes down, forget about isis, it's al qaeda is the threat. when al qaeda goes down, forget about al qaeda, it's isis that's the threat. the situation has to be seen as two threats emanating from two directions. these two threats are building up, they are becoming bigger. 16 years of war and terror more than trillions of dollars spent and mobilizing almost all the countries in the world and resources and so on and so forth and what we have today is a bigger isis on the tub of that, a bigger -- a bigger al qaeda
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and on the top of that we have isis which is competing with al qaeda over the global leadership of jihad. they want -- both of them are, i think this is what defines the next few years, as they compete over the global leadership of jihad. on the top of the two threats we have something that we don't talk about a lot, which is -- and i think we can start envision the third way of jihad, another iteration of jihad, the next big thing in jihad which is an idea between al qaeda's focus on the winning hearts and minds and trying not to provoke the population against it and between isis, this aggressive way of even speaking against hearts and minds. we need to impose our ideology no matter what people in our areas say and they did that over the past three years, they went against what people think is
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right, there were two aggressive, they overplayed their hands but we have a new movement of people who say we can do something in between, we can still be jihadist but we need to be more in touch with the population and popular ideas so we have a group like syria which has done that and became big at some point. now it's retreating. they understand this idea of winning hearts and minds and being intuned and in sync with the popular mind set but at the same time not becoming -- of trying to reach power through political, peaceful means but through jihad. >> with that, i'm going to open it up to questions from the audience. if you're watching this, you can feel free to tweet me any questions @kim_barker. please keep your questions as specific as possible. don't make speeches. i'm a militant moderator and i
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will pick you off. if you can pick one person that you would like to answer the question, or two, we want to get to as many as possible. also state who you are before you ask your question. so with that, questions? yes? you? >> my name is vasal from syria. i have question for hasan. >> pick one. >> since you are from -- how the local now are feeling toward isis, toward coalition coming to -- kristin -- >> leave it at one because we only have a few minutes. >> i like the way he was going with that. >> what are you doing for [ inaudible ] the people who run away from -- where are they now? thank you. >> well, that's a good question
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pause for us analysts who sit in washington or outside we're in touch with people but also we tend to be more racitional and sensible. we analyze according to what we have available to us. other than that, i am possess is a mystic. people don't have good options. isis failed to have a popular base unlike say racka and months you'll before it came over -- came and imposed itself on the population. the beginning people welcomed isis because they didn't know what it is but now i think people understand this and this goes to -- the bigger point of maybe people can be optimistic about the defeat of isis because -- because -- more sunnis than ever lived under isis an experienced isis and they understand it's savagery so
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they're going to be more active against -- against it's rise maybe next time. however i don't think there is an alternative. the u.s. policy has failed in syria because they don't have a syria policy and a counterterrorism policy even. they have a kill isis policy. that's not a policy. that's enabling militias. we have kurds going to -- to fight isis and we have the regime which people rose up against six years ago, somehow people now want people to accept the regime back after all the destruction and after everything just because there's a bad guy controlling them which is isis. i think there is -- there's a lot of kind of disconnect between how the policies


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