Either the New York Times has replaced its entire editorial board, or the US has become so successful against al-Qaeda that they can’t avoid reporting it. Today, Eric Schmitt informs the Times’ readers that the US-led efforts against AQ and radical Islamist terrorism has the enemy in collapse, with its funding all but gone and popular support dissipating. Perhaps Manhattan pharmacies should stock up on smelling salts:
The deadliest terrorist networks in Southeast Asia have suffered significant setbacks in the past three years, weakened by aggressive policing, improved intelligence, enhanced military operations and an erosion of public support, government officials and counterterrorism specialists say.
Three years after the region’s last major strike — the attacks on three restaurants in Bali that killed three suicide bombers and 19 other people — American and Asian intelligence analysts say financial and logistical support from Al Qaeda to other groups in the region has long dried up, and the most lethal are scrambling for survival.
In Indonesia, since 2005 authorities have arrested more than 200 members of Jemaah Islamiyah, an Islamic group with ties to Al Qaeda. In the Philippines, an American-backed military campaign has the Abu Sayyaf Group, an Islamic extremist organization with links to Jemaah Islamiyah, clinging to footholds in the jungles of a handful of southern islands, officials said.
The Times takes a properly cautious tone in reporting these advances. We have not won the war yet, and we could still see setbacks. Indonesia remains a problem even with the massive arrests, as they have tended to go easy on sentencing for the terrorists. Abu Sayyaf has tried breaking out of its pocket in the Philippines, with little success so far.
However, the Times and most of the American media did not expect to hear that radical Islam has retreated over the last few years. One of the main reasons why its grip has loosened is that the movement has killed far more Muslims than infidels — the radicals are their own worst diplomats. They have been forced into those actions by the aggressive forward strategies of the US and its allies.
One particular aspect of this aggressive strategy should get noted:
In Indonesia, the Australian police provided sophisticated electronic surveillance capabilities that allowed local security forces to locate within days several militants who carried out an even deadlier bombing in Bali in 2002. The Australians are still helping the Indonesian police monitor telephone traffic, and, along with American officials, have helped train Indonesian lawyers, prosecutors and judges.
The best way to beat terrorists is to stop them before they strike. Effective surveillance of enemy communication has always been a critical component of victory, and in this war is even more important. We can’t use air supremacy or satellite imagery to see the movement of enemy forces. We have to find ways to unravel their plans before they can complete them and attack undefended cities and civilian populations.
Now that we know what is successful, we need to keep following those strategies and tactics — both in Asia and here.