Al Qaeda is not likely to initiate a major attack on U.S. soil in the near future, military analysts say.
The group is shifting toward “small and medium-sized operations in the hopes of draining U.S. resources and economy,” William McCants, a fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, told a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum last week.
Smaller operations also will allow al Qaeda to focus on gaining support in predominantly Muslim countries, he said.
Mr. McCants said al Qaeda will target tourism and the oil industry, in hopes of depleting the U.S. economy, rather than attacking the U.S. directly.
Nadia Oweidat, a Rand Corp. research assistant, stressed the “ideologically huge difference between al Qaeda and the local people” in Muslim countries, noting that not all of the Muslim communities in these countries support the extremist groups but simply lack knowledge and options.
“If you look at the educational system in the Arab world, unfortunately, those who get the A’s, those who get the work, are those who do not question, who do not think, who just memorize and follow,” she said. “We need to revise the educational system to create a generation who questions.”
Public opinion is important to al Qaeda “because it gives them the support they need to operate,” she said.
Brig. Gen. Mark Schissler, deputy director of the war on terrorism of the Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, said Muslims need alternatives to extremism.
“We have to do a much better job of creating a hopeful future that exists out there,” he said.
Gen. Schissler backs the use of proxies, such as Muslims who oppose extremism, to relay the U.S. message.
“Many times, we, the Westerners, are totally absent in broadcasts and we need to be more present,” he said.
“The local people are being fed a regular diet of being told that we’re an occupier,” he said. “That only complicates the fight.”
Gen. Schissler said, “We need to stand behind and support from the background because when we speak we are heard through a variety of filters and most of the messages are lost that way. … Proxies are actually the only way forward and you have to become comfortable with that.”