In the nearly six years since 9/11, the Bush Administration has failed to bring bin Laden to justice, diminish the terrorist threat, or advance a viable strategy for countering extremist ideologies. As a result, the world is less secure and we are less safe here at home. Global terrorist attacks have reached an all-time high, al Qaeda and affiliated networks continue to operate and expand their reach, while we are less capable of defeating an increasingly complex and adapting enemy.
Democrats understand the terrorist threat and the urgent need to take action. Since assuming majority control in the Senate, Democrats have taken a number of important steps to address the global terrorist threat, by calling for a change of course in Iraq, increasing our commitment to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and stabilization, implementing key unfulfilled 9/11 recommendations, and bolstering our defenses at home.
Bush Administration has a failing record on key measures of victory in the war on terrorism:
- The Bush Administration has failed to bring those responsible for 9/11 to justice. 2,107 days have passed since September 11, 2001, and Osama bin Laden has not been captured. The Bush Administration has failed to capture or kill the key architects of the 9/11 attacks. Osama bin Laden, the head of al Qaeda, and his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, continue to lead and inspire extremists around the world. Experts are increasingly alarmed at the safe haven for al Qaeda’s leadership that has been reconstituted along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
- The Bush Administration has failed to stop major increases in global terrorist attacks. After reaching a 20-year high in 2003, the number of worldwide terrorist attacks has grown dramatically in recent years, increasing more than threefold since 2004. The increases have been particularly dramatic in Iraq and Afghanistan where terrorist incidents rose 91 percent and 52 percent, respectively, over the past year. (State Department Country Reports on Terrorism, 4/30/07)
- The Bush Administration has failed to win the battle of ideas that would “drain the swamp” of extremism. Bush policies have fueled the creation of a whole new generation of extremists aiming to kill Americans rather than “draining the swamp” of extremism, and have allowed the creation of new safe havens for terrorists. From its misguided strategy in Iraq to its inadequate commitment to stabilizing and rebuilding Afghanistan and inattention to other critical issues in the Arab and Muslim world, the Bush Administration’s policies have had a destabilizing and radicalizing effect.
- According to the Intelligence Community, Iraq has become a “’cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” (National Intelligence Estimate, April 2006)
- In a recent analysis of the impact of the Iraq war on the global war on terrorism, terrorism expert Peter Bergen found that, “The Iraq War allowed al Qaeda, which was on the ropes in 2002 after the United States had captured or killed two-thirds of its leadership, to reinvent itself as a broader movement because al Qaeda’s central message — that the United States is at war with Islam — was judged by significant numbers of Muslims to have been corroborated by the war in Iraq.” (Peter Bergen, “The Iraq Effect, ” Mother Jones, March/April 2007)
More than five years into the Bush Administration’s war on terrorism, al Qaeda is more dangerous than ever and more difficult to defeat
Al Qaeda remains a resilient organization, actively plotting terrorist operations, expanding its network and winning new recruits. In his annual threat assessment in February, Director of National Intelligence John McConnell warned that “while many of al Qaeda’s senior leadership have been killed or captured, its core elements are resilient. They continue to plot attacks against the homeland and other targets with the aim of inflicting mass casualties. Indeed, al Qaeda, along with other terrorist groups, continues to seek chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons or materials. Al Qaeda also is forging stronger operational connections that radiate outward from their camps in Pakistan to affiliated groups and networks throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.” (Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 2/27/07)
Al Qaeda and the Taliban have established a safe haven along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. In recent testimony, Lt. General Douglas Lute stated that “I don’t think there’s any question that the relative sanctuary for, especially, Taliban senior leadership in Pakistan, today, in the border regions of Pakistan, is a major factor in the ability of the Taliban to be resurgent and probably quite active military this spring in Afghanistan. There’s no question that that sanctuary exists and that it’s a major asset for the Taliban. (Senate Armed Services Committee, 3/1/07)
Taliban extremists have gained strength and pose a powerful threat to stability in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency testified that, “In Afghanistan, the Taliban-led insurgency is a capable and resilient threat to stability, particularly in the Pashtun south and east. Despite absorbing heavy combat losses in 2006, the insurgency has strengthened its military capabilities and influence with its core base of rural Pashtuns. Overall attacks doubled in 2006 from the previous year, and suicide attacks quadrupled from 2005. Large-scale operations increased significantly as well. DIA assesses that the Taliban-led insurgency will remain a threat in 2007 and its attacks will increase this spring.” (Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 2/27/07)
Al Qaeda now has become a serious instigator of violence in Iraq, where there was no al Qaeda threat prior to 9/11, posing a critical challenge to Iraq’s future and a threat to America’s security interests. Despite the death of its leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, last summer,al Qaeda in Iraq has continued to launch deadly attacks, playing a significant role in sectarian unrest and instability in Iraq. According to the Pentagon, al Qaeda in Iraq is “the primary threat to the security environment in Anbar Province, where it continues to target local [Iraqi Security Forces] through the use of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, suicide attacks, assassinations, and hit-and-run attacks to subvert and undermine governmental institutions.” (Department of Defense, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq, June 2007)
Al Qaeda is resurgent in North Africa. In April, suicide bombers carried out three attacks in Casablanca, targeting the U.S. consulate and other American cultural sites. In the same week, an Algerian terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda, attacked the Government Palace and police station in Algiers, killing 33 people. Earlier this month, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch testified that, “The threat from al-Qaeda’s presence in the region is significant, very dangerous and potentially growing in a couple of cases.” (Washington Post, 4/15/07; House Foreign Affairs Committee, 6/6/07)
An extremist group inspired by al Qaeda has established safe haven inside a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. Late last year, a group of Islamic militants, whose ranks include as many as 50 veterans of the war in Iraq, established Fatah Al Islam. For the past month, the group has been launching attacks on Lebanese security forces. Since the fighting began, the Lebanese military has lost 74 troops, while the militants have also lost at least 60 people, and much of the camp has been destroyed. (NPR, 6/19/07; Washington Post, 6/19/07)
Counterterrorism experts and officials have raised concerns that a Palestinian al Qaeda cell may be forming inside Gaza. Middle East expert Fawaz Gerges recently told reporters that “If Gaza descends into chaos, I would argue it would become much easier for al-Qaeda-like-minded groups to establish networks.” Further, he said “if the Palestinians descend into all-out war, in the next few weeks we’ll likely witness the emergence of new networks, who tend to subscribe to al-Qaeda ideology.” (NPR, 6/19/07)
Democrats recognize the dangerous and growing terrorist threat and have taken significant steps to counter it
Senate Democrats demanded a change of course in Iraq so that United States can refocus our resources on the battle against al Qaeda and other terrorist threats. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental conference report sent to the President on May 1, Democrats included a provision that called for a gradual redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq, in conjunction with concerted efforts to train and equip the Iraqi security forces and to build regional and international support for the Iraqi government. The legislation directed the President, within 120 days of enactment, to begin to redeploy troops from Iraq, with a goal of having only a limited number of troops remaining in the country on March 31, 2008. With this provision, Democrats demanded a change in policy in Iraq that would transition the mission of U.S. forces and advance a new comprehensive economic, diplomatic, and political strategy to bring stability to the country and bring to a close the United States’ open-ended commitment in Iraq. Unfortunately, the President chose to veto this legislation, against the advice of many military experts and the will of the American people.
Democrats remain committed to forging a new direction in Iraq. In the months ahead, Senate Democrats will continue to take every opportunity to push for a change of course in Iraq. While ensuring continued counter-terror operations inside Iraq and further training of Iraqi security forces, Democrats’ comprehensive plan for a phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops will allow us to turn our attention and resources to the more critical fight of hunting down Osama bin Laden, countering the threat posed by al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks, and addressing other important issues both at home and abroad.
In the final version of the 2007 Emergency Supplemental, Democrats took a critical step forward in holding the President and the Iraqi government accountable for Iraq’s future and advancing the goal of changing course in Iraq. The legislation conditions U.S. economic support for the Iraqi government on its progress toward achieving key political benchmarks. The bill also requires the President to report to Congress on the Iraqi government’s success in meeting these benchmarks. If the established goals are not achieved, the legislation would require, subject to a presidential waiver, that $1.6 billion in economic support funding be withheld from the Iraqi government.
Senate Democrats provided increased funding for reconstruction and assistance initiatives to stabilize Afghanistan and counter the threat from the Taliban, al Qaeda and other terrorists. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental bill, Senate Democrats provided $909.9 million for reconstruction programs and State Department operations in Afghanistan, which represents an increase of $189 million above the President’s request. Additional funds are provided for Provincial Reconstruction Teams, rural counter-narcotics initiatives, development, agriculture and humanitarian assistance. These initiatives are focused primarily in provinces targeted by the Taliban.
Senate Democrats passed legislation to address critical unfilled recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. In March, Democrats led the effort to pass the Improving America’s Security Act of 2007. The legislation takes a major step toward fully implementing the recommendations of the bipartiS.Amdt.9/11 Commission and effectively marks a change of course after years of inadequate action on critical homeland security needs. The bill will make America more secure by: giving our first responders the tools they need to keep us safe; making it more difficult for potential terrorists to travel into our country; advancing efforts to secure our rail, air, and mass transit systems; and improving intelligence and information sharing at all levels of state, local, and federal law enforcement.
Democrats secured increased emergency funding to better secure American borders, ports, and transit systems against terrorist threats. The 2007 Emergency Supplemental bill also provides $1.05 billion in funding necessary to address dangerous border and transit vulnerabilities left open by the Bush Administration since 9/11. This allocation includes hundreds of millions of dollars to protect American rail and mass transportation systems, install Explosive Detection Systems at airports, screen air cargo, and implement security measures at our nation’s ports.