Washington D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith’s statement on hearing, “The State of al Qaeda: Views from Outside Experts” (As prepared for delivery and submitted for the record):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing, and I would like to thank each of our witnesses for appearing before us today. This is an important subject, and one to which I believe we will be returning many times in the near future.
The attacks of September 11, 2001, brought home to Americans the threat posed by al Qaeda, and Congress reacted by swiftly passing an Authorization for the Use of Military Force. US forces invaded Afghanistan, toppling the Taliban regime and killing and capturing many al Qaeda fighters. We’re holding this hearing more than 12 years after those attacks by al Qaeda.
We have had some great successes in this war—al Qaeda no longer has the freedom to train thousands of fighters in Afghan safe havens, Osama bin Laden has been killed, and much of the core leadership of al Qaeda has been captured or killed. If President Karzai will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement he negotiated with the Obama Administration, Afghanistan will likely have a future as a stable and secure country, able to prevent al Qaeda from basing there again—this would be a strategic win for all of us. However, at the same time as we have been successfully eliminating the original organization, al Qaeda has morphed into new groups and metastasized in other places. We cannot lose sight of this and must be vigilant in our efforts to ensure that the group, whether core al Qaeda or an associated force, cannot threaten the United States or its people.
In the minds of many around the world and this country, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress passed back in 2001 has become linked to the war in Afghanistan. Some believe that as we bring our troop levels down and end our involvement in active combat there, that we will need to rethink the AUMF and how we proceed. As al Qaeda changes, the plain text of the AUMF, authorizing a war against those “…who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons…” may not cover those organizations who could threaten us in the future. So this may be an appropriate time to start to think about how to proceed in the future.
I do not ask our witnesses today to propose alternative legislation. It is too early for that. But, I hope that they can help us to consider objective criteria with which we may identify those groups or individuals with whom we need to be concerned? How do we determine whether certain persons or organizations are in fact persons or organizations that we must combat—through their devotion to an ideology, by their belligerent actions, or according to other factors? How many of these groups have global foci that incite direct attacks on the United States? How many have local foci that involve attacks on regional countries, and when do we need to be concerned about those with a more local focus?
When should the United States military be directly involved and when are we better served to rely on alternative means for providing security? When should we rely on partner nations to take action? For all the worry about the stability of Iraq, the Iraqi government appears to be taking action against the al Qaeda offshoot, ISIS, with weapons supplied by us—is that the model for the future? Or does the combination of U.S. direct action, action by regional countries, UN peacekeepers, and some old fashioned “nation building” that’s been the preferred approach in Somalia represent the future? Does the United States need a replacement for the AUMF or can we rely on covert actions, the right of “customary self defense”, law enforcement methods, partners, or a combination thereof, to deal with threats going forward? Washington is notoriously bad at focusing on more than one threat at a time, so how do we balance the focus on al Qaeda with other potential threats? I hope our witnesses will help us think through these questions.
Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing.