"There is no question," said U.S. Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin, "that bin Laden's departure from the scene was the most important milestone ever in the fight against al-Qaida." Bin Laden was al-Qaida's founder and sole commander for 22 years. He was killed in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, by a United States special forces military unit.
Other prominent al-Qaida leaders killed in 2011 include Ilyas Kashmiri, responsible for the 2009 Mumbai attacks; Harun Fazul, one of the architects of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania; al-Qaida's second-in-command after bin Laden's death, Atiya Abdul Rahman; and Anwar al-Aulaqi, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula chief of external operations in Yemen.
But even as the core of al-Qaida experienced massive setbacks, activity by affiliates continued to spread geographically and other groups with al-Qaida-related ideological leanings gained prominence. These groups include, among others, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb, and al-Qaida in Iraq.
In order to meet the challenge these terrorist groups present, the United States continues to focus on three elements. The first is building strong partnerships, both bilateral and multilateral. A working partnership with Pakistan remains critical to defeating al-Qaida, said Mr. Benjamin. He also stressed the importance of supporting the democratic transitions underway in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. These movements have helped discredit the extremist argument that only violence can bring about change.
Another aspect to fighting terrorism is to help America's partners confront the threat within their borders. In North and West Africa, a successful approach has been developed through the Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. The goal there is to build military and law enforcement capacity; foster regional cooperation; and counter violent extremism.
And finally, violent extremism must be challenged head on. Toward this end, the United Arab Emirates will host the first ever international center of excellence on countering violent extremism, slated to open next fall. Within the State Department, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications is focused on undermining the terrorist propaganda and dissuading potential recruits.
New terrorist threats will require innovative strategies, creative diplomacy, and even stronger partnerships. But the United States believes it has the tools that are right for the challenge.