This coming weekend we will celebrate the Memorial Day holiday. While it serves as the unofficial start of summer, it also marks a solemn remembrance of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation.
As a 24-year U.S. Navy veteran and graduate of the Naval Academy I am deeply humbled by those we have lost throughout our history. Now, as a freshman Representative from Minnesota and member of the House Homeland Security Committee, I believe I have the same mission as the one I previously carried out behind the controls of a CH-53 Super Sea Stallion helicopter: protect Americans and defend the United States.
A little over three weeks ago a transfixed nation learned that an elite unit of Navy SEALs – aided by the CIA and transported by the Army’s 160th Spec Ops Aviation Regiment “Nightstalkers” – had killed Osama Bin Laden. After years of cold leads and close calls, the man responsible for the largest terrorist attack on our soil had finally been brought to justice. Americans responded to the elimination of “High-Value Target No. 1” with celebration and relief. The most poignant being the impromptu gathering that occurred at Ground Zero. For many, not least of all the families of the 9/11 victims, Bin Laden’s death brought a sense of closure.
While it was proper to rejoice at the news of one of the largest victories in the global war on terror, we must also recognize that Al Qaeda remains a viable, dangerous enemy of the United States and in many ways the world in general remains a dangerous place. With that in mind Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King held a hearing this morning entitled “Threats to the American Homeland after Killing Bin Laden: An Assessment.” The goal of the hearing was to begin to determine the extent of the threat Al Qaeda still presents and how the group may respond to the death of its leader. I believe this is an extremely important task.
There is no doubt Bin Laden’s death has created a vacuum in Al Qaeda’s leadership. However, there are several viable replacements including the current number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Other younger members such as Abu Yahya al-Libi, a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and American-born cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi have also been discussed as possible successors. Many Americans may remember al-Aulaqi from his mosques in San Diego and Falls Church, Virginia and the fact that he personally knew three of the 9/11 hijackers. Since fleeing the United States for Yemen, he has gained notoriety and popularity in the extremist community for his website and videos. Clearly, many jihadis understand the draw a U.S.-born Al Qaeda head would have for recruiting and propaganda purposes.
A key concern is that the death of Bin Laden and weakening of the official Al Qaeda leadership could result in the rise of Al Qaeda’s regional affiliates. One of the most dangerous and often cited is the group al-Aulaqi is affiliated with: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Based out of Yemen, AQAP appears on certain levels to be more operationally active than Al Qaeda itself, which is under pressure in particular from U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. Many of the most recent attacks and attempted attacks on America have been carried out by Al Qaeda offshoots like AQAP. There is a very real possibility this type of de-centralization could continue or even increase now that Bin Laden is no longer at the helm of the parent organization.
It remains to be seen who will take Bin Laden’s place, but Al Qaeda and many of its splinter groups remain dangerous. The reality is we cannot afford to rest on our laurels and assume the Al Qaeda mastermind’s death will once and for all put an end to the group. I want to assure all Americans that I and my colleagues on the House Homeland Security Committee remain intensely focused on the threat posed to our homeland by international terrorist organizations. We have overcome evil and vanquished enemies before. It is absolutely imperative we defeat those who wish to destroy our way of life now. The thousands upon thousands of Americans who have given their lives to ensure our nation’s survival would expect no less.
Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN) represents Minnesota’s Eighth District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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