Terrorism Biggest Threat to National Security, Officials Say

 By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
 American Forces Press Service

 WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2006  - Terrorism remains the pre-eminent threat to U.S. national security and interests abroad. But if progress continues at the current pace in Iraq, the terrorists can be defeated there and the U.S. can gain a foothold in the war on terror, a top U.S. official said here today.

Entrenched grievances such as corruption, injustice and the slow pace of economic, social and political change in many Muslim nations continue to fuel the global jihadist movement, and nowhere is that movement more acutely seen than in Iraq, said John D. Negroponte, director of national intelligence, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats to U.S. national security.

Sunni Arab hostility, the primary enabler of the extremist movement, is likely to remain high in 2006, he said, and Iraqi security forces need to develop better command-and-control capabilities to become more effective against the insurgents. However, encouraging developments in Iraq give hope for the defeat of the insurgents, he said.

Insurgents have been unable to consolidate gains from their attacks and haven't established any long-term territorial control in Iraq, Negroponte said. Also, they were unable to disrupt the two national elections last year, they have not developed a political strategy to gain support beyond their Sunni Arab base, and they have not been able to coordinate nationwide operations, he said.

On the contrary, the Iraqi security forces are taking on more demanding missions, becoming more independent, and providing better stability for the Iraqi economy to grow, Negroponte said. Another sign of improvement in the country is the drastic increase in Sunni participation in the political process, he said.

"I believe that if you take the overall situation in Iraq -- political and security situation - progress is being made, and if we continue to make that kind of progress, yes we can win in Iraq," he said.

The insurgency in Iraq is complex and resilient, but coalition forces have been able to significantly impact al Qaeda in Iraq by killing or capturing many of its leaders, Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said at the hearing. The coalition has been able to restrict the flow of personnel, money and material and degrade operations, he said.

Sunni Arabs form the core of the insurgency in Iraq, Maples said, and fewer foreign fighters are joining their ranks. Insurgent leaders exploit social, economic and historical grievances to recruit support, and are willing to use familial, tribal and professional relationships to advance their agenda, he said.

The insurgents' philosophies and actions are adding urgency to a debate within Islam about the role of religion in government, Negroponte said. As this debate evolves, Muslims are becoming more politically aware and active, he said, but the majority doesn't lean toward extremism.

"Most Muslims reject the extremist message and the violent agendas of the global jihadists," he said. "Indeed, as people of all backgrounds endorse democratic principles of freedom, equality and the rule of law, they will be able to couple these principles with their religious beliefs, whatever they may be, to build better futures for their communities."