Military Has Crushed al-Qaida Since 9/11, Official Says

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2012 — The Unit­ed States hasn’t seen a large-scale ter­ror­ist attack since 9/11 because U.S. forces have crushed al-Qai­da over the last decade, a senior Defense Depart­ment offi­cial said here yes­ter­day.

Michael A. Shee­han, assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for spe­cial oper­a­tions and low-inten­si­ty con­flict, told an audi­ence at a SOLIC sym­po­sium that the Unit­ed States has the best mil­i­tary the world has known.

“I’ve heard it actu­al­ly through my entire career that right now we have the best sol­diers that we’ve ever had,” Shee­han said. “But what always made us good sol­diers was not only the ded­i­ca­tion [and] the train­ing, but the equip­ment we had — par­tic­u­lar­ly over the last 10 or 20 years. The tech­nol­o­gy and equip­ment, com­bined with the fierce war­rior spir­it that was devel­oped, make us the great­est sol­diers on the plan­et.”

Shee­han praised the pri­vate sec­tor for its work on tech­no­log­i­cal advances for the mil­i­tary, not­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty the sym­po­sium pro­vid­ed for cross­feed between Defense Depart­ment and pri­vate-sec­tor con­fer­ees.

“Quite frankly, you guys from the pri­vate sec­tor — from the sec­tor of Amer­i­can inge­nu­ity –are the ones that bring that tech­no­log­i­cal advan­tage to our sol­diers on the bat­tle­field that enable it to con­tin­ue to be the most effec­tive fight­ing force in the world,” Shee­han said.

Shee­han is a retired Army offi­cer who served in a vari­ety of infantry and Spe­cial Forces assign­ments. He spent three years of his post-Army career as the New York City Police Department’s deputy com­mis­sion­er for coun­tert­er­ror­ism.

“While I was in New York, I was often asked by the peo­ple in that city, ‘Why haven’t we been attacked again? Why doesn’t al-Qai­da just do X, Y or Z?’ ” he said. Shee­han said his answer was sim­ple: al-Qai­da wasn’t as capa­ble as peo­ple believed, and U.S. forces have respond­ed effec­tive­ly.

“Al-Qai­da wasn’t as good as we thought they were on 9/11,” he said. “I knew this orga­ni­za­tion well before 9/11, but quite frankly, the Amer­i­can peo­ple were asleep at the switch in U.S. gov­ern­ment pri­or to 9/11. So an orga­ni­za­tion that wasn’t that good looked real­ly great on 9/11, and every­one looked to the skies every day after 9/11 for that next attack, and it didn’t come.”

The ter­ror orga­ni­za­tion didn’t have oth­er oper­a­tors in the Unit­ed States besides the 9/11 hijack­ers and a few oth­ers, he said, so the wide­ly expect­ed fol­low-up attack nev­er hap­pened.

“But the oth­er part of the equa­tion is that we are bet­ter than we often give our­selves cred­it for,” Shee­han said. “And actu­al­ly, the oth­er rea­son is because we actu­al­ly respond­ed very, very effec­tive­ly to crush al-Qai­da imme­di­ate­ly after 9/11 and con­tin­u­al­ly for the last 10 years.”

U.S. forces were effec­tive in expelling al-Qai­da from Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, he said. “And what was so impor­tant about that oper­a­tion,” he added, was sev­er­al hun­dred [spe­cial oper­a­tions forces] oper­a­tors work­ing side by side with the CIA and sup­port­ed by the Unit­ed States Air Force.”

This, Shee­han said, was a pre­cur­sor for what would unfold over the next decade. “And I see as a pre­cur­sor for the way for­ward,” he added, with the mil­i­tary work­ing along­side anoth­er U.S. agency with­out wor­ry­ing about turf bat­tles.

Shee­han said al-Qaida’s erod­ed capa­bil­i­ties reflect­ed in poor train­ing that result­ed in a failed car-bomb attack in Times Square in 2010.

“Think about Faisal Shahzad,” Shee­han said. “Here is a bomber with unique capa­bil­i­ty because he was an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen, worked on Wall Street and took mul­ti­ple trips to Pak­istan to get train­ing in camps.

“But for­tu­nate­ly, he failed in con­struct­ing an effec­tive bomb in Times Square,” he con­tin­ued. “Why? In my view, because of the pres­sure that we put on al-Qai­da and asso­ci­at­ed groups in that region.”

Shee­han said spe­cial oper­a­tions forces will con­tin­ue to do what has worked over the past 10 years, and that they will “get bet­ter at it.”

“We’re going to try to advance our oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty and con­tin­ue to stay ahead of them,” he said. “And you all in this room are part of that equa­tion. You’re part of that equa­tion — part of the dia­logue that we need to have to stay ahead of this ene­my.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)