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Policy Podcast: 2007 Country Reports on Terrorism

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Ambassador Dell Dailey, the Secretary's Coordinator for Counterterrorism, thanks very much for joining us today. We recently had the release of the annual Counterterrorism Country Reports.

Let me just ask you a bottom-line question: How do we assess where al-Qaida is this year versus last year? Have they been degraded? Have they strengthened? Have they changed at all?

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: I think we'll find that al-Qaida has been degraded -- some strengths where they're at and some weaknesses where they're at. But fundamentally, they no longer have their international reach. For example, in '06, they tried to do an operation from the United Kingdom to the United States where they were going to take over ten aircraft, U.S. flag carriers, and blow them up en route. That got picked up early and it got picked up through international intelligence cooperation. It was looked at for a while, maximized the number of people that we were going to ultimately get inside our net. And then at the appropriate time, it was executed, executed in the sense of disrupted. And we were successful at that.

So I would say al-Qaida has lost its global or international reach. Unfortunately, it has tried to co-opt regional terrorist and regional organizations' themes and get them to do their dirty work. And the best example there is in North Africa, particularly in Algeria, where the GSPC, the Global Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, changed its name, became affiliated with al-Qaida and now is called al-Qaida and Islamic Maghreb, AQIM. And they did a couple attacks in Algeria that had the clear stamp of al-Qaida, because al-Qaida couldn't do it. One was suicide bombing and the other was taking on a suicide attack at the UN.

So effectively, al-Qaida doesn't have this international reach. It does have a ability to co-opt regional terrorist organizations. But for the regional terrorist organization, they lose their personality and they're subsumed inside al-Qaida.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me ask you, do we have an idea -- you know, what are the mechanics that they're going about co-opting some of these organizations? Do they actually get some al-Qaida followers and send them to these organizations and they get inside and they turn people? How does -- do we have an idea of how that works?

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: A general idea. They go into -- they enter into some type of negotiations where mid-level couriers exchange letters or correspondence of some sort, indicating that they're interested in becoming -- either joining or al-Qaida's interested and attempting to take control. They usually take some time. And they -- I guess they agree to their ground rules in that situation. And then they go ahead and reach some form of agreement, which is usually announced in a open forum that this has taken place.

The disadvantage is -- when they go through this, is that the techniques of raw murderous activity that al-Qaida has as its tactics or techniques or procedures gets transferred to this regional organization. And for example, in AQIM, they've started doing suicide bombing, which they didn't do before. So, tactics, techniques, and procedures transfer over and we suspect some money does also, but probably not that much.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me turn to a few specific cases. Let me ask you about Iraq. And how do we assess, now, al-Qaida in Iraq? What's the nature of this organization and what's its strength today versus a year ago or two years ago?

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: Al-Qaida in Iraq, or AQI, has really been beat up. It had a lot of foreign fighters with it, conducting an awful lot of terrorist suicide bombing activities. That has been so ruthless and that has been so devastating for the Iraqi people that the people, the leaders, the regional leaders have said enough's enough. So they've actually denied al-Qaida, because of its ruthlessness. And in areas where they were previously strong like Al Anbar province, that's no longer the case. Areas where they were previously strong in Baghdad, it's no longer the case. They've been pushed up into the northern area and my expectation is that they’ll be equally ruthless and denied by the people there. So I think al-Qaida in Iraq is probably in its worst condition, acceptance, and level of performance and efficiencies than ever before.

MR. MCCORMACK: I understand that they are now moving up towards Mosul, around the – around the Mosul area.

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: Up into the northern area. That’s correct.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. But we have, you know, in addition to the steps the Iraqis have taken, we go after these guys pretty strongly. I suppose with General McCrystal and his --

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: The coalition forces across the board are really united to try and get the foreign fighters out, because they really are the instigators and allow this insurgency. So it is a very deliberate military activity in going against them -- intel service activity going against them, mainly al-Qaida, in Iraq and it has dismantled AQI.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me ask you about Afghanistan. How do we see the terrorism problem in Afghanistan -- the split between the Taliban and al-Qaida or -- and are these two interlinked or are they two distinct and separate threats?

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: They’re interlinked, with the preponderance being Taliban activity. But al-Qaida is still in there and at the strategic or planning-type level and is still a threat. And the Taliban have been able to revitalize their insurgency through one area, and because of one area, and that’s drugs. Because of the vibrant drug activity that they have reinstituted, primarily in the southern agricultural provinces, they’ve been able to fund their fighting, which pays for logistics, ammunition, supplies, information, protection and, most of all, manpower. Without that drug money, I think the ISAF team and the U.S. and the coalition force team would be able to push the Taliban right back into its immediate post-9/11 days and that’s our goal.

MR. MCCORMACK: And how much of a problem is the FATA, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, in terms of feeding the al-Qaida-Taliban presence, not only in Pakistan, but in Afghanistan as well?

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: And the FATA, Federally Administered Tribal Area, and portions of the Northwest Province for Pakistan has been historically less controlled and less supervised by their government. The tribal leaders and elders there have been able to be somewhat semiautonomous. As a result, it was a very easy target for al-Qaida and foreign fighters to move in, actually, over time since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, ingratiate themselves, either through intermarriage and funding and what not.

As a result, they have a bit of a social safe haven there. They have a bit of a religious safe haven by virtue of this is an Islamic area and Westerners will be immediately identified as not from the local area. It’s also a physical safe haven in that that is some of the most extreme geography that’s in the world. Portions of it is in the foothills of the Hindu Kush, very rugged, very challenging. And unfortunately, there’s a little bit of a political safeguard – or a safe haven, because the Pakistanis have let this be an – it’s been an autonomous area. And it’s been a challenge for them to come back there and exert government control when they want. So as a result, al-Qaida and some of the foreign fighters there have had a little bit of independence in planning terrorist activities on a global scale from right there and doing some training, then going out and executing that. So we’ve got our hands full, a new Pakistani Government, democratically elected, coalition in place. We think we’ve got some wonderful opportunity to go into the FATA area and solve it politically, socially, and if necessary, militarily.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me – let me ask you a question about al-Qaida’s leadership. I know that if we knew where they were, that we’d be having a different conversation now. But do we – there are a lot of press reports about the fact that they operate in that region. Is that what we suspect at this point?

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: That is an interesting question, Sean. (Laughter.) We suspect that they use safe havens to their absolute best ability. That may be one fact President Musharraf doesn’t like the term safe haven. He kind of likes the term hideout. Safe haven indicates governmental complicity and, in fact, our definition identifies it like that, too. But hideout is a term he’d prefer because his government is going after them aggressively. In fact, this particular government has said extremism and security are its top -- top priorities. So, we’re looking forward to some positive movement in the FATA area for the sake of Pakistan and for sake of countries in the region.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me ask you a question about State Sponsors of Terror. There are how many now on the --


MR. MCCORMACK: Five on the list?


MR. MCCORMACK: Generally put – people put Iran at the top of that list in terms of --

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: That’s correct.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- their activities. Talk a little bit about how we see Iran and their links to terrorism these days.

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: Iran has got probably four primary justifications from our perspective of putting them on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. The first is that – and they – we all have – we have objective data – objective data, intelligence that supports this.

MR. MCCORMACK: Basically, you have to earn your way onto the list honestly.

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: You do. You have to literally earn your way. The first area we see them participating in is they are resupplying and supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. They’re even more aggressive in supporting militant militias in Iraq. That’s got the potential to – both locations – to kill coalition forces, which is particularly sensitive to us. The third area is that they support Syria, which is probably the number-two country on the State Sponsor list, with supplies, with ideology. And finally, in the fourth area, they support Hezbollah, which is a negative influence in the Lebanon area and in that general reason – region.

So, for those four justifications, we believe that Iran is actively meddling in other people’s business through terrorism and has truly earned the top position of State Sponsor for Terror.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me ask you one final question, Ambassador Dailey. You’re a retired three-star general. You’re coming into a different working environment here in the State Department after spending your career in the military. How do you find working at the State Department, as opposed to working back in your old stomping grounds?

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: Well, first of all, my old stomping grounds was not mainstream military.


AMBASSADOR DAILEY: It was the Special Operations.


AMBASSADOR DAILEY: And so that organization probably has the best understanding of the interagency cooperation that’s necessary for them to do their job and for terrorism to be success – counterterrorism to be successfully prosecuted. So, I had almost five years of watching the interagency relationships and whatnot. I knew both of the counterparts in this position, Mr. Cofer Black and Mr. Hank Crumpton.


AMBASSADOR DAILEY: And so I had appreciation for what this particular job did. The professionalism in the Department of Defense and the Department of State is equally powerful. The talented people are equally powerful. I would say that the State Department has a pretty darn fast decision cycle. An ambassador can call his regional bureau and be talking to the Deputy or the Secretary at the drop of a hat in a crisis. Plus, State Department happens to have its State Main physically located, along with its regional bureaus, literally one floor separating them.


AMBASSADOR DAILEY: So, that accelerates the decision-making process. There are a couple of challenges in State that we didn’t necessarily see in the Department of Defense. Probably the biggest is resourcing.


AMBASSADOR DAILEY: Thank goodness Secretary Gates, on the 27th of November, made his statement that DOD appreciates the need for the State Department, along with other interagencies, to be more aggressively resourced and you certainly appreciate the insight and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely.

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: -- the support that he provides there. So, probably the resourcing is the most significant difference. Quality of people, outstanding.

MR. MCCORMACK: Great. Ambassador Dailey, we’re lucky to have you. Thanks very much for being with us.


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