Continuing the countdown of state actors that pose serious and legitimate threats to U.S. interests -- at home and abroad -- whether through direct conflict or as terror havens...
Afghanistan remains a primary base for Taliban operations, the world's largest producer of opium, and a home-base for al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, the ongoing NATO mission provides an easy target for insurgency and the practitioners of terrorist tactics. Moreover, the fact that American allies over the 10 year stretch -- such as Italy, Spain, Holland and Germany -- never enlisted to fight a full-scale guerilla war. Rather, the mandate the from their governments was to effect reconstruction, not engage in combat. Escalating protests across Europe have further weakened the resolve of international support for a mission that seems to lack an obtainable, if even identifiable, victory scenario. Moreover, the "state" currently exists as the proxy battlefield for mounting tensions between Indians and Pakistanis, while Iran is spending large sums to purchase support among disaffected Afghan warlords. The brunt of the mission remains firmly loaded on American shoulders, and the casualties will continue to mount. The enduring lack of social well-being will continue to contribute to Afghanistan's insecurity...while perpetuating it.
Anwar al-Awlaki may be dead but Yemen remains a go-to for experienced fighters returning to Yemen from the Iraq war, and radicalized internationals who have taken up residence in a country increasing distinguished by its maturing al-Qaeda affiliate. In response, the United States has flooded the country with intelligence resources, while stepping up air strikes to combat and pressuring the fractured Yemeni government to toughen its approach. The latter may be a tall order, as this splinter state falls to piece amidst sectarian strife, political insurrection and a gathering civil war. Al-Awlaki's hate speech will live on and American officials are increasingly concerned by the leadership left behind, who are reported to be equally committed to an attacking the US mainland, and more operationally savvy than the American born terror recruiter.
3. North Korea
This one's easy. North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles remains a direct threat to the United States. In January, then Defense Secretary Robert Gates predicted that Kim Jong Il's hermit state will have a limited ability to deliver a weapon to US shores within the next five years. The PRK has threatened to test such missiles and has already conducted underground tests to show the world it has manufactured the rudiments of nuclear weapons. It's also important to keep in mind that regional conflagrations with South Korea pose a serious threat to American servicemen and women living on the peninsula, and a serious attack against Seoul would undoubtedly prompt the US to claim the vanguard of the international response.
It's strange to consider that the Obama administration has attempted to calm Israeli nerves by assuring Tel Aviv that a nuclear Iran is still more than a year away. Suffice to say, a one year window is shaving it a little close for an Israeli military that, in 2007, neutralized a nuclear threat in neighboring Syria. And while Shi'a terrorists have never attempted a terror attack on US soil, the Islamic Republic has been a consistent sponsor of insurgent attacks against the American military in Iraq. When the U.S. leaves Iraq, the Iran will undoubtedly capitalize on its centuries-old religious and cultural ties. Tehran already represents Iraq's largest trading partner and an important consultant to Baghdad's Shi'a leadership. The Iranian clerical cabal will remain a malign influence in the region, a threat to develop nuclear weapons and an existential enemy of the Israeli state. For all these reasons, the Islamic state poses a severe security threat to America and her allies.
Bitter inter-state rivalry and escalating sectarian violence simmer below de facto martial state with its finger on the trigger of a nuclear arsenal. Did I mention that they despise America? There's no "what if" corollary when it comes to a discussion of Pakistan -- they have nukes, a bitter rivalry with India, close ties with al Qaeda, and they're unwilling or unable to a flow of insurgents into Afghanistan. It's been said that most countries have an army. Well, in Pakistan, the army has a country, and the shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence sits atop the whole mess. These leaders are at best unreliable...but more likely they're seasoned in a two-facedness, assuring Western leaders of their eternal vigilance, while assisting organizations such as the Taliban and the Haqqani network which attacked the U.S. embassy in Kabul. As diplomatic historian Max Boot has noted, the voice of ISI is "rabidly, anti-American, anti-Indian, anti-democratic, conspiratorial and Islamist." And they're locked and loaded for a nuclear war.
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