By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
June 3, 2007 – It's too soon to say if the United States and its coalition partners are winning the war on terror, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here yesterday. Gates comments came as federal authorities in the United States announced they had broken up a suspected terrorist cell planning attacks at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Gates, here for the International Institute of Strategic Studies' Asia Security Summit, cited "heartening developments" in the short term, but emphasized that long-term challenges remain.
"It is early in the struggle," he told Asian defense and military leaders participating in the conference. "Some very positive things have been accomplished, but the danger remains very great and is going to require even more intense collaboration."
Gates credited unprecedented international collaboration with preventing a second Sept. 11-type attack in the United States.
"A degree of international cooperation has developed that, in many respects, would have been unthinkable prior to 9/11," he said. "So there is a wealth of sharing of information among almost all countries."
In addition, there's widespread cooperation in helping prevent terrorist attacks from happening and bringing terrorists to justice, he said.
"There is a growing understanding of need to work together in places like Afghanistan to prevent failed states or states in trouble from becoming failed states that may become safe havens to terrorist groups," he said.
Gates hailed the elimination of an al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan, but emphasized that al Qaeda is far from beaten. "We still have to deal with their activities elsewhere," he said.
The secretary said he has a map showing countries with al Qaeda cells, affiliated terrorist cells, or cells that want to be affiliated with al Qaeda. "It's a lot of countries," he told the group. "Clearly they are expanding. So the challenge is there."
Gates said a key to tackling that challenge is to gain a better understanding of how violent extremist ideological is able to take hold.
"On the negative side of the ledger, I think we have not made enough progress in trying to address some of the root causes of terrorism in some of these societies, whether it is economic deprivation or despotism that leads to alienation," he said.
But the secretary acknowledged that other, more complicated factors come into play, too. "One of the disturbing things about many of the terrorists that have been caught is that these are not ignorant, poor people," he said. "These are educated people, often from professional families. So dealing with poverty and those issues is not going to eliminate the problem, but it certainly can reduce the pool of people prepared to give their lives for this cause."
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