London, Asharq Al-Awsat- A high-ranking US military official asserted yesterday that Al-Qaeda organization and groups affiliated with it are seeking to expand their violent activities in the Middle East.
Brigadier General Robert Holmes, deputy director of operations, US Central Command, said the bombings in Algeria and Morocco fall within the context of this expansion and added: “Our enemy is active, clever, and developing constantly and seeking to widen the battlefield.” He rejected the assumption that the US military command had ignored the strength of Al-Qaeda organization and groups close to it and their preparations to carry out bombings like the ones which took place in Algeria, Morocco, and Iraq during the past few days and said: “We have not stopped the concentration on Al-Qaeda organization and the groups linked to it.”
In reply to a question by Asharq Al-Awsat on whether the bombings in the Arab Maghreb are evidence of Al-Qaeda’s activity and whether the US command expected such activity, Holmes said: “I do not consider these incidents the launching pad for a new wave of violence. I was not surprised by Al-Qaeda’s effort to carry out such operations because it wants to widen the battlefield.”
Speaking to a group of journalists in London yesterday, Brig. Gen. Holmes reiterated the American Army’s stand which stressed that confrontation of terror does not require “a military solution only but also the use of several instruments of power, most noticeably diplomacy and information, in addition to economic and social means.”
Regarding the security situation in Iraq, Holmes said: “The focus now is on the improved strategy that depends on increasing the number of troops and helping the Iraqi forces to become capable of protecting their country.” On the increase of bombings in Iraq, he said: “Iraq continues to witness a terrible case of violence. But we must back the security forces while the Iraqi Prime Minister (Nuri al-Maliki) and the political leadership seek to confront the various interests that are feeding the violence.” He added that “the political leadership in Baghdad must confront these interests to secure the country” and stressed that “it is not just a military matter.”
The American officer refused to go into details of the security plan and whether it is successful or not and said: “We see some positive signs. But it is too early to measure the degree of success.” He added that the aim of the “Law Enforcement” plan “is to calm the situations, create a solid ground for stability, and strengthen the political stand so that the gunmen will not be allowed to return” once the plan is completed.
In reply to a question about the Turkish threats to attack Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Holmes said: “Whatever happens, this question should be left to the diplomatic channels. It is not a matter that is solved militarily.”
Brig. Gen. Holmes went on to assert that Iran is providing some Iraqi parties with bombs and weapons while there are other parties that finance the gunmen. On determining the fate of the five Iranians detained in Iraq, he said “this is up to the political decision makers” and added: “These were arrested while we were carrying out an operation aimed at targeting the areas where bombs are made in Iraq. In this case, the Iranians were in that area.” He then explained: “We are detaining them at present in Iraq. But the matter has now become political.” The American forces arrested the five Iranians in January and said they are from the Revolutionary Guards while Iran claims they are diplomats and demanding their release.
Holmes focused his talk on the situations in Afghanistan and said the presence of NATO forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan “is very important because we are telling Taliban we will not abandon Afghanistan.” He added: “The Taliban fighters are fighting today out of despair. They hid for some time and thought that the United States would get tired and leave Afghanistan. But now they know we will not leave them.”
In his assessment, Holmes said: “The number of the violations of Pakistani-Afghan borders has increased but I have not seen all the reports.” There was argument in the past few days about whether the number of fighters crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan has increased or decreased and Holmes commented by saying: “The Afghan-Pakistani borders are very important. We must recognize our ally and friend Pakistan in confronting this challenge.”