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CNN's Bergen to address ongoing war with al-Qaeda

January 28, 2013

With the death of bin Laden, the end of the war in Afghanistan nearing, and hundreds of militants killed in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, it seemed like the end of the war on terror was finally at hand. But then came Benghazi. Since then, news from across the Middle East and North Africa – from places like Mali, Yemen and Syria – has raised fears that al-Qaeda has a new lease on life.

Ongoing instability in Egypt and Afghanistan has given rise to additional fears. What impact will the rise of Islamist political parties in places like Egypt have on al-Qaeda? And with a resurgence of Taliban violence, what will the future of religious terrorism look like?

To help make sense of what is going on, Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst and director of the New America Foundation’s national security studies program, will give a free public lecture titled, “The Longest War: America, al-Qaeda, and the Middle East,” at Arizona State University on Jan. 31.

The lecture, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, will take place from 1:30 to 3 p.m., in Old Main’s Carson Ballroom, on the Tempe campus.

“Jihadist militants have proven surprisingly resilient despite the wide range of forces arrayed against them,” writes Bergen.

Still, the greatest threat to U.S. security may not come from these groups in North Africa, but from the impending withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014 – arguments Bergen has made in a series of recent articles and books.

We are supposed to believe that because Ansar al-Sharia – a group inspired by al Qaeda’s ideas, but having no links to the terrorist group that attacked the United States on 9/11 – was able to pull off a deadly attack in a Middle Eastern country ravaged by a recent war against a lightly defended U.S. mission ... that al-Qaeda is suddenly an important threat again to the United States.”

A careful analysis, according to Bergen, suggests that the biggest security threat may come in the form of a proxy war in Afghanistan between Pakistan and India, a scenario made more likely if the U.S. zeroes outs its troops.

Bergen’s hard-hitting observations are based on more than 20 years of reporting and writing on al-Qaeda and its affiliates throughout Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

In award-winning and best-selling books such as “Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Bin Laden,” The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda,” and “Manhunt: The Ten Year Search for bin Laden, from 9/11 to Abbottabad,” Bergen has been lauded for his clear-eyed writing that not only details the history of the conflict from the standpoint of the United States, but also brings to the surface the views of ordinary Muslims, most of whom reject “bin Ladenism,” as well as the views of the terrorists and sympathizers, themselves.

“For readers interested in a highly informed, wide-angled, single-volume briefing on the war on terror so far, 'The Longest War' is clearly that essential book,” wrote New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani, in just one example of the accolades accorded to Bergen’s writings.

Bergen’s lecture marks the 10th anniversary of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, notes Linell Cady, its founding director.

“Bergen is one of the clearest writers on the intersection of religion and violence. He makes important distinctions between the everyday religious practices and identities of most people, and those that develop, and act on, violent ideologies,” says Cady.

“He delivered our inaugural lecture in 2013, and it was fitting to bring him back now.”

In addition to the public lecture, Bergen is also speaking to classes and community groups while on campus. His newest book, "Talibanistan: Negotiating the Borders Between Terror, Politics and Religion," has just been released.