Maybe the way to go after al Qaeda, Col. Gary Anderson (USMC, Ret.) suggests, is by using Killer NGOs:
If al Qaeda is an NGO, it is a malignant one. But it is like other NGOs that primarily pursue peaceful change in two ways. First, Al Qaeda doesn’t answer to any government. Second, it survives on donations. Unlike political parties, it doesn’t seek to dominate the people it infects; it desires merely to use them for international ends. The best way to fight an NGO might be with another NGO.
What would an anti-al Qaeda “Killer NGO” look like?
First, it would have to consist of natives of the region where it operates; its message would be to reject the outside influence of foreign Islamist extremists.
Second, it would need a competent military component. Militias are a dime a dozen and usually they are predatory. A small cadre of skilled fighters with cohesion and a cause can easily defeat the kind of rabble that al Qaeda pays to act as its muscle in areas that it infests. This is not a mercenary organization such as Blackwater. Mercenaries don’t fight for a cause; they fight for money.
Third, a killer NGO needs a development arm. In a failed or failing state without a social safety net, a local NGO capable of supplying rudimentary medical, educational, and nutritional support is a welcome addition in places where hope is a scarce commodity
Finally, a killer NGO needs a media arm that will get out its story and discredit that of Al Qaeda and its affiliates. A strong message of local self-reliance and rejection of exploitive foreigners is always a powerful one in the Third World. It has been used against us when we have been a visible presence. The difference here is that we are not a presence in the places most at risk of al Qaeda infestation; nor is it in our interest to be. We are present, and will continue to be in places where we have vital economic or geopolitical interests. Yemen, Somalia, and the southern Philippines don’t generally make that list, and that is why they become attractive to al Qaeda and its affiliates.
What happens if a killer NGO goes bad? We stop funding it. Unlike unpopular governmental regimes that do bad things, we are under no treaty obligation to support a NGO that goes bad. There are thousands of NGOs around the world. They are born and die every day. There is no loss of national prestige in withdrawing support to a rogue private entity.
The opposite is always possible. Some of these organizations might succeed wildly and become legitimate political parties with interests aligned to ours and democratic aspirations. We always have the option of reinforcing success.
We should of course retain the alternative of chasing al Qaeda across the world in a lethal game of “Where’s Waldo” with Special Forces and drone aircraft, and that option should never be taken off the table.