WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration has launched a high-level review of its efforts to battle terrorism, aimed at moving away from a policy that has stressed efforts to capture and kill Al Qaeda leaders and toward what an official called a broader ''strategy against violent extremism."
The shift is meant to recognize the transformation of Al Qaeda over the past three years into a far more amorphous and difficult-to-target organization than the group that struck the United States in 2001. Critics say the review followed months of delay and lost opportunities while the administration left key counterterrorism jobs unfilled and argued internally over how to confront the spread of the Al Qaeda effort.
President Bush's top adviser on terrorism, Frances Fragos Townsend, said in an interview that the review is needed to take into account the ''ripple effect" from targeting Al Qaeda leaders.
The review marks the first ambitious effort since the immediate aftermath of the 2001 attacks to take stock of the US war on terrorism.
''What we really want now is a strategic approach to defeat violent extremism," said a senior administration official who described the review on the condition of anonymity because it is not finished.
In many ways, this is the culmination of a debate about how to target not only Al Qaeda but also broader support in the Muslim world for radical Islam. Administration officials refused to describe in detail what new policies are under consideration, and several sources familiar with the discussions said some issues remain sticking points, such as how central the war in Iraq is to the antiterrorist effort, and how to accommodate State Department desires to normalize a foreign policy that has stressed terrorism.
''There's been a perception, a sense of drift in overall terrorism policy. People have not figured out what we do next, so we just continue to pick 'em off one at a time," said Roger Cressey, who served as a counterterrorism official at the National Security Council under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. ''We haven't gone to a new level to figure out how things have changed since 9/11."
Top government officials are increasingly turning their attention to anticipate what one called ''the bleed out" of hundreds or thousands of people trained in Iraq back to their home countries throughout the Middle East and Western Europe. ''It's a new piece of a new equation," a former Bush administration official said. ''If you don't know who they are in Iraq, how are you going to locate them in Istanbul or London?"
Another aspect is likely to be diplomacy efforts aimed at winning over Arab sentiment, and a State Department official, Paul Simons, said at a congressional hearing this month that the ''internal deliberative process" was conceived to encompass everything from further crackdowns on terrorist financing networks to policies aimed at curbing the teaching of holy war against the West and other ''tools with respect to the global war on terrorism."
The policy review was initiated this spring by the NSC and is being led by Townsend, officials said.