WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- It may be premature for the U.S. Defense Department to shift its focus to the Asia-Pacific as al-Qaida's global network evolves, a Rand analyst says.
Last month, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. government has been emphasizing a "pivot to Asia for some time now."
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said at the end of a tour of the region in August that a continued focus on the Asia-Pacific region was "one of the most prominent and important" issues for the Department of Defense.
U.S. forces are refocusing efforts now that the war in Iraq is over and the engagement with Afghanistan is drawing to a close.
Seth Jones, a senior political scientist at policy center Rand, said the so-called Arab Spring has sparked an evolution in al-Qaida in the region. Affiliates from Nigeria to Somalia and North Africa have all sworn allegiance to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, he said.
"Addressing U.S. interests in the Far East is important, but not if it means losing focus on America's most pressing danger zone -- the arc running from North Africa to the Middle East and South Asia that is the heart of al-Qaida's territory," he said in a briefing.
The "fourth wave" of al-Qaida, he said, is spreading to new areas of the Middle East and North Africa as the U.S. strategic focus moves east.