Conflict & Justice

US officials say Al Qaeda's traditional core is close to strategic defeat


Pakistani tribesmen gather for funeral prayers before the coffins of people killed in a U.S. drone attack on June 15 in North Waziristan


Thir Khan

U.S. counter-terrorism and intelligence officials believe Al Qaeda has been so badly shaken by the death of Osama bin Laden and years of C.I.A. drone attacks that it may be close to collapse, The Washington Post reported.

The newspaper said there was a "widespread view" that a "relatively small number of additional blows could effectively extinguish the Pakistan-based organization that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the ranking Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, said there was a "swagger" in the intelligence community.

Al Qaeda's core leadership in Pakistan is badly debilitated, he said, adding: "We have made the kind of strides that we need to make to be in a position of thinking we can win."

But Chambliss and other officials quoted in the article were quick to differentiate between Pakistan-based Al Qaeda and its Yemen-based offshoot known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the senator said was "nowhere near defeat."

"The thing we absolutely don’t want to do is hang out another ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign," the paper quoted an unidentified senior U.S. counter-terrorism official as saying.

He said the United States was "within reach" of reducing Al-Qaeda's traditional structure in Pakistan and Afghanistan to a point where they were incapable of launching "catastrophic attacks against the homeland."

In that sense the official said he agreed with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta's recent remark during a visit to Afghanistan that "we’re within reach of strategically defeating Al Qaeda."

Bin Laden's death had removed an inspirational figurehead, while drone attacks along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border had killed at least 1,200 militants since 2004, including 224 this year, the report said.

The intelligence sources quoted by The Washington Post appeared to be at odds with the State Department, which on Tuesday issued a revised terror warning citing "enhanced potential" for Al Qaeda attacks around the world.

"Current information suggests that Al Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East," it said, according to AFP.

Targets could include "high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants" as well as places of worship and schools.

The Washington Post report said the Joint Special Operations Command, the unit which killed bin Laden on May 2 in Pakistan, was stepping up its pursuit of AQAP leaders in Yemen.

Days after the bin Laden raid it narrowly missed one of AQAP's leaders, American-born radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki, when three U.S. aircraft fired rockets at a pickup truck in which he was traveling.

Awlaki has been linked to three major terror incidents: the Fort Hood shootings, the Christmas 2009 airplane plot and a plan to blow up cargo planes.