Weaker al Qaeda still plots payback for US raid
WASHINGTON: A year after the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda is hobbled and hunted, too busy surviving for the moment to carry out another September 11-style attack on the US soil.
But the terrorist network still dreams of payback, and US counter-terrorist officials warn that, in time, its offshoots may deliver.
A decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that has cost the US about $1.28 trillion and 6,300 US troops’ lives has forced al Qaeda’s affiliates to regroup, from Yemen to Iraq. Bin Laden’s number two, Ayman al Zawahri, is thought to be hiding, out of the US reach, in Pakistan’s mountains, just as bin Laden was for so many years.
“It’s wishful thinking to say al Qaeda is on the brink of defeat,” says Seth Jones, a Rand analyst and adviser to US special operations forces. “They have increased global presence, the number of attacks by affiliates has risen, and in some places like Yemen, they’ve expanded control of territory.”
It’s a complicated, somewhat murky picture for Americans to grasp.
US officials say bin Laden’s old team is all but dismantled. But they say new branches are hitting Western targets and US allies overseas, and still aspire to match their parent organisation’s milestone of September 11, 2001.
“Each will seek opportunities to strike Western interests in its operating area, but each group will have different intent and ability to execute those plans,” Robert Cardillo, a deputy director at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told reporters Friday.
The deadliest is the affiliate in Yemen.
There’s no sign of an active revenge plot against the US targets, but US citizens in Pakistan and beyond are being warned to be vigilant ahead of the May 2 anniversary of the night raid. US helicopters swooped down on bin Laden’s compound in the Pakistani army town of Abbottabad, killing him, one of his sons, two couriers and their wives.
The last view for Americans of the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks was that of a wizened old man sitting in front of an old television, wrapped in a blanket.
The world may never see photographic proof of his death. US District Judge James E Boasberg in Washington ruled last week that the Obama administration, under the Freedom of Information Act, would not have to turn over images of bin Laden during or after the raid.
“Verbal descriptions of the death and burial of Osama bin Laden will have to suffice,” Boasberg wrote in his ruling on the lawsuit by the public interest group Judicial Watch.
Bin Laden’s killing and al Qaeda’s stumbling efforts to regroup are now the national security centrepiece of US President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
The White House frequently cites the president’s decision to approve the raid, with only a 50-50 chance that bin Laden was even at the compound. Obama could have gone down in history as the man who put the Navy SEALs and the relationship with Pakistan in jeopardy, while failing to catch the al Qaeda leader.
“Al Qaeda was and is our ‘number one’ enemy,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said last week. “So it’s a part of his foreign policy record, obviously, but it’s also part of a very serious endeavour to keep our country safe.”
US officials say al Qaeda is less able to carry out a complex attack like September 11. These officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they say publicly identifying themselves could make them a target of the terrorist group.
US counter-terrorist forces have killed roughly half of al Qaeda’s top 20 leaders since the road. That includes US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. ap