In the months before President Obama declared al Qaeda was “on a path to defeat,” his aides were telling Congress that the terrorist network was expanding and was capable of inflicting mass casualties in the U.S.
While perhaps not a direct contradiction of the president’s near-claim of victory last week, their testimony painted the picture of a robust collection of al Qaeda franchises causing death and destruction in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Mali, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Terrorism analysts say that as the U.S. conducted a concentrated air war via armed Predators against al Qaeda’s core leadership in Pakistan’s tribal areas for more than a decade, the group’s Islamic chieftains decided to diversify.
“I totally disagree with the premise that al Qaeda is on the path to defeat,” said retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, who has advised U.S. commanders in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “Quite the contrary, al Qaeda has deliberately decentralized its operations, not because of the relentless attacks we have had on its national leadership in Pakistan, but because its strategic objective is to dominate and control Muslim countries in the region. As such, al Qaeda must extend its geographic reach, which is not only successful but is expanding.”
Three al Qaeda franchises are most notable: al Qaeda in Iraq, which has rebuilt and stepped up attacks since the last American troops left in 2011 and has moved fighters into Syria; al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a North Africa-based network aligned with Ansar al Shariah, which carried out the deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya; and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a Yemen-based cell that sponsored the failed 2009 airliner attack by “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
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