Al-Qaeda has been essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and is on the defensive throughout most of the rest of the world, the CIA claimed on Friday.
The upbeat assessment comes less than a year after United States intelligence reported that al-Qaeda had rebuilt its strength around the world and was well-placed to launch fresh attacks.
In an interview with the Washington Post published on Friday, Michael Hayden, the CIA director, said: ”On balance, we are doing pretty well. Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’, as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.”
Hayden cited US success in using Predator drone planes to strike against suspected al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, including the killings this year of Abu Laith al-Libi and Abu Sulayman al-Jazairi. He said: ”The ability to kill and capture key members of al-Qaeda continues, and keeps them off balance.”
He added that capturing Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, still at large seven years after 9/11, remained a top priority.
Various US intelligence analysts, while accepting that al-Qaeda has suffered various setbacks, questioned whether this one would be permanent and noted al-Qaeda activity in Afghanistan and continuing plots against European targets.
Mike Scheuer, the former chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, said it may be that Hayden’s comments are an attempt to exploit recent outbursts by Muslim clerics against al-Qaeda. He added that Hayden had a reputation within the agency for frankness and honesty but these comments may put a dent in it.
”The stuff on the ground that you can measure does not look like a strategic defeat for al-Qaeda,” he said. ”When you look on the ground, they are expanding in the Levant and across North Africa. They have fought the US to a standstill in Iraq and Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden has not been caught. They have the initiative in Afghanistan.”
Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of operations and analysis at the CIA’s counter-terrorist centre, said Hayden was going public about a consensus reached within the agency about six weeks ago that al-Qaeda had been weakened. ”The question is whether it is permanent or not. There is no real agreement on that,” he said.– Ã‚