Washington: The core of al Qaeda has seriously degraded in South Asia, a top American counter-terrorism official has said, noting that the US has removed 20 of its top 30 leaders. "In South Asia, al Qaeda's core has been seriously degraded.
Without a doubt, Osama bin Laden's departure from the scene was the most important milestone in the fight against al Qaeda," Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's top counter-terrorism official said in his appearance before the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think-tank.
"The removal of al Qaeda's founder and sole commander for 22 years was a testament to the work of countless intelligence and counter-terrorism professionals across the government. That operation further demonstrated as never before the extraordinary proficiency our military and intelligence communities have achieved in the realm of counter-terrorism," he said.
"And, of course, it was not just bin Ladin. We have removed more than 20 of al Qaeda's top 30 leaders. Now, the core finds it difficult to raise money, train recruits, and plan attacks outside of the region," Benjamin said.
In Yemen, the fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a work in progress, but the trend lines are positive, he noted.
"In particular, the resolve of President Hadi and the Yemeni people has made a major difference: after holding a considerable swath of territory, AQAP has been rolled back from the gains of last year.
Yemen illustrates the value of a truly comprehensive approach: So while we are training Yemeni security forces to combat terror, we are also addressing the needs of the Yemeni people by assisting the political transition and delivering humanitarian and economic aid. We're working with the international community to redouble its support for Yemen," he said.
"We do this not only because is right to help a country Yemen's challenges, but also because this work addresses human needs that, unmet, can accelerate radicalization and because our partners should know that we are in it for more than our security," Benjamin said.
In short, the al Qaeda core is on the path to defeat, Benjamin said. "The two most dangerous affiliates, while still posing serious threats, have suffered their worst setbacks in years. If we only had a static set of challenges, we'd all be feeling great."
"But, as everyone here knows, the tumultuous events of the last couple of years in the Middle East and North Africa have added complications to this picture," he observed.
In Mali, the terrorists of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are attempting to consolidate their safe haven, he said, adding that the return of exiled fighters from the ranks of Qadhafi's army to northern Mali and the subsequent Tuareg rebellion, dispersed weapons from Libyan stocks, and the coup in the Bamako, have brought a dangerous instability to the Sahel.
Benjamin said the world of counter-terrorism is changing fast. "Some of the most dangerous threats have receded noticeably, but new ones are emerging. While perhaps not as threatening now, these cannot be viewed with complacency," he said.
"The political transformations in the Middle East and North Africa are having a profound effect on our foreign policy, including our counterterrorism equities."
"AQ, it's important to underscore, was not a part of the popular uprisings that led to democratic transitions across the Middle East and North Africa, but violent extremists across the region are looking for opportunities to exploit the political transitions underway," he said.
"We never expected this to be a painless process, revolutionary transformations are by their nature dislocating and unpredictable. There are risks, particularly in the short run and we must seek to reduce them even as we work to help these states in transition find long-term success. So, we need continued engagement and we need strategic patience," he added.