A senior U.S. counterterrorism official offered an unusually optimistic assessment today of how the United States is doing in taking on the al-Qaida terrorist network.
"Al-Qaida is under more pressure, is facing more challenges, and is a more vulnerable organization than at any time since the attacks on 11 September 2001," Michael Leiter, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in a statement prepared for a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
In particular, Leiter said that al-Qaida's safe haven in Pakistan is "shrinking and becoming less secure," while the group has also "suffered significant leadership losses" over the past 18 months.
His remarks stand in sharp contrast to those of U.S. officials as recently as two years ago, who were warning that al Qaida was reconstituting its operational leadership and rebuilding its capabilities.
At the same time, Leiter warned that Osama bin Laden's terrorist network remains dangerous. "Despite the progress, al-Qaida and its allies remain intent on attacking U.S. interests at home and abroad," he said during the hearing.
Globally, Leiter offered a mixed picture:
Yemen. With the reemergence of an al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen, the country is emerging as a "key battleground' and a potential new regional base of operations for the group's operatives.
Somalia. The Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab, which has been actively recruiting in American and West European immigrant communities, has worked with "a limited number" of al-Qaeda operatives. But it has recruited and trained hundreds of extremists from around the world, including "dozens" of recruits from the United States.
North Africa. A violent al-Qaeda affiliate based in Algeria has continued to expand its operations, relying on a new safe haven in northern Mali, along with lower-level operations in nearby Mauritania.
Iraq. Al-Qaida in Iraq has been one of the most active al-Qaida affiliates, but its ability to stage attacks "has been substantially diminished by coalition military and Iraqi security operations."