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US: Al-Qaeda's Core Seriously Degraded In South Asia

US: Al-Qaeda's Core Seriously Degraded In South Asia
12/19/2012 12:35 AM ET

The United States says that al-Qaeda's core has been seriously degraded in South Asia, and claims to have removed more than 20 of the 30 leaders of the global terror outfit.

U.S. Coordinator for Counter-terrorism Daniel Benjamin was presenting a progress report on the Obama administration's fight against global terrorism and violent extremism.

"When President Barack Obama took office almost four years ago, the al-Qaeda core was a formidable and dangerous organization, deeply dug into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (of Pakistan) and capable of committing a catastrophic attack. Today, As we move from the first of President Obama's terms to his second, the al-Qaeda core is on the path to defeat, Benjamin told an audience at the Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, on Tuesday.

Osama bin Laden's departure from the scene was the most important milestone in the fight against al-Qaeda, he said.

"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. And, of course, it was not just bin Laden. 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.

The counter-terrorism expert said the two most dangerous affiliates of al-Qaeda, while still posing serious threats, have suffered their worst setbacks in years.

In Yemen, the fight against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is a work in progress, with the trend lines positive. 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.

Al-Shabaab in Somalia is fragmented by dissension and much weakened.

But, Benjamin said that the tumultuous events of the last couple of years in the Middle East and North Africa had added complications to this picture.

"We have witnessed a resurgence of state sponsorship of terrorism, especially in the dangerous and destabilizing activities of the Iranian regime, through the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp's Qods Force (IRGC-QF), and Tehran's ally Hizballah," he added.

Benjamin called upon countries to take a wide range of steps to crack down on Hizballah and the Qods Force, including through sanctions, increased law enforcement/intelligence focus and through strong public messaging.

He vowed that the United States would continue to use all the tools at its disposal to protect itself from terrorism.

by RTT Staff Writer

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