Al Qaeda core can be reduced to mere propaganda arm in 2 years:US

"Assuming sustained counter-terrorism (CT) operations against the group, within 18 to 24 months, core al Qaeda's cohesion and operational capabilities could be degraded to the point that the group could fragment and exist mostly as a propaganda arm, and power could devolve to regional affiliates," Michael Vickers, the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, said.

"The strategic defeat of al Qaeda is now for the first time within our reach," he said, adding the operational dismantlement of core al Qaeda is only another step, albeit a huge one, toward the group's eventual strategic defeat.

"We likewise may not be done with the operational dismantlement of all of the group's regional affiliates within the next two years. But the operational dismantlement of core al Qaeda will markedly reduce the threat to the US homeland, and it will put us much closer to al Qaeda's eventual defeat as the vanguard of global jihadist movement," Vickers said at a conference early this week at National Defense University.

He said the recently released national counter terrorism strategy is focused very tightly on the network that poses the most direct and significant threat to the US - al Qaeda, its affiliates, and its adherents.

"It is not a war on terror, but rather a war with al Qaeda. Our goal, as President Obama has stated, is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda, and prevent the group's return. We seek nothing less than the utter destruction of this evil that calls itself al Qaeda," he said.

The Pentagon official said three years of intense counter terrorism pressure have taken an enormous toll on the group's leadership, its rank and file operatives, and those who provide it sanctuary."It is not too much to say that the accelerated CT campaign that is bringing about al Qaeda's destruction is the most precise campaign in the history of warfare," he said.

"The group's losses in 2011 have been particularly devastating: most notably, of course, the group's founder and leader, Osama Bin Laden, but also its General Manager and no 2, Atiyah 'Abd al-Rahman, and two key external operations leaders, llyas Kashmiri and Younis al Mauritani. This year alone, core al Qaeda has lost 8 of its 'Top 20' leaders," he said.

Of the top nine al Qaeda had on September 11, 2001, only Ayman al-Zawahiri has thus far managed to escape death or detention.

"One of core al Qaeda's safe haven providers and operational allies, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, also in 2010 tried to blow up an SUV in Times Square, and we have evidence that the UP remains interested in attacking the US," he said.

"We also have increasing evidence that another of al Qaeda's safe haven providers in the FATA - the Haqqani Network - has adopted at Qaida's aim of attacking the American homeland.

"The credible and specific, though unconfirmed threat to New York and Washington, DC, that hung over the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a reminder that al Qaeda remains a dangerous threat that must be eliminated, and much work remains to be done," he said.

Vickers said the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa is currently providing and could continue to provide al Qaeda with increased operating space.

But over the longer term, the opportunity of Islamist groups to participate in the political process could prove to be a strategic setback for al Qaeda.

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