Washington: Al Qaeda core is now focused on physical survival following battlefield losses, but the terrorist outfit will remain a difficult and critical intelligence challenge this year, Pentagon has said.
"Beyond the immediate threats posed by ISIL, the Afghan insurgency, and homegrown violent extremists aspired to travel overseas, particularly to Syria and Iraq, al Qaeda will remain a difficult and critical intelligence challenge in 2015," Lt Gen Vincent Stewart, Director of Defense Intelligence Agency told members of House Armed Services Committee during a hearing on global threat assessment yesterday.
"Al Qaeda core is now focused on physical survival following battlefield losses. At the same time, the group is also trying to retain its status as vanguard of the global extremist movement, being eclipsed now by ISIL's rising global prominence and powerful competition for adherents," he said.
"Despite the fracturing of the global extremist movement, al Qaeda core in Pakistan continues to retain the loyalty of its global affiliates in Yemen, Somalia, North Africa, Syria, and South Asia," Stewart said.
Despite ongoing counterterrorism (CT) pressure and competition from ISIL, al Qaeda will likely attempt to retain a transnational attack capability, and the group will continue to use its remaining paramilitary units, trained recruits, and extremist affiliates and allies to target Western interests in South Asia and worldwide, he said.
"Al Qaeda also will likely try to expand its limited presence in eastern Afghanistan as Western CT operations there decline, and in the face of continued CT pressure from Pakistan," he said as listed out some of the other terrorist groups.
Al Qaeda in Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) recently increased efforts to expand its operating areas across North and West Africa by working with, and through, other regional terrorist groups. AQIM almost certainly continues to plan attacks and kidnapping operations against US allies in the region, Stewart added.
"As part of the larger al Qaeda network, we are concerned about the support Al-Nusrah Front provides to transnational terrorist attack plotting against US and Western interests. We expect the group will try to expand its territory in 2015 beyond its Syrian operating areas and enhance its operational capabilities in Lebanon, where it already conducts operations," the Pentagon official said.
Stewart said the Khorasan Group is a cadre of experienced al Qaeda operatives that works closely with and relies upon al-Nusrah Front to provide personnel and space for training facilities in northwestern Syria.