Kuala Lumpur: US Defence Secretary Robert
Gates said the "heart" of al Qaeda remained in the
Afghan-Pakistan border area even as the network spreads its
influence to the Arabian peninsula and northern Africa.
While al Qaeda`s leaders, including founder Osama bin
Laden, continued to operate out of the border area, "they
provide the guidance, they provide the priorities, they
provide legitimacy to other al Qaeda affiliates that are
developing in other places, including in the Arabian
peninsula, in Yemen in particular and in northern Africa, in
the Maghreb," Gates told reporters.
"I would say the heart of al Qaeda remains ... in the
border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said during a
visit to Kuala Lumpur.
With al Qaeda "spreading its tentacles," the United
States was able to cope with the threat partly thanks to help
from allies who see the dangers posed by the terror network,
The US government can count on "strong friends",
including France and predominantly Muslim Malaysia, to take on
Islamist militants, he said.
"We`re not in this fight by ourselves. We have some
strong friends who see their own self-interest in dealing with
this threat of extremist terrorism," he said.
"So I`m confident that we will have the resources and
the capability to continue to deal with it," he said.
Western intelligence officials and analysts say the
threat posed by al Qaeda`s Yemeni branch has been steadily
building while the United States ramped up operations against
the network in Pakistan, where CIA drone strikes reportedly
have taken a toll on the leadership.
A foiled air-cargo bomb plot last month was blamed on
the Yemeni-based wing as well as a failed attempt to blow up
an airliner bound for the United States on Christmas Day.
President Barack Obama`s administration is looking at
increasing military assistance to Yemen to counter al Qaeda
and officials are reportedly weighing drone strikes against
militants in the impoverished country.