"On any given day, al Qaeda remains the foremost security threat the nation faces. Yet having said that, it is clear that for al Qaeda, it has been a difficult period. The group is under severe pressure in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the US and its allies have succeeded in severely degrading its operational leadership," coordinator of counterterrorism at the US State Department, Daniel Benjamin said.
"The coming troop increase in Afghanistan will further reduce al Qaeda's capabilities and those of other extremist organisations. The Pakistani military has been working to eliminate militant strongholds in its territory. As a result, al Qaeda is finding it tougher to raise money, train recruits, and plan attacks outside of the region," he said.
Besides operational setbacks in these two countries the group has been unable to carry out attacks in Arab world which remained its primary long-term focus, Benjamin said, adding it had failed to mobilise masses to establish Islamic emirates in the region.
"Finally, there has been a decline of support for al Qaeda's political program and there are several reasons for this: indiscriminate targeting of Muslim civilians in Iraq and Pakistan alienated many who were previously sympathetic to al Qaeda's larger aspirations," Benjamin said in his speech at the Jamestown University.
"The result has been both popular disaffection and a backlash from clerics in Muslim countries who have issued fatwas against the killing of other Muslims, notably in Iraq, although I note that this has yet to happen on a large scale in Afghanistan," he added.
Benjamin said the group's ideological hard line has alienated more pragmatic organisations and individuals in the wider militant community.
It has also created confusion over who carries the true banner of Islamic resistance to Western imperialism.
"Denunciations of al Qaeda by extremist clerics have damaged the religious legitimacy of the group and raised questions about the proper use of violence in countries where there is no overt military action.”
"Al Qaeda and similar groups are becoming increasingly vague about who the primary enemy is, creating confusion in the militant community about the fundamentals of its strategic direction," he argued.
Yet despite these setbacks, he said al Qaeda has proved to be adaptable and resilient in two arenas.
The first is in ungoverned or under-governed areas, often where there are tribal conflicts in which it can attach itself to the different parties.
The second arena where Sunni radicals continue to succeed is in persuading religious extremists to adopt their cause, even in the United States, he added.
Washington: The al Qaeda is under severe pressure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a top US administration official said, adding that the terrorist network continues to pose greatest threat to the country on any given day.
First Published: Thursday, December 10, 2009, 09:41