Leading U.S. analysts, including former military commanders, acknowledged that Al Qaida defied the assessment of the intelligence community and President Barack Obama. In early 2013, Obama announced that AlQaida was declining and a shadow of its former self.
“The congratulations that we heard two years ago on the demise of Al Qaida were premature and are now discredited,” former U.S. Central Command chief [Ret.] Gen. James Mattis said.
Mattis, who left Centcom in March 2013, pointed to an Al Qaida resurgence in such countries as Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. He said Al Qaida, despite the U.S. assassination of Osama Bin Laden in 2012, has also found new areas of operation. Most of the franchises, particularly in Africa, were not controlled by Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman Zawahiri.
“Their leadership has been hit very hard, but this brand is still growing,” Mattis told a counter-insurgency conference by the Jamestown Foundation. “And it’s growing from an increased number of safe havens.”
A leading CI analyst agreed. Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, said Al Qaida has expanded throughout Africa and Asia, including India and Kenya. Over the last two years, Al Qaida has conducted mass-casualty attacks in both countries.
“The oxygen that Al Qaida depends on is access to sanctuaries and safe haven,” Reidel said. “And unfortunately over the past two years it gained greater access to more ungoverned spaces.”
Reidel, a former CIA veteran, and other analysts said Al Qaida could be preparing for mass-casualty strikes in Europe as well. They cited Al Qaida’s new force of nearly 50,000 fighters in Syria, many of whom come from Europe,including Britain, France, Germany and Russia.
One area regained by Al Qaida has been Yemen. Analysts said Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has recovered from a U.S.-directed offensive in 2011 and renewed operations in several provinces in eastern and southern Yemen. “We’re seeing a recovery on all fronts for Al Qaida,” David Kilcullen, a leading CI consultant to the U.S. military, told Jamestown.