The Obama administration’s sweeping response to an alleged al Qaida plot – closing diplomatic posts in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia – suggests a terrorist organization that’s capable of striking virtually anywhere, not the one U.S. officials have depicted as a group that’s near defeat.
Counterterrorism analysts said Monday that the U.S. government’s global response to a threat emanating from Yemen, home to al Qaida’s most active affiliate, was at odds with how dismissive President Barack Obama was in a speech in May, when he said that “not every collection of thugs that labels themselves as al Qaida will pose a credible threat to the United States.”
That was only one of a series of public statements by Obama and his Cabinet members that played down the capabilities of al Qaida-linked groups. For at least the past two years, the administration has sought to reassure Americans that al Qaida is “on the run,” while counterterrorism experts were warning about the semiautonomous affiliates that have wreaked havoc in North Africa, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.
“The actions the administration is taking now are deeply inconsistent with the portrait of al Qaida strength the administration has been painting,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a counterterrorism specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington research institute.
U.S. officials have been secretive about what precise information led to the worldwide travel advisory and embassy closings, but a Yemeni official told McClatchy on Sunday that authorities had intercepted “clear orders” from al Qaida leader Ayman Zawahiri to Nasir al Wuhayshi, the head of the affiliate in Yemen, to carry out an attack.
On the campaign trail last fall, Obama touted the killing of Osama bin Laden during a covert U.S. raid in 2011 as a sign that, while the U.S. would have to maintain vigilance, “the truth, though, is that al Qaida is much weaker than it was when I came into office.” In his State of the Union address last February, the president called al Qaida “a shadow of its former self” and said the threat posed by its affiliates wouldn’t require large-scale U.S. military deployment.
In July 2011, Obama’s then newly appointed defense secretary, Leon Panetta, said he was “convinced in this capacity that we’re within reach of strategically defeating al Qaida.” – mcclatchydc.com