Intelligence Agencies Expect Regional Al-Qaeda Affiliates to ‘Grow Stronger’

By Edwin Mora | February 16, 2011 | 4:49 PM EST

A girl walks past a wall with graffiti about the al-Qaida network in a Muslim area of the northern city of Kano, Nigeria. (AP File Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

( – U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East, including combat operations that have cost thousands of American lives, fall short of taming al-Qaeda’s strength, according to the intelligence community’s annual threat assessment to Congress, submitted Wednesday.

“Absent more effective and sustained activities to disrupt them, some regional affiliates – particularly al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Shabaab in Somalia – probably will grow stronger,” the report said.

“The result may be that regional affiliates conducting most of the terrorist attacks and multiple voices will provide inspiration for the global jihadist movement,” it continued.

Delivering the assessment to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also cited successes.

“Counter-terrorism is central to our overseas operations notably in Afghanistan,” he told the panel.

“While progress in our efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda is hard won, we have seen and I believe will continue to see, success in governance security and economic development that will erode the willingness of the Afghan people to support the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies.”

“Although U.S. combat operations have come to an official close in Iraq, bombings by terrorists, specifically al-Qaeda, means that our work to help solidify the security gains we’ve made there thus far remain a high priority,” Clapper said.

Despite the projections of a growing al-Qaeda, he testified that the U.S. has “apprehended many bad actors throughout the world and greatly weakened much of al Qaeda’s core capabilities including operations training and propaganda.”

“We’re specially focused on al-Qaeda’s resolve to recruit American’s and spawn affiliate groups – most notably its chapter in the Arabian Peninsula,” he added.

Iraqi army soldiers remove concrete blast walls in the Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011. Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, the spokesman for Baghdad security forces, said the capital is safe enough in many places to take down more of the thick concrete blast walls that line streets and surround buildings. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Iraq, Afghanistan

The threat assessment said that al-Qaeda in Iraq “will be a persistent security problem” although its “manpower and ability to conduct sustained campaign attacks are substantially less than at its height in late 2006 and early 2007.”

Al-Qaeda in Iraq “will almost certainly continue high-profile attacks in an attempt to reignite sectarian warfare and discredit the Iraqi government.”

Nevertheless, U.S. intelligence agencies believe it unlikely that al-Qaeda in Iraq “will be able to achieve its larger strategic goals of controlling territory from which to launch attacks, driving U.S. Forces-Iraq from Iraq.”

Counter-terrorism efforts in Iraq have cost more than 4,400 American lives since 2003.

The assessment was also mixed for Afghanistan, where more than 1,400 U.S. lives have been lost during more than nine years of war.

While reporting “tactical defeats and operational setbacks” for the Taliban-led insurgency, the document said it would continue to threaten U.S. and international goals through 2011.

“The Taliban will use high-profile attacks, assassination of key government figures, and efforts to extend shadow governance to undermine local perceptions of security and influence segments of the population,” it predicted.

President Obama has said that U.S. troops will begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011, in a gradual process expected to run through the end of 2014.

‘Homegrown terrorists a disproportionate threat to US’

The DNI assessment stated that, aside from focusing its efforts on Yemen and Saudi Arabia, AQAP is “increasingly devoted to directing and inspiring attacks on the U.S. homeland and other targets in the West.”

Meanwhile al-Qaeda as a whole remains a “dangerous” threat to the U.S. and Europe.

“Al-Qaeda continues to inspire spectacular attacks,” it said. “Over the past two-years, core al-Qaeda has continued to be committed to high-profile attacks against the West, including plans against the United States and Europe.”

Al-Qaeda continues to be “resilient” in its recruitment operations, which in recent years have been focused on cultivating homegrown extremists in the U.S., “the report said.

“Over the past five years, a small but growing number of Americans have become involved in the global jihadist movement,” it said. “They have occupied a variety of roles with extremist groups overseas, such as foot soldiers and front line combatants, operational planners, propagandists, attack operatives from homeland plots, and even senior leaders, with some American extremists combining multiple roles.”

“American extremists will likely remain a small part of the jihad, but play a disproportionately large role in the threat to U.S. interests because of their understanding of the U.S. homeland, connections to compatriots back in the United States, and relatively easy access to the Homeland and potentially to U.S. facilities overseas,” the assessment warned.

Recent attempts against the U.S. homeland have been facilitated by an Internet-accessible narrative that promotes radicalization of Americans – “a blend of al-Qaeda inspiration, perceived victimization, and glorification of past homegrown plotting.”

The report submitted Wednesday also made reference to other insurgent groups that are expanding their operations, including al-Shabaab in Somalia, an organization that includes “American converts” serving as leaders.

Another is Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which the report said “will remain heavily engaged in its efforts against the Pakistani military and coalition forces in Afghanistan.”

Also, Lashkar-e-Toiba “remains a threat to Indian interests in South Asia and an increasing threat to U.S. forces in Afghanistan,” noted the report.