WH Official: ‘Al Qaeda Morale Is Low’ With Some Members Giving Up, Going Home

By Melanie Arter | April 30, 2012 | 5:50 PM EDT

Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan briefs reporters at the White House on Friday, Oct. 29, 2010, after President Barack Obama made a statement about package-bombs found on U.S.-bound planes. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(CNSNews.com) – Morale is low among al Qaeda members, and some have given up and gone home, one year after the death of al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, John Brennan, assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said Monday.

Speaking to an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Brennan said al Qaeda has fewer places to “train and groom the next generation of operatives,” thanks to the intense pressure they are under in the tribal regions of Pakistan.

“They’re struggling to attract new recruits. Morale is low, with intelligence indicating that some members are giving up and returning home, no doubt aware that this is a fight they will never win,” Brennan said.

At the time of his death, bin Laden was aware that his terrorist group was “losing badly,” and in documents seized by the United States, “he confessed to disaster after disaster.” Bin Laden also “urged his leaders to flee the tribal regions and to go places away from aircraft, photography and bombardment.”

Brennan noted that al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan has suffered “heavy losses,” with the death of Ilyas Kashmiri, one of its top operational planners one month after bin Laden’s death, the death of al Qaeda’s deputy leader – Atiyah Abd al-Rahman – who succeeded Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the capture of Younus Al-Moritani, who planned attacks against the U.S. and Europe.

The terrorist group has had trouble replacing its most skilled and experienced leaders, Brennan said.

“This is one of the many conclusions we have been able to draw from documents seized at bin Laden’s compound, some of which will be published online for the first time this week by West Point’s Combatting Terrorism Center. For example, bin Laden worried about ‘the rise of lower leaders who are not as experienced, and this would lead to the repeat of mistakes,’” Brennan added.

“It is harder than ever for al Qaeda core in Pakistan to plan and execute large-scale, potentially catastrophic attacks against our homeland,” he said. “Today, it is increasingly clear that compared to 9/11, the core of al Qaeda leadership is a shadow of its former self. Al Qaeda has been left with just a handful of capable leaders and operatives, and with continued pressure is on the path to its destruction.

“And for the first time since this fight began, we can look ahead and envision a world in which the al Qaeda is simply no longer relevant. Nevertheless, the dangerous threat from al Qaeda has not disappeared. As the al Qaeda core falters, it continues to look to affiliates and adherents to carry on its murderous cause. Yet these affiliates continue to lose key commanders and affiliates as well,” Brennan said.

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Brennan’s speech was interrupted by a protester, who spoke out against the United States’ use of drones, saying “hundreds of innocent people” had been killed by drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Once the protester was escorted out, Brennan added: “More broadly, al Qaeda’s killing of innocents - mostly men, women and children – has badly tarnished its image in the eyes of Muslims around the world. Even bin Laden and his lieutenants knew this.

“His propagandist, Adam Gadahn, admitted that they were now seen as a group that does not hesitate to take people’s money by falsehood, detonating mosques and spilling the blood of scores of people. Bin Laden agreed that a large portion of Muslims around the world have lost their trust in al Qaeda,” Brennan said.

Brennan said al Qaeda’s image is so damaged that bin Laden had considered changing its name - “as bin Laden said himself: U.S. officials have largely stopped using the phrase ‘the war on terror’ in the context of not wanting to provoke Muslims.”

“Simply in calling them al Qaeda, bin Laden said, reduces the feeling of Muslims that we belong to them. To which, I would add, that is because al Qaeda does not belong to Muslims. Al Qaeda is the antithesis of the peace, tolerance and humanity that is the hallmark of Islam,” Brennan added.