CIA claims 'al-Qaeda losing'
Spy agency chief says network is "essentially defeated" in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2008 03:00 GMT
CIA chief believes Bin Laden is losing the battle for influence in the Islamic world [EPA]

Michael Hayden, the head of the CIA, has said al-Qaeda is essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and is also on the defensive elsewhere.
Hayden told the Washington Post newspaper that a campaign to destabilise al-Qaeda's core leadership, believed to be in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, had also been successful.
Hayden said on Thursday that major gains had been made against al-Qaeda's allies in the Middle East and Osama bin Laden, the group's leader, was also losing the battle for influence in the Islamic world.
Bin Laden had lost his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit new members, he said.
"On balance, we are doing pretty well," Hayden said, while warning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat.

Hayden said both al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia were facing "near strategic defeat".

In video

CIA: 'al-Qaeda on the run'

The CIA chief said that globally, al-Qaeda had suffered "significant setbacks - as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam".

The upbeat assessment came after a US intelligence report last August said al-Qaeda had regrouped in Pakistan's border region with Afghanistan and was planning new attacks on the US.

Sceptical analysts

"It could well be the administration is trying to get Americans to believe we've won against al-Qaeda so they don't get accused of going after Iran before al-Qaeda is defeated"

Michael Scheuer, former head of CIA bin Laden unit

Despite the assessment, some analysts warned against presumptions that the network had been defeated.

Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit, told Al Jazeera that the US had made too much out of perceptions that there was dissent against al-Qaeda in the Middle East and that bin Laden's objectives had been in many respects achieved.

"[Al-Qaeda] certainly have problems, they're fighting wars in two different places against the world's most powerful military, but they're not doing that badly," he said.

"If you look at it from al-Qaeda's perspective, bin Laden has encapsulated their effort in three terms - bleed American into bankruptcy, spread out the American military and intelligence forces so they're not flexible or responsive and try to disrupt political harmony within the US."

"If I'm bin Laden I'm pretty happy about the way the war looks to me at the moment."

Scheuer said that the real reason for Hayden's comments may be the US's ongoing strategic relationship with Israel and a desire within the US administration to put the option of action against Iran back on the agenda.

"It could well be that the administration is trying to get Americans to believe we've won against al-Qaeda so they don't get accused of going after Iran before al-Qaeda is defeated," he said.

"On Wednesday, having al-Qaeda to be number one enemy of the US and on Thursday to have the CIA director and the director of homeland security say 'no, that's yesterday's news' I have to think that some kind of confrontation with Iran is back on the front burner."

US gains

Hayden said capturing or killing Bin Laden or
al-Zawahiri, right, was still a priority [EPA]
But Hayden said gains had been made against al-Qaeda and that US intelligence agencies had carried out several attacks since January, using unmanned aircraft to strike safe houses.

"The ability to kill and capture key members of al-Qaeda continues, and keeps them off balance - even in their best safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border," Hayden told the newspaper.

He also said al-Qaeda's global leadership had lost three senior officers since the start of the year.

Two of those had succumbed "to violence", an apparent reference to missile strikes from US drone Predator aircraft in Pakistan, the Post reported.

Hayden said capturing or killing bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, remained a top priority although he said it would be difficult to find them in a region where the US military is officially forbidden to operate.

Iraq 'success'

"Despite this 'cause celebre' phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda's vision of the future"

Michael Hayden, head of the CIA

In Iraq, he said he was encouraged by US success against al-Qaeda's allies and by what he said was the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and growing popular opposition towards radical armed groups.

"Despite this 'cause celebre' phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda's vision of the future," Hayden said.

He added that violence against US and Iraqi government forces was viewed by Iraqis as "more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis".

Hayden said leading Sunni preachers - including some who used to support al-Qaeda - had condemned the group for its killing of Muslim civilians.

However, the Post said Hayden expressed concern that the progress against al-Qaeda could be halted or reversed because of what he views as growing complacency and a return to the mind-set that existed before the September 11 attacks.

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