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Obama speech on Iraq August 31: The rest of the story on Al Qaeda

By Clayton Jones / September 1, 2010

President Barack Obama speaks about Iraq and Afghanistan during a televised national address in the Oval Office at the White House on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010.

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In his televised speech to the nation Tuesday night, President Obama seemed ambivalent about US successes in Iraq, but he was quite clear about the goal of the Afghanistan war: to prevent that country from again being a base for terrorists.

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“As we speak, Al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Mr. Obama said.

This isn’t the whole story, though.

In August, the State Department reported that Al Qaeda had been adapting itself after suffering setbacks in Pakistan, where it is assumed that Osama bin Laden is still hiding. The group is creating strong proxies in other countries, especially in Yemen on the Saudi Peninsula, in hopes of attracting radicalized and Westernized Muslims to their cause. Such candidates could more easily penetrate the US and Europe.

Al Qaeda is “actively engaged in operational plotting against the United Stares and continued recruiting, training, and deploying operatives, including individuals from Western Europe and North America,” the report states. In fact, the US Justice Department recently indicted several US citizens that allegedly supported the Al Qaeda-linked group in Somalia, al Shabab.

In an article in the August edition of the CTC Sentinel, a publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Philip Mudd, a former top US security official, writes: “The Pakistan-Afghanistan border region will not be the sole, or even primary, source of bombing suspects.”

In other words, the struggle against Al Qaeda can’t be so easily localized in one or two countries. As soon the US succeeds in one place, Al Qaeda will simply “turn the page,” to use Obama’s words, and pop up elsewhere.

But Mr. Mudd, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, concludes with this somewhat hopeful note:

“Nine years into this campaign, the core organization appears to be struggling; its followers, while dispersed and dangerous, are facing more questions about their tactics. Patience is the key. As the nine year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, the United States is safer and the jihadist ideological wave has crested. Unfortunately, it will be years before those who believe in al-Qa’ida’s [Al Qaeda’s] message finally die off.”

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