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Calling it ‘war’, Obama pegs Christmas Day attack to Al Qaeda

Responding to critics of what is seen as his measured approach, Obama says the “nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred." He calls for national unity.

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But in his Saturday address, Obama does use “war” to describe the battle against Al Qaeda, a word he has so far largely avoided. “[O]ur nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and defend our country,” Obama said. (Earlier, Obama had called alleged airline attacker Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab an "isolated extremist.")

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Moreover, many experts pointed out that it took former president George W. Bush nearly two weeks to acknowledge the shoe-bomber incident in 2001, while Mr. Obama was criticized for waiting two days before addressing the nation about the young Nigerian man who tried to blast a hole in the fuselage of a Northwest Airlines passenger jet en route from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. The bomb, hidden in the man’s clothing, failed to detonate. He is now in US custody.

Yemen becoming part of fight against Al Qaeda

Meanwhile, the US has quietly stepped up its support of counter-terror efforts in Yemen, an emerging battle front in the struggle against global terror syndicates like Al Qaeda, while boosting troop levels by 50,000 in Afghanistan.

In a thinly-veiled criticism of Bush’s counter-terror strategy, Obama said Saturday morning that his administration has “refocused the fight” against Al Qaeda while “bringing a responsible end to the war in Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.”

Still, the President’s acknowledgement of the attack as an Al Qaeda conspiracy could signal a tougher White House approach regarding counter-terror tactics. While acknowledging faults, the President is now also more likely to highlight counter-terror successes, which White House officials say the President has resisted doing up to now.

Obama faces several key decisions, including the final closing of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, which now holds dozens of Yemeni militants, as well as how to repair intelligence failures in the run-up to the Christmas Day attack.

And then there are still questions about the true nature of the Fort Hood attack nearly two months earlier. Heavily involved in the growth of Yemen as an Al Qaeda hideout is the radical US-born cleric Anwar Al-Awliki, who was in contact with US Maj. Nidal Hasan, who opened fire at a deployment center on fort Hood on Nov. 5, killing 13. Awaiting several investigations due this month, the President has not used the words “terror attack” to describe Hasan’s rampage.

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