WASHINGTON — A possible chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in the 114th Congress warned that “every day” al-Qaeda gets stronger as the Obama administration tries to perpetuate a narrative that the infamous terror group is degraded or decimated.
Last month, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula issued an unprecedented joint Twitter statement calling on Muslims “to support our people in Iraq and Sham” against “America, the source of evil and symbol of corruption and injustice.”
And this month AQAP, led by al-Qaeda general manager Nasir al-Wuhayshi, issued a statement urging “all Muslims to back their brethren” — the Islamic State — “with their souls, money and tongues, against the crusaders.”
The message coming from Ayman al-Zawahiri’s No. 2 stood in contrast to the refrain that al-Qaeda despises ISIS and their irreconcilable differences negate any threat of a unified terrorist front. “We call on anyone who can wear down the Americans to strive to do so by military, economic or media means.”
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told PJM that the White House “created” this problem of stronger al-Qaeda franchises by “taking their foot off the pedal and telling the American people al-Qaeda is on the run.”
“This ‘core al-Qaeda’ concept is a political narrative now coming back to bite all of us,” he said.
In a May 2013 address at National Defense University, President Obama declared, “Today, the core of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on a path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They have not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11.”
On Aug. 7, 2013, Obama told Marines at Camp Pendleton that “al-Qaeda’s top ranks have been hammered.”
“The core of al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is on the way to defeat,” he added.
Two days later, when questioned about this in a press conference at the White House, the president reiterated that “core al-Qaeda is on its heels, has been decimated.”
“So it’s entirely consistent to say that this tightly organized and relatively centralized al-Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11 has been broken apart and is very weak and does not have a lot of operational capacity, and to say we still have these regional organizations like AQAP that can pose a threat, that can drive potentially a truck bomb into an embassy wall and can kill some people,” he maintained.
And while Obama admitted in his State of the Union address that the “threat has evolved” with the growth of affiliates, he maintained “we have put al-Qaeda’s core leadership on a path to defeat.”
Nunes said the administration hasn’t even hit al-Qaeda as hard as it can as the terror organization metastasizes and grows because of “so many restrictions on airstrikes,” resulting in limited campaigns that dent rather than destroy.
“They’re very limited — not just in Syria and Iraq, but all over the globe they’ve been on a downtrend,” he said of strikes against cells. “Which is troubling, because al-Qaeda’s been on an upswing.”
Nunes, 41, who began serving in Congress in 2003, announced his intent to go for the Intelligence Committee gavel soon after Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said this spring he would retire at the end of the term.
The California Republican stressed to PJM that as the administration plays up divisions between these terrorist organizations, the bottom line is “they’re all radical Islamists and they’re all cousins.”
“It’s not even that complicated,” Nunes said, noting that self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi worked for late al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and claimed the mantle of al-Qaeda leader after Osama bin Laden was killed. “It’s not even tactical differences. That’s what the fight is over.”
Zawahiri stressed in February that ISIS is a separate entity from al-Qaeda; since then, official al-Qaeda branch Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS have mended fences in their common cause.
Nunes cited former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who called the well-organized, deep-pocketed Islamic State “al-Qaeda 6.0.”
“They know the truth; they don’t care,” the congressman said of the Obama administration’s reaction to the snowballing threat. “It’s all politics to them at the end of the day. They did the same thing in Benghazi. It’s just ridiculous.”
Just over a month after the White House said its assassination of Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane delivered “a major symbolic and operational loss to the largest al-Qaida affiliate in Africa,” the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia put citizens on alert last week for an Al-Shabaab attack.
“The Embassy has received threat reports of al-Shabaab’s intent to target the Bole area,” said the message to citizens. “While the exact location of this planned terrorist attack is not known, U.S. citizens should continue to maintain heightened personal security awareness.”
After the Labor Day assassination, Al-Shabaab quickly named Ahmad Umar Abu Ubaidah, aka Ahmed Diriye, a longtime senior adviser to Godane and former primary school Quran teacher, as its new leader and renewed its “pledge of allegiance” to al-Qaeda.
Al-Shabaab vowed to ”not delay in punishing those who have perpetrated such heinous massacres,” and promised that the terror group would “only grow in strength and ferocity” after Godane’s death.
“It’s typical for them to do victory laps without victory,” Nunes said of the administration. “Victory is not going to come quickly and it’s not going to be easy, and this is a generational fight that we are in.”
“No one should be doing any victory laps at this point. Tell the hard truth to the American people and allies across the globe that we’re in this for the long run. Anything less than that is either not telling the truth or not understanding the enemy — probably a little bit of both.”
Nunes noted that there’s been “very limited action” against Boko Haram and “they took forever” to designate Ansar al-Sharia, behind the September 2012 consulate attack in Benghazi that took four American lives, a foreign terrorist organization this January.
He was incredulous that the administration heavily relied on intelligence they said pointed to an impending attack from Khorasan — or at least a plot in the advanced stages — in its public justification for launching its first wave of airstrikes in Syria, releasing both on and off the record tidbits about the alleged plots with “seasoned al-Qaeda operatives” behind the threat.
Khorasan is simply the name for a chapter of al-Qaeda in Syria, led by the former commander of al-Qaeda in Iran.
“I don’t know why they would have released it,” Nunes said of the White House talking about the “imminent” threat. “Intelligence and spies are only good if you don’t talk about it to the press. It makes no sense to release the name. They did the same thing with the bin Laden raid — there’s no reason to say any more.”
And of the country that harbored Kuwaiti al-Qaeda commander Muhsin al-Fadhli until he got the go-ahead to set up shop in Syria, the New York Times reported today that President Obama wants to bypass Congress to forge a nuclear deal with Iran.
The current administration deadline for an agreement is Nov. 24. A senior official admitted to the NYT that, with bipartisan majorities in both chambers increasingly skeptical of a deal, Obama would likely lose an approval vote.
Nunes said he didn’t want to speak for his colleagues, but could confirm that “most” in Congress “don’t believe that Iran is going to get rid of its nuclear program.”
He noted the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, which passed the House by a whopping 400-20 that July, was “a slap in the face of their Iran strategy.”
“Look at the positions that the Congress has taken, resolutions that have actually passed,” Nunes said. “No one thinks what they’re doing with Iran is going to work.”