Obama Tells Marines Al-Qaeda Is Near 'Defeat,' 'Decimated'
Just days after issuing a sweeping terror alert that broadly warned Americans against global travel and temporarily closing embassies across the Middle East, President Obama returned to pressing his longtime narrative that al-Qaeda is on the run.
Obama told Marines at Camp Pendleton this afternoon that he was there to mark the war in Afghanistan entering "the final chapter."
"More of our troops are coming home. We'll be down to 34,000 this winter. By the end of next year, in just 17 months, the transition will be complete, Afghans will take full responsibility for their security, and our war in Afghanistan will be over," the president said.
"…After our nation was attacked, you were some of the very first conventional forces in Afghanistan, racing in hundreds of miles by helicopter, toppling that regime and driving al-Qaeda from its camps."
Before his address, Obama met with wounded warriors and Gold Star families, as well as local Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Susan Davis (D-Calif.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). It was his first visit to the base.
Because of the "9/11 generation," Obama said, "we are accomplishing what we set out to do" -- citing first the death of Osama bin Laden.
"Because of you, al-Qaeda's top ranks have been hammered. The core of al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is on the way to defeat," he said.
"…As I have said before, even as we decimated the al-Qaeda leadership that attacked us on 9/11, al-Qaeda affiliates and like-minded extremists still threaten our homeland. They still threaten our diplomatic facilities. They still threaten our businesses abroad. And we have got to take these threats seriously, and do all we can to confront them," Obama later added.
The president's comments mirrored statements he made in a May counterterrorism speech at the National Defense University, when he said "the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat."
"Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us," Obama said then. "They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They’ve not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11."
"Instead, what we’ve seen is the emergence of various al Qaeda affiliates. From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse, with Al Qaeda’s affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula -- AQAP -- the most active in plotting against our homeland.… And while we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based."
The Daily Beast reported today that the intercept which spurred the widespread terror alert was a conference call between al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and more than 20 leaders of those supposedly diffuse, disjoined affiliates.
On the call were AQAP leader Nasser al-Wuhayshi and representatives of Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and new affiliates including al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula.
Yemen announced that early in the week its security officials foiled an al-Qaeda plot to seize two ports and oil and gas facilities, but government officials said it wasn't believed to be the threat that sent the administration into alert mode.
Tuesday night on Jay Leno's show, Obama said the terror threat is "a reminder that for all the progress we've made -- getting bin Laden, putting al-Qaeda between Afghanistan and Pakistan back on its heels -- that this radical, violent extremism is still out there."
"It's also a reminder of how courageous our embassy personnel tend to be, because you can never have 100 percent security in some of these places," he added in a hint at the administration's defensive rhetoric on the Benghazi attack. "…So we're grateful to them and we've got to do everything we can to protect them."
But Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the lesson is that "al-Qaeda is stronger now in many ways than it was on 9/11 because it's metastasized."
On Fox Tuesday night, King slammed Obama's "schizophrenic policy" of "on the one hand often going after al-Qaeda leaders or on the other hand telling the American people and the world that al-Qaeda has been defeated and that we can go back to a pre-9/11 situation."
"It caused our allies to be concerned and it emboldens our enemies," he added.
It has emboldened the proponents of the NSA's data mining programs, which have been under attack by a core group of privacy advocates on Capitol Hill since the Edward Snowden leaks about PRISM.
"We know that al Qaeda and other people out there want to attack us and kill us and our allies. The good news is that we picked up intelligence. And that's what we do. That's what NSA does. NSA's sole purpose is to get information intelligence to protect Americans from attack," House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said Sunday.
"…And these people who work at NSA are hard-working people who follow the law. In fact, we have lost 20 members of the people working for NSA in Iraq and Afghanistan attempting to get information to help the troops," he continued. "Now, this issue of metadata and that we're violating the law is just not true. That's absurd."
Speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Phoenix yesterday, White House press secretary Jay Carney was challenged on the administration's continuing assertion that the core of al-Qaeda is defeated when the intercepted call clearly shows that the core is expanding its reach through coordination with affiliates.
"There is no question that core al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been severely diminished, its leadership decimated, and there’s no question that it’s on the run. For many years now it has become -- it has been less organized and less capable of directing attacks on the scale that it was able to do most notably on 9/11. And that remains the case," Carney said.
Carney also maintained that Obama's statements in May, particularly that "none of AQAP’s efforts approach the scale of 9/11," were prescient and accurately reflect "what we’re seeing now."
"And when it comes to al-Qaeda core, to the extent that they play a role, it is, in our view, inspirational," he added.
The Associated Press -- a target of Justice Department snooping for its May story about a thwarted AQAP plot that blew a hole in the Obama campaign's narrative about a decimated al-Qaeda -- freely countered Carney: "Far from being on the brink of collapse, Al Qaeda's core leadership remains a potent threat - and one that experts say has encouraged the terror network's spread into more countries today than it was operating in immediately after 9/11."
King praised the fact that the administration responded to the latest threat, but also echoed concerns that in mapping out the scope of the threat for publicity points too many sensitive details were revealed.
"If I was giving out information, yes, too much has been given out. And if you notice myself and others we are careful to say that this intelligence, it's credible intelligence and it gives specifics regarding a massive attack," the congressman said on Fox.
"But this other information that you know, you have been talking about and has been in the media. That should never have been disclosed because that does talk about, if it's true, it certainly -- it tips off the enemy about our strategies, about our means and the abilities that we have to a sources and methods. And that's wrong. That should not have happened," King continued.
"There's no need to go beyond saying we have very credible evidence of a very serious attack and it could be primarily in the Middle East but also other parts of the world."