The Myth of 'Core' Al-Qaeda: Affiliate Leader Now Calling the Attacks
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration often contends that al-Qaeda is "on the run," basing this assertion on the "decimation" of its core.
“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," President Obama declared last May at the National Defense University.
On Aug. 7, 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."
But a recent promotion in the terrorist organization proves that the offshoots dismissed as "affiliates" are critical to al-Qaeda's grand scheme for sustained growth.
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri had to fill his old position as No. 2 in the organization after Abu Yahya Al Libi was killed in a 2012 drone strike.
His choice? The leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
CIA Director John Brennan confirmed the hire when answering a question earlier this month at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"You know, there's al-Qaeda core, you know, bin Laden and Zawahiri and those that are around, you know, the core of al-Qaeda in South Asia. There are those groups, like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, that are clearly affiliated. The head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Wuhayshi, is the number two in al-Qaida core in al-Qaeda central," Brennan said.
"…Al-Qaeda has metastasized, and -- which makes it all the more challenging, because a lot of these groups have local agendas, but also are being exploited by al-Qaeda core for more sort of violent global jihadist purposes."
The hire reportedly took place last summer, around the time when Obama talked about a defeated core al-Qaeda in August.
Nasir al-Wuhayshi is, according to UAE newspaper The National, in his mid-30s and doesn't clear 5 feet in height. But he's got jihad in his blood: the Yemeni attended religious schools, went to Afghanistan, became bin Laden's personal secretary, oversaw al-Qaeda training camps, and hid in the caves of Tora Bora with his boss. When bin Laden went into hiding in the Abbottabad compound, Wuhayshi was one of the few to know his whereabouts.
He was held by the Yemenis for a few years before a prison escape, started a Yemen chapter of al-Qaeda, then announced the launch of AQAP to merge with Saudi extremist groups in a 2009 press conference.
Despite Obama's drone strikes on Yemeni targets, AQAP has flourished under Wuhayshi's leadership and looked for new ways to attack, including the underwear bomb aboard a 2009 Detroit-bound flight that made it past security. AQAP is also behind the slick English-language magazine Inspire, which encourages "open-source jihad" by lone wolves following the tutelage of al-Qaeda's long-distance teachings. It was from this magazine that the Boston Marathon bombers found their deadly explosives recipes. Wuhayshi has deemed Western jihadists to be even more valuable than Middle Eastern ones because of their proximity to the "enemy."