President Obama’s counterterrorism chief said in a speech yesterday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars that the administration has wounded al-Qaeda so bad the terror group considered changing its name for PR reasons.
John Brennan, assistant to the president on homeland security and counterterrorism, said Osama bin Laden knew al-Qaeda has been “losing badly” as “they have fewer places to train and groom the next generation of operatives” and “they’re struggling to attract new recruits.”
“In documents we seized, he confessed to ‘disaster after disaster,'” Brennan said of the late al-Qaeda leader. “He even urged his leaders to flee the tribal regions, and go to places ‘away from aircraft photography and bombardment.’”
“Today, it is increasingly clear that—compared to 9/11—the core al-Qaeda leadership is a shadow of its former self,” he added. “Al-Qaeda has been left with just a handful of capable leaders and operatives, and with continued pressure is on the path to its destruction. And for the first time since this fight began, we can look ahead and envision a world in which the al-Qaeda core is simply no longer relevant.”
Brennan claimed that al-Qaeda’s image has been so damaged “that bin Laden even considered changing its name,” linking it to the Obama administration ditching the Bush administration’s “war on terror” terminology.
“And one of the reasons? As bin Laden said himself, U.S. officials ‘have largely stopped using the phrase “the war on terror” in the context of not wanting to provoke Muslims,'” Brennan said. “Simply calling them al-Qaeda, bin Laden said, ‘reduces the feeling of Muslims that we belong to them.’ To which I would add, that is because al-Qaeda does not belong to Muslims. Al-Qaeda is the antithesis of the peace, tolerance and humanity that is at the heart of Islam.”
The administration scrapped the term “war on terror” in 2009, and a year later Brennan said the enemy wouldn’t be identified as “jihadists” or “Islamists” because “jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community.”
Yet the counterterrorism chief admitted yesterday that al-Qaeda affiliates aren’t doing so badly, from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He brushed off the merger between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab as a union “between two organizations in decline.” He added the administration is “monitoring” the emerging strength of Boko Haram in Nigeria; gunmen from the radical Islamist group killed 21 in a Christian church attack Sunday.
“If the decade before 9/11 was the time of al-Qaeda’s rise, and the decade after 9/11 was the time of its decline, then I believe this decade will be the one that sees its demise,” Brennan proclaimed. “This progress is no accident. It is a direct result of intense efforts over more than a decade, across two administrations, across the U.S. government and in concert with allies and partners. This includes the comprehensive counterterrorism strategy being directed by President Obama, a strategy guided by the president’s highest responsibility—to protect the safety and security of the American people.”