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U.S. Cites Big Gains Against Al-Qaeda

CIA chief Michael Hayden warned that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat.
CIA chief Michael Hayden warned that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat. (By Kevin Wolf -- Associated Press)

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Hayden declined to discuss what agreements, if any, have been brokered with Pakistan's new leaders, but he said, "We're comfortable with the authorities we have."

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Since the start of the year, he said, al-Qaeda's global leadership has lost three senior officers, including two who succumbed "to violence," an apparent reference to Predator strikes that killed terrorist leaders Abu Laith al-Libi and Abu Sulayman al-Jazairi in Pakistan. He also cited a successful blow against "training activity" in the region but offered no details. "Those are the kinds of things that delay and disrupt al-Qaeda's planning," Hayden said.

Despite the optimistic outlook, he said he is concerned that the progress against al-Qaeda could be halted or reversed because of what he considers growing complacency and a return to the mind-set that existed before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"We remain worried, and frankly, I wonder why some other people aren't worried, too," he said. His concern stems in part from improved intelligence-gathering that has bolstered the CIA's understanding of al-Qaeda's intent, he said.

"The fact that we have kept [Americans] safe for pushing seven years now has got them back into the state of mind where 'safe' is normal," he said. "Our view is: Safe is hard-won, every 24 hours."

Hayden, who has previously highlighted a gulf between Washington and its European allies on how to battle terrorism, said he is troubled that Congress and many in the media are "focused less on the threat and more on the tactics the nation has chosen to deal with the threat" -- a reference to controversial CIA interrogation techniques approved by Hayden's predecessors.

"The center line of the national discussion has moved, and in our business, our center line is more shaped by the reality of the threat," Hayden said.

On Iraq, he said he is encouraged not only by U.S. success against al-Qaeda's affiliates there, but also by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism.

"Despite this 'cause célebrè' phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda's vision of the future," Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as "more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis," he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics -- including some who used to support al-Qaeda -- criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians.

While al-Qaeda misplayed its hand with gruesome attacks on Iraqi civilians, Hayden said, U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials deserve some of the credit for the shift, because they "created the circumstances" for it by building strategic alliances with Sunni and Shiite factions, he said.

Hayden warned, however, that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. While declining to endorse any particular strategy for dealing with Iran, he described the threat in stark terms.

"It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period," he said.


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