While Obama sees an Al Qaeda “on the way to defeat,” former FBI agent and interrogator Ali Soufan sees an Al Qaeda that has been rebuilt.
According to Soufan, the terror group was able to rebuild itself because of the West’s inaction against emerging and reemerging Al Qaeda affiliates — like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen that convinced the U.S. to tuck tail and run on August 6.
On August 7, the the Wall Street Journal published a column in which Soufan argued that Al Qaeda was “badly weakened by U.S. counterterrorism efforts… [but it] was never close to being extinguished.” He argued the various examples that could be cited to show success against Al Qaeda are of no account now, as “more than a decade after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda is still deemed to have enough capability to force the U.S. to close its embassies and consulates.”
The U.S. failed to appreciate the threat posed by emerging affiliates because the Obama administration viewed them as “a local issue” rather than a global one. In doing so, Obama failed to understand that “Bin Laden himself started out by focusing on a local issue: U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.”
Soufan explained the FBI “and others in the intelligence community” had to fight against “higher-ups” at that time who just wanted to write bin Laden off as a localized “Saudi financier.”
We have now come full circle, and the Al Qaeda affiliate which was once thought but a local threat in Yemen has sent the U.S. packing from many places around the world.
As Soufan says, Al Qaeda has not just survived, it has actually “thrived,” and he claims announcements of embassy and/or consulate closings will become “more routine” if the U.S. keeps viewing affiliates as localized problems only. Instead, he argues should be “combating the narratives that allow Al Qaeda and its affiliates to continually recruit and retain members.”
Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter @AWRHawkins.