Ten years on from the September 11 attacks, some U.S. officials believe Al Qaeda is close to collapse. The rise in optimism in Washington follows the recent death of Osama bin Laden, and the capture or killing of several other senior leaders. But if the structure of Al Qaida is unraveling, the danger posed by smaller localized groups remains and some say it's growing.
A decade on from the launch of the "War on Terror," is the U.S. winning the fight? George W. Bush said, "There's an old poster out West that I recall that said 'Wanted: Dead or Alive." It took almost a decade, but the U.S. eventually got their man.
And when bin Laden was killed in May, it became clear Al Qaida had been dealt a serious blow. Daniel Benjamin, U.S. counter-terrorism coord., said, "Its probably been a bigger blow than we thought it would be. Because he was more engaged in the running of the organization than we thought he might be."
The information recovered from bin Laden's compound reveals an organization in disarray. Bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is in hiding, presiding over what many analysts believe is a less effective, less cohesive organization. Former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, says the relentless attacks against Al Qaida have paid off.
Michael Chertoff, former U.S. Homeland Security Sec., said, "We've eliminated or captured scores of senior leaders. We've driven them more and more to be more worried about their own safety then to attack us."
Recent successes have stoked optimism in Washington and many U.S. military and intelligence chiefs claim the defeat of Al Qaida could be within reach. But Chertoff remains cautious. Even if the central structure is dismantled, he says, there's a growing threat from what's been termed "al-Qaida 2.0" - localized spinoff groups like Al Qaida in Yemen, and al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Michael Chertoff said, "It has really become like a hydra with a lot of different heads. And my theory has been that in many ways, as a younger generation comes up, we may find that they're more dangerous because they're no longer locked into the strategies that we're accustomed to facing, but they're going to have new strategies."
Such strategies may involve settling for smaller-scale attacks - perhaps using chemical or biological weapons.
Charlie Allen, former senior CIA official, said, "Their goals have not changed. Attacks will be smaller, but they will still create a great psychological damage to the populations of this country and other countries."
So, after ten years, do intelligence officials really believe the West is winning? Or, as the September 11 anniversary approaches, could the current optimism be part of a coordinated PR offensive? And can the U.S.' War on Terror ever be won?
Daniel Benjamin said, "There are still plenty of terrorists out there and we continue to have plenty to do in that regard. I think we've made important progress but the story is not over."
(CNTV.cn September 8, 2011)