Nearly 18 years after 9/11, Al-Qaeda 'is as strong as it has ever been,' State Department says

news

In this Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011 file photo, hundreds of newly trained al-Shabab fighters perform military exercises in the Lafofe area some 18 km south of Mogadishu, in Somalia

(Associated Press/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

WASHINGTON — Al-Qaeda and its affiliates remain as much of a threat to the U.S. as "it has ever been" after the terrorist group rebuilt itself while the U.S. and other nations focused on destroying ISIS in Iraq and Syria, a State Department official said Thursday.

"Al-Qaeda has been strategic and patient over the past several years," Nathan Sales, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, said at a briefing in Washington. "It's let ISIS absorb the brunt of the world's counterterrorism efforts while patiently reconstituting itself. What we see today is an al-Qaeda that is as strong as it has ever been."


The U.S. focused in recent years on wiping out Islamic State's territorial holdings in Syria and Iraq after the militant group seized a swath of territory across both countries from 2014. President Donald Trump said in February that the U.S. and its coalition partners liberated all of the ISIS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq, though Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned that thousands of fighters were going underground to regroup.

The U.S. and other nations are continuing to confront ISIS — an offshoot and rival of al-Qaeda — as it expands its global franchise and its message inspires other groups from Africa to the Philippines. In one of the deadlier recent attacks, more than 200 people, including as many as 30 foreigners, were killed in a series of coordinated explosions on Easter Sunday at churches and luxury hotels across Sri Lanka that were inspired by ISIS.

At the same time, Sales said, al-Qaeda remains potent. A car bombing by al-Qaeda-linked militants al-Shabab in July killed at least seven people in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. The group claimed responsibility for an attack on an upmarket hotel and office complex in Nairobi in January. And it still holds territory in northwest Syria.

"We see active and deadly al-Qaeda affiliates across the globe, including in Somalia, where al-Shabab commits regular attacks inside Somalia and also has begun to attack its neighbors as well, particularly Kenya," Sales said.

Al-Qaeda is also present in Yemen, where it has taken advantage of the country's instability and lawlessness to plot and to train its fighters. The Yemeni affiliate of the group was behind the failed "underwear bomber" attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day 2009.

Providing fertile ground for the terrorist group, large swaths of Yemen are effectively beyond the reach of the weak central government, and a Saudi-led alliance continues to fight a war there against Houthi rebels allied with Iran.

Nevertheless, the statement about al-Qaeda's strength may come as a surprise to people who thought the group was more isolated and under pressure since the killing of its founder Osama bin Laden in 2011. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Hamza bin Laden, one of Osama bin Laden's favorite sons and a possible heir apparent to the al-Qaeda leadership, was killed at some point in the past two years.

"No one should mistake the period of relative silence from al-Qaeda as an indication that they've gotten out of the business," Sales said. "They are very much in this fight and we need to continue to take the fight to them."

———

©2019 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Comedian and activist Jon Stewart meets with members of Toxic Exposures in the American Military (TEAM), a coalition of veteran and military service organizations, Jan. 17 on Capitol Hill. (Courtesy of TEAM)

Comedian Jon Stewart has joined forces with veterans groups to make sure service members who have been sickened by toxins from burn pits get the medical care they need, according to the Military Officers Association of America.

"Quite frankly, this is not just about burn pits — it's about the way we go to war as a country," Stewart said during his Jan. 17 visit to Washington, D.C. "We always have money to make war. We need to always have money to take care of what happens to people who are selfless enough, patriotic enough, to wage those wars on our behalf."

Read More
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) transits the Atlantic Ocean, Dec. 12, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Swofford)

The Navy plans on naming its fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier after World War II hero Doris 'Dorie' Miller, an African-American sailor recognized for his heroism during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor — and not everybody is happy about it.

Read More
Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn C. Cashe (Photo illustration by Aaron Provost)

Editor's note: A version of this article first appeared in 2018

Three. That's how many times Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn C. Cashe entered the burning carcass of his Bradley Fighting Vehicle after it struck an improvised explosive device in the Iraqi province of Salahuddin on Oct. 17, 2005. Cashe, a 35-year-old Gulf War vet on his second combat deployment to Iraq since the 2003 invasion, had been in the gun turret when the IED went off below the vehicle, immediately killing the squad's translator and rupturing the fuel cell. By the time the Bradley rolled to a stop, it was fully engulfed in flames. The crackle of incoming gunfire followed. It was a complex ambush.

Read More
A man burns tires during ongoing anti-government protests in Najaf, Iraq January 20, 2020. (Reuters/Alaa al-Marjani)

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two Iraqi police officers were killed and dozens of protesters were wounded in Baghdad and other cities on Monday in clashes with security forces, medical and security sources said, as anti-government unrest resumed after a lull of several weeks.

Read More
(U.S. Marine Corps)

How We Found Out explores recent reporting from Task & Purpose, answering questions about how we sourced our stories, what challenges we faced, and offers a behind-the-scenes look at how we cover issues impacting the military and veterans community.

Following a string of news reports on private Facebook group called Marines United, where current and former Marines shared nude photos of their fellow service members, the Corps launched an internal investigation to determine if the incident was indicative of a larger problem facing the military's smallest branch.

In December 2019, Task & Purpose published a feature story written by our editor in chief, Paul Szoldra, which drew from the internal review. In the article, Szoldra detailed the findings of that investigation, which included first-hand accounts from male and female Marines.

Task & Purpose spoke with Szoldra to discuss how he got his hands on the investigation, how he made sense of the more than 100 pages of anecdotes and personal testimony, and asked what, if anything, the Marine Corps may do to correct the problem.

This is the fourth installment in the recurring column How We Found Out.

Read More