Washington, Sep 14 (IANS): Ten years after 9/11, the Al Qaeda is weaker and the US intelligence community more effective, according to top intelligence officials who also caution that the terror group and its affiliates still pose a very real threat.
The group's rank of "top lieutenants" has lost many of its plotters, paramilitary commanders, trainers and bomb-makers, he said, and the organisation is struggling to find qualified replacements, new CIA Director David Petraeus told a Congressional panel Tuesday.
"These setbacks have shaken Al Qaeda's sense of security in Pakistan's tribal areas," Petraeus said before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Intelligence committees about how US intelligence efforts and Al Qaeda's capabilities have changed since 9/11.
With the core group's focus diverted from plotting against the west to ensuring its own survival, he said, some mid-level and rank-and-file Al Qaeda members may seek safe haven in Afghanistan or outside the South Asia region.
"The upshot is that it will be more difficult for Al Qaeda to attract and accommodate would-be jihadists wanting to travel to the tribal areas of Pakistan," said Petraeus in his first appearance as CIA director after retiring as an army general from the job of leading US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
But he cautioned that Al Qaeda and its affiliates still pose a very real threat, and the group still seeks what he termed one of its principle goals:
"Forcing the United States and a number of our allies to retreat from the world stage (to) clear the way for overthrowing governments in the Islamic world, and for the destruction of Israel."
Al Qaeda remains committed to and can still launch attacks against the US and Europe, he said.
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said: "We have put in place remarkable capabilities and achieved significant successes."
But "the nature of terrorism, though (makes) it impossible to guarantee that every planned attack will be thwarted and every plot disrupted".