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President Barack Obama’s campaign continues to claim that it has “decimated” al Qaeda, the world’s most notorious terror group, despite increasing evidence the group is expanding and despite an al Qaeda attack that left four Americans, including an ambassador, dead.
On Monday, team Obama hailed what they claim is the president’s successful eradication of al Qaeda.
“Obama’s national security record—ending the Iraq war, decimating al Qaeda, restoring our standing abroad,” stated a message sent from the Obama campaign’s official Twitter account.
Senior Obama administration officials have made similar statements in the weeks since militants associated with al Qaeda murdered U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the consulate in Benghazi.
However, al Qaeda is on the rise across the Middle East and North Africa, according to numerous intelligence reports and foreign policy experts, several of whom warned the Obama campaign against prematurely declaring victory over the terror group.
Most recently, an AP report published in the Navy Times drew attention to the ongoing reconstitution of al Qaeda in Iraq in the aftermath of America’s total withdrawal from that country in the end of 2011.
“Al Qaeda is, unfortunately, alive and well in the Maghreb, Yemen, and elsewhere, as the administration will probably admit after the election,” said Elliott Abrams, who served in President George W. Bush’s national security council. ”The claim that the organization was rendered toothless after [Osama bin Laden] was killed is simply not accurate, and every terrorism specialist in our government knows that.”
“It’s a mistake to assert that al Qaeda is decimated,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Washington Free Beacon.
Though al Qaeda’s network has been “damaged in recent years,” the group has successfully gained a foothold in multiple locales across the Middle East, Schanzer said. “We cut off the head of the network with the death of bin Laden, but it has come back as a hydra.”
“The affiliate structure—put in place by bin Laden himself—has ensured that local Islamist factions with local grievances are now fighting al Qaeda’s global battle,” Schanzer said. “This is why we are seeing jihadi groups gain strength in places like Yemen, Somalia, and now Libya, to name a few.”
Obama and his surrogates have sounded a different tune, however.
“I said that we’d go after al Qaeda. They’ve been decimated in the FATA,” or Federally Administrated Tribal Areas on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama declared in an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Sept. 23.
Six days after the deadly raid on the U.S. Embassy in Libya, Obama campaign press secretary Jennifer Psaki told an interviewer that Obama had “decimated” al Qaeda.
A week later, Psaki again stated: “The President has killed Osama bin Laden, decimated al Qaeda, brought the international community together to rally against Iran, against al Qaeda.”
Far from being “decimated,” al Qaeda has actually strengthened its core of devotees across the Middle East and has even begun to operate under more obscure names in an effort to confuse U.S. intelligence efforts, experts say.
“Al Qaeda actually is in expansion phase right now, but not necessarily under its own name,” Clare Lopez, a former CIA operations officer, told the Free Beacon.
Intelligence reports previously withheld from the public reveal al Qaeda’s significant growth in Libya and Egypt in the months leading up to simultaneous attacks on the U.S. embassies in both countries, the Free Beacon reported earlier this month.
Terrorists belonging to the group Ansar al-Sharia, an al Qaeda offshoot, were discovered to have orchestrated the Libya raid, the Daily Beast reported.
Pakistan-based al Qaeda militants operating under this name are believed to have established “sleeper cells and a clandestine network of jihadists” in Libya, according to internal Pentagon documents reported on by the Free Beacon. The unclassified report, which is dated to the month preceding the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, states that al Qaeda forces in Libya are heavily armed due to the wide availability of weapons in the wake of the Qaddafi regime’s collapse.
“Al Qaeda senior leadership in [the Afghanistan-Pakistan] region, in apparent coordination with Iran, is taking advantage of American regional retreat,” said Lopez, who serves as a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy.
Whatever name the militants adopt, they all “share same jihadist ideology,” said Lopez. One “could say Islamic revival is multipolar, geographically diffuse, but ideologically more homogenous than ever in modern times.”
Those efforts have been designated as a failure by nonpartisan observers at the Washington Post and elsewhere.
America, in fact, is even less popular in the Arab world than it was under former President George W. Bush, according to BusinessWeek.