WASHINGTON (AFP) — CIA chief Michael Hayden, in an interview published Friday, said Al-Qaeda is essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive elsewhere, including the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
CIA director Michael Hayden told the Washington Post major gains have been made against Al-Qaeda's allies in the Middle East, while a campaign to destabilize the network's core leadership has been increasingly successful.
Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is also losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely lost his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit new members, he said, according to the Post.
"On balance, we are doing pretty well," Hayden said, while warning that Al-Qaeda remains a serious threat.
The list of accomplishments, he said, includes: "Near strategic defeat of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for Al-Qaeda globally -- and here I'm going to use the word 'ideologically' -- as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam."
The upbeat assessment comes less than a year after a US intelligence report last August found that Al-Qaeda had regrouped in a safe haven in Pakistan's lawless border region with Afghanistan and was determined new attacks on the United States.
But Hayden said gains have been made against Al-Qaeda even in the lawless region and that US intelligence agencies have carried out several attacks there since January, using unmanned aircraft to strike safe houses.
"The ability to kill and capture key members of Al-Qaeda continues, and keeps them off balance -- even in their best safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border," Hayden told the Post.
In Iraq, he said he was encouraged by US success against Al-Qaeda's affiliates and by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism.
"Despite this 'cause celebre' phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked Al-Qaeda's vision of the future," Hayden said, adding that the insurgency was viewed by Iraqis as "more and more a war of Al-Qaeda against Iraqis."
Hayden warned that progress in Iraq was being undermined by growing interference by Iran, which the United States has accused of supplying weapons, training and funds to insurgents.
"It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period," he said.
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