U.S. counterterrorism officials are increasingly convinced that the killing of Osama bin Laden and the toll of seven years of CIA drone strikes have pushed alQaeda to the brink of collapse.
The assessment reflects a widespread view at the CIA and other agencies that a relatively small number of additional blows could effectively extinguish the Pakistan-based organization that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — an outcome that was seen as a distant prospect for much of the past decade.
U.S. officials said that al-Qaeda might yet rally and that even its demise would not end the terrorist threat, which is increasingly driven by radicalized individuals as well as aggressive affiliates. Indeed, officials said that alQaeda’s offshoot in Yemen is now seen as a greater counterterrorism challenge than the organization’s traditional base.
President Obama has steadily expanded the clandestine U.S. campaign against that Yemen group, most recently by approving the construction of a secret Persian Gulf airstrip for armed CIA drones. But recent setbacks, including a botched U.S. military airstrike on American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, underscore the difficulties that remain.
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