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A Year After Bin Laden Death, U.S. Maintains Drone Campaign Against al-Qaida

April 30, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Since a military strike killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden one year ago, the U.S. has maintained a relentless campaign using drone aircraft to target the group's militants in Pakistan and elsewhere. Judy Woodruff reports.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the state of al-Qaida one year after the U.S. launched a military strike to eliminate its leader.

Judy Woodruff has the story.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president’s dramatic late-night announcement one year ago heralded the end of a 10-year manhunt. On a dusty road in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Navy SEALs stormed the high-wall compound where American intelligence finally tracked the man who had eluded capture for so long.

Bin Laden’s deputy, Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawahri, assumed al-Qaida’s leadership. He remains at large and has pledged continued attacks. And even President Obama, in announcing bin Laden’s killing, warned it wasn’t the death knell of the organization he had founded.

BARACK OBAMA: His death doesn’t mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al-Qaida will continue to pursue attacks against us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the U.S. has pursued its own attacks. A relentless campaign of missile strikes by drone aircraft have hit the militants in their traditional home base, Pakistan’s wild frontier, including a strike just yesterday.

JOHN BRENNAN, U.S. Deputy National Security adviser: There is nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft for this purpose or that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Washington today, John Brennan, the president’s top counterterror adviser, gave the most detailed account yet of the drone campaign, and the results.

JOHN BRENNAN: Al-Qaida has been left with just a handful of capable leaders and operatives and, with continued pressure, is on the path to its destruction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Drone-fired missiles have even targeted American citizens, like the Yemen-based cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

And looking ahead, Brennan offered this appraisal.

JOHN BRENNAN: For the first time since this fight began, we can look ahead and envision a world in which the al-Qaida core is simply no longer relevant. Nevertheless, the dangerous threat from al-Qaida has not disappeared. As the al-Qaida core falters, it continues to look to affiliates and adherents to carry on its murderous cause.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Those affiliates operate in a loose ideological confederation across the Middle East and South Asia from Iraq to Yemen, through East and West Africa, to the Islamic Maghreb of North Africa.

At the same time, al-Qaida’s popularity has cratered in much of the Muslim world. A new survey by the Pew Research Center found that, in Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed, 55 percent disapprove of al-Qaida. In Egypt, birthplace of al-Zawahri, al-Qaida’s new leader, 71 percent disapprove. And in Lebanon, 98 percent of Muslims reject al-Qaida’s message.

Bin Laden may have been partly mindful of such sentiment. His captured correspondence spoke of frustration at the mistakes made and — quote — “disaster after disaster” for the group he commanded from his compound in Pakistan razed by the government earlier this year.

In the meantime, a decentralized al-Qaida still plots and conducts attacks both here and abroad, from a failed Christmas Day try to down an airliner over Detroit to the attempted bombing of Times Square. The spectacular intent remains, without so far the disastrous results.