According to Jeh Johnson, General Counsel, Dept. of Defense, "the core of al Qaeda is today degraded, disorganized and on the run." This purposeful statement was made at the Oxford Union debating society on November 30. The groundwork was thus laid for the Obama Administration to declare victory in the war against terrorism. According to Mr. Johnson and his superiors, al Qaeda no longer has a functional existence. This is justification, says Mr. Johnson, for replacing past military conflict by "a counter-terrorism effort against individuals" by law enforcement and intelligence.
The purpose of this effort to diminish the importance of al Qaeda is to make it appear that the Obama government has been successful in reducing the capabilities of the once all-powerful organization of Osama bin Laden. It is as if organized crime had been totally destroyed by Obama-led forces and the only thing left is for individual criminals to be hunted down by local and state police, with a little help from the FBI.
The original al Qaeda structure no longer exists, but the movement that Osama bin Laden is credited with creating continues an effective underground operation that links disparate groups /franchises -- some small, some large -- who share a drive to assume power in their regions. What does exist of the original organization has a generalized command role similar to general staff structure that gives overall guidance but leaves operations up to divisional commanders. This system provides for a modicum of coordination where appropriate while still maintaining compartmented security.
According to press reports, Ayman al Zawahiri, having assumed the leadership after bin Laden's death, has now located his administrative headquarters in his homeland of Egypt. There is no way to confirm this, but his younger brother, Mohammed al Zawahiri , a member of al-Jihad militant group, was reported by Al Arabiya as active in the September 11th demonstrations at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. If true, this would have been an individual choice rather than connected to any operational commitment of AQ Central. At this current stage of al Qaeda's operational activity it appears that liaison is maintained by Ayman al Zawahiri and his immediate entourage with the various al Qaeda franchises providing specialized technical assistance -- such as unique bomb construction, special cover documentation and, most importantly, financial aid, a key factor in AQ Central's continued leverage.
Not much is reported on the relationship of al Qaeda and the top echelon of the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is obvious that some discreet form of liaison exists for AQ to maintain a presence in Egypt. An al Qaeda headquarters in Cairo, a city of approximately 9 million people and a major commercial and banking center, is a valuable site for international coordination of activity -- if there needs to be any. Moammar Gaddafi used Cairo and Alexandria as main contact points for Libyan operations throughout Africa and the Middle East. Al Qaeda undoubtedly would find similar sites equally advantageous these days, as would other Islamist groups.
Al Qaeda-associated groups share a Sunni religious alignment. This fact has become quite stark as the Sunni/Shia rivalry has been played out in Syria's civil war and Syrian Sunnis have been aided with trained personnel from al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Syrian Sunnis, however, are not necessarily al Qaeda followers, even though accepting of their assistance. The problem that develops nonetheless is that a "blood debt" is accrued between the resident Syrian Sunni fighters and the al Qaeda-associated volunteers who have arrived from Iraq and elsewhere to assist them. It can be envisioned that this alliance will have a post-war impact that could enable local Syrian affiliates of al Qaeda to acquire a major new protected base of operations.
Over a year ago information surfaced that British intelligence (presumably Secret Intelligence Service, MI6) had been in contact with an organization called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) since the 1990s. Based in Benghazi and Derna, the anti-Gaddafi group provided volunteers for al Qaeda in Afghanistan and later cadre in Iraq. Many of these original Libyan al Qaeda enlistees have risen to top ranks in the terrorist organization and as such have become prime targets of anti-insurgent operations throughout the Middle East. The question now exists as to the extent of LIFG --veterans' involvement in the attack on the US mission in Benghazi. It is clear, however, that a contemporary Libyan contingent with longtime connections to al Qaeda represents a dangerous international addition to global terrorism.
Having assumed from the Yemeni jihadi group the name "Ansar al Sharia," a collection of North Africans -- many with former LIFG connections -- has carved out a share of the terrorist organizational pie. So far they have remained independent of Al Qaeda in Maghreb (AQIM) though there are indications the latter wants to amalgamate with the Libyan version of Ansar al Sharia. There is a broader "tug of war" going on that includes consideration of exactly how much coordination of operation will exist in the future among the various al Qaeda-associated groupings.
In short, a very extensive and complicated structure still revolves around an al Qaeda connection. As much as Mr. Jeh Johnson and the Obama Administration would like it to be, there really is little sign that bin Laden's heirs have "gone to the mattresses," as their Mafia film cousins were wont to do. This is real life terrorism and the people who are in that business do not operate in the world of make-believe -- in spite of the White House's self-serving, vivid imagination.