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According to a Heritage Foundation study, Islamists have plotted 54 times to strike American since Sept. 11, 2001, the day al Qaeda operatives flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Three other plots were carried out, the most recent the Boston Marathon bombings.

CIA Director John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s former counterterrorism adviser, seemed to paint a more dangerous picture of al Qaeda during his Senate confirmation hearing than the president did during his recent speech.

“We remain at war with al Qaeda and its associated forces, which despite the substantial progress we have made against them, still seek to carry out deadly strikes against our homeland, our citizens and against our friends and allies,” Mr. Brennan said.

He conceded that, rather than pulling back, al Qaeda is expanding: “I will say that if you look out over the last four years, what happened in a number of places, such as Yemen and other areas, where there was in fact a growth of al Qaeda, quite unfortunately.”

Gen. Keane said that while al Qaeda’s core has been badly damaged by the loss of senior leaders, including Osama bin Laden, it has established itself in other countries where it did not exist on Sept. 11, 2001. He listed the countries — Libya, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Mali, Yemen — where al Qaeda spinoffs are growing.

Al Qaeda has returned to Iraq after it was defeated in 2009, is the fastest growing rebel group in Syria, has established a bona fide sanctuary in [the West African nation of] Mali and attempted to seize the capital, and established a clear sanctuary in eastern Libya where no actions have been taken against the al Qaeda affiliated group, Ansar al-Shariah,” the retired general said. “In Somalia, we have enjoyed some success, and in Yemen it’s at best a draw.”

Al Qaeda’s No. 1 objective to be able to control and dominate the region is to drive the U.S. out of the region. The harsh reality is the president of the United States is voluntarily doing just that,” Gen. Keane said.