Monday, April 17, 2006

Osama bin Laden and his top deputy remain at large, but the Bush administration’s top counterterrorism coordinator says the international manhunt has limited their effectiveness.

Retired Vice Adm. John Scott Redd, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told The Washington Times that al Qaeda’s “central” leader bin Laden and No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri have been forced to limit their communications and public exposure after U.S. troops “drained the swamp” of terrorists in Afghanistan in 2001.

“To say the obvious, if you want to go hide somewhere in a very difficult area of the world where you have some friends and some support, you can do a pretty good job if you don’t communicate and if you basically stay out of the limelight,” Adm. Redd said.

He noted that abortion-clinic bomber Eric Rudolph hid from authorities for five years until his capture in 2003 — “and that was in the United States.”

Adm. Redd said the capture of both bin Laden and al-Zawahri is “clearly important from the standpoint of symbolism.”

“We’re clearly still putting the pressure on the al Qaeda central leadership, and what you’re seeing is the result of that,” Adm. Redd said, noting that bin Laden was absent from public view all of last year and issued a statement earlier this year.

“Zawahri is a little more communicative, but just like every time you stick your head up, you’re putting yourself in more danger,” he said of the Egyptian-born terrorist.

Adm. Redd is directly involved in coordinating U.S. military, intelligence, diplomatic and other activities in what he called a long “generational” war against terrorism. The center was established in 2004 in a newly refurbished high-security office building near Tysons Corner and has set up a central intelligence database of 200,000 terrorists and 300,000 intelligence reports.

The effort to get al Qaeda leaders involves international teams of special operations commandos and intelligence personnel and other forces and personnel. U.S. intelligence officials think both al Qaeda leaders are hiding in a remote area along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Still, several top al Qaeda members have been captured or killed. The latest was Mohsin Musa Matawalli Atwah, a bomb maker killed last week in a Pakistani military raid.

“Being in the top of echelons of al Qaeda is a pretty dangerous place to be,” Adm. Redd said.

Al Qaeda’s central group has “morphed” into a new group with the addition 18 months ago of the Iraq-based group founded by Abu Musab Zarqawi, he said. Additionally, the United States is battling a third strain of Islamic terrorists, who are homegrown and not directly affiliated with al Qaeda, such as the British-based terrorists who attacked the London transit system last year, he said.

Adm. Redd is President Bush’s senior coordinator for strategic planning and operations in the war on terrorism and serves as the senior counterterrorism intelligence director for Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.

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