WASHINGTON -- A new threat assessment from U.S. counterterrorism analysts says that al-Qaida has used its safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border to restore its operating capabilities to a level unseen since the months before Sept. 11, 2001.
A counterterrorism official familiar with a five-page summary of the document - titled "Al-Qaida better positioned to strike the West" - called it a stark appraisal.
The story goes on to quote President Bush:
At his news conference Thursday, President Bush acknowledged the report's existence and al-Qaida's continuing threat to the United States. He said, however, that the report refers only to al-Qaida's strength in 2001, not prior to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The group was at its strongest throughout most of that year, with well-established training camps in Afghanistan, recruitment networks and command structures.
Bush used the new threat assessment to show his administration's policies are the right course.
"Because of the actions we've taken, al-Qaida is weaker today than they would have been," he said. "They are still a threat. They are still dangerous. And that is why it is important that we succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq and anywhere else we find them."
So if we hadn't gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, al-Quaida would have increased in strength following Sept. 11. That makes sense. Unless you subscribe to the "violence begets violence" philosophy of, say, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, folks like that.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff seems to nod in this direction later in the story:
Asked on ABC's "Good Morning America" to explain al-Qaida's continuing strength nearly six years after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, Chertoff said, "It reflects the fact that just as we improve our defenses, the enemy tries to improve its defenses and rebuild itself."
Al-Qaida is "considerably operationally stronger than a year ago" and has "regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001," the counterterrorism official said, paraphrasing the report's conclusions. "They are showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States."
I certainly don't have the answers. But, boy, that report must be a page-turner.