Thursday July 26, 2007
A US intelligence official repeated Wednesday a description of Al-Qaeda in Iraq as an "affiliate" group to Osama bin Laden's organization, in a careful assessment of the groups' closeness.
A day after President George W. Bush sought to directly tie bin Laden to the Iraq group, CIA officer Edward Gistaro said the the two groups shared ideologies but that Al-Qaeda deferred to the Iraq branch to make decisions on the ground there.
"As the president described yesterday, we're dealing with an Al-Qaeda that has a decentralized command-and-control structure. And I don't want to leave a false impression that we're talking about a monolithic organization," Gistaro told congressional panels.
Asked by a lawmaker whether bin Laden's group and Al-Qaeda in Iraq were "one and the same," Gistaro pointed to a recent National Intelligence Estimate, which he co-authored, that describes the Iraq group as an "affiliate."
He also recalled that the former chief of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed last year, had pledged allegiance to bin Laden.
"We certainly see very close ideological ties between Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Al-Qaeda core," Gistaro told the House of Representatives's armed services and intelligence committees.
"We see shared experiences and personal histories between the leaderships in the organizations. And we see some overlapping of certain facilitation networks," he said.
But he added: "Al Qaeda in Pakistan tries to provide strategic guidance and encouragement to AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq), but it also defers to AQI to make tactical decisions on the ground with regard to its operations inside of Iraq."
A Pentagon intelligence official, Lieutenant General James Clapper, said US and allied military operations made it difficult for the groups to talk to each other.
"I think because of US and allied efforts in both the South Asia theater and in Iraq, that ability to communicate at times is quite difficult," Clapper said.
Bush again linked the Iraq group to the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, as he slammed critics who say that Al-Qaeda in Iraq was created by the war he launched in March 2003."Some say that Iraq is not a part of the broader war on terror," Bush said. "They claim that the organization called Al-Qaeda in Iraq is an Iraqi phenomenon, that it's independent of Osama bin Laden and it's not interested in attacking America. That would be news to Osama bin Laden."