Al Qaeda is weakened and might be spreading out further, but remains a significant threat to the United States, the nation's top intelligence officials told a congressional committee Tuesday.
CIA Director David Petraeus, the former military commander in Afghanistan who made his first congressional appearance as a civilian at the rare joint hearing by the intelligence committees of the House and Senate, said al Qaeda was far weaker today than it was 10 years ago at the time of the 9/11 attacks due to the killing of Osama bin Laden and other successful attacks on leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
According to Petraeus, the "heavy losses to al Qaeda senior leadership appear to have created an important window of vulnerability for the core al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan," and the United States will need a "sustained focused effort" to exploit the opportunity.
"Some mid-level leaders and rank-and-file al Qaeda members may increasingly seek safe haven across the border in Afghanistan or decide to leave South Asia," Petraeus said, adding that "even in decline with its core leadership having sustained significant losses, al Qaeda and its affiliates still pose a very real threat that will require" continued U.S. focus and dedication "for quite a while."
He called al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based affiliate, the most dangerous of the group's various "nodes."\
At the hearing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also said that despite U.S. successes against al Qaeda, the group remains a threat.