Al Qaeda gaining 'operational capability' despite core losses, report shows

Western strikes on Al Qaeda have shown progress in taking out the terror group's core in Pakistan, but affiliates still are increasing "operational capabilities," the State Department said in releasing its annual Country Reports on Terrorism.

Highlights of the 2011 report include the death of Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda's relative lack of influence on the so-called Arab Spring revolutions in the Middle East, the State Department's top counterterrorism official, Daniel Benjamin, said Tuesday.

He warned, however, that the United States has "no illusions" that further progress against terrorism will be easy or quick, and certain Al Qaeda affiliates remain a troubling threat.

"The report’s narrative notes, among other things, the continued weakening of the Al Qaeda core in Pakistan, but it also demonstrates that the Al Qaeda affiliates, while also suffering losses, increased their overall operational ability," Benjamin said. "And this is particularly true of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula."

"So for all the counterterrorism successes that we’ve seen against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, the group and violent extremist ideology and rhetoric continue to spread in some parts of the world."

More On This...

The report also notes the threat from other terror groups, including the Lebanese-based Hezbollah, which is "engaging in their most active and aggressive campaigns since the 1990s," Benjamin said. He also noting that Iran "remains the pre-eminent state sponsor of terrorism in the world."

The report counted more than 10,000 terrorists attacks in 70 countries in 2011, which resulted in more than 12,500 deaths, though that measurement is down from 2010. The worst regions for terrorist attacks are South Asia and the Near East, and most of the victims are Muslim.

In fact, Benjamin noted that 64 percent of all attacks worldwide occurred in just three countries, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, though the numbers logged in the first two declined from 2010 to 2011.

The rise of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is one of the most alarming trends in terrorism.

"That’s a group that benefited from the long political transition, the turmoil that was going on in Yemen," Benjamin said. "And I’m optimistic because in President Hadi we have a very committed, very reliable partner now. ... So while the group did exploit that period of uncertainty, we think the trend lines are going in the right direction now in Yemen."

He also said officials think the number of Al Qaeda fighters participating in the bloodshed in Syria remains rather small, though there remains the risk of unaffiliated foreign fighters traveling to the country and posing the threat of greater violence.