ISLAMABAD – A purported al-Qaida leader in Pakistan says the terror network is losing territory and fighters amid a U.S. drone strike campaign, according to an audio message monitored by a U.S. organization that tracks militant propaganda.
The rare admission by Ustadh Ahmad Farooq follows an escalation in U.S. missile hits against al-Qaida and Taliban targets in the tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan, as well as increased Pakistani army operations over the last three years.
This week, President Barack Obama said al-Qaida's leadership was facing more pressure in Pakistan than at any point since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made wiping out the network America's top defense and foreign policy priority.
The authenticity of the audio recording could not be independently verified, but Farooq has released other messages.
The U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks militant Web sites and other media, described Farooq as al-Qaida's head of media and preaching in Pakistan. It said late Wednesday that the recording was released by Al-Sahab, al-Qaida's media arm.
SITE said Farooq spoke of the challenges facing al-Qaida in vague terms as part of a broader lecture on the need to keep faith in God during times of crisis. The 28-minute speech was released on jihadi forums on Jan. 23, according to the U.S. group.
"There were many areas where we once had freedom, but now they have been lost," he said. "We are the ones that are losing people, we are the ones facing shortages of resources. Our land is shrinking and drones are flying in the sky."
Farooq spoke in Urdu, Pakistan's most widely understood language.
Pakistan's Afghan border region is believed to shelter top al-Qaida leaders including its chief, Osama bin Laden, and his deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahri. Several other al-Qaida linked groups also congregate in the region, from where they devise attacks against the Pakistani state, targets in the West and U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Under U.S. pressure, Pakistan's army has carried out offensives against militants in many parts of the area since 2009, while the United States has launched a blistering campaign of missiles from unmanned drones.
The covert, CIA-run program launched around 115 attacks last year in Pakistan, more than double the previous year. The strikes have continued at a similar pace this year. Nearly all have hit the North Waziristan tribal region, the main sanctuary of groups focused on killing U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan as well as al-Qaida leaders.