Washington, June 12 (ANI): A small handful of the terrorist group's leaders, are moving frequently between Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and according to officials in Washington, they are now communicating and trying to coordinate their actions with greater accuracy.
The steady trickle of fighters from Pakistan could worsen the chaos in Somalia, where an Islamic militant group, the Shabab, has attracted hundreds of foreign jihadists in its quest to topple the weak moderate Islamist government in Mogadishu.
It could also swell the ranks of a growing menace in Yemen, where militants now control large areas of the country outside the capital.
A New York Times report has quoted some aides to President Obama as saying that these movements are due to the intensified drone attacks against Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.
There are other possible explanations, and chief among them is the growth of the jihadist campaigns in Somalia and Yemen.
Somalia is now a declared failed state that bears some resemblance to Afghanistan, while Yemen's weak government is ineffectually trying to combat the militants, American officials say.
The shift of fighters is still small, perhaps a few dozen, and there is no evidence that the top leaders - Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri - are considering a move from their refuge in the Pakistani tribal areas, according to more than half a dozen senior administration, military and counter-terrorism officials interviewed in recent days.
Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, said in remarks here on Thursday that the United States must prevent Al Qaeda from creating a new sanctuary in Yemen or Somalia.
For the United States, the movement creates opportunities as well as risks.
With the Obama administration focusing its fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda on the havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a shift of fighters and some leaders to new locations could complicate American efforts to strike a lasting blow.
But in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Qaeda and Taliban forces have drawn for protection on Pashtun tribes with whom they have deep familial and tribal ties. A move away from those areas could expose Qaeda leaders to betrayal, while communications among militants in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen have created a new opportunity for American intelligence to zero in on insurgents who gave up many electronic communication devices shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks to avoid detection.
The movement of the fighters, and the disruption that causes, has been interpreted by some of the president's top advisers as a sign of success.
But the emergence of new havens, from which Al Qaeda and its affiliates could plot new attacks, raises difficult questions for the United States on how to combat this growing threat. (ANI)