Washington, July 15: Al Qaeda and its allies in South Asia particularly the Haqqani network and Taliban continue to pose a "high" threat to America's regional interests, a top US counter-terrorism official said.
"Al Qaeda's allies in South Asia particularly the Haqqani Taliban Network also continue to present a high threat to our regional interests," Nicholas J Rasmussen, Director of National Counterterrorism Center at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing.
Testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee on World Wide Threat, Rasmussen said the US has constrained the al Qaeda's effectiveness and their ability to recruit, train, and deploy operatives from their safe haven in South Asia.
"However, this does not mean that the threat from core al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan or in eastern Afghanistan has been eliminated," he said. "We assess that al Qaeda and its adherents in the region still aspire to conduct attacks and, so long as the group can potentially regenerate capability to threaten the Homeland with large-scale attacks, al Qaeda will remain a threat," Rasmussen said.
The American intelligence community, he said, is cognizant to the level of risk the US may face over time if al Qaeda regenerates, finds renewed safe haven, or restores lost capability.
"I am confident that the US Government will retain sufficient capability to continue to put pressure on that core al Qaeda network and therefore reduce the risk of a resurgence by al Qaeda in the region," the US official said.
There is also increasing competition between violent extremist actors within South Asia itself, between and among the Taliban, ISIL's branch in South Asia, and al Qaeda, he said.
"This is an additional dynamic that we are working to understand. While conflict among terrorist groups may well distract them from their core mission of plotting attacks against Western targets, conflict also serves to introduce a degree of uncertainty into the terrorism landscape that raises questions that I dont think we have answers to yet. This is something we are watching very closely," Rasmussen said.
Despite the rise of ISIS and the threat posed by it, America, he said, still regards al Qaeda and al Qaeda's various affiliated organisations as a principal counterterrorism priority.
"We are particularly concerned about Al Qaida's growing safe haven in Syria. We know that ISIL is trying to strengthen its global network by relocating some of its remaining leadership in South Asia to Syria. These leaders include individuals who have been part of the group since the time even before 9/11. And now that many of them are in Syria, we believe they will work to threaten the US and our allies," he said.