WASHINGTON: The United States will help its allies confront an evolving Al Qaeda threat and be more transparent with the American people in the fight against terror groups, President Barack Obama said Tuesday.
Al Qaeda was now a “shadow” of the group that was behind the September 11, 2001 attacks, Obama said in his annual State of the Union address.
But he warned lawmakers gathered in the imposing US Congress:
“Different Al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged, from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving.”
To battle the threat, the United States does not need “to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations,” Obama said. “Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali.”
The United States has provided some $50 million in logistical support to French and Chadian troops deployed in northern Mali to help the Malian army flush out Al Qaeda-linked rebels, who seized control of the area last year.
But amid a fierce debate about more secretive US actions, Obama said Washington would not shy away from taking “direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.” The issue burst into the spotlight after Obama was forced last week to give lawmakers access to secret documents outlining the legal justification for drone strikes that kill US citizens abroad who conspire with Al Qaeda.
The move came on the eve of the Senate hearing on Obama’s nomination of his top White House anti-terror adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency in his second term.
Some senators had warned they would use Brennan’s confirmation as leverage to force the administration to share more information on the legal and constitutional grounds for the US government killing its own citizens.
Obama aides have insisted that killing Al Qaeda suspects, including occasionally US citizens, in hotspots like Yemen complies with US law, even when no intelligence links the targets to specific attack plots.
Obama said the administration had worked to keep Congress “fully informed”of counterterrorism efforts.
He acknowledged, however, that “in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way.”
“So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”