A spent force?

A SPENT FORCE?…. Perhaps the best possible news on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is a report pointing to al Qaeda facing severe difficulties.

Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida is under heavy pressure in its strongholds in Pakistan’s remote tribal areas and is finding it difficult to attract recruits or carry out spectacular operations in western countries, according to government and independent experts monitoring the organisation.

Speaking to the Guardian in advance of tomorrow’s eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, western counter-terrorism officials and specialists in the Muslim world said the organisation faced a crisis that was severely affecting its ability to find, inspire and train willing fighters.

Its activity is increasingly dispersed to “affiliates” or “franchises” in Yemen and North Africa, but the links of local or regional jihadi groups to the centre are tenuous; they enjoy little popular support and successes have been limited.

Lethal strikes by CIA drones — including two this week alone — have combined with the monitoring and disruption of electronic communications, suspicion and low morale to take their toll on al-Qaida’s Pakistani “core”, in the jargon of western intelligence agencies.

Interrogation documents seen by the Guardian show that European Muslim volunteers faced a chaotic reception, a low level of training, poor conditions and eventual disillusionment after arriving in Waziristan last year.

Spencer Ackerman, reflecting on the report, added, “If this Guardian piece is even 50 percent correct, al-Qaeda faces a recruiting crisis, ideological bankruptcy and capabilities deficit so severe that its entire viability is questioned. This is a death spiral.”

Obviously, there’s no reason to start popping the corks. The terrorist network can experience all kinds of recruiting, fundraising, and morale problems, but still manage to execute a devastating attack. As the saying goes, they “only need to get lucky once.”

But if al Qaeda has fallen on hard times, and has come to represent a spent force, it’s a very encouraging development for the United States and the world.