Pakistan-based terror groups like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba are posing a direct threat to the interests of the US and its allies in the region even when the al Qaeda core has become a shadow of its former self, a top American counter-terror official has said.
In a testimony during a Congressional hearing, Matthew G Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Centre, said sustained counter-terrorism pressure has systematically degraded Pakistan-based al-Qaeda's leadership and operational capabilities, reducing it to its weakest in 10 years.
However, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and LeT remain potent threats to American interests in the region, he said.
"Pakistani and Afghan militant groups -- Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Haqqani Network, and Lashkar-e Taiba (LeT) –- continue to pose a direct threat to US interests and our allies in the region, where these groups probably will remain focused," said Olsen.
Other South-Asian terrorist outfits, including LeT, continue to post a threat to US and its allies in the region, he said.
Olsen said LeT leaders have maintained a regional focus and the group provides training to a wide range of Pakistani and Western militants, some of whom could plot terrorist attacks in the West without direction from LeT leaders.
"LeT members, frustrated with the group's focus on South Asia likewise, could leave the group to join a more globally focused group such as al-Qaeda. LeT leaders almost certainly recognise that an attack on the US would bring intense international backlash upon Pakistan and endanger the group's safe haven there," he said.
Olsen said LeT has demonstrated its intent to attack Western interests in South Asia in pursuit of its regional objectives, as it did through a high-profile operation targeting hotels frequented by Westerners during the Mumbai attacks in 2008.
The Haqqani Network, he said, continues high profile attacks in Afghanistan and has conducted multiple strikes against NATO and Afghan Government targets, notably the 18-hour multi-pronged assault against military and government facilities in Kabul and three other cities in April.
Noting that operationally, the core al-Qaeda has not conducted any successful operation in the West since the 2005 London bombings, the group, however, remains committed to striking Western targets, including the US, Olsen said.
Sustained operations against it have "have left the group at its weakest point in the last ten years. Although core al-Qaeda remains committed to its overarching goals, it is clearly a group in decline," he said.