By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2006 – The United States has done "enormous damage to al Qaeda" in the five years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but the group -- and other "wanna-be" al Qaedas -- still pose a threat, Vice President Dick Cheney said today.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Cheney said the United States and its allies have killed or captured hundreds of al Qaeda's leaders and that the countries must have the will to continue the war on terror.
The enemy, he said, wants to recreate a "Caliphate" -- or supreme Islamic state -- that stretched from Spain all the way to Indonesia. "They want to topple the regimes that are there today," Cheney said. "They want to kick the United Sates out of that part of the world. They want to destroy Israel, and they want to equip themselves with weapons of mass destruction."
The terrorist strategy in this is to break U.S. will. "They can't beat us in a stand-up fight. They never have. But they are absolutely convinced they can break our will," Cheney said. He added that the enemy thinks the American people don't have the stomach for a protracted fight.
Allies also feel this doubt. He said Afghans and Iraqis "want to know if they stick their heads up if the United States, in fact, is going to be there to complete the mission."
Debate in the United States feeds these doubts, Cheney said. "Suggestions, for example, that we withdraw forces from Iraq, feed into the whole notion," he said. "It validates the strategy of the terrorists."
The threat from terrorism is changing and evolving, and much of the threat comes from terrorist organizations "only loosely affiliated" with al Qaeda, Cheney said. He cited the British group that planned recently to blow up aircraft flying to the United States but was halted by law enforcement and intelligence assets. The would-be perpetrators are second-generation immigrants to the United Kingdom. "These are not people living in the Middle East or who have grown up in terror training camps in Afghanistan the way the original group did," he said.
The elected government in Afghanistan and the way Afghan forces are taking the fight to the enemy are examples of successes there. The country was the home of al Qaeda, and the terror organization planned the September 11 attacks and trained thousands of terrorists at camps there with impunity. "All of these camps are now shut down," Cheney said. "The Taliban are no longer in power; there is a democratically elected president, parliament and constitution. American-trained security forces and NATO are now actively involved against the remnants of the Taliban.
"We are much better off today because Afghanistan is not the haven for terror that it was on 9-11," he said.
This does not mean the country is free of problems. "We're still in the fight for Afghanistan, and we're likely to be for years," Cheney said. "We have had significant activity this past summer as NATO moved in and replaced U.S. forces. The Taliban wanted to challenge those forces; in fact, there was the belief that NATO wouldn't fight as aggressively as U.S. military forces would. ... But, just in the last 48 hours, we've killed 148 Taliban in southern Afghanistan."
There is major progress in the nation, he said. "Is it over? No, it's not over," he said. "Is it easy? Course it's not easy. It's always going to be difficult in that part of the world.
"The key here, and it's the key for a lot we do in that part of the world, is to get the locals into the fight. And I think we've done that very effectively in Afghanistan. The U.S. will continue to be involved there, but we've also got great support from our allies. NATO is very heavily engaged now in Afghanistan in the fight against the Taliban to secure that nation for its people."