NBC Today co-host Matt Lauer failed to challenge Republican strategist Mary Matalin's assertion that "[w]e have taken out the Al Qaeda network. We've decimated it." Matalin's claim was misleading at best; in fact, news reports indicate that the Al Qaeda network has continued to operate.
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On the March 29 broadcast of NBC's Today, co-host Matt Lauer failed to challenge Republican strategist Mary Matalin's assertion that "[w]e have taken out the Al Qaeda network. We've decimated it." Matalin, who formerly served as assistant to President Bush and counselor for Vice President Dick Cheney, made this claim in response to Lauer's questioning about the resignation of White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr.
Matalin's claim was misleading at best. The Washington Post reported on July 8, 2005, that Al Qaeda had become "more a brand than a tight-knit group" and had responded to the U.S.-led "war on terrorism" by "dispersing its surviving operatives, distributing its ideology and techniques for mass-casualty attacks to a wide audience on the Internet, and encouraging new adherents to act spontaneously in its name." The Post added, "Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, terrorism experts in and out of government have warned that the movement has appeared to gain ground."
Al Qaeda has taken credit for the July 7, 2005, London train bombings, and as the Los Angeles Times noted in a March 6 article, "Investigators suspect that they [the bombers] got help and training from an Al Qaeda network in Pakistan that had targeted Britain before." In a January 19 article, the Associated Press listed "[r]ecent major attacks outside Iraq claimed by or linked to the al-Qaida terror network," including the July 23, 2005, bombings in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, the October 7, 2004, bombings in Taba and Ras Shitan, Egypt, and the March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid.
The most recent version of the State Department's Country Reports on Terrorism, released April 27, 2005, characterized such "mergers or declarations of allegiance" as "a trend that al-Qa'ida could also use to try to support new attacks in the United States and abroad."
The State Department report noted the "arrest and deaths of mid-level and senior al-Qa'ida operatives" but added that Al Qaeda "serves as a focal point or umbrella organization for a worldwide network that includes many Sunni Islamic extremist groups, including some members of Gama'a al-Islamiyya, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the Harakat ul-Mujahidin." According to the report, "In 2004, the Saudi-based al-Qa'ida network and associated extremists launched at least 11 attacks, killing over 60 people, including six Americans, and wounding more than 225 in Saudi Arabia. ... Other al-Qa'ida networks have been involved in attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq."
From the March 29 broadcast of NBC's Today:
LAUER: But let me just go once more on this, because there have been troubles. And let's face it, it's been a tough five and a half years with 9-11 and two wars and re-election and Harriet Miers and the ports deal and Hurricane Katrina. Did the president try hard to convince Andy Card to stay?
MATALIN: Well, in the last five years, you've also left out we have not been hit in four of them. We have taken out the Al Qaeda network. We've decimated it. We have a robust economy that's recovering --
LAUER: No, I know. But just back to that question. Do you think the president wanted him to stay?
MATALIN: Well, you can't just -- yeah, there's been five hard years, but there's been a lot of progress in the last five years. There's been a lot put on the table. This is not a small-bore president. This is a big, bold president.