STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Mr. Hoffman, welcome back to the program.
BRUCE HOFFMAN: Thank you.
INSKEEP: How important a figure was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed?
HOFFMAN: Now, all of the individuals in command positions responsible for each of those operations has either been killed by U.S. or Somali forces or, in the case of the USS Cole, has been imprisoned in Guantanamo. So we have gotten have our men in each of those key incidents.
INSKEEP: Although we should mention in this case, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the man killed in Somalia; the initial reports of this story at least suggest that the killing was luck. He stumbled into a security checkpoint, tried to run it, there was a gunfight, he was killed. And it's not even clear that the Somalis knew who they were shooting at from the initial versions of the story.
HOFFMAN: No, that's absolutely right. I mean, he made a wrong turn in the middle of the night, which is rather surprising for someone who's operated in Somalia for more than a decade. But nonetheless, I mean, you know, we'll take it.
INSKEEP: Now, does this suggest to some degree that al-Qaida is under serious pressure now, having had several people now killed right in a row? Not just Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Osama bin Laden and also Ilyas Kashmiri, a man in Pakistan who was a leading figure?
HOFFMAN: But nonetheless, people like Kashmiri and Fazul Abdullah, as I said, are exactly the key players in al-Qaida who would've been charged with overseeing attacks in the aftermath of bin Laden's death. So removing both of them from the scene so quickly, whether by chance or by design, is enormously significant in disrupting al-Qaida's plans, especially when they have a thinner bench with which to work.
INSKEEP: Tell me about the thinner bench. Has al-Qaida not been successful in recruiting and bringing up new people in recent years?
HOFFMAN: Well, no. Al-Qaida has been successful I think in bringing up new people. Part of the challenge we face is that they seem to have a much deeper bench than sometimes we imagine. But we can see the damage that this thinning bench has had nonetheless in the fact that al-Qaida has not staged a successful terrorist attack in six years.
INSKEEP: I want to ask about another aspect of this though. When terror figures are captured or killed over the last several years, you will frequently find - in addition to some celebration - a note of worry from American security officials and intelligence officials who will notice that when you weaken the center of al-Qaida sometimes you end up with fragmented groups along the edges that to them seem to be harder and harder to keep track of. Is that a danger here?
HOFFMAN: It is a danger. And that's absolutely true. But at the same time I think one had to look at the bigger picture. And in the aggregate what we are doing in essence is, you know, cutting back the grass. That danger of retaliation and retribution exists, but the capacity of al-Qaida, I think, undeniably is being eroded.
INSKEEP: How will you know when you've won, when al-Qaida is finished?
HOFFMAN: I think when you have fewer key operatives that have a long pedigree or a long history in planning and implementing previous operations like Fazul Abdullah or like Ilyas Kashmiri. But I think the real key is when al-Qaida's message no longer has the same resonance and they have trouble attracting new recruits. And even if people are moving up in the ranks they have no one to command.
INSKEEP: Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown, stay with us a moment because I want to bring in another voice here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.