WASHINGTON: Al-Qaeda is under more pressure in Pakistan now than at any time since the September 11, 2001 attacks, US President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address Tuesday.
“Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield. Their safe-havens are shrinking,” Obama said, according to prepared remarks released by the White House.
“And we have sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: we will not relent, we will not waver and we will defeat you.”
Obama thanked counter-terrorism operatives foiling the plots that Al-Qaeda continues to plan but also sought to reassure American Muslims that there would be no backlash against them.
“As extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family,” he said.
Obama has increased the number of unmanned drone strikes in areas of Pakistan close to the Afghan border that are a key battleground in the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
The strikes are deeply unpopular among the Pakistani public, who see foreign military action on Pakistani soil as a violation of national sovereignty.
Missile attacks doubled in the tribal areas last year as the covert campaign was stepped up, with more than 100 drone strikes killing over 670 people in 2010, compared with 45 strikes that killed 420 in 2009, according to an AFP tally.
Pakistan tacitly cooperates with the bombing campaign, which US officials say has severely weakened Al-Qaeda’s leadership.
But it has stalled on launching a ground offensive in the lawless district of North Waziristan, saying its troops are overstretched.
Washington says the drone strikes have killed a number of high-value targets, including the former Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.