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White House: Tape shows bin Laden isolated

January 14, 2009 4:06:15 PM PST
The White House said Wednesday that the recent audiotape believed to carry a message from Osama bin Laden reflects the "isolation" of the al-Qaida leader whose influence over the terrorist network has waned. "Wherever he is, he's in a deep hole," Vice President Dick Cheney said in an interview Wednesday with PBS' "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer." "He does not have much impact on the organization as best we can tell."

In a new message aimed at harnessing anger in the Mideast over the Gaza offensive, bin Laden urges Muslims to launch a jihad, or holy war, against Israel and condemned Arab governments as allies of the Jewish state.

The audiotape, posted on Islamic militant Web sites, was bin Laden's first since May and came nearly three weeks after Israel started its campaign against Gaza's militant Hamas rulers.

"It appears this tape demonstrates his isolation and continued attempts to remain relevant at a time when al-Qaida's ideology, mission and agenda are being questioned and challenged throughout the world," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House.

"This also looks to be an effort to raise money as part of their ongoing propaganda campaign. The United States promotes an alternative, hopeful ideology while continuing to partner with over 90 countries to pursue terrorists wherever they are," Johndroe said.

The al-Qaida leader also vowed that the terror network would open "new fronts" against the United States and its allies beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. He said President-elect Barack Obama has received a "heavy inheritance" from President George W. Bush - two wars and "the collapse of the economy," which bin Laden said will render the United States unable to sustain a long fight against the mujahedeen, or holy warriors.

Cheney said that it's important to go after the organization, not just bin Laden. "Even if you got Osama bin Laden tomorrow, you'd still have a problem in terms of whatever residue of al-Qaida is out there," he said.

He said the U.S. has been successful in toppling top al-Qaida operatives.

"We have had a big impact on al-Qaida, " Cheney said. "This was a significantly diminished organization, I think, compared to what it was four or five years ago. When we killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaida in Iraq, in June of '06, major accomplishment, and over the last - I don't want to get into the classified area obviously - but within the last year or so we've had a very significant impact on senior al-Qaida leadership."

In an interview Wednesday with "CBS Evening News," President-elect Barack Obama said that regardless of whether bin Laden is alive, the U.S. must weaken the al-Qaida network to the point that it can no longer function. "My preference, obviously, would be to capture or kill him," Obama said. "But if we have so tightened the noose that he's in a cave somewhere and can't even communicate with his operatives then we will meet our goal of protecting America."


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