A military intelligence report that concludes al Qaeda has largely restored itself to pre- 9/11 strength will be the focus of a meeting at the White House today. The meeting was called to discuss a pending National Intelligence Estimate.
While the military has maintained that al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, by any number of measures the terror group and its affiliates are as strong as ever, and June was the most violent month since the start of the war, a senior U.S. military official told ABC News.
"Despite our successes in taking out leaders and infrastructure," said the official, "al Qaeda's operational capability appears to be undiminished."
Asked about the al Qaeda comeback, Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff said today on "Good Morning America," "It reflects the fact that just
as we improve our defenses, the enemy tries to improve its defenses and rebuild itself."
Al Qaeda operations are marked by the use of suicide bombers, and the latest intelligence assessment shows that suicide attacks were near an all-time high in May and June. According to the report, al Qaeda in Iraq is responsible for 15 percent of the attacks in the country, often the most deadly. Sunni insurgents are blamed for 70 percent of attacks, and Shiite militias 15 percent. Shiite attacks, however, have sharply increased and are now probably higher than 15 percent.
ABC News has learned the most recent military intelligence assessment of Iraq also shows that the overall level of violence in the country -- measured as the number of "violent incidents" -- hit its highest level in June since the war began.
According to the assessment, an average of 178 attacks a day were carried out in June. By comparison, there were only 94 attacks a day in March 2006, the month after the attack on the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra touched off a wave of sectarian violence.
The record level of violence comes despite significant progress in a few key areas. Anbar Province, for example, was once the most dangerous area in Iraq and has experienced a turnaround a senior military official calls "miraculous." Attacks on civilians are also down significantly. But in other areas, the trends are moving in the wrong direction:
The number of attacks on U.S. soldiers is way up, now accounting for 70 percent of all attacks in Iraq.
While violence has dropped dramatically in Anbar Province, the number of attacks has risen sharply in four other provinces: Baghdad, Salahaddin, Diyala and Basra.
In June, there were a record 55 attacks with Iranian-made roadside bombs -- called explosively formed penetrators. This is the deadliest form of roadside bomb seen in Iraq.
Mortar attacks on the Green Zone have dramatically increased.
The increase in violence can be attributed to a sharp rise in attacks on U.S. forces, including a record number of attacks with Iranian-made explosives in June, as well as a sharp increase in attacks on Baghdad's Green Zone, 90 percent of which are fired from Shiite neighborhoods.