An administration official told NBC News that Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri—his right-hand man—saw the early 2011 uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa as a "danger" for the future of al-Qaida. "Governments that bin Laden and his followers had given up on overturning were 'toppling,' but 'the demonstrators were not expressing support for al-Qaida at all" and "not using al-Qaida themes," the official said.
He was largely isolated, and flailing
"What you get is that bin Laden would come up with an idea but it was a very broad aspirational idea," the official told NBC. "And then he'd turn it over to somebody and there was always some sort of disconnect." Bin Laden's subordinates would then have to explain how difficult his terror ideas would be to carry out, the official said.
By the end of 2010, the official added, "there was certainly a sense of loss in terms of the senior leaders that perished, a sense that the midlevel cadre had been decimated."
He was 'delusional'
Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst and author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden," says the al-Qaida head had become "delusional"--a result of living in near-isolation. "He was out of touch after six years basically living in probably two rooms of his house," Bergen told Newsmax.com. "He's calling for attacks on America. The people in al-Qaida were saying, 'Well, you know, that's all very well, but we just don't have the resources to do that.' He was pushing for things that just weren't very plausible."
He was so depressed, he wanted to rename al-Qaida
Hunkered down in his Abbottabad compound, bin Laden anguished as al-Qaida suffered "disaster after disaster," encouraged its operatives to flee to areas "away from aircraft photography and bombardment" and even thought about changing the name of his notorious international terrorist network, John Brennan, Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, said on Monday.
Bin Laden worried about recruiting terrorist talent as U.S. strikes killed some of his veterans, and "agreed that 'a large portion' of Muslims around the world 'have lost their trust' in al-Qaida," Brennan said. "So damaged is al-Qaida's image that bin Laden even considered changing its name." Why? "As bin Laden said himself, U.S. officials have largely stopped using the phrase 'the war on terror' in the context of not wanting to provoke Muslims."
"In short, Al Qaeda [was] losing, badly," Brennan said. "And Bin Laden knew it."
He was nonetheless the last word on terror
Ultimately, everything went through Osama bin Laden, the official told NBC, in part because of his charisma: "He weighed in on a lot of issues. They tended to seek his guidance on a lot of things and clearly would wait until he got back to them."
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