ABC News’ John Cochran reports: Before President Bush’s address to the Charleston, S.C. Air Force Base on Tuesday, the White House touted the speech, saying it would include declassified intelligence showing that al-Qaeda in Iraq is connected to foreign al-Qaeda leaders, especially Osama bin Laden.
But virtually all of the speech sounded familiar, leaving reporters wondering: where is this new intelligence?
One official explained that while the President may have made most of his points in earlier speeches and news conferences, he wanted to show this time that what he has been saying is backed up by intelligence analysts.
So, Bush declassified some of the analysis he has received. For example, he said intelligence analysts have tracked the entire history of al-Qaeda in Iraq. From its inception, he said, al-Qaeda terrorists have pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden who is believed to be hiding in the mountains of Pakistan.
The president said intelligence shows there are three kinds of terrorists allied with al-Qaeda: those who maintain contact with al-Qaeda leaders but are not part of any particular group; those who collaborate with al-Qaeda to plot attacks; and those who "have formally merged with al-Qaeda." He said al-Qaeda in Iraq belongs to the last group. "Bottom line," said the president, "al-Qaeda in Iraq is run by foreign leaders loyal to Osama bin Laden."
Bush said Osama bin Laden and his deputies have tried to convince the world that al-Qaeda in Iraq is a separate group. In the White House view, anyone who believes that is being duped. The President said opponents of the war argue that fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq is "a distraction" from fighting Osama bin Laden and others responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
Not true, says Bush, who says al-Qaeda in Iraq has the same goals as al-Qaeda elsewhere. He said if the U.S. surrenders the future of Iraq to al-Qaeda, then it would use Iraq as a safe haven "to launch new attacks on our country."
Citing the declassified intelligence, the president said al-Qaeda is, more than any other group, behind the high casualty attacks in Iraq. It stands out from other terrorist groups, he said, and is the "most dangerous" among "several Sunni jihadist groups in Iraq."
"Our military estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaeda terrorists," said the President.
Still, he conceded, "it’s true that today most of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s rank-and-file fighters and some of its leadership are Iraqi." But, Bush said, "to focus exclusively on this single fact is to ignore the larger truth."
Last week’s National Intelligence Estimate emphasized the threat of a reconstituted al-Qaeda along Pakistani border with Afghanistan. Today, the president tried to focus attention back on al-Qaeda in Iraq by connecting it to the terrorists hiding far away in Pakistan’s mountains.