The head of counterterrorism operations for the U.S. Department of State said the al-Qaeda network is largely broken and has lost the ability to conduct large-scale terrorist operations.
While the U.S. has still been unable to kill or capture the organization's top leaders, they have nevertheless been "beaten back into a hole" by relentless pressure from special operations, law enforcement and drone attacks.
"They are scratching their heads, realizing they took on a pretty savvy opponent who went after them kinetically very fast, pulled out the rug from underneath them, put them on the run, put them in a area where they didn't have the assets they had before," said former Army special operations commander, Amb. Dell Dailey, who now heads the State Department's counterterrorism office. "Bin Laden can't get an operational effort off the ground without it being detected ahead of time and being thwarted."
Dailey cited the foiled terror plot to bring down as many as 10 U.S.-bound commercial jets in 2006 as an example of al-Qaeda's diminished capability to launch dramatic attacks.
"Their ability to reach is non-existent," Dailey told military reporters during a Jan. 6 breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C.
But that doesn't mean the U.S. can sit back and relax, he added.
Though he's a political appointee who may not keep his job in an Obama administration, Dailey had high praise for the incoming team's counterterrorism strategy and for the people who've been tabbed to wage it.
Over the five meetings he's had with Obama officials since the election, Dailey sees a willingness to abandon presidential campaign promises to unilaterally move into Pakistan if there's solid intel on bin Laden's whereabouts and the local government cannot or will not act. The incoming administration's focus on strengthening multilateralism over unilateralism seems to mesh with the State Department's current counter-terror plan.
"It's not 'go out and kill people right now' to the detriment of our relationships with sovereign countries," Dailey said. "Their twist is going to be more aggressive engagement with our partner nations."
Transition officials have told Dailey's office they're in favor of efforts to assist other countries fight terror, including support for the Shared Security Partnership Plan -- a $5 billion, three-year program to bolster law enforcement and intelligence activities with allied nations to help them undermine terror networks.
Dailey also had high praise for the Obama team's pick for the Director of National Intelligence and new CIA chief.
Adm. Dennis Blair, who was nominated for DNI, is a "smart, smart guy" and a "very aggressive" warrior who will be sensitive to the interagency bureaucratic tangles that come with the job of heading the intelligence community.
While he hasn't worked personally with CIA chief nominee Leon Panetta, Dailey called him a "team builder" and prudent choice when it comes to "people skills and managerial skills."
But with al-Qaeda on the ropes and an aggressive and experienced team coming in to confront global terror threats, Dailey warned against resting on laurels.
"We've chopped off [al Qaeda's] arms, we've chopped off their communications and we've chopped off their funding. We've gone after their leadership and taken away their training sites," Dailey said. "That would be my message to [the Obama team] ... keep all that going and not to fall back into a false sense of security."