ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. — A string of setbacks for al-Qaida's affiliate in Iraq has left the insurgent group "devastated" and struggling to cope with a double whammy of a leadership vacuum and a money squeeze, the top U.S. military officer said Sunday.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he found it particularly encouraging that gains against al-Qaida have been made in operations carried out jointly by U.S. and Iraqi military forces. That makes it more likely, Mullen said, that after U.S. troops leave in 2011 the Iraqi government will be able to handle what remains of al-Qaida's capability to launch terror strikes.
Mullen's remarks echoed an assessment made Friday by Gen. Ray Odierno, the top American commander in Iraq. Odierno told reporters that over the last three months, "we've either picked up or killed 34 out of the top 42 al-Qaida in Iraq leaders." He said the group is trying to reorganize but has "lost connection" with the top-rung al-Qaida leaders who are hiding in western Pakistan.
In a brief interview at Andrews Air Force Base upon his return from visiting the National D-day Memorial at Bedford, Va., Mullen said he has been encouraged by progress against al-Qaida in Iraq, which is known for grisly suicide attacks.
Mullen said he couldn't estimate how much longer al-Qaida will remain a factor inside Iraq. But he expressed confidence that the Iraqi government is showing signs of being able to contain the group after the United States departs.