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Interview: U.S. 'lucky' in avoiding terror attacks in past decade: former defense secretary

(Xinhua)

09:07, September 09, 2011

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 (Xinhua) -- Ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the United States' luck in avoiding a similar catastrophe may run out, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said.

"We've been lucky, and that's not going to hold out forever," William Cohen, who served in the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, told Xinhua in an interview.

"Those who are attacking you only have to be lucky just once .. . . I think we're safer, but we're not yet safe," he said. "We' re still vulnerable to concerted efforts to launch attacks against the United States."

Cohen noted two cases in which the United States failed to detect plots to attack the homeland, but still got lucky: In 2009, Umar Abdul Mutallab tried to detonate an explosive device on a plane bound for Detroit before being tackled by fellow passengers.

And in last year, a plot to bomb Times Square in New York City was foiled when local food vendors pointed out a suspicious vehicle to police, which was found to contain explosive materials.

While U.S. intelligence agencies have over the last decade made improvements in areas such as information sharing and integration, the country is still not completely immune to attacks, Cohen said.

"I think we've gotten better. Not all information is fully shared but now we're much better off in terms of integration," he said.

As a result of the 9/11 attacks, the United States has become more aware of who is coming into the country, and the attacks have made the United States more security conscious, Cohen said.

"Prior to 9/11 we were under the illusion that the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific offered a great buffer against anyone attacking the United States," he said.

Cohen's statements came ahead of the 10th anniversary of the 9/ 11 attacks on New York and Washington, in which nearly 3,000 people from dozens of countries were killed by al-Qaida terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.

The attacks sparked a global fight against terrorism and the U. S. launched two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All told, those conflicts killed 137,000 civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to estimates from Brown University. And U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen nearly 7,000 U.S. troops killed in action.

Some U.S. experts, however, contended that while al-Qaida may be weakened in Pakistan, the group's splinter organizations are alive and well in Yemen and Somalia, and could plot attacks against the United States from those locations.

Some fear that militants would like to plan an attack on the United States as a symbolic statement to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11, while others argued that if the group were able to mount an attack, it would have done so long ago, instead of waiting for a symbolic date.

Still others noted that over the last decade, the U.S. and its allies have put the terror group under close scrutiny, crippled its ability to transfer funds and hobbled the ability of its leadership to move freely. A harsh blow came in May when the group' s leader, Osama bin Laden, was killed in a U.S. raid on his compound in Pakistan.

Indeed, some experts argued that AL-Qaida's core group, many leaders of which have hid out in Pakistan's tribal regions, has been thrown into disarray. The organization's No. 2 man, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, was killed last month in a drone strike, according to U.S. officials. And bin Laden's replacement, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is said to possess little of the former leader's charisma.

by Matthew Rusling

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