Osama bin Laden said in a new audiotape that President Barack Obama's strategy in Afghanistan is "hopeless" and called on Americans to resolve the conflict with al-Qaida by ending the war there and breaking the U.S. alliance with Israel.
In the message marking the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the al-Qaida leader avoided his usual rhetoric of jihad and instead took a more analytical tone, claiming its differences with the U.S. stemmed from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But analysts said Monday that the message's tone and its unusually short length - only 11 minutes, far shorter than others released by al-Qaida to mark the anniversary - was an indication that al-Qaida was struggling to maintain interest eight years after its most shattering terror attacks.
"You might interpret this as a sign of weakness, the suggestion being that they don't really want to fight the U.S.," Jeremy Binnie, an analyst with Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center, said of bin Laden's tone.
Arabs and Muslims' more positive feelings toward the new U.S. president are believed to have helped deflate al-Qaida's anti-American rhetoric, which found a receptive audience during the administration of former President George W. Bush, who was widely resented in the region. Also, the Iraq war - once a main front for al-Qaida's militants - has become less prominent as violence eased over the past two years and the presence of U.S. troops was reduced.
The main front now is Afghanistan, where the Obama administration is contemplating sending more troops to battle al-Qaida's ally, the Taliban. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces said Friday he sees no signs of a major al-Qaida presence in the country.
In the audiotape, posted late Thursday on Islamic militant Web sites, bin Laden sought to depict Obama as merely continuing the policies of Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
"If you end the (Afghan) war, so be it, but otherwise we will continue the war of attrition against you," he said, addressing the American people. "You are waging a hopeless and losing war, a war in which the end is not visible on the horizon."
But bin Laden used most of the message to detail the reason for al-Qaida's campaign against the United States.
"The cause of our disagreement with you is your support to your Israeli allies who occupy our land of Palestine," he said, adding that this support "pushed us to undertake "the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
He argued that Washington - even under Obama - was under the thrall of "neoconservatives and the Israeli lobby." He said Obama and White House officials "act like Cheney and Bush and promote the previous policies of fear to market the interests of big companies" and pull Americans into wars that he said have bankrupted the United States.
If America reconsiders its alliance with Israel, he said, al-Qaida will respond on "sound and just bases."
The Saudi construction magnate's son-turned "holy warrior" has frequently sought to wrap al-Qaida in the Palestinian cause, seeking to draw support in the Arab world, where the issue is one of the public's top concerns.
However the Palestinians themselves - even the militant Hamas organization - have distanced themselves from al-Qaida and cracked
down on those espousing a similar extremist ideology inside the Gaza Strip.
The short message was in sharp contrast to others issued around the Sept. 11 anniversary. In 2007, al-Qaida marked the anniversary with multiple videos by several of its leaders, including bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahri. Just last year, it issued a massive 90-minute opus summing up seven years of struggle around the world.
Evan Kohlman, a terrorism expert at globalterroralert.com, said al-Qaida appears to have been unable to come up with a way to confront the popularity of the new U.S. president. Obama has pursued a policy of seeking better ties with Arabs and Muslims, giving a landmark speech in Cairo in June, moving to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and taking a somewhat harder stance on Israel in the peace process.
"I would have thought for Sept. 11 he could have said something more ground breaking and significant," said Kohlman.
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