"Al Qaeda central has been decimated, there is no question that that is the case, and any intelligence assessment would reinforce that point," Carney said regarding whether recent violence in Algeria and Mali by al Qaeda affiliates represented a failure by the administration to contain the terrorist organization.
Since the 9/11 attacks, American military and intelligence officials have been able to take out a number of senior and mid-level al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan through the administration's aggressive use of targeted drone strikes and special operations forces.
The high point of that effort came in May 2011, when U.S. special operations forces killed al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden during a clandestine raid on his compound in Abottabad, Pakistan.
But the overall succes of the White House's counterterrorism strategy on al Qaeda has been put in doubt, in light of the terror group's recent activities in Africa.
Earlier this month, French forces began military operations in the west African country of Mali to drive al Qaeda fighters from their safe havens in the northern part of the country.
With the support of American intelligence and logistics, French troops have been able to retake territory in northern Mali that had been seized by extremist fighters allied with al Qaeda's African cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM).
A number of American and foreign hostages were taken by the al Qaeda-affiliated group "Masked Brigade" when the group overran a BP-owned oil refinery in Algeria in what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called a blatant "terrorist act."
In the end, a number of Americans were among the 23 hostages killed in a botched attempt by Algerian special forces to rescue the hostages and take out the brigade gunmen at the oil facility.
In response, Carney told reporters the actions by African terror groups continued to be a concern to U.S. national security, but noted their actions did not represent a failure of American counterterrorism operations.
"To this point, AQIM has not represented a direct threat to the homeland [and] . . . our overall efforts to go after and contain and defeat extremists who would do harm to our interests," Carney said on Wednesday.
However, Panetta admitted earlier this month that Washington's increasingly aggressive counterterrorism campaign to crack down on al Qaeda-affiliated terror cells may have set the stage for the group's resurgence in Africa.
"There's no question, as you confront [Islamic extremists] in Yemen, in Somalia, in Libya, that they're going to ultimately try to relocate. So, you know that certainly, I think, is a consequence," Panetta told reporters on Jan. 14.
"Obviously with the turmoil in Mali, they found it convenient to be able to use that situation to gain some traction there," he told reporters at the time.