By Carlo Muñoz - 02/04/13 06:29 PM EST
U.S. intelligence agencies lack the necessary means and manpower to dismantle al Qaeda's rapidly growing presence in Africa on their own, becoming increasingly dependent on local forces to take that fight to the group's terror cells on the continent.
The relatively small network of intelligence assets Washington currently has in place in Africa pales in comparison to the number of similar American assets in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, a U.S. intelligence official told The Associated Press on Sunday.
That lack of resources has forced officials from CIA and the U.S. intelligence community to depend on cooperation and support from local governments in Africa.
However, wariness among African leaders to publicly support American counterterrorism operations in the region has stymied U.S. efforts to keep tabs on al Qaeda's push into the continent.
"It's not clear we have a natural partner with whom we can work," the source added.
The Obama administration has repeatedly touted its efforts to decapitate al Qaeda's core leadership in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the Mideast, via an aggressive counterterrorism strategy focused on the use of armed drone airstrikes.
American military and intelligence officials also claim al Qaeda's growing influence in Africa does not pose a direct threat to the United States, but represents a more localized threat to U.S. national security interests on the continent.
But the resulting blow back from the Mideast counterterror campaign has manifested itself with the rise of al Qaeda factions gaining control of wide swaths of territory in North and Western Africa.
That said, apparent unwillingness by local governments to assist U.S. efforts in Africa has created a glaring blind spot in American intelligence efforts, which the group's terror cells have exploited in recent months.
Members of the Libyan faction of the al Qaeda-affiliated terror group Ansar al-Sharia launched a deadly raid on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last September, killing four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
The consulate was also alleged to be a front for a CIA-run intelligence-gathering post set up in Benghazi, to monitor the situation in the country after the fall of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Four months later, members of the al Qaeda-linked group "Signers in Blood" overran a BP-owned oil facility in Algeria, taking a number of American and other foreign nationals hostage in the process.
The subsequent rescue attempt by Algerian special forces ended with the deaths of a number of hostages, including three Americans.
At the same time, French forces launched a massive counterterrorism operation against members of al Qaeda's West African cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who had taken over the northern half of the African country of Mali.
AQIM, along with the Boko Haram terror group based in Nigeria and the Somalia-based group al Shabab, have resulted in the al Qaeda cell evolving into one of the organization's most dangerous factions, second only to al Qaeda's Yemeni cell known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The combination of lucrative kidnapping-for-ransom operations and a steady flow of arms and recruits stemming from the Libya uprising has led to AQIM's rise to power within the terror organization, according to Africa Command chief Gen. Carter Ham.
"We believe the most dominant organisation is AQIM. We think they are al Qaeda's best funded, wealthiest affiliate," the four-star general said last July.