Osama bin Laden was distraught by the fracturing ranks and the lack of lower-level leadership in al Qaeda, and even considered changing the group’s well-known name.
The revelations come from a selection of documents the Obama administration is planning to release this week. The cache was seized from bin Laden’s compound last year after a special-operations force killed the former al Qaeda leader. They will be published online by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center.
On Monday, Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., that bin Laden was considering changing the name of al Qaeda, which means “the base,” in an attempt to attract more followers.
“So damaged is al Qaeda’s image that bin Laden even considered changing its name,” said Brennan.
“One of the reasons? As bin Laden said himself, U.S. officials ‘have largely stopped using the phrase "the war on terror" in the context of not wanting to provoke Muslims.’ ”
“Simply calling them ‘al Qaeda’, bin Laden said, ‘reduces the feeling of Muslims that we belong to them.’ To which I would add, that is because al Qaeda does not belong to Muslims. Al Qaeda is the antithesis of the peace, tolerance and humanity that is at the heart of Islam.”
Brennan said that, based on the recovered documents, bin Laden was worried that there were not enough experienced fighters in al Qaeda’s ranks and mistakes would be made as a result.
“With its most skilled and experienced commanders being lost so quickly al Qaeda has had trouble replacing them,” said Brennan.
“This is one of the many conclusions we have been able to draw from documents seized at bin Laden’s compound. … For example, bin Laden worried about — and I quote — ‘the rise of lower leaders who are not as experienced and this would lead to the repeat of mistakes.’ ”
The documents also have bin Laden advising al Qaeda leaders to leave the tribal regions in the Middle East and relocate to places “away from aircraft photography and bombardment.”