Al Qaeda’s Continued Decimation

June 7, 2012

Earlier this week, Abu Yahya al-Libi, believed to be Al Qaeda’s number two, was killed in Pakistan. This is the most recent in a long string of successes that have left the organization that attacked us on 9/11 in shambles. Bipartisan security experts point to military transition to Afghan control, and focus on a broad-based political strategy, as the best way to secure these gains and refocus on core priorities for Americans in the next decade.

Al Qaeda number two killed, latest success against al Qaeda. CNN reports, “Abu Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s No. 2 man, was killed in Pakistan on Monday, according to U.S. officials. Al-Libi’s death was ‘another serious blow to core al Qaeda,’ White House spokesman Jay Carney said. Al-Libi, 49, was a well-regarded figure in jihadist circles and had emerged as one of the terrorist network’s most important clerics and propagandists, appearing in countless videos in recent years… By most accounts, al-Libi was effectively al Qaeda’s deputy leader. A Libyan citizen and an Islamic scholar, al-Libi bolstered his credibility within jihad groups after escaping from U.S. custody in Afghanistan in 2005. He became the public face of al Qaeda and used his religious training to justify the organization’s actions. As one of the group’s chief ideologues and propagandists, al-Libi appeared in numerous recruitment videos in which he cast himself as a sheikh with the legitimacy to issue fatwas.”

The decimation of al Qaeda’s leadership – including Osama bin Laden – is  part of a larger counterterrorism strategy that has proven results. The president’s top advisor on counterterrorism, John Brennan, outlines successes on multiple fronts: “With allies and partners, we have thwarted attacks around the world.  We have disrupted plots here at home, including the plan of Najibullah Zazi, trained by al-Qa’ida to bomb the New York subway. We have affected al-Qa’ida’s ability to attract new recruits.  We’ve made it harder for them to hide and transfer money, and pushed al-Qa’ida’s finances to its weakest point in years… we’ve shown al-Qa’ida that it will enjoy no safe haven, and we have made it harder than ever for them to move, to communicate, to train, and to plot.” [CNN, 6/6/12. John Brennan, 6/29/11]

Al Libi’s death further weakens already weak al Qaeda, leaving organization “more or less out of business.” Al Qaeda expert Peter Bergen explains what al Libi’s death means for al Qaeda and its affiliates. He writes, “The news that Abu Yahya al-Libi, the No.2 leader of al Qaeda, is now confirmed to have been killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region along the border with Afghanistan further underlines that the terrorist group that launched the 9/11 attacks is now more or less out of business… As a result, according to senior U.S. counterterrorism officials, there now remains only one leader of any consequence in al Qaeda and that is Ayman al-Zawahiri, the tetchy Egyptian surgeon who became the head of the group following the death of its founder, Osama bin Laden, in a U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan in May 2011.”

Bergen cautions that al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continue to plot against American targets, but concludes, “all of AQAP’s plots to bring down planes have had one thing in common: They failed.” He further addresses the overhyped threat from Al Qaeda-inspired “lone wolves,” saying, “In fact, lone wolves inspired by jihadist ideology have managed to kill a total of 17 Americans in the United States since 9/11, according to a tally maintained by the New America Foundation. Meanwhile, 54 Americans are reported to be killed every year by lightning, according to the National Weather Service. In other words, to the average American, lightning is about 30 times more deadly than jihadist terrorism.” [Peter Bergen, 6/6/12]

America and its allies went to Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda; with that goal in reach, transitioning to Afghan control and a broad-based political strategy is best way to secure gains for the long term. As President Obama said in May: “[T]en years ago, the United States and our allies went to war to make sure that al Qaeda could never again use this country to launch attacks against us… over the last three years, the tide has turned. We broke the Taliban’s momentum. We’ve built strong Afghan Security Forces. We devastated al Qaeda’s leadership, taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders. And one year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set – to defeat al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild – is within reach.”

Stephen Hadley, national security advisor to President George W. Bush and John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, explain why counterterrorism gains can best be solidified by working towards a broad-based political solution in Afghanistan: “U.S. policy is now entering a new and complex phase of this conflict, where diplomatic efforts in support of a robust political strategy for Afghanistan and the region will become even more essential. This effort should not become a political football in the coming election season — it needs strong bipartisan support here at home. U.S. political leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, and our military commanders, have consistently argued that the conflict in Afghanistan will not end by military means alone. The elimination of al Qaeda’s safe havens and the establishment of long-term peace and security in Afghanistan and the region — the key U.S. national security objectives — is best assured by a sustainable political settlement that strengthens the Afghan state so that it can assume greater responsibility for addressing the country’s security and economic challenges.” [Barack Obama, 5/1/12. Stephen Hadley and John Podesta, 1/18/12]

 What We’re Reading

The Syrian army denied UN monitors access to the Qubair “massacre site.”

Israel will proceed with the expansion of new settlements in the West Bank.

Seventeen militants died in clashes in southern Yemen.

Attackers bombed the U.S. consulate in Libya.

Iran threatened the possibility of cancelling the nuclear talks being held with world powers.

Hamid Karzai condemned a NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned Pakistan that the U.S. is “reaching the limits of our patience” over Pakistani attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The European Commission proposed new reforms to protect taxpayers from future financial crises.

China has introduced changes to its internet law that would limit the accessibility of various blogging platforms.

The United States is offering large rewards for information that will lead to the arrest of top Somali militants.

Commentary of the Day

Michael Cohen explains why Obama’s “kill list” will bode well for his re-election campaign.

Yukon Huang details the myths and realities of the Chinese economic system.

Bryan Katulis reports on how to advance new policies in Egypt while maintaining regional security.

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