I was surprised the Post UBL Poll collectively estimated so much time until Zawahiri’s capture or death. I’m actually far more bullish in my estimate of when Zawahiri will be snagged. So here’s some Friday morning speculation while I continue to code poll results for release next week.
I used three different structured techniques to strengthen my guess on Zawahiri’s elimination: Force Analysis, Pair-Wise Comparison and a timeline. (I did these on the back of my plane ticket waiting to get to 10,000 feet.)
First, I narrowed down to 6 key forces, which I believe might influence Zawahiri’s capture.
- U.S. intelligence recovered during the UBL raid- If it’s good, the intel might rapidly snare Zawahiri. If AQ practiced good operational security, the intel may not be that helpful. I’m guessing the recovered intel is useful but not decisive. I estimate that really good intel might produce tangible results with regards to Zawahiri in 10-16 weeks.
- Pressure on Pakistan for harboring UBL- Pakistan remains under intense pressure for directly or indirectly harboring UBL. If Pakistan’s ISI knew about UBL, they risk losing U.S. aid. If Pakistan’s ISI didn’t know about UBL, they are at risk of losing control of their country. Pakistan can’t turn over Zawahiri inside 8 weeks or it will look like they have always known where he was. If they can’t land Zawahiri in 20 weeks, then I’m guessing they really don’t know where he is.
- Zawahiri movement to insure safety and status- Zawahiri may decide he needs to begin moving 1) to improve his security (in light of recent U.S. intelligence gains) or 2) to shore up support for his leadership post-UBL. Overall, I don’t think Zawahiri will move in the next 4 to 6 weeks and reporting on AQ’s counter-surveillance suggests AQ will be cautious.
- Emerging AFPAK AQ member gets ambitious- Due to limited Pakistan field reporting, we in the West remain fixated on the big fishes: Zawahiri and UBL. However, ten years of AQ AFPAK operations have been largely carried out by a new generation. My suspicion is an upstart AQ member somewhere in Pakistan wants to rise up, take over the reigns of AQ Central and focus more on current AFPAK insurgency battles. An emerging Arab leader might help sustain donations and foreign fighters from the Gulf. I would not be surprised if the emerging member helps to dethrone Zawahiri through a tip to the Pakstani government. I have no evidence to support this hunch but if it were to occur, I think it would take the emerging AFPAK AQ leader at least 6 weeks to implement a takeover strategy.
- Haqqani support for a Zawahiri-led AQ- The Haqqani network provided much of the safe haven to UBL and AQ. Will they continue to provide such support to an AQ led by Zawahiri? Do they even have the capacity to provide support for AQ anymore? The Haqqani network suffered tremendously from drone operations and must decide whether harboring AQ post-UBL is worth the costs. I’m guessing the Haqqani network will provide support for at least 6 more weeks before changing their position with regards to Zawahiri.
- Gulf donor support for AQ led by Zawahiri- Will Gulf donors continue to support an AQ led by Zawahiri? I think not. I suspect the AQ Central gravy train slows rapidly forcing Zawahiri and surviving AQ members to rely on current cash reserves and illicit financing from the Taliban to survive. I estimate Zawahiri and his core supporters have enough resources to operate for 8 more weeks before taking decisive action to garner resources.
After doing pair-wise comparison of these 6 factors, I identified the most significant factors in Zawahiri’s capture to be the following in order: 1) Pressure on Pakistan for harboring UBL 2) Gulf Donor support for Zawahiri-led AQ 3) Haqqani Protection 4) Emerging AFPAK AQ member ambitions 5) U.S. intelligence recovery and 6) Zawahiri movement to ensure safety and status.
Placing those in a timeline, I have come up with my Zawahiri prediction (so I can end my streak at 1!):
Ayman al-Zawahiri will be captured or killed by the Pakistani government forces on August 14, 2011.
After all this sketching and thinking, I am almost certain to be wrong. The chances of picking the right day are extremely low. So, I’ll turn it over to the crowd:
What am I missing in my analysis of the forces driving Zawahiri’s capture? I’m not convinced I’m correct in this analysis, so what else should I have considered. In a bizarre twist, I think the U.S. Congress might be a key lever in getting Zawahiri since they can threaten to withhold Pakistan military aid, thus providing Pakistan extra incentive to find Zawahiri.
In conclusion, I find analyzing the forces influencing Zawahiri’s potential demise useful for 1) anticipating AQ’s near term direction and 2) identifying those actors that can be leveraged to push forward the fight against AQ. What should the U.S. do to get Zawahiri? Another military raid is probably off the table. I’m looking for ideas.
Here’s another wild prediction that I haven’t thought through but figured I’d just throw out.
Adam Gadahn will be killed within 2-4 weeks of Zawahiri’s capture and his elimination will be carried out by a Taliban group or rival AQ member. (A total guess!)