If you are an al Qaeda (AQ) member, you must be down right now. The past six weeks have seen the repeated loss of key AQ leaders.
First, Bin Laden- the ultimate CT objective. Many speculated UBL’s death would be inconsequential. While the verdict is still out, I think UBL’s death has left AQ severely disrupted. Adel may be the interim leader, but no one is sure. Zawahiri, completely dependent on Taliban protection, is reassuring Taliban leaders he’s loyal. With no leader definitely appointed and couriers dropping like flies, AQ Central may be in turmoil.
Then, a drone strike may have killed Ilyas Kashmiri. (Sweet picture of Kashmiri BTW, swear either Starski & Hutch or Ponch & John arrested that guy on TV when I was a kid).
Assuming Kashmiri’s death is true, his elimination disrupts a key link between al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Punjabi Taliban. Kashmiri’s proven operational track record over the past 30 years made him an important connector for Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami’s 313 Brigade.
And finally, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was killed in Mogadishu. Fazul may have been one of AQ’s smoothest operators. Pundits have tried to either paint Fazul a mastermind or an illusion. I usually go to great lengths to dismiss inflated claims of AQ operators. But, I must say I was impressed by Fazul.
In 2007, I traveled to Kenya conducting research for the publication al-Qaeda’s (mis)Adventures in the Horn of Africa. Throughout my travels, most everyone I visited knew of Fazul in some way. Fazul floated in and out of Kenya for more than a decade, living in plain sight in Siyu establishing a local mosque and operating businesses. Fazul convinced me that the most talented AQ operatives were hidden by people and not holed up in remote caves. Human safe havens bound by combat camaraderie and financial inducements sealed Fazul’s safety allowing him to routinely slip Kenyan security and continually dodge Somalia’s chaos.
Fazul led AQ in East Africa, its most hostile territory, and provided a key link to al Shabaab garnering resources, providing operational direction and building an extremist coalition in the world’s most fractious tribal environment. For the best available account of Fazul, see Vahid Brown’s account which is the most complete description I’ve seen. (I’m hoping Vahid will update this sometime soon and include Fazul’s personal biography which has surfaced I believe since this 2007 release.)
Overall, a productive 6 weeks for American counterterrorism. For the first time since 2003, the U.S. seems to have decoupled two counterinsurgencies from the broader counterterrorism mission achieving major milestones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. For years, we mistakenly believed that building schools in Herat or reforming court systems in North Africa were the best methods for defeating al Qaeda.
What’s the best strategy for defeating al Qaeda? Destroying al Qaeda! Direct engagement of AQ’s key leaders and linkers (while making all efforts to avoid civilian casualties) is the most effective and efficient method for defeating AQ. I hope are recent successes help us refocus our declining counterterrorism resources on those strategies that are most productive.
So I’d like to get everyone’s perspective on a few questions reference AQ in Pakistan and Somalia…..
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