For a nation in need of some good news, the killing of perhaps the most important person in al-Qaida’s post-bin Laden leadership certainly qualifies. From the Associated Press:
U.S. and Pakistani officials said Saturday that al-Qaida’s second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, has been killed in Pakistan, delivering another big blow to a terrorist group that the U.S. believes to be on the verge of defeat.
Al-Rahman was killed Monday in the lawless Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan, according to a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence issues. …
A Libyan national, al-Rahman never had the worldwide name recognition of [Osama] bin Laden or bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri. But al-Rahman was regarded as an instrumental figure in the terrorist organization, trusted by bin Laden to oversee al-Qaida’s daily operations.
At the Washington Post, David Ignatius explains a bit further why al-Rahman might have been a bigger target than al-Zawahiri:
Atiyah, as he was known to analysts, was bin Laden’s channel to the world. Their correspondence was the most important prize taken from bin Laden’s compound when he was killed May 2. They talked about everything: strategy, personnel, operations, political setbacks. Whatever thread still held al-Qaeda together passed from bin Laden through to Atiyah.
The Libyan-born Atiyah’s death blunts al-Qaeda’s ability to stage a new mega-attack against America; it brings the top leadership of the group closer to extinction; and it increases the likelihood that the organization’s center of gravity will shift from Pakistan’s tribal areas to one of the affiliates, such as the robust al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen.
Asked recently to name the most important remaining leader in al-Qaeda, a senior U.S. official had said it was Atiyah. He explained that the nominal successor to bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was actually a secondary figure — more a leader of the group’s Egyptian wing than of al-Qaeda as a whole. It would be in America’s interest if Zawahiri rather than Atiyah were dominant, this official said, because Zawahiri was a divisive figure whose ad-hoc tactics were less threatening to America.
While I would love to believe al-Qaida is on the verge of defeat, it seems a little over-optimistic at this juncture. A few more successful operations like this one, however, and we may finally be close to winding down the active war against Islamic terrorists.
– By Kyle Wingfield