Al-Qaeda’s No. 2 Killed in Pakistan

by Patrick Brennan

It’s been confirmed that a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, reported earlier this morning, has killed al-Qaeda’s No. 2 man, Abu Yahya al-Libi. The Times explains:

Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, was killed in a drone strike in northern Pakistan, an American official confirmed on Tuesday, in the biggest single success in the controversial campaign’s eight-year history in the country.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, described Mr. Libi as one of Al Qaeda’s “most experienced and versatile leaders,” and said he had “played a critical role in the group’s planning against the West, providing oversight of the external operations efforts.” . . .

Mr. Libi, who was believed to be in his late 40s, moved up to become Al Qaeda’s deputy, behind Ayman al-Zawahri, after an American commando raid killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011. He already had a high profile in the militant world: he escaped the American prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, in 2005, and went on to make a series of videos that established him as a leading voice calling for attacks on the United States — and as a charismatic focal point for a terrorist group that was widely seen as being in decline. . . .

Characterizing what the loss would mean to Al Qaeda, the American official said: “Zawahri will be hard-pressed to find any one person who can readily step into Abu Yahya’s shoes — in addition to his gravitas as a longstanding member of AQ’s leadership, Abu Yahya’s religious credentials gave him the authority to issue fatwas, operational approvals, and guidance to the core group in Pakistan and regional affiliates. There is no one who even comes close in terms of replacing the expertise AQ has just lost.”

This comes on the tail of concerns about the efficacy of the U.S.’s intense campaign of drone strikes. No one doubts that drones are putting plenty of warheads on foreheads, but questions have arisen about whether the civilian casualties and loss of U.S. reputation is worth checking off the president’s “baseball cards” (especially when the operations yield no intelligence gains). But even though al-Qaeda No. 2s have become increasingly easy targets after the death of Osama bin Laden, Libi’s death is a useful victory, as the Times notes, and thus, an important one for the program.

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