Political Animal


August 28, 2011 10:00 AM Reeling al Qaeda loses another top leader

By Steve Benen

To put it mildly, al Qaeda has been on quite a losing streak recently.

A drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency killed Al Qaeda’s second-ranking figure in the mountains of Pakistan on Monday, American and Pakistani officials said Saturday, further damaging a terrorism network that appears significantly weakened since the death of Osama bin Laden in May.

An American official said that the drone strike killed Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a Libyan who in the last year had taken over as Al Qaeda’s top operational planner. Mr. Rahman was in frequent contact with Bin Laden in the months before the terrorist leader was killed on May 2 by a Navy Seals team, intelligence officials have said.

American officials described Mr. Rahman’s death as particularly significant as compared with other high-ranking Qaeda operatives who have been killed, because he was one of a new generation of leaders that the network hoped would assume greater control after Bin Laden’s death.

Rahman was frequently in close contact with bin Laden, serving as the leading liaison between the terrorist leader and al Qaeda affiliates. When U.S. forces killed bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahri took his place, Rahman was elevated to the #2 slot.

He didn’t quite make it four months in the position.

A U.S. official told the New York Times, “Atiyah was at the top of Al Qaeda’s trusted core. His combination of background, experience and abilities are unique in Al Qaeda — without question, they will not be easily replaced.”

This only serves to reinforce the perception that al Qaeda is struggling badly. Under the Obama administration, U.S. forces have now killed bin Laden, Rahman, al Qaeda financial chief Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and al Qaeda spiritual leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, among others.

What’s more, the underlying point of al Qaeda’s message throughout the Middle East — that terrorism and anti-Western violence are the only means towards social progress — has been proven false by the Arab Spring and the change that’s come in Egypt and elsewhere. It also comes as al Qaeda’s fundraising efforts, thought to be thriving a half-decade ago, are reportedly struggling badly.

And this is just al Qaeda; under the Obama administration, the counter-terrorism successes go even further. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s top military commander, was captured. High-profile terrorists have been killed — Hakimullah Mehsud, Baitullah Mehsud, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan — while many more have been arrested — Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi.

I’m sure Rudy Giuliani and Liz Cheney will be along any minute now to tell us how all of these developments are evidence of Obama administration weakness.

This is not to say the larger terrorist threats against the West are gone; they’re not. But al Qaeda appears to be reeling, and the terrorist threat appears to be significantly reduced. This larger trend is clearly heartening.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • Brenna on August 28, 2011 10:24 AM:

    "Im sure Rudy Giuliani and Liz Cheney will be along any minute now to tell us how all of these developments are evidence of Obama administration weakness."

    Exactly what I was thinking. Expect the republicans to start telling us why this is a terrible thing. 3...2...1

    Have the morning shows started? McCain, Graham, Kyl....I'm sure they're scheduled to appear.

  • FRP on August 28, 2011 10:28 AM:

    When in a playground you are either committed to one thing or another .
    My commitment was to the swing . I tried very hard to make my mother worry when I was on the swing . I would get so dizzy I couldn't go any higher , the object I had in mind was to wrap the swing around the ridge pole . It seemed like it would be a lotta fun .
    The other is reading a book and making sure the children play nice .
    Since Mr Benen has seen fit to grace this hallowed ground with the names of the playgrounds finest examples of Peter Panism , I suppose it is to mock the puerile attempts to dominate , or control their personal ridge poles . I would rather cheer on their juvenile attempts to reach a goal , after all it is all they have got .
    Mocking children just doesn't seem sporting .

  • Lance on August 28, 2011 10:28 AM:

    It's a step up. Used to be we'd keep whacking the number 3 guy. Now we're starting to whack the number 2 guy.

    You want to know what the Republicans think is a 'terrible thing', the Arab Spring. The proof that al Qaida's out of date and all they can do is complain about us undermining our good authoritarian Arab leader allies.

  • Thingumbob on August 28, 2011 10:34 AM:

    Strange Bedfellow?
    Abdelhakim Behadj a.k.a. Abu Abdullah Assadaq is the commander of Tripoli Military Council. It appears that this person is none other than a high ranking Al Qaeda operative...Is NATO -- a.k.a. the war council of President Obama -- once again in the tender embrace of Al Qaeda?

  • c u n d gulag on August 28, 2011 10:35 AM:

    How long after we finish off al Qaedas leadership can we start on the people who are the real problems for America - our Galtian/Corporate leaders?

    Let's get some playing cards made with their faces on them.

  • hornblower on August 28, 2011 10:41 AM:

    Do not underestimate the impact of the election of President Obama as a symbol of change. We tend to be tree people with our daily concerns about market ups and downs and the latest stupid statement by Republican candidates. Down the road history will look for the forest and see a changed world and credit his election as a factor in this amazing transformation in the Middle East.

  • jjm on August 28, 2011 11:22 AM:

    "hornblower" gets it right.

    Today's NYT is shuddering with fear that the Middle East will fall to 'sectarian' conflicts again.

    The uprisings have generally been by the young, educated people facing bleak futures. How anyone could see the beaming faces of the Libyan rebels with their youthful optimism turn to some fanatical ranter isn't seeing straight.

    Obama HAS changed the face and the map of Middle Eastern life by his low key but real support for these young people. They aren't likely to forget it, even if the GOP flaks for big Oil try to jabber it all away.

    And yes, I notice that except for the current director of FEMA the only people on the talk shows are GOP...

  • Joe Friday on August 28, 2011 12:06 PM:

    "Well, it looks like you're the new number two."

    "No, you're the new number two."

    "No, YOU'RE the new number two !"

  • bigtuna on August 28, 2011 12:45 PM:

    but ... but ... but ... Obama is weak! He's an African! he's indecisive! c'mom - get with the meme people ...

  • liam foote on August 28, 2011 12:52 PM:

    Hornblower makes a good point about Mr. Obama's election and the Cairo speech obviously influencing events in the Middle East. Another result of his election is the increased cooperation by moderate Muslims and dwindling lack of support for terrorism, in general, and al-Qaeda, in particular.

    Current high-tech, dramatically increased and effective anti-terror programs, including satellites and Predator and Reaper drones, must still rely on human intel to assist in targeting specific terrorists and, quite regularly, groups of Islamic militants.

    Moderate Muslims continue to provide info that has allowed us to not only fight terrorists abroad, but to disrupt plots in the US. The threat to such cooperation comes in the form of anti-Muslim rhetoric on cable news and from certain political dimwits, as well as childish stunts such as mosque defilements and Quran burnings.

  • JW on August 28, 2011 12:56 PM:

    Why anyone is willing to believe a claim of this sort astonishes me. "The CIA today announced..".

    Oh, hell yes. If you can't trust the CIA, who can you trust?

  • Jurgan on August 28, 2011 1:24 PM:

    Now if only we could have as many successes against our domestic terrorists: the radical anti-abortion movement.

  • Sam Simple on August 28, 2011 5:14 PM:

    Now if the United States would stop invading and occupying Muslim countries, radical Islamists would have no reason to exist...

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  • Jon on August 30, 2011 6:34 AM:

    Hakimullah Mehsud was believed killed in 2010, but survived the drone strike and remains at large.