Number Three?

Al Qaeda's latest military commander, Abu Farraj al-Libbi has been captured in the lawless regions of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. al-Libbi was al Qaeda's third in command, after Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and was the protégé and successor to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks and other high profile terrorist incidents. As military commander, al-Libbi will possess information on al Qaeda's current operations as well as locations of terror cells world wide. In many ways, his capture is of greater operational value than that of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, whose capture would provide more of a blow to the morale of al Qaeda. al-Libbi may also be able to provide the crucial information that leads to the capture or death of bin Laden, Zawahiri and other al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.

While Pakistan has been a troublesome ally during this war, it is difficult to argue against their success in tracking down al Qaeda's leaders. Some of al Qaeda's most senior leaders and operatives have been captured or killed in Pakistan, including Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Binalshibh, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and Amjad Hussain Farooqi. Pakistan has a long way to go in corralling domestic terror groups associated with al Qaeda, cleaning up the poisonous madrassa, bringing order to the lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan and allowing for open elections, but President Musharraf's government has shown a willingness, at the risk of his life, to hunt al Qaeda members in his country. Al Qaeda has acknowledged the threat posed by Musharraf, as the recently arrested al-Libbi was the mastermind behind the attempts on Musharraf's life.

Al Qaeda has lost yet another experienced commander who must be replaced by someone less experienced within the ranks. Terrorist networks do not grow stronger by the attrition of their leadership. Nor do they grow stronger when their most knowledgeable and experienced leaders are captured, interrogated and eventually divulge the secrets of operations and networks. Al Qaeda must react to his capture and assume the worst, that he will talk, and will be forced to transfer and reorganize finances and human assets, exposing them to potential counterterrorism operations.


Dan Darling and Matthew Levitt have more.

Dan's post and this one led MSNBC's Connected: Coast to Coast blog segment. The Political Tean has the video. A slight correction to MSNBC's segment: I enlisted right before the First Gulf War and was in basic training at the end of the operation.


READER COMMENTS: "Number Three?"

Posted by Justin B at May 4, 2005 2:00 PM ET:

The real point of the last paragraph is that he possesses intimate knowledge of operational plans and other terror cells. This leaves the Al Qaeda operatives and their plans exposed. They are confronted with two distinct alternatives--assume that he is a rock and will not talk while interogated by Pakistani forces and their more "liberal" interogation techniques or drastically alter their current plans and assume that all missions of which he was aware are compromised.

Hidden terror networks and dormant sleeper cells are impossible to detect unless either we compromise the inner circle or they move or act. These captures provide the disruptive force to expose hidden cells, assets, and operatives by not only providing information from interrogation, but by causing the individual enemy operatives to expose themselves while trying to change their patterns and plans that are compromised. Safe houses are no longer safe and the flow of money and assets no longer works the same way. New channels must be opened and this provides us opportunities to intercept communications and to capture other terrorists.

Every time a senior leader is captured, there will be others to replace that person. But we can only assume that these leaders will not be as seasoned or possess the same operational knowledge of things that the former leaders did.

I hope for his sake that he was not as ugly as his mentor.

Posted by Rod Stanton at May 4, 2005 2:32 PM ET:

This is the best news since the Iraq election.

Posted by Ryan at May 4, 2005 2:59 PM ET:

Yes, this is very good news. Other arrests will probably come out of this. Hopefully Bin Laden himself will be one of them. Nothing would be more of a victory than showing Bin Laden on TV in handcuffs.

Posted by USMC_Vet at May 4, 2005 6:16 PM ET:

the fourth rail and Bill Roggio were featured on MSNBC today.

Congratulations Bill! Hope it brings some readers anxious to learn and ready to think.


I just can't post without disagreeing with you at least once..

This time what is it?

I do not want bin Laden arrested.


Posted by Ryan at May 4, 2005 6:36 PM ET:

When exactly did I say I didn't want Bin Laden arrested?

Posted by socialism_is_error at May 4, 2005 7:22 PM ET:

That's Ryan. All the sense of humor of a mason jar.

This is OT, Bill, but I seldom cry.

Posted by Justin B at May 4, 2005 9:38 PM ET:


I agree with USMC Vet. I don't want him in handcuffs and arrested either. Perhaps yo do not see what we are saying here... I am thinking a fitting end is less like Saddam and more like Uday and Qsay. Only more painful...

I don't want to wait 15 years for military tribunals, the world courts, and diplomatic relations to determine where we execute him at. I don't want him gardening like Saddam. Just dead. I would prefer if we could torture him for a while--no, let the Pakistanis do that since we clearly do not believe in that sort of thing--but the end result is that I don't want to see lawfare happen. You want him in handcuffs so that he can wage a propoganda trial and campaign with Lawyers funded by the ACLU and the other folks that jumped up to defend Saddam. I just want to see him dead.

Posted by Ryan at May 4, 2005 11:55 PM ET:

Yes, but if he's dead immediately, you can't get any intelligence from him. Dead is more of a long-term goal. If he is interrogated the proper way, his information could bring down the entire Al Qaeda network. Having him in custody would be a huge American propaganda victory. He won't be able to wage any propaganda campaign. He doesn't have many supporters in the broad Arab world. He commands a small following but beyond that, he isn't too popular. And it won't take 15 years to execute him. When his intelligence value has been exhausted, he could be executed immediately. I don't think anyone will be jumping to the defence of a guy who killed that many people. That would be like the ACLU getting involved in the Nurremburg trials. I don't think it is likely. And if he's brought in alive and executed, we will know FOR SURE that he's dead. Otherwise, we'll just wonder whether he died in a certain bombing raid or escaped again.

Posted by Enigma at May 5, 2005 12:15 AM ET:

I agree with Ryan. Showing the world a filthy, disheveled, handcuffed bin Laden would do wonders for eliminating what little is left of al Qaeda's credibility. Then there's the intelligence value, and finally, the inevitable execution.

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 5, 2005 3:30 AM ET:


That is never off topic here. I have children that age, it hits home. Beslan showed the world al Qaeda's true side. Unfortunately many want to ignore this and portray America as the enemy. They just don't want to see the truth.

RE: Osama,

I have to agree that Osama is of more value alive. The only stipulation is that he is executed as soon as his intel value is exhausted. This goes for every senior member of al Qaeda. The intel is the most important part of the equation, as it can help us dismantle the organization.


Lefties are coming to the defense of Saddam, what makes you think it would be any different for Osama? Saddam killed far more that Osama....

Posted by Cheryl at May 5, 2005 7:55 AM ET:

The one morning I didn't catch Coast to Coast.

Congrats Bill. A well deserved mention!!!

Oh, and I agree, KILL the SOB -- we don't need a media circus over the capture of Bin Laden. There will be scores of lawyers lining up to defend this human garbage - just for the publicity factor.


Posted by tblubrd at May 5, 2005 9:41 AM ET:

Great work on MSNBC. As far as Osama - dead or alive matters little to me. Just "git r done".
I have a question, though - will Pakistan really try to find him? In a Reuters report, Gary Shroen, a 32 year CIA veteran, was quoted '"Bin Laden is almost a Robin Hood among certain elements of the Islamic world," said Schroen, who believes bin Laden's popularity is so great that Pakistan may not want to risk a potentially devastating political backlash by capturing him.'
I have to agree - Pakistan will probably find and hand over top lieutenants all day but will they really go after bin laden?

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 5, 2005 11:28 AM ET:


I believe they are after him. Osama has sanctioned the murder of Musharraf, and is using Pakistan as a base of operation. Any indication that Pakistan is lowballing the effort to get him would not be looked upon kindly by the US.

Posted by Justin B at May 5, 2005 1:25 PM ET:

My issue with the capture of OBL is the same as it is with Saddam. Iraq is not going to extradite him to the US or better yet to Kuwait. We sure as hell don't want him tried in the International Criminal Court. So it is first off a matter of where to try him.

Then it is a matter of the propoganda war that the lefties raise. He is obviously going to be "mistreated" and clearly the International Red Cross is going to need to visit with him, etc. Over and over about abuse and mistreatment. And that will further tarnish our image in the world.

Then we have to execute him. As we see in Gitmo, we sooner or later have to either execute the detainees or let them go. There is no in between except to hold them forever. These folks have no more strategic value. Their information is so old that it is for the most part useless now.

I just don't think that OBL is as big of a catch as we think he is. His underlings have the majority of the operational knowledge. He is a figurehead. The Dems have made the entire war about "capturing OBL", but in reality disabling his network is of much more importance. What we have are two different issues--one of venegence for 9-11, the Cole, the embassies, etc. and the other of dismantling Al Qaeda. I am inclined to say that OBL's value at dismantling Al Qaeda is limited. Zawahiri and KSM as well as Al Libbi have more operational value.

Killing OBL provides a sense of venegence as well as indicates we can prevail. Until he is executed for his crimes after a trial, he can continue to make video taped interviews or statements through his lawyers, etc. Plus the trial is a propoganda dream for OBL. I don't want him to have that chance.

Posted by Enigma at May 5, 2005 6:46 PM ET:

I think there's no question there'll be a media circus over OBL, and that every radical is going to crawl out of the woodwork to defend him. But I believe the intelligence value of keeping him alive---at least until we pump him dry---is worth it.