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'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.