Al Qaeda only has two HVTs left. Really.
What passes for a deep understanding of the nature of al Qaeda's leadership within US government intelligence circles continues to amaze. According to "US counterterrorism and intelligence officials," there are only two al Qaeda leaders left in Pakistan. From The Washington Post:
The leadership ranks of the main al-Qaeda terrorist network, once expansive enough to supervise the plot for Sept. 11, 2001, have been reduced to just two figures whose demise would mean the group's defeat, U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials said.
Ayman al-Zawahiri and his second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, are the last remaining "high-value" targets of the CIA's drone campaign against al-Qaeda in Pakistan, U.S. officials said, although lower-level fighters and other insurgent groups remain a focus of Predator surveillance and strikes.
Al-Qaeda's contraction comes amid indications that the group has considered relocating in recent years but that it ruled out other destinations as either unreachable or offering no greater security than their missile-pocked territory in Pakistan, U.S. officials said.
Some articles are so ridiculous that they barely dignify a response. I was torn about addressing this one, but the meme of al Qaeda's looming defeat will get a lot of traction, and deserves to be refuted. To keep the response short: How do US officials classify the following al Qaeda leaders who are known to be based in Pakistan?
- Abd al Aziz al Masri
- Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah
- Abu Faraj al Yemeni
- Abu Haris
- Abu Kasha al Iraqi
- Abu Turab al Urduni
- Adnan G. el Shukrijumah
- Ahmad Farooq
- Ali Sayyid Muhamed Mustafa al Bakri
- Dr. Amin al Haq
- Hamza bin Laden
- Mafouz Ould Walid
- Mahsood Azhar
- Marwan al Suri
- Matiur Rehman
- Mohamed Abul Khair
- Muhammad Rab'a al Sayid al Bahtiti
- Mustafa al Jaziri
- Qari Saifullah Akhtar
- Qari Zia Rahman
- Rashid Rauf
- Saad al Sharif
- Sa'ad bin Laden (he's been rumored to have been killed, however this was never confirmed)
- Saif al Adel
- Sheikh Issa al Masri
- Sulaiman Abu Ghaith
- Thirwat Saleh Shihata
Ilyas Kashmiri and Atiyah Abd al Rahman were left off the list because the US insists they are dead, even though this has not been confirmed. And the roll above merely scratches the surface of al Qaeda leaders operating in Pakistan. And it doesn't include members from the host of allied terror groups that al Qaeda draws upon for its leadership cadre, such as Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, who in addition to serving as the head of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party, directs al Qaeda's operations in the tribal areas. Or Abu Usman Adil, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, whose fighters serve as al Qaeda bodyguards and shock troops. Or Mullah Nazir, the self-described al Qaeda leader from South Waziristan who shelters the terror group's leaders in his Taliban tribal areas.
Finally, note something written here at Threat Matrix in July 2010 that addressed US claims that al Qaeda was on the verge of defeat:
Unfortunately, the top tiers of US intelligence continually underestimate al Qaeda's strength and overestimate the US' ability to degrade the network. Just the other week, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that half of al Qaeda has been eliminated. The Bush administration used to do this all the time, for instance in 2004 it claimed that 3/4 of al Qaeda had been killed or captured.
How many times do the US government and the intelligence community need to be wrong about declaring the near-death of al Qaeda before we should ignore them?
Bill Ardolino contributed to this post.