The former commander of al Qaeda’s military is thought to have been killed in a mid-December airstrike on a command center in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
Abdullah Said al Libi, the leader of the Lashkar al Zil or Shadow Army, is believed to have been killed in the Dec. 17, 2009, swarm attack in the Datta Khel region in North Waziristan.
The attack was carried out by an estimated five or six unmanned US Predator or Reaper strike aircraft and hit multiple targets, including a safe house, a cave, and a vehicle. Ten Hellfire missiles were said to have been launched in the strike. The target of the attack was Sheikh Saeed al Saudi, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a senior leader on al Qaeda Shura Majlis, or executive council. Al Saudi was thought to be attending a high-level meeting; he is not thought to have been killed.
The airstrike was reported to have killed Zuhaib al Zahibi, a senior commander in the Shadow Army, six al Qaeda operatives, and nine Haqqani network fighters. Zahibi was a “general officer-equivalent” in the Shadow Army, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
“This was a Lashkar al Zil command complex,” a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “We wouldn’t be surprised if the top commander [al Libi] was present during the strike.”
Abdullah Said al Libi was not initially reported to have been killed strike. His death was not confirmed until Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda’s leader in Afghanistan, said al Libi was killed [see LWJ’s exclusive report, “US killed al Qaeda’s Lashkar al Zil commander in airstrike“].
Yazid claimed that the suicide attack on the CIA base in Khost that killed seven Americans and an Jordanian intelligence officer was carried out to “avenge” the death of al Libi, Saleh al Somali, al Qaeda’s former external operations chief, and Baitullah Mehsud, the former leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
“[This attack was carried out] to avenge our righteous martyrs, as he [the suicide bomber] (may God have mercy on him) wrote in his will: ‘To avenge the leader, Amir Baitullah Mehsud, the leaders Abu Saleh al Somali and Abdullah Said al Libi, and their brothers (may God have mercy on them),'” Yazid said in a statement released on the Internet.
Al Libi was a Libyan national who is thought to have served in his country’s military before joining al Qaeda. In April 2009, al Libi explained al Qaeda and the Taliban’s strategy to retake control of the Khorasan, a region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. In the statement, al Libi is identified as the leader of the Qaidat al-Jihad fi Khorasan, or the Base of the Jihad in the Khorasan.
As the top commander of the Shadow Army, al Libi was tasked with running al Qaeda’s military organization in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Elements of the Shadow Army are attached to conduct complex attacks alongside the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and the multitude of Pakistani jihadi groups.
The Shadow Army also detaches members to serve as embedded trainers with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The US military killed once such commander on Dec. 1, during a raid in Kunar province. Qari Masiullah was described as the “al Qaeda chief of security for Kunar province” who “ran a training camp that taught insurgents how to use and emplace IEDs that were used in attacks on Afghan civilians, ANSF, and Coalition forces throughout the Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar, and Laghman provinces.”
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.