Al Qaeda in Iraq is ‘broken,’ cut off from leaders in Pakistan, says top US general


Iraqi and US forces have hit al Qaeda in Iraq hard over the last several months, crippling the terror group’s senior leadership and disrupting its communications with al Qaeda’s top leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the top US commander in the country said.

“Over the last 90 days or so, we’ve either picked up or killed 34 out of the top 42 al Qaeda in Iraq leaders,” General Ray Odierno, the commander of US Forces – Iraq, told reporters during a Pentagon press briefing.

“They’re clearly now attempting to reorganize themselves,” “They’re struggling a little bit. They’ve broken — they’ve lost connection with AQSL [al Qaeda Senior Leadership] in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Odierno said.

Iraqi and US forces conducted a series of raids in northern Iraq in early 2008 that ultimately led to the death of al Qaeda in Iraq’s top two leaders, Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of the front group known as the Islamic State of Iraq [see list of top al Qaeda in Iraq leaders killed below].

The operations that led to al Masri and Baghdadi’s death started in Mosul at the beginning of 2010, Odierno said, confirming information first reported by The Long War Journal. Raids that targeted al Qaeda’s leadership, finance, and extortion cells in the Mosul region proved crucial to denuding the terror network’s top commanders.

“We’ve been whittling away at this for a very long time,” Odierno said. “But back in December, January — I get dates mixed up — December, January, February time frame, we made some significant inroads in Mosul, where their headquarters basically was, and we got inside of AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq]. We picked up several of their leaders that did the financing, that did planning, that did recruiting, that did — some of their lawyers that worked on bringing detainees who were released and bringing them into al Qaeda — we were able to get inside of this network, pick a lot of them up.”

But Odierno said that al Qaeda in Iraq has proven to be resilient in the past and it “will attempt to regenerate.” The task will be tough given the losses al Qaeda has suffered.

“I would just say that they will, obviously, attempt to reconstitute,” Odierno said. “The issue is, though, they’ve lost a lot of top leadership very quickly, and so they’re going to have to develop some new leadership.”

A month after al Masri and Baghdadi were killed, Al Qaeda in Iraq named Nasser al Din Allah Abu Suleiman its new ‘minister of war’ for the Islamic State of Iraq. The position of war minister had previously been held by al Masri.

But Odierno said it isn’t clear if the new al Qaeda in Iraq leaders are real people or merely placeholders.

“They’ve named some names, but we’re not even sure if there’s actually people behind those names,” he said. “We call those names roughly honorific names. They’re names that are very common names in the Arabic world. So we’re not sure there’s actually people behind those names yet.”

Odierno believes al Qaeda will continue to attempt to overthrow the Iraqi government and will try to create instability by switching from targeting the Iraqi security forces, whose capabilities have increased dramatically since 2007, to soft targets such as civilians.

“They [al Qaeda in Iraq] want complete failure of the government in Iraq,” he said. “They want to establish a caliphate in Iraq.”

Top al Qaeda in Iraq leaders killed or captured since January

May 3, 2010: Iraqi police captured Abu Abdullah al Shafi, the top leader of Ansar al Islam, during a raid in Baghdad.

April 23, 2010: Iraqi forces captured Mahmoud Suleiman, al Qaeda’s top military commander for Anbar province.

April 20, 2010: Iraqi forces killed Ahmad Ali Abbas Dahir al Ubayd, al Qaeda’s top military commander for northern Iraq.

April 18, 2010: Iraqi and US forces killed Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, during a raid in the Thar Thar region.

April 6, 2010: Iraqi security forces detained al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir of Mosul and the emir of eastern Mosul.

March 24, 2010: Iraqi troops killed Bashar Khalaf Husyan Ali al Jaburi, al Qaeda’s emir of the city of Mosul.

March 23, 2010: Iraqi soldiers killed Abu Ahmad al Afri, al Qaeda in Iraq’s economic security emir.

March 18, 2010: Iraqi troops killed Khalid Muhammad Hasan Shallub al Juburi, al Qaeda in Iraq’s top emir in northern Iraq.

March 2010: Iraqi troops captured Manaf Abdulrehim al Rawi, al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir for Baghdad.

Jan. 22, 2010: Iraqi and US forces killed Abu Khalaf, al Qaeda in Iraq’s most senior foreign fighter facilitator. Based out of Syria, Khalaf reorganized al Qaeda’s network after it was severely disrupted by Iraqi and US forces during extensive operations in 2007 and 2008.

Jan. 16, 2010: Iraqi security forces detained Ali Hussein Alwan al Azawi, a senior al Qaeda in Iraq operative who was involved in the first major suicide attack in the capital, in the summer of 2003.

Jan. 5, 2010: Iraq security forces killed Abu Na’im al Afri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s northern operations.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • C. Jordan says:

    Bravo! Long live a FREE Iraq!

  • KaneKaizer says:

    34 of 42 top leaders in 90 days? Devastating.

  • T Ruth says:

    “They’re struggling a little bit. They’ve broken — they’ve lost connection with AQSL [al Qaeda Senior Leadership] in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Odierno said.
    The tentacle into Iraq maybe severely damaged, but the octopus’s head AQSL is well and functioning in Paqistan. There is no alternative to going for the jugular, if the head is to be broken once and for all.
    Can it be done in 13 months? If the US is to give it its’ all, I doubt it can be done without the US being sucked into Paqistan, even if the Pak army were to swing around. The US may be transferring troops to Paqistan in July 2011, rather than bringing them back home if the job is to be finished.

  • doug says:

    This kind of confirms my hypothesis about what’s happening now in Astan. Somebody (or likely a few guys) are inside AQ Iraq and selling out their buddies… and getting very rich in the process. This has got to be really demoralizing to the few remaining guys in the group.

  • TimSln says:

    This is more great news. Below, is what has been reported in just little over a week, of leader/commanders killed or captured. There was even one surrender.
    34 of 42 of the top AQI leaders
    70 mid-level Taliban commanders
    Mullah Zergay – senior Taliban commander in the Kandahar City area
    Osama bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Damjan al Dawsari – senior al-Qaeda operative
    Omar Khaitab – close associate of militant commander Maulvi Nazir
    Newly appointed Taliban shadow governor of Baghlan province and his predecessor Mullah Rohullah
    Mustafa Abu Yazid, aka Sheikh Saeed al Masri – one of the very top al-Qaeda leaders
    Haji Amir, aka Haji Agha- one of the top two Taliban commanders of Kandahar province
    Haylah al Qassir – top financier of AQAP
    Ebad-ul-Rehman, aka Farooq Chatan – Taliban commander who serves as a key link to al-Qaeda (reportedly killed)
    Atmane Touti, alias Abu El Abbas – senior leader of AQIM and co-founder of GSPC (surrendered)
    Overall in my opinion:
    The good – AQI is broken; AQSL continues to be degraded; AQIM faltering and morale is low; Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf struggling; al- Qaeda in the Caucasus hit hard.
    The stalemate – Afghanistan (hopefully the upcoming Kandahar offensive will be a turning point)
    The not so good – AQAP; Somalia (Shabaab and Hizbul Islam); Pakistan, especially North Waziristan (negatives in the country outweigh the positives)

  • Nic says:

    In decentralized, asymmetrical warfare, an AQI cell does not need to be in contact with leaders outside of the country to be able to function. Outside help a cell may need would be financial help on an as needed basis. Sometimes funding can be created internally such as the gold robbery in May: . Other types of help may be in the area of expertise but that depends on losses and quality of internal training. Otherwise, a cell is just that, a cell. As always, help and comments are welcomed from LWJ Land.

  • Bungo says:

    “al Qaeda will continue to attempt to overthrow the Iraqi government” , “They want to establish a caliphate in Iraq.”
    Like that’s ever going to happen These people are living in their own private Idaho. What a bunch of morons.

  • KnightHawk says:

    BAGHDAD (AP)-Gunmen killed a third candidate Saturday from the Sunni-backed coalition that won the most seats in Iraq’s March parliamentary election, a slaying that the alliance said was part of a politically motivated campaign of assassinations.

    The hand of iran at work or local players?

  • Max says:

    Bless the General’s optimism, but we’ve heard this before: Al-qaeda is broken, etc, etc, and not long afterward, hundreds of people are killed in attacks. I think he would do better by just shutting up until we are safely out of the country; then he can say anything he wants.

  • Gerald says:

    Absolutely awesome news. Wonder when the MSM will report about it. Its obvious much is still being done to put an end to the violence.
    Now if the leadership can get its act together maybe they will survive at least until we pull out completely.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    @Max. It is wrong to use isolated high profile attacks as any barometer of the overall security situation in Iraq. Punks can still murder scores of innocents if they have the commitment and perverse will. It can no longer incite any larger sectarian conflict. Iraq is secure and stable institutionally and as a society. We’ve won: We’ve provided the Iraqis a future and enabled a strong, democratic ally in a critically important part of the world. Iraq will be a force multiplying catalyst for moderate Muslim governance in that region, mark my words.

  • T Ruth says:

    To be clear, the General said “they’ve broken” (communications). The General did not say “they’re broken”. Big difference and to that extent, the headline of this item here can mislead.

  • kp says:

    @Nic: you assume an ideal cellular system where all are equal and work locally with minimum communication. There are no real large terrorist groups that actually works this way. Even the communist groups were run by the higher ups in the USSR (or related states). Wired made a big thing of this post-9/11 but it turns out not to be true in real life. People have to communicate to distribute skills and get tasks done. The larger the task the larger the team and the more coordination needed.

    One of AQ original skills is coordination and strategy. We saw that in spades up to 9/11. After 9/11 they’re ability to coordinate big worldwide attacks has diminished. In some war zones they became successful with local support

    AQ has a hierarchical structure not a cellular structure (except at the operational level but even there they have a hierarchy: Atta was in charge, the technical help (the pilots) were next and the muscle was below that (its argued that a lot of them didn’t know the mission but they were recruited as part of the overall plan not as four separate cells that just happened to attack on the same day). Same with Zazi and his planned attack in the US and all the other curtailed attacks.That’s why we can find, capture and kill the people involved. The only organization we’ve seen close to individual cells we’ve seen are the Fort Hood Shooter and the Times Square Bomber. And both of those had external coordination (from the AQAP and TTP). The problem with such small cells is limited skill sets so they have more of a problem getting everything right. One person can only do so much.

    Even all the attacks on the West often claimed as independent (London, Madrid even Times Square) have connections back to Pakistan and AQSL.

    The model for AQ is a hierarchical corporation not a distributed cellular system. AQ is more like a management consultancy for Islamists or a construction or engineer company that is willing to hire out their skills to other contractors. Perhaps this has something to do with UBL’s family background in construction: subcontractors are a normal part of the business but the main contractor runs the show. Ultimately asymmetry does not imply cellularity: the latter is a tactic not a strategy.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    I’ll worry about Mooktie being “back” when he summons the courage to actually come back to Iraq. The Mahdi “Army” was a thuggish criminal gang who preyed upon a lawless and impoverished community. As long as the residents of Sadr City feel that they have a representative presence in the Iraqi government, insurgencies like the Mahdis no longer have an enabling constituency. They are no match for the professional ISF in 2010-11. There’s a greater likelihood that the Gambino crime family will reconstitute as a social, political and economic force in NYC.

  • Atiyyatullah says:

    So the Pentagon is issuing a statement regarding who does and does not have communications with someone whom their has been absolutely no United States intelligence on in nearly a decade? That would be like me saying, with the death of Gary Coleman his brother no longer has any contact with his mother. I have no clue if that is the case, so I would not say that. That is what they call “lying.”

  • kp says:

    @Atiyyatullah: “So the Pentagon is issuing a statement regarding who does and does not have communications with someone whom their has been absolutely no United States intelligence on in nearly a decade? ”

    You can say that if you capture one end of a communications link. You can say a lot about what’s happened on the link if people keep records (and they do otherwise when those folks get captured or killed that history disappears). You don’t have to capture both ends to know that.

    You can intercept comms (which has happened with captured couriers) and gain technical info from these raids (and yes they got a lot of TECHINT and operational detail
    from these raids plus I’m sure a lot of info from interrogation of the captives) on what the AQI org is thinking/doing with AQSL without capturing the “far” endpoint of the comms (i.e. AQSL). That’s the purpose of good OPSEC on the comms links: both link security and endpoint security.

    AQSL isn’t only AZ and UBL (they’re figureheads and clearly well hidden and probably don’t do too much aside from staying alive and making tapes and setting “the vision”) its the whole of the AQSL org which includes their finance, engineering, security, liason and operational arms. There is a management layer that takes direction from he top two and gets things done. We have been steadily killing and capturing those people over the past decade. Remember we just killed one of those AQSL folks recently.

    I wonder if there was any useful intel from the recent AQI ops that paid off in AFPAK in striking AQSL? Reminds me of the killings of Yemeni/Somali organizers and links to Somalia in AFPAK earlier in the year after the Yemenii raids took out AQAP leadership. Coincidence, perhaps?

  • Render says:

    KP: Booking agents.
    Arne: The fat guy with the finger isn’t the problem, he was always a cowardly figurehead. MA is and always was IRGC.
    Atiyyatullah: Spend some time reading the archieves of this website on that very subject. Don’t skim, take notes if it helps. Get back to us.

  • crusader says:

    i think its too early to claim victory. is this merely a boost of moral and propaganda speech by the military leaders?
    AQ and the taliban are not predictable at all. who knows what desperate means they will use in the future. AQ-T are not people that will just throw down their weapons and allow democracy and tollerance. they are extremists and are prepared to go all the way. is the us military sudently just tired or plain naive to believe in its own words?
    the list of caputered or killed AQs is of course a great step toward butwho will know what is to come?
    perhaps they will drag this on for as long as there are muslims there.
    its gonna be a looooooooooooongg war

  • Paul says:

    Until The Iranian Govt are overthrown and Pak Army/ISI rid of Islamist we will not win this war.
    Funding/Ideology from Saudi doesnt help too!

  • Zeissa says:

    Max, this isn’t optimism. His statement is quite well guarded.

  • Zeissa says:

    Atiyyatullah: Intelligence has improved a lot lately, but I have no idea who you’re saying US Intelligence have no contact with. At any rate it is not necessary for me to know. When over 75% of your leadership is knocked out in three months in an underground resistance communications are devestated. Your lack of understanding this means your knowledge of such matters is base at best, more likely sketchy even at the most basic.
    Your quick assumption that they are lying circumstantially indicate some other things.

  • FredP says:

    Good news indeed but to win the war, local Muslim support for AQ will have to dry up. For this, Iraq must flourish so that it can be a model for the rest of the Muslim world

  • Marlin says:

    As Bill has correctly pointed out on numerous occasions, StrateyPage doesn’t source its claims, but I found this interesting as it seems quite plausible.

    Many family members of these leaders were also willing to discuss their experiences. For example, the widow of slain (in April) al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri revealed that she and her husband (they are both Egyptian) came to Iraq in 2002, having been offered sanctuary by Saddam Hussein. Many other al Qaeda were found to be terrorists hiding out in Iraq, under Saddam’s protection, and having nowhere to run after 2003. While many of the terrorist leaders were Iraqis who used to work for Saddam (and also had nowhere to run, given their known crimes), there were hundreds of foreigners. Few of them are left, outside of prison and graveyards.

    StrategyPage: Involuntary Martyrs Finish Off Al Qaeda In Iraq

  • Zeissa says:

    There is very little local muslim support for AQ. Muslims support AQ (correctly) on an ideological basis, having to live with them tests their faith, as unpopular as ‘involountary martyrs’ are in the international muslim community it is even more disliked among the locals who lose them.

  • crusader says:

    how does the italian mob fit into this? tell me your comparison.

  • Render says:

    Crusader: If you (and Arne) don’t mind perhaps I can answer some of that…
    1: Structure. Some of the enemies internal arrangements are very similar to the classic Mafia organizations, with captains (facilitators) and crews (cells) reporting to individual Dons (warlords and group leaders).
    2: Leadership. The usage of lightning-rod figureheads as leaders while the real work and the real control rests behind the scenes (Mookie is a prime example of this – OBL to an uncertain extent may also be).
    There’s probably a case-study, book, or at least a thesis waiting to be written on this comparison – but it’ll probably be best written long after this war is over.
    Say 2020 or so…


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