The news that al Qaeda has helped to create a Taliban alliance, called the Shura-e-Murakeba, along the Afghan-Pakistani border is sure to be spun as a final, last-gasp attempt by a group whose leadership is shattered and on the run and is in need of the Taliban to fight its battles. But that read of the situation is wrong. As we have shown, al Qaeda’s desire to unite the disparate Taliban groups in Pakistan and focus their efforts has been a goal of the terror group for years. Al Qaeda’s promptings of the formation of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the United Mujahideen Council, the Shura al Mujahideen, and now the Shura-e-Murakeba, have all been part of this effort.
In fact, what this story shows is that despite three-and-a-half years of intense Predator and Reaper airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas (with about 96 percent of the strikes taking place in North and South Waziristan), al Qaeda remains entrenched there. Although drone strikes have killed key operatives such as Mustafa Abu Yazid and Atiyah Abd al Rahman, both of whom were highly capable senior leaders who commanded the respect of different Taliban factions and could pull them together, al Qaeda has been able to replace them.
The story of the formation of the Shura-e-Murakeba shows that the death of Atiyah Abd al Rahman hasn’t created the leadership void that many US officials would like for you to think exists. In fact, Abu Yahya al Libi has stepped into Atiyah’s role as chief of staff for al Qaeda. And Abdur Rehman al Saudi, the other al Qaeda leader who was also involved in the recent negotiations to create the Shura-e-Murakeba, has taken on Abu Yahya’s previous role in al Qaeda (besides being an influential member of al Qaeda’s executive shura, Abu Yahya essentially served as Atiyah’s deputy).
In addition, while US officials would like you to believe that there are only two senior al Qaeda leaders left in Pakistan who are truly high-value targets capable of posing a threat to the US, the emergence of Abdur Rehman al Saudi, who was an unknown until yesterday, puts a serious dent in that theory. Like many al Qaeda leaders who have stepped up to fill leadership positions for those killed or captured, his name wasn’t known to many before it was published in the press. You can add him to the list of senior al Qaeda leaders who are known to operate in Pakistan.
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