An al Qaeda operative based along the Afghan-Pakistani border claimed recently that although US drone strikes have had an impact on the terror group’s operations, it is “still standing in Khorasan.”
The statement was given by Abu Zubaydah al Lubnani, a Lebanese al Qaeda operative, in an interview published two days ago on jihadist web forums. Lubnani’s interview was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
In the interview, Lubnani was asked: “We hear a lot about drones. Do their bombings have an effect on the jihadi work where you are?”
Lubnani responded that the strikes “for sure … delayed some operations or even stopped them – some of them due to the martyrdom or the disappearance of those who would have carried them out – but that doesn’t mean that these acts stop.”
“I want here to confirm that Qaedat al-Jihad is still standing in Khorasan, solid and strong, despite what hit it, and it is still producing operations and it doesn’t know the path of despair…. Everything is still fine, albeit with some slowness in some sectors in jihad.”
Lubnani then said that al Qaeda and other terror groups have endured the strikes for years, and that time was on the side of the jihadists as the US and NATO are leaving Afghanistan.
“Everyone knows that the war is about to end with a great defeat to NATO; the black slave [Note: Referring to US President Barack Obama] announced their intention to completely withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014-1435,” he said. “These planes [the drones] were introduced into duty actually in the war against the mujahideen in the past two years, and before that, during eight years, the mujahideen were able, praise be to Allah, to harm the Americans badly. They took the bait and lost the war, and now they are in the overtime and the time is in our favor, praise be to Allah…”
Al Qaeda and allied terror groups were given a reprieve from the strikes over the past two months. The US dramatically scaled back the CIA-operated drone program after a clash between US and Pakistani forces along the border resulted in the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers. Due to deteriorating relations between the two countries, there were zero drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas between Nov. 16, 2011 and Jan. 11, 2012.
So far this year, there have been only four strikes. All have taken place in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. On Jan. 11, the US launched a strike that killed Aslan Awan, a senior aide to al Qaeda’s operations chief. Two other strikes took place that month, on Jan. 12 and Jan. 23. No senior leaders or operatives were reported killed in either strike. And just today, the US launched another drone strike in the tribal agency.
Lubnani has emerged as a new spokesman for al Qaeda. In the last three months, he has released a statement announcing the death of an Omani jihadist who was killed in Afghanistan, and a martyrdom statement of a Jordanian fighter who was part of a cell of Middle Eastern terrorists involved in the December 2009 suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman in Khost province, Afghanistan, that killed seven CIA officials and contractors. In that attack, the suicide bomber, who was another Jordanian, had lured the CIA officials into relaxing security protocols by promising to provide them intelligence that would lead to Ayman al Zawahiri.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.