There have been sardonic jokes for years about the job security – or lack thereof – for al Qaeda’s #2 leader, and you can expect to hear a lot more of them today.
Over the weekend, U.S. officials launched drone strikes in Pakistan, targeting Abu Yahya al-Libi, a leading al Qaeda official seen as a top candidate to succeed Osama bin Laden last year. It was initially unclear, however, whether the terrorist leader was killed in the attack.
Today, multiple accounts report that al-Libi was, in fact, killed.
Deputy al-Qaida leader Abu Yahya al-Libi was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan, U.S. officials told NBC News.
A U.S. drone struck a militant compound early Monday morning in North Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s northwestern tribal area. Pakistan security reports indicated the pre-dawn strike killed 15 insurgents. That brought the total killed in three attacks over the past several days to nearly 30.
Libyan al-Libi was no small player. The New York Times profiled the terrorist leader in 2008, and quoted Jarret Brachman, a former CIA analyst who became research director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, who said of al-Libi, “He’s a warrior. He’s a poet. He’s a scholar. He’s a pundit. He’s a military commander. And he’s a very charismatic, young, brash rising star within A.Q., and I think he has become the heir apparent to Osama bin Laden in terms of taking over the entire global jihadist movement.”
Today, a U.S. official told NBC News al-Libi’s death is “a major blow” to al-Qaida – “removing the number two leader twice in less than a year, further damaging the group’s morale and cohesion and bringing it closer to its ultimate demise than ever before.”
In the larger context, as the debate over the Obama administration’s reliance on drone killings continues, the list of al Qaeda leaders killed in recent years continues to grow. Some are more notable than others, and Abu Yahya al-Libi is certainly one of the most high-profile al Qaeda leaders to have been killed since 2009.
In a purely political context, al-Libi’s demise is unlikely to have a major electoral effect – Mitt Romney recently argued counter-terrorism isn’t an issue “people care about” – but as the president’s re-election team makes the case that the Obama administration has “decimated” al Qaeda, it now appears to have another example to bolster the argument.
I don’t doubt the right will still insist that the president is “weak” on counter-terrorism – remember when Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) argued terrorists would be “dancing in the streets” if Obama won the presidency? – but under the circumstances, it’s an attack that’s hard to take seriously.