Coordinator Daniel Benjamin for the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism today said the top leadership of AQ and its major affiliates was hit hard in 2011.
“There is no question that bin Laden’s departure from the scene was the most important milestone ever in the fight against al-Qaida. Bin Laden was al-Qaida’s founder and sole commander for 22 years.” -Mr. Benjamin
He noted that Bin Laden was an iconic leader whose personal story had a profound attraction for violent extremists. He was the prime advocate of the group’s focus on America as a terrorist target.
“We know now that even in the years when he had to carefully limit and manage his contacts with the rest of the organization, he was more deeply involved in directing its operations and setting its strategy than we had expected. The loss of bin Laden puts the group on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse.” -Mr. Benjamin
He said it’s important to note that bin Laden wasn’t the only top AQ leader who departed in 2011, and in important ways, the terrorist network under consideration is not just “post” bin Laden.
“In June, Ilyas Kashmiri, who was implicated in the 2009 Mumbai attacks and widely considered to have been the most dangerous terrorist planner in South Asia was killed in Pakistan.” -Mr. Benjamin
He reported that in June as well, Harun Fazul, one of the architects of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and the foremost member of al-Qaida in East Africa was killed in Somalia by the forces of the Transitional Federal Government.
“In August, AQ’s second-in-command after bin Laden’s death, Atiya Abdul Rahman, who was also a highly capable operational commander, was killed in Pakistan.” -Mr. Benjamin
He noted that in September, Anwar al-Aulaqi, AQAP’s chief of external operations in Yemen was also killed.
“However, AQ and its affiliates continue to show resilience…continue to operate in worrisome ways…and continue to pose a threat to our national security. So while we’re pleased about the important successes of 2011, as the President has said, this story is not over and we have much more work to do.” -Mr. Benjamin
He stressed that even as the core of al-Qaida experienced massive setbacks, activity by the affiliates continued to spread geographically, and other groups with AQ-related ideological leanings gained prominence.
He stressed in 2011, the protean nature of AQ has very much been on display.
He noted that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) still remains at the top of the affiliates list despite the death of Aulaqi.