FUTURE OF AL QAEDA – AT 10:53 A.M. ET: We've taken out two major Al Qaeda figures, to Ron Paul's great regret, in recent months. Osama bin Laden sleeps with the fishes. Anwar al-Awlaki is apparently disassembled somewhere in a Yemeni desert, having been inconvenienced by an American drone.
But where does this leave Al Qaeda. Experienced terrorism expert Peter Brooke, of the Heritage Foundation, has a good analysis:
First, Awlaki’s death deprives AQAP -- and al Qaeda globally -- of one of the most (if not the most) inspirational figures and talented operational commanders in its ranks, as evidenced by his work in just the last few years.
Some analysts recently came to see him as being as important to al Qaeda as Osama bin Laden himself, and actually thought he might come to lead the terror group after bin Laden bit the dust in May.
Next, al Qaeda has been stripped of one of its most powerful propagandists, who was especially skilled in so-called “digital jihad,” with a troubling ability to reach out to and recruit both English and Arabic speakers over the Internet. (Inspire’s editor was killed in the same drone attack that got Awlaki.)
So, for the moment, it’s likely to be harder, but not impossible, for al Qaeda to target future foot soldiers over the Web, and, hopefully, we’ll see Inspire find its way to the dustbin of history.
Moreover, Awlaki’s termination also lets terrorist and terrorist wannabes know that justice will find you if you start, or continue down, this bloody road, taking the lives of innocent people in your quest for power.
Finally, it’s possible that with Awlaki gone AQAP will stop targeting the West, specifically the United States. It may turn to toppling the Yemeni and Saudi governments, which has always been its top prize.
But all of this is in some ways uncertain. After all, al Qaeda didn’t throw up its hands and surrender after we offed Osama in May. It appointed a new leader in the likes of Ayman al Zawahiri, the Egyptian who had long served as bin Laden’s deputy.
Similarly, it’s likely Awlaki will be replaced in the AQAP lineup by someone who’ll be anxious to prove he’s as skilled and as capable as his predecessor was in carrying out al Qaeda’s odious objectives.
There will also likely be a desire to seek revenge for the killing of Awlaki, perhaps meaning more violence directed at us. The group will certainly want to show prospective recruits and funders that it’s still worthy of the al Qaeda brand name. It still has the resources: AQAP has seized control of territory in Yemen from which it can still plan, train and operate.
And we shouldn’t forget there’s still plenty of al Qaeda out there, including al Qaeda in Iraq, al Shabab (Somalia), al Qaeda in the Maghreb (North Africa) and al Qaeda Central (Pakistan) -- not to mention its allies like the Taliban and Haqqani network in Afghanistan.
Bottom line: We’re better off now that Awlaki is gone, but the threat from al Qaeda and its affiliates isn’t. A sigh of relief -- like that after the taking of bin Laden -- is a reasonable response, but embracing complacency isn’t.
COMMENT: Well said. In World War II the United States killed Japan's most gifted naval leader, Isoroku Yamamoto, who'd planned the attack on Pearl Harbor, but Japan fought on bitterly for another two years. One of Nazi Germany's most accomplished generals, Irwin Rommel, was forced to commit suicide in late 1944, but Germany fought on, inflicting enormous casualties for many months.
There is an old French saying, wrongly attributed to DeGaulle, that the graveyards of the world are filled with indispensable men. We should always remember that. We'll meet Al Qaeda again.
October 1, 2011