In September, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael G. Vickers saidthat Al-Qaeda will fragment within 18-24 months if its leaders keep being taken out at this rate. Defense Secretary Panetta talks of “strategically defeating” the group if another 10-20 leaders are removed. Some officials are now taking it even further, claiming that only two leaders need to be killed or captured to neuter the group. Al-Qaeda has undoubtedly taking many serious blows this year, but it is too early to rule out its comeback.
There is much reason for jubilation over Al-Qaeda’s woes. Osama Bin Ladenwas killed in May, followed by the “commando commander” Ilyas Kashmiri and the chief of East Africa operations, Fazul Abdul Muhammed. The new second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman was later killed, as were Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. A number of other senior members that are less well-known also met their end. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, Al-Shabaab, has been kicked outof Mogadishu.
However, it is too optimistic to say that only two leaders, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al-Libi, need to be killed or arrested to finish the group off. The Long War Journal has a list of 26 important Al-Qaeda officials in Pakistan alone. It does not even include the leadership in North Africa, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Iran and the other Gulf countries.