The Washington Post, citing unnamed officials, reports that al-Qaeda is on the brink of collapse following the death of bin-Laden and 7 years of drone bombardment in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta declared during a recent visit to Afghanistan that “we’re within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda.”
Far from the end of militancy in the region, the officials go on to state the rise of other terrorist threats, particularly affiliates in Yemen, such as AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula). The group is responsible for recent plots, including the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009 and the attempt to mail parcels packed with explosives to U.S. addresses last year.Clandestine operations in the country, including the construction of a secret Persian Gulf airstrip for armed CIA drones (probably in Saudi Arabia), represent the shifting focus of Obama’s counterterrorism strategy.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded bin Laden as leader of al-Qaeda, is among a handful of “high-value targets” left in Pakistan, U.S. officials said. Zawahiri is seen as a divisive figure who may struggle to prevent al-Qaeda from splintering into smaller, more regionally focused nodes.
The U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, the elite military unit that carried out the bin Laden raid, has led the pursuit of AQAP with Special Operations advisers working alongside Yemeni forces, and both piloted and drone aircraft patrolling from above.
U.S. officials warn that al-Qaeda’s influence is likely to outlast its status as a functioning network. On unnamed official said: “The thing we absolutely don’t want to do is hang out another ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign.”