Wednesday, June 06, 2012

And Then There Was One

Since the 9/11 attacks, the US has gone after al Qaeda all around the globe, and those efforts have paid off. The group is now down to essentially one recognizable face - Ayman al Zawahiri, who was Osama bin Laden's right hand man since the group came into existence.

Zawahiri is believed to be in the frontier provinces of Pakistan, and he's probably spending most of his time trying not to get caught by US spymasters who have the quite lethal UAVs at their disposal.
As a result, according to senior U.S. counterterrorism officials, there now remains only one leader of any consequence in al Qaeda and that is Ayman al Zawahiri, the tetchy Egyptian surgeon who became the head of the group following the death of its founder, Osama bin Laden, in a U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan in May 2011.

Zawahiri, presumably, is keenly aware of the fate of so many of his longtime colleagues in al Qaeda. He will be expending considerable energy not to end up on the business end of a missile fired by a CIA drone if he, too, is hiding in the Pakistani tribal regions where the drone strikes have been concentrated.

Meanwhile, Zawahiri faces an almost impossible task to follow through on al Qaeda's main mission: attacking the United States, or failing that, one of its close allies.
Al Qaeda hasn't conducted a successful attack in the West since the bombings on London's transportation system on July 7, 2005, and of course, the group hasn't succeeded in attacking the United States for more than a decade.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains committed to carrying out attacks against the US and its interests around the world but hasn't managed to successfully carry out the kind of high profile attacks that the group was known for previously. Attempts to take down airlines have failed, though the group only has to do so once in order to achieve its aims.

It's a far cry from the 9/11 attacks and the terror group's largest effort since the 9/11 attacks was in the London subway bombings in 2005.

The group remains committed to carrying out attacks, but the threat has morphed into concerns about lone wolf individuals or groups - terrorists who share goals but aren't directly tied to al Qaeda or Zawahiri.

Just because there are lesser known terrorists (though that list still includes Adam Gadahn and Adnan G. El Shukrijumah) involved in the group doesn't mean we should discount the threat. We need to recognize the work done to get to this point, and the hard work ahead in trying to keep the nation safe from these terror groups and individuals who are intent upon doing harm to the US. At the same time, the risks from a successful attack are quite low to most Americans.

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