11 December 2009

Is al-Sahab's Media Darling Dead?

Yesterday as I read that an unmanned aerial system had killed a top Al Qaeda leader other than OBL or Ayman al Zawahiri, I thought to myself, “It would be pretty cool if we got Abu Yahya”. It turns out I may have been correct. The jihadi forums have been abuzz since yesterday with commentary about the Abu Yahya al Libi death rumor. The blog Views From The Occident picked up on this late last night, providing excellent analysis on these forum posts, and their greater meaning to the AQ “brand”. The author writes, “Their passionate exchange suggests that the role of charismatic leaders and ideologues, which has been downplayed or written-off by some analysts, may not be so passé after all.” While obviously not insinuating that the death of Abu Yahya would decapitate the AQ franchise, the author seemingly is reinforcing something the authors of this site learned last year in Iraq: the importance of eliminating targets associated with AQ (or in our case AQI) media operations. By targeting media operations, counter-insurgents can essentially starve group supporters of propaganda and (theoretically) erode popular support, either nationally or internationally. The erosion of al-Furqan’s operations in Iraq played a large role in marginalizing the group across Iraq and the Middle East. To clarify, I am not inferring that al-Furqan is fully eliminated as an AQI force multiplier; instead I am saying that AQI’s media outlet is nowhere near as capable as they were in their heyday of 2005-2007, and thus AQI has suffered severely.

Bill Roggio from The Long War Journal picked up on this stream today and provided some additional commentary and analysis. At the end of his post, Roggio writes:

"While the rumor certainly can't be discounted, I suspect Abu Yahya al Libi was not in the Ladha region in South Waziristan. The Pakistani military is currently conducting an operation against the Taliban in the Mehsud tribal areas and claims to have occupied Ladha. The senior-most al Qaeda leaders would likely have vacated Ladha and other regions in the Mehsud tribal areas long before the Pakistani Army arrived."

While I mostly agree with Roggio that Abu Yahya is not dead, let’s analyze the Pakistani Army’s operations in the area. Criticalthreats.org provides excellent graphics of past and ongoing operations throughout Waziristan. The site shows Pakistani Army operations in the Ladha area as recently as 12 November. There is no reason to believe that al Libi could not have returned to the area after the Pakistani Army conducted its sweep of the area; in all likelihood it is very likely, as this area may actually be seen as safer than areas that have not yet been swept.

It will be interesting to see what develops out of this story. Perhaps more importantly for us COIN practitioners, the commentary on jihadi posts provided by Views From The Occident clearly highlights the value of targeting terrorist media outlets and their stars.


1 comment:

  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/14/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.