Yesterday the CTC Sentinel released a special issue on al-Qaeda after the death of Osama bin Laden. You can read the entire thing here. There are a number of incredibly detailed and provoking articles. There is also my own offering on how I see AQAP after bin Laden.
There have, of course, been a number of articles since the death of Osama bin Laden, running the gamut from al-Qaeda died with its founder to lookout a world of fractured branches and wannabes is going to be a dangerous place.
For my money, the two best articles I have read are by Will McCants and Leah Farrall.
Will’s is particularly impressive since he wrote it within hours of President Obama’s announcement. One paragraph, in particular, stood out:
Bin Laden’s death may also have far reaching implications for U.S. counterterrorism policy. There has been declining American public support for the war in Afghanistan, whose primary mission is defeating al Qaeda. The administration will likely argue that that mission is not accomplished but the American public will increasingly feel there is little reason to remain when our primary enemy is dead. The pressure to bring the troops home will become immense.
This is something I’ve also been worried about, and something I haven’t seen a lot of people discussing.
Leah’s article is similarly impressive, detailing how al-Qaeda will likely chose its next leader.
The one person I haven’t heard from is Thomas Hegghammer, although I’m sure when he does weigh-in, it will be a well-reasoned piece worth your time.
But now it is time to bring this post full circle back to Yemen. Shortly after the US killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, it launched a drone strike in Yemen – the first US strike in nearly a year – reportedly targeting al-Awlaki. As has unfortunately become the norm in these strikes, the US missed its target and instead killed a pair of brothers, Abdullah and Musad al-Daghari. (Ar.)
AQAP has since come out with its own eulogy for bin Laden written by Nasir al-Wihayshi, the amir of the group. There is some interesting stuff in there, but much of it is the predictable more attacks to come; we will never stop fighting type of rhetoric.
For AQAP this means attacks directed at the west and particularly the US. Still, the organization continues its increased attacks against Yemeni security forces. Today, there have already been reports of two attacks, believed to have been carried out by AQAP.
The first early this morning killed 5 soldiers in an ambush in Marib (Ar.) according to this report in News Yemen.
Mareb Press (Ar.) puts the death toll at 3 in Marib, and also mentions a second attack in Shabwa in which another 3 soldiers were killed. Both groups of attackers escaped unharmed.
All of this, as I mentioned two days ago, is taking place while most of the country is focused on the protests aimed at ruling Ali Abdullah Salih’s nearly 33-year rule.
I have been saying for a number of weeks that in terms of US national security interests it is better that Salih goes as soon as possible.
Neither option – Salih going or Salih staying – is good. AQAP is going to be a threat it Salih goes, but it will be much worse if he stays.
The US seems to be coming around to this point of view as well. Following Wednesday’s bloody events, in which 15 protesters were killed, the US called for a transition to begin as soon as possible in Yemen. This is good, but it doesn’t go far enough.
I don’t think the GCC (expanded version or not) is really set-up to manage Salih’s exit, nor is it really in the US’ best interest to let them take the lead, while the US offers whispered support from the sidelines.
Removing Salih is going to take a concentrated international effort with strong US leadership. The US won’t be able to contribute vast sums of money to Yemen in the near future, but it does need to give what it can. And that is international political leadership, bringing together the EU, which is already more bullish on Salih stepping down, and the GCC, which is not seen as trustworthy by the protesters.
Such a concentrated effort would also put the international community in a better position for a post-Salih Yemen. The country is going to need a great deal of help very soon. The longer this dangerous stalemate goes on the worse it is for Yemen and US national security. It is time for the US to get off the bench and start playing, really playing.