Following the death of OBL, all eyes are on Yemen as the “new frontline” in the war on terror. Considering Thursday’s drone strike in Shabwa, its something that the US government (and Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign) actually believe.
“That’ll be two terms, please.”
However, contrary to popular belief, AQAP is most likely comprised of around 100 religious fanatics somewhere in Shabwa. The operational strength and resources of AQAP is highly overestimated by western governments and analysts. If we look back on AQAP’s three biggest operations since the organization’s founding in January of 2009, we can clearly see that not only are they executed fairly cheaply (AQAP even bragged about this in an issue of inspire) but they really don’t take much skill to pull off.
Not to mention, all the following operations ended in failure.
August 2009 assassiantion attempt on Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Mohammed bin Najaf
How it went down: Abdullah al-Asiri, brother to current AQAP bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri, walks into the bin Najaf’s office with a bomb shoved up his ass. End result? Al-Asiri kills himself, bin Najaf survives.
December 2009 bombing attempt on Northwest Airlines flight 253
How it went down: Nigerian AQAP member Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in like fashion, tries to blow his ass off with a bomb hidden in his drawers. Umar sets his breeches on fire, the plane lands, and Umar will never see the light of day again.
October 2010 parcel bomb plot
How it went down: AQAP sends two printers with bombs inside to two locations. One is intercepted in Dubai and the other in the UK. How much did it cost? “Two Nokia mobiles, $150 each, two HP printers, $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses add up to a total bill of $4,200. That is all what Operation Hemorrhage cost us,” said the organization in an edition of their English language publication Inspire.
Inside Yemen, AQAP have also been involved in two attacks on foreign elements, one on former UK Ambassador to Yemen Tim Torlot and another attack on a British diplomatic convoy. There have also been several attacks and skirmishes between the Yemeni Military/Government and the organization, resulting in several deaths on either side.
This list also doesn’t include the Fort Hood shooting that resulted in the death of 13 American soldiers. All that took to carry out was two crazy people with email accounts and one random act of violence.
Now that we have a short operational history of the organization, I’d like to briefly profile some of AQAP’s leading members. You won’t find Anwar al-Awlaki on this list. He IS NOT the leader of AQAP nor does he play any operational role in the organization. How could we describe his role in the organization? Perhaps spiritual advisor, keeping in mind that any nut with a religious text could fill that role in any fanatical organization. Also, he’s probably the go-to English speaker. Beyond that, there isn’t much else.
The fact that so many news outlets (including CNN and Reuters) continue to report that al-Awlaki is the leader of the organization is simply embarrassing.
Who is the actual leader of AQAP? Surprise, he’s a guy named Nasir al-Wuhayshi, someone people who don’t follow Yemen or AQAP closely have no idea about. Al-Wuhyashi is a Yemeni and served as one of OBL’s personal secretaries in Afghanistan. His close involvement with OBL is what gives him credibility in the organization. He is one of the 26 AQ members that escaped from prison in Yemen in 2006. He’s been “killed” a couple of times already but has managed to crawl from his grave in zombie like fashion.
Qasim al-Raymi is another big-wig in the organization and one of al-Wuhayshi’s prison break mates. In terms of operational involvement, this guy is who is really running the show. He’s AQAP’s military leader and is involved directly with training operations.
Saeed al-Shihiri is a former Gitmo detainee and a Saudi citizen. Wikipedia says he’s dead. He’s not. Another operational head.
Ibrahim al-Asiri is a Saudi citizen and head bomb maker for AQAP.
So, what’s the best way to deal with the small but still slightly dangerous AQAP presence in Yemen? Considering how drone and missile strikes keep missing, killing civilians and in one case killing the deputy governor of the Marib Governorate, a man involved in Yemen’s fight against AQAP, its time for a new strategy.
In this great piece by Shatha al-Harazi in Almasry Alyoum, she explains that many of Yemen’s tribal sheikhs are actively involved in operations to expel AQAP members from their territory. Why isn’t the US or other western governments directly involved with these sheikhs? Why can’t the US trade a couple Land Cruisers for every AQAP member with these guys? Its sure as hell a lot more cost effective than failed drones and missile strikes.
The WSJ is now reporting that Thursday’s strike in Shabwa was targeting Anwar al-Awlaki and missed. No doubt, we’ll be seeing more similar strikes in the coming weeks as the US government brings the war against Obama’s 2012 political opponents to Yemen.
(Note: Please don’t assume that my being critical of Obama means I’m a Republican. I’m not. I voted for Obama in 2008 and I’ll probably end up voting for him again in 2012, I’ll just be much less enthusiastic about it and I won’t be filled with all that naive hope.)