Drone strike reportedly killed Al Qaeda No. 3 Mustafa Abu al-Yazid

Al Qaeda's central leadership says it lost Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a founding member of the group, in a May 22 drone strike in Pakistan's tribal area.

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    A video grab of footage from the Internet showing Afghanistan Al Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid. US intelligence agencies believe Mr. Yazid, Al Qaeda's No. 3 leader, was killed recently in a missile strike in the tribal areas of Pakistan, officials said on Monday.
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A militant website on Monday reported that Al Qaeda's No. 3 leader and top commander in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, has been killed.

US and Pakistani security officials believe that Mr. Yazid, along with members of his family, was killed May 21 by an American drone attack in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

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While Yazid’s death is being claimed as a counterterrorism victory, analysts say that Al Qaeda is quick to appoint successors to key posts.

According to the Financial Times, Yazid’s death was confirmed by Al Qaeda:

A statement issued by al-Qaeda’s media wing announced that Mr Yazid had been killed, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist websites.

“His death will only be a severe curse by his life upon the infidels,” the statement said. “The response is near.”

US counter-terrorism officials see Mr Yazid’s apparent death as a victory, although al- Qaeda has succeeded in replacing a number of previous holders of its number-three slot killed by the CIA.

The Guardian reports that US and Pakistan intelligence officials believe Yazid was recently killed in Pakistan:

Mustafa Abu al-Yazid … was hit in a drone strike last month, an official with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) said. "He was killed on the 21st or 22nd, I believe," he said.

In Washington US security officials told reporters they had "strong reason" to believe Yazid was dead. "In terms of counterterrorism, this would be a big victory," a source told Reuters….

Dawn, a Pakistani English-language daily, reports that in addition to Yazid, the drone attack killed his wife, three daughters, one granddaughter, and other men, women, and children. The strike targeted a tribesman’s house 25 kilometers west of Miramshah, a militant stronghold in the North Waziristan tribal agency that borders Afghanistan.

According to Dawn:

Intelligence officials at the time said six militants were killed but residents said 12 people, including four women and two children, were killed. Six women and two children were wounded and treated at a hospital in Miramshah, residents said.

“He was known as Mustafa in the area. His wife was killed in the strike,” a resident of the village where attack took place said on condition of anonymity.

According to the Associated Press, Egyptian-born Yazid, who is also known as Sheikh Saeed al-Misri, has been involved with extremist movements for more than 30 years. He was a founding member of Al Qaeda and had close ties to Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and Ayman al-Zawahri. Long in charge of day-to-day financial and logistical operations, Yazid was tasked with developing linkages between Al Qaeda and the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan since 2001.

The AP continues:

Al-Yazid had little background in leading combat operations. But terrorism experts say his advantage was that he was close to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. As a fluent Pashto speaker known for impeccable manners, al-Yazid enjoyed better relations with the Afghans than many of the al-Qaida Arabs, whom the Afghans found arrogant and abrasive.

That suggested a conscious decision by al-Qaida to embed within the Taliban organization, helping the Afghan allies with expertise and training while at the same time putting an Afghan face on the war.

Drone strikes, which have increased during the Obama administration, have incited anger from Pakistan’s public because of the civilian casualties they cause. CNN reported last year that the US’s drone strategy in Pakistan has been extremely controversial because of the high reported civilian death toll, which has fueled anti-American sentiment among the local population.

But speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations, Bruce O. Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank, said that drone attacks are an effective way to target senior militants:

The drones are very effective technology; they have killed or wounded some senior terrorists. But they're just a tactic, they're not a strategy. You're not going to close down Pakistan's jihadist Frankenstein simply from 30,000 feet in the air. They can be a very good way to disrupt and sometimes dismantle terrorist activities, but they're never going to defeat it by themselves.

US security officials believe Yazid’s death is an important victory for counterterrorism efforts.

Writing in The Middle East Quarterly in spring 2008, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Kyle Dabruzzi had argued that Al Qaeda has a “resilient central leadership,” which enhances the security risk posed by the group.

While Al-Qaeda's regional nodes will remain terrorist forces in their own right, the senior leadership is indeed back. With a safe haven in Pakistan—and perhaps soon in other territories—the senior leadership will likely play a greater role in future plots while attempting to conceptualize and carry out an attack that will surpass 9-11. A strong central leadership makes the group more formidable and its attacks more deadly; dismissing the evidence that Al-Qaeda's leadership has regrouped will ultimately endanger U.S. security.

NPR’s news blog links to a useful map illustrating the locations of drone attacks in Pakistan.

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