Report: Al Qaeda number two, Abu Yahya al-Libi, may have been killed in drone strike

This guy’s been evading America for years. Believe it or not, we once had him in custody: He escaped from Bagram in 2005, was thought killed in a drone strike in 2009 before U.S. intel realized they had the wrong man, and has been working his way up the AQ food chain ever since.

Supposedly he’s now number two to Zawahiri. Or, perhaps, “was”:

If true, it would be the United States government’s greatest gain against Al Qaeda since Navy SEALs killed Bin Laden in Abbottabad last year.

“People are looking very closely to see whether he’s still alive,” said one American official who was monitoring intelligence reports, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “It’ll take some time for people to gain a high level of confidence that he’s dead. But he’s No. 2 in Al Qaeda, and this would be a major blow.”…

A resident of the Mir Ali area, citing militant sources and speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he believed that Mr. Libi was in the compound in Hassu Khel when the attack occurred. He said Mr. Libi had been lightly injured in a drone strike on May 28 and had been moved to the compound to recuperate.

The resident said he could not be sure if Mr. Libi had been killed or injured. A senior Pakistani security source in Peshawar said it “looks like he has been killed.”

The rapid, er, “turnover” at the top of AQ these days often makes it hard to tell how important a given drone target really was to the organization, but there’s no doubt about al-Libi. He’s been mentioned as part of the inner circle for years and occasionally has been accused of being a rival to Zawahiri — which, if true, must have made the dynamic between them lately as numbers one and two pretty darned interesting. Because of his roots, al-Libi also posed a special threat in potentially making Libya safe for Al Qaeda. In fact, he allegedly belonged to the same jihadist outfit — the LIFG — that Libyan militia leader turned politico Abdel Hakim Belhaj belonged to. Assuming he’s dead, that’s one less degenerate alliance the west has to worry about.

The way the U.S. targeted him is interesting too. This wasn’t a case of a single strike out of the blue. This was three in a row, at least one of which apparently targeted a group mourning the victims of the first strike:

Rockets fired from a US drone killed between eight and 15 people in north-west Pakistan on Monday, officials have said in varying accounts. It is the third strike in as many days after attacks on Saturday and Sunday killed a total of 12 people.

The latest strike targeted a militant hideout in the Hesokhel village of the North Waziristan tribal region, officials said.

US drones hit targets in the South Waziristan tribal region on Saturday and Sunday. There have been a total of seven strikes in less than two weeks.

Remember, according to the recent NYT bombshell on Obama’s command of the drone program, the CIA “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.” No one knows, in other words, how many of the 27 targeted this weekend were actual combatants or just local young men. I also wonder how specific their intel was on al-Libi’s location. They may have had reason to believe he was close by without knowing exactly where. In that case, after they ordered the first strike and got a tip from on the ground that he wasn’t hit, they might have assumed that he’d show up at the funeral party for the first group of suspected jihadis targeted. No way to know for sure, obviously, but one of the other takeaways from that Times scoop was that Obama will order a strike even if civilians are thought to be in the danger zone if the target is big enough. That’s how they got Baitullah Mehsud, who was with his wife at the time. Maybe their intel on al-Libi was good enough that they were willing to target groups encompassing nearly 30 people, even if there was a fair chance that civilians were among them, in order to try to take him out. Then again, if their intel was that solid, they’d probably have a better idea at this point whether they got him or not, no?

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David Strom 3:31 PM on February 02, 2023