Awlaki’s death thus deprives al Qaeda of one of its most effective communicators and recruiters with Western audiences. His death, unfortunately, will likely have only a negligible effect on the vast universe of potential recruits throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia who continue to provide the core of al Qaeda’s leadership and foot soldiers.
Indeed, it will probably only deal a glancing blow to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s soaring fortunes. While this year’s “Arab Spring” may arguably have weakened al Qaeda and undermined its message in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere, it has patently strengthened it in Yemen. Rather than depriving al Qaeda of oxygen or political space in that key, longtime jihadi venue, the “Arab Spring” has created new opportunities in Yemen both for AQAP’s expansion and consolidation of its gains.
Al Qaeda in Yemen has clearly been on a roll this year: seizing and controlling territory, gaining new adherents and supporters, and continuing to innovate tactically as it labors to extend its attack capabilities beyond the Arabian Peninsula. It is very unlikely that Awlaki’s death will derail AQAP’s prospects there in any meaningful sense.