Reeling al Qaeda loses another top leader

To put it mildly, al Qaeda has been on quite a losing streak recently.

A drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency killed Al Qaeda’s second-ranking figure in the mountains of Pakistan on Monday, American and Pakistani officials said Saturday, further damaging a terrorism network that appears significantly weakened since the death of Osama bin Laden in May.

An American official said that the drone strike killed Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a Libyan who in the last year had taken over as Al Qaeda’s top operational planner. Mr. Rahman was in frequent contact with Bin Laden in the months before the terrorist leader was killed on May 2 by a Navy Seals team, intelligence officials have said.

American officials described Mr. Rahman’s death as particularly significant as compared with other high-ranking Qaeda operatives who have been killed, because he was one of a new generation of leaders that the network hoped would assume greater control after Bin Laden’s death.

Rahman was frequently in close contact with bin Laden, serving as the leading liaison between the terrorist leader and al Qaeda affiliates. When U.S. forces killed bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahri took his place, Rahman was elevated to the #2 slot.

He didn’t quite make it four months in the position.

A U.S. official told the New York Times, “Atiyah was at the top of Al Qaeda’s trusted core. His combination of background, experience and abilities are unique in Al Qaeda — without question, they will not be easily replaced.”

This only serves to reinforce the perception that al Qaeda is struggling badly. Under the Obama administration, U.S. forces have now killed bin Laden, Rahman, al Qaeda financial chief Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and al Qaeda spiritual leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, among others.

What’s more, the underlying point of al Qaeda’s message throughout the Middle East — that terrorism and anti-Western violence are the only means towards social progress — has been proven false by the Arab Spring and the change that’s come in Egypt and elsewhere. It also comes as al Qaeda’s fundraising efforts, thought to be thriving a half-decade ago, are reportedly struggling badly.

And this is just al Qaeda; under the Obama administration, the counter-terrorism successes go even further. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s top military commander, was captured. High-profile terrorists have been killed — Hakimullah Mehsud, Baitullah Mehsud, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan — while many more have been arrested — Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi.

I’m sure Rudy Giuliani and Liz Cheney will be along any minute now to tell us how all of these developments are evidence of Obama administration weakness.

This is not to say the larger terrorist threats against the West are gone; they’re not. But al Qaeda appears to be reeling, and the terrorist threat appears to be significantly reduced. This larger trend is clearly heartening.