A decimated terrorist network

It’s hard to overstate how much success the United States has had over the last few years against al Qaeda. The terrorist network isn’t dead, but it’s close.

The leadership ranks of the main al-Qaeda terrorist network, once expansive enough to supervise the plot for Sept. 11, 2001, have been reduced to just two figures whose demise would mean the group’s defeat, U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials said.

Ayman al-Zawahiri and his second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, are the last remaining “high-value” targets of the CIA’s drone campaign against al-Qaeda in Pakistan, U.S. officials said, although lower-level fighters and other insurgent groups remain a focus of Predator surveillance and strikes. […]

“We have rendered the organization that brought us 9/11 operationally ineffective,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said. Asked what exists of al-Qaeda’s leadership group beyond the top two positions, the official said: “Not very much. Not any of the world-class terrorists they once had.”

This would have been hard to predict as recently as five years ago. At that point, evidence suggested al Qaeda was growing in size and strength, with increased fundraising, and recruiting boosts resulting from the war in Iraq and the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Now, however, the network has been all but crushed. Remember a few years ago, before the 2008 elections, when Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) proclaimed on Fox News that al Qaeda members would be “dancing in the streets” if Barack Obama were elected president? Well, that turned out to be backwards.

Given all of this, can we pretty much wrap up the whole “war on terror” thing? Apparently not. The same piece that reported on al Qaeda’s dismantling also tells us that the terrorist network could regroup if we move on, and that its Yemen-based spin-off group — al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — remains a key international threat.

But in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s demise, the fact remains that al Qaeda, whatever its intentions for the future, has been reduced to a largely defeated force.