The relentless U.S. campaign against elements of al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan has put another big notch in its belt with the reported killing of al Qaeda’s new second-in-command. A drone missile strike is believed to have killed Atiyah Abd al-Rahman last Monday, Aug. 22, in Pakistan’s lawless Waziristan region, a U.S. official said Saturday. (He also allegedly died in a 2010 strike, so the claim needs to be verified.)
Coming four months after the SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, al-Rahman’s demise bolsters Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s claim in July that the U.S. is “within reach” of defeating the terror network may be on the money. While few have heard al-Rahman’s name, he was a trusted confidant of bin Laden and was kind of a chief operating officer, guiding the Islamic radical group’s daily actions. The Iranian government, the U.S. government alleged last month, enabled much of his work. Like his fellow countryman, Muammar Gaddafi, who also has had a tough few days recently, al-Rahman was a native of Libya.
The U.S. government described al-Rahman July 28 as “al-Qa’ida’s overall commander in Pakistan’s tribal areas and as of late 2010, the leader of al-Qa’ida in North and South Waziristan, Pakistan. Rahman was previously appointed by Usama bin Laden to serve as al-Qa’ida’s emissary in Iran, a position which allowed him to travel in and out of Iran with the permission of Iranian officials.”
Taking him out deals a blow to the organization’s planning, and could disrupt future attacks contemplated by al Qaeda, Pentagon officials say. Big terror attacks generally require supervision, communication, logistics and money – all key elements in al-Rahman’s portfolio. He was working with bin Laden, at the time of bin Laden’s death, to try to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks two weeks from now, according to documents retrieved by the SEALs from bin Laden’s Abbottabad lair May 2.
Despite his recent promotion, the bounty put on his head by the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” anti-terror program was “up to $1 million,” according to the RFJ website. There are 33 others worth up to $5 million each. al-Rahman was one of six with an “up to $1 million” price on his head; only one person – with a price tag of “up to $500,000″ is cheaper. Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, tops the list, with a $25 milllion bounty, and Mullah Omar is worth $10 million (“up to,” in all cases). al-Rahman became al Qaeda’s No. 2 following al-Zawahiri’s ascension to the top spot after bin Laden’s death.
Analysts at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center said last fall that a letter allegedly written by al-Rahman showed him to be more sensitive in the effort to win hearts and minds than some of his al Qaeda comrades. “Policy must be dominant over militarism,” he wrote several years ago, as al Qaeda’s efforts in Iraq were flagging. Winning over the local population is paramount, he said, and “is the foundation, while military operations must be a servant that is complementary to it.”
Panetta spoke of the fight with al Qaeda again last week, during a swing through California military posts. “We look back at the efforts that we’ve made to confront al Qaeda and we have made good progress at weakening al Qaeda and terrorists’ ability to attack this country,” Panetta said the day after al-Rahman’s death. But the work, he said, is not finished. “Those operations have been very successful, and yet al Qaeda still remains a threat.”