Home inContext U.S. Takes Out al-Qaeda’s No. 2

U.S. Takes Out al-Qaeda’s No. 2

Samara Greenberg

Atiyah abd al-Rahman, al-Qaeda’s number two man second only to new leader Ayman al-Zawahri, was killed earlier this week by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, U.S. officials announced Saturday, dealing a “major blow” to the terrorist group that carried out the deadliest attack on American soil nearly ten years ago.

Rahman’s overall role in the organization was chief operating officer and, in that position, some analysts believe he played a larger part than Osama bin Laden at the time of the leader’s death. Rahman oversaw attack planning for the group and helped hold together the loose network of al-Qaeda affiliates across the globe. He has helped Zawahri run the organization since bin Laden’s death, and Rahman’s death is expected to make it more difficult for the new leader to consolidate control over the widespread organization – a fact that many in the Obama administration are cautiously excited about.

Atiyah abd al-Rahman

Indeed, since bin Laden’s death, Washington has been working to capitalize on the organization’s strained leadership structure, which makes it harder for the group to operate smoothly and plan successful attacks. Last month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the U.S. is “within reach” of defeating al-Qaeda and will continue to target its key leaders, as it recently did with Rahman.

Some analysts, however, question the importance of targeting al-Qaeda leaders, arguing that the group’s largely loose network of affiliate organizations allows it to continue carrying out terror attacks even though Washington is systematically thinning-out its leadership in Pakistan. “For the past two years, the affiliates have been gaining in stature while core al-Qaeda has been declining,” according to a senior American counterterrorism official, speaking anonymously. “Bin Laden’s death accelerated this trend, and Atiyah’s death is the icing on the cake.”

Whether or not the U.S. is close to defeating al-Qaeda, one thing’s for sure: the terror group has a history of regrouping and adapting to the changing times – a tendency that should not be taken lightly even in the wake of major U.S. victories.