Home > AQ General, Commentary > Some quick thoughts on reports Abu Yahya al-Libi has been killed

Some quick thoughts on reports Abu Yahya al-Libi has been killed


First, I’ll believe it when al Qaeda acknowledges it.

This of course won’t stop the chest beating celebrating his killing.

And if he has in fact been killed, I wonder if those who think this is a victory (and those supporting the strategy of extrajudicial killings more generally)  have given ample thought to the fact that he along with others who have been assassinated were actually a moderating force within a far more virulent current that has taken hold in the milieu. And yes, given his teachings I do note a certain irony in this, but sadly, it’s true.

What is coming next is a generation whose ideological positions are more virulent and who owing to the removal of older figures with clout, are less likely to be amenable to restraining their actions. And contrary to popular belief, actions have been restrained. Attacks  have thus far been used strategically rather than indiscriminately. Just take a look at AQ’s history and its documents and this is blatantly clear.

In the years to come, owing to this generation being killed off, this type of restraint will disappear; in fact it is clearly already heading in this direction. A significant part of this change  is directly attributable to the counter terrorism strategies being employed today. I’m working on a more detailed, research driven piece on this. But in the meantime, the best way of summing up the consequences of a strategy of killing off leadership instead of using a criminal justice approach lies with what happened in a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa many years ago.

A culling program was implemented to kill off all the older generation elephants owing to overcrowding. Juveniles were spared. However, without the presence of the older elephants they then proceeded to go on rampages, killing other animals and causing such havoc that the rangers thought they’d have to cull them too. Until that is, someone chanced upon the idea of bringing in older elephants from another wildlife park, who ended up bringing the juveniles into line and enforcing discipline, something that had been missing since the cull of the older generation.

Right now you’re probably scoffing at this. Scoff away, because this example has come up time and time again in conversations I’ve had with folks who know this milieu very well because they’ve lived in it. Along with it has been concern expressed for the future, for what will happen when authoritative voices who can restrain the actions of those left and, importantly, those newer folks still seeking to join the cause, no longer exist.  When indiscriminate becomes the norm.

So before anyone goes off celebrating another “number” in the death count, it is worthwhile remembering there will be consequences from this short sighted and reactionary path chosen to deal with threat.  These consequences will not play out in areas where extrajudicial killings take place, but in indiscriminate attacks in capital cities in the west.  I wonder then how those who advocate the current policy plan to deal with this and the implications it will pose for the social contract.  But hey, they’re “winning” right????

More on this later.

Official: Al Qaeda leader killed by drone strike in Pakistan – This Just In – CNN.com Blogs.

Categories: AQ General, Commentary
  1. Ixak
    06/06/2012 at 4:49 am

    Good points, for sure, but people like Al-Libi were essential to a strategy that kept AQ integrated into key sections of the sponsoring & supporting community. If less controlled entities take the strategic lead aren’t we likely to see a short-term spike in incidents, but a long-term loss of support?

  2. Yohannes
    06/06/2012 at 7:47 am

    Thank you for this contribution. I look forward to reading your fuller reflections. I’ll be especially interested to understand in what ways al-Libi has served as a “a moderating force”. Is it because he has advised against the indiscriminate killing of Muslims? While reducing Muslim casualties is a good thing, is there evidence to suggest that al-Libi was willing to rethink the overall strategy of war against the West? Or is it simply his maturity and willingness to plan “attacks […] strategically rather than indiscriminately.” And why would that be a good thing? A major Hasan every few months seems preferable to a 9-11 every decade.

    I wonder, too, whether similar argument might be made of others. For instance, Zawahiri and Bin Laden. Did not both realize that mass casualties among Muslims were bad PR, and did not both seek to reduce their number. Or again, as argued in the article on camps in Ten Years Later, after his return to Afghanistan, were not Bin Laden and his camps regarded by the Taliban as a moderating force — the real radicals declaring even the Taliban and Bin Laden to be among the kuffar?

    Lastly, while al-Libi was charismatic and important within his nexus, did respect for him as an ideologue extend much further? He could certainly produce movies, but was he a trained jurist and respected as such. Did he have a stature comparable to popular ideologues like Maqdisi or Abu Qatadah? And if so, what difference might that make given the importance of a tradition of real jurists of jihad, men like Bin `Uthaymin, al-`Awda, al-Munajjid, and al-Hawali, or the innumerable Pakistan equivalents?

    At any rate, I do look forward to your fuller work on this topic.

    Thank you

  3. SKC
    06/07/2012 at 12:15 am

    Do you have any evidence of this next generation that is more radical? And on what basis are you claiming that Al-Libi’s “strategic attacks” are less of a threat or will cause less harm than these supposed “indiscriminate attacks” from the elusive virulent generation?

  4. Jacob Boanerges
    06/08/2012 at 9:04 am

    Why is it that those who have the best understanding becoming marginalized and no longer are aloud to have a dog in the fight?
    Thanx for your blog — a light in a long, long tunnel!

  5. Dan
    06/08/2012 at 10:26 am

    I guess this is tangentially similar to points above. In the long game surely the loss of central organization is a core goal. You will have more virulent but also less capable groups.
    This will mean more and worse violence in the interim and more difficulty locating and neutralizing these groups.
    But mostly small violent gangs alienate the local population and either/and provoke a local counter response or collaboration with the authorities. Witness the Iraqi ‘Awakening’.
    Providing the groups are targeted comprehensively and are prevented from centralizing resources and expertise this could be the start of the last violent and distributed spasms of
    global jihadism.
    Not saying it is, but wiping out AQ’s experienced leaders still seems potentially a significant
    win for me in strategic terms.

  6. Stu Johnson
    06/08/2012 at 11:28 pm

    Thank you for your blog.

    As far as a moderating influence goes, the moderating influence of Bin Laden killed several thousand Americans and enjoyed a rampage across the world in the ensuing months there-after.

    Maybe, it could be said, that the loss of the more cunning elements in AQ might lead to more mistakes that may further hasten its demise. And if the killing of more Muslims might increase, might that encourage their less extreme brethren to cooperate in the eradication of this vermin?

    Thanks again for your insight.

  7. Wah?
    06/09/2012 at 12:43 pm

    Is this what passes for ‘nuance’ in counterterrorism studies?

    “Do not arrest or jail street gang leaders or it may just precipitate a vicious gang war!”

    Laughable. Permit me to scoff.

  8. Steve Rock
    06/09/2012 at 2:26 pm

    We are going to kill them all. If they send more, we kill them too. No prisoners, no moderates. You are either with us or against us. If you are against us, you die – plain and simple. It is the one area of policy where Obama and I see eye to eye.

  9. James\
    06/09/2012 at 4:25 pm

    Please give references to prove he was a “moderating force” if you dont mind. Educate me on this please.

  10. Emory Cass
    06/09/2012 at 9:52 pm

    Good job equating AQSL to elephants. We all should will sleep much better when we re-instate old terrorists to leadship positions. We all should seek to find the unicorn and the Easter Bunny as well. Thank you for for being a sheep, Sharia law governing you and your ilk will be much easier as you consume and believe as you do.

  11. 06/15/2012 at 11:33 pm

    A few observations:
    1. AQ is not an elephant preserve. Islam is not an elephant preserve. This limits the lessons that can be drawn from the analogy, I think in ways that are significant. We cannot assume that our margin of superiority is sufficient to play the “preserve” game, mostly because we would be deadly wrong.
    2. Either the restrainers are right that restraint better served AQ or they are wrong. If they are right, killing them off is better for us because we wish to knock off AQ. If they are wrong, they would have faded as non-restraint was experimentally tried and proven to have better results. By influencing the timing when non-restraint becomes dominant, we can lessen the effectiveness of it. Delay or prick the boil would be the choice. I suspect that we won’t be more ready later even if it will bring a better AQ to the fore.

    Contributing Analyst

  12. b
    06/30/2012 at 2:34 pm

    1) Terrorists are like elephants, and
    2) our goal in dealing with al Qaeda, which has declared violent jihad on us, is to make asinine distinctions about who is more “moderate” and then allow them to continue directing the group to attack us “strategically” rather than “indiscriminately” from a position of immunity.

    You have to go to grad school (Islamic Studies!) to be this stupid.

  13. Ed
    08/08/2012 at 6:01 am

    At the risk of being cynical, it may be a good thing that more radical but less experienced terrorists take the positions of those who have been liquidated. If they carry out indiscriminate attacks, especially against Muslims, the resulting revulsion will cause the terrorists to lose public support as Zarqawi did in Iraq. Then, of course, they can simply be liquidated too, like Zarqawi.

  14. 11/25/2012 at 10:50 pm

    It was really sad to think that many lives has been lost in this endless battle and still counting…

  1. 06/09/2012 at 4:14 am
  2. 06/11/2012 at 12:08 pm
  3. 06/12/2012 at 1:49 am
  4. 06/14/2012 at 12:21 pm
  5. 06/15/2012 at 2:46 pm
  6. 07/15/2012 at 11:45 am

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