Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula: An Obituary

As I looked at the recent al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) propaganda tape I (like most of the civilized world) could not help but question the inane insanity of the enemy that we seem to find ourselves dealing with. And though I’m no expert on AQAP by any means whatsoever I still was able (like most of us) to feel the shift in paradigm that occurred in the months and years immediately following Osama bin Laden’s death (OBL). OBL was the unabashedly, unquestioned head of a organization that was more top down and structured than any of us in the west could’ve imagined. So when I saw video of al Qaeda’s second in command, Nasir al-Wuhayshi talking and hugging the al Qaeda devoted I couldn’t help but begin to compare the two. First of all if there’s anything analyst have learned during the intermittent time between OBL’s death and the apparent crowning of an al Qaeda crown prince it’s that this top down organization is not a hydra that will multiply the more we try to disassemble it. Not only can it be disassembled but it can be assembled permanently. And although Al Qaeda core has inspired many spin off groups (al-Shabaab) and lone wolves (think the 2013 Boston marathon bombings), these tactics or organizations have their drawbacks too.

When OBL died he took with him the expertise and wherewithal of a hardened battlefield soldier. He also took with him the propensity to learn from the enemy and react accordingly. Hence the lack of focus in Al-Qaeda core insomuch as what operations should be carried out, what battlefields are worthy of spilt blood, etc. Now that the Al Qaeda spin off groups have populated the world stage and have been relatively contained. It has become somewhat vogue to assume that these groups will (including AQAP) once decapitated, will simply persist without proper leadership. Do not be fooled by this inference. In fact if anything groups in Arabia, and Africa are led by strongmen who control tightly managed, top down organizations that have nebulous at best associations with al-Qaeda core and who usually have the most money out of all of the purveyors surrounding them. In other words once the strongman has been killed off the core of the terrorist group usually fractures permanently into disparate collectives that usually never see the world stage again; if they ever did in the first place. Two: fighting insurgent groups such as the LRA, Boko Haram, and al-Shabaab in Africa here and now is a good thing. its good for our allies in the region(s) it’s good for the United States, and if it’s good for the United States it’s usually good for the rest of the world. The idea that AQAP can exist without money or any of the other sinews of war is a ridiculous argument on its face. That is not to say that we should not treat them as the existential threat that they are, but we should take care to think smartly about what it is were dealing with. Too often just like LRA, just like Al-Shabaab were dealing with a moneyed man who has the where withal, but more than that the organizational charisma necessary to rally the requisite amount of followers to their cause. I would posit that this too is true for AQAP and their backers, once the money is drained from an organization like this, that organization ceases to be a potent factor. This is proof that there is no transnational cabal that connects all the guerilla insurgent groups in Africa (or Asia for that matter) to one another or at times even to outside proprietors.

Al-Wuhayshi may be a character that attempts to emulate the charisma of an OBL but that doesn’t mean that his plans will come to fruition. And though he’s not the only one with money in the organization what will happen then when he becomes AQAP’s sole benefactor. Or what if he should perish in a drone strike; AQAP would then become just another marginalized terrorist group with ties to Africa. Like I said earlier I don’t know a lot about AQAP but the sooner al-Wuhayshi is wiped off the face of the earth the better, and good riddance.

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