by Robert Chesney
August 28, 2011
Mark Mazzetti had a piece yesterday in the Times covering the important news that CIA once again has located and killed al Qaeda’s top officer for operational planning (Atiyah abd al-Rahman, who took over that position after a drone killed Sheikh Saeed al-Masri last year, and who more recently became al Qaeda’s #2 overall official (under Ayman al-Zawahiri) in the wake of the killing of bin Laden). The story of course is primarily important for that reason, but it also merits a link from this blog in light of an interesting bit of intelligence Mark reports regarding the AQ-AQAP relationship (which is a subject of continuing interest, from the point of view of the debate over the scope of the AUMF and the legality of drone strike operations in Yemen. Writing with apparent reference to intelligence gleaned from bin Laden’s compound, Mark observes:
Last year, American officials said, Mr. Rahman notified Bin Laden of a request by the leader of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen to install Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric, as the leader of the group in Yemen.
That group, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, apparently thought Mr. Awlaki’s status as an Internet celebrity, for his popular video sermons, and his knowledge of the United States might help the group’s fund-raising efforts. But according to the electronic files in Abbottabad, Bin Laden told Mr. Rahman that the group’s leadership should remain unchanged.This exchange is not necessarily dispositive of the question of whether AQAP is part-and-parcel of “core” al Qaeda (“AQ”) as opposed to being merely a co-branded, like-minded, but ultimately independent, organization. But it is at least a point in favor of the former assessment, showing as it does that AQ continues to exercise at least a significant degree of command-and-control over AQAP.