How Much Do We Know About al-Awlaki?

Gregory Johnsen makes his case against killing al-Awlaki:

[I]sn’t it possible that knowing what we know [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP )] and its development that as the Obama administration talks about al-Awlaki and as the media focuses on him, AQAP continues to push him forward, hoping to take advantage of all the free advertising? Basically, hoping that his name and association with AQAP can bring them more western recruits.

This would explain his “poorly veiled coming out” and the reason AQAP didn’t talk about him prior to the attempt on Muhammad bin Nayyif and the Christmas Day plot, because he wasn’t integral to either one, including the one on the US. But as the Obama Administration focused on him, AQAP kept pushing him more and more to the front and now, after the parcel bomb plot we have a “Foreign Operations Unit” that he may or may not be the head of.

Now, as I said in the NYT, the Obama administration is in a bind.

Both Thomas and I agree that al-Awlaki is a threat, we just disagree on how significant of one he is. I have often said that there is no “magic missile solution to the problem of AQAP in Yemen.” I still believe this to be true and in much the same way I don’t think there is a single target answer to attacks on the homeland. The US would be mistaken to think it can make the homeland safer by killing Anwar al-Awlaki.