The Significance of Killing Al-Qaeda's Third in Command

Mustafa Abu al-Yazid was reportedly slain by a drone strike

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A drone strike in Pakistan has reportedly killed al-Qaeda officer Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, also known as Sheikh Saeed al-Masri, whom U.S. officials describe as the organization's third-ranking member after Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He has been reported killed before, in August 2008, but U.S. officials believe this latest report to be accurate because al-Qaeda itself has issued a statement announcing his death.

  • Why This Is a 'Big Win'  Long War Journal's Bill Roggio calls this "arguably the most senior al Qaeda leader to be killed in the US air campaign to date." Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey explains. "It will disrupt communications at least for a while between the AQ network and its nominal leadership -- and especially its cash. Bin Laden and Zawahiri may not run the network in the same sense that the Mehsuds run the Pakistani Taliban, which operate as a military force and social movement rather than a decentralized set of cells operating on their own plots and plans, but they still need the money flowing through that network. If Yazid had that job, it may take Zawahiri and bin Laden weeks or months to pick up the pieces." That said, "even if we got Yazid and it disables AQ for a while, the plots in motion before Yazid's demise are still very much alive themselves."
  • His Life in Al-Qaeda The Washington Post's Greg Miller and Craig Whitlock tell Sheik Saeed's story. "Yazid, 54, was an original member of al-Qaeda's Shura leadership council and an al-Qaeda commander for Afghanistan, and served as an adviser to bin Laden for more than 15 years. More recently, he was the group's chief organizational manager, in charge of finances and logistics, as well as a liaison to the Taliban and other extremist groups. Yazid was part of the Egyptian contingent that has dominated al-Qaeda's leadership since the network's founding. He and Zawahiri served time in prison in the early 1980s for their role as conspirators in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat."
  • Pakistan No Longer a 'Safe Haven'? An an anonymous U.S. official tells ABC's Jake Tapper and George Stephanopoulos, "[Yazid's] death would be a major blow to al-Qaeda, which in December lost both its internal and external operations chiefs. ... Though these terrorists remain extremely dangerous and determined to strike at the United States, the removal from the battlefield of top leaders like al-Masri is further proof that the tribal areas are not quite the safe haven al-Qaeda and its allies thought them to be."
  • The Suspiciously High Number of 'Al-Qaeda #3' Officers Killed  The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen is one of many to point out the bizarre frequency with which the U.S. announces it has killed al-Qaeda's third-ranking official. "Several years ago, I counted the number of times the #3 man in al Qaeda had been killed, and I found six individuals. Last year, Gawker kept the count going, and found three more. Unless I'm missing any, that would make Mustafa Abu al-Yazid the tenth al Qaeda #3 to meet his demise." Can there really be that many?
  • This Is Why Al-Qaeda Is Less Effective  Outside the Beltway's James Joyner suggests, "it's worth noting that it has now been quite some time since the organization launched a major, successful attack. While the group seems to have no difficulty replacing its foot soldiers, there may be limits to the number of competent planners it can produce, especially when under constant surveillance and assault from U.S. military and intelligence forces. And, yes, this marks the upside of the controversial drone strikes."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.