Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi has joined the choir invisible. Sifting through the tea-leaves of the AP report it looks like a special operations job. Somehow Special Forces were able to guide some form of ordinance into Al-Libi’s little hidey-hole. Most likely this was the work of US Army Special forces. The amount of destruction points to either a JDAM or Tomahawk strike. Of course there is the possibility that the operators or their allies got up close and personal with some sort of RPG strike. The $200,000 bounty might have turned the sympathies of some local fighter(s).
While this is a success for the U.S. Special Forces it is only a qualified success. Al Qaeda is an organization it is more than one man. Al-Libi is yet another in the long line of “number threes” in Al Qaeda to earn his 72 virgins or white raisins. The top two Osama bin Muhammad bin 'Awad bin Laden and Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al-Zawahiri are still dashing about the bad lands of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. Zawahiri has had time to shoot a few videos in a book-lined studio and Bin Laden has also posted a few home movies of his own. For a dead man Bin Laden has been rather lively, he has even spruced up his looks with a shorter and darker beard. Not bad for a guy who has died several times over.
More to the point the organization they founded is still very strong. There are other men who can replace Al-Libi. In WWII any number of Generals and Admirals died in the line of duty. While some of these deaths were great blows to the militaries they served in – Yamamoto comes to mind- the nations they served fought on without them. Al Qaeda while temporarily injured still has the strength to recover. Remember Al Qaeda has been allowed to re-organize and re-equip since Tora-Bora virtually unmolested. This is especially true in North Waziristan where the Pakistani government has allowed local tribal leaders free reign.
It is really hard to see if this action is a one off or some sort of secret deal between Pakistan and the U.S. Has Pakistan turned its head the other way while U.S. Special Operators go after Al Qaeda in the tribal badlands? If so how deep, dark and dirty will Pakistan allow the US to go? There are real sovereignty issue here-Pakistan can not allow the US to go after the guts of Al Qaeda, any kind of full bore strike against the fighters by foreign troops is a no go. And Pakistan has proved unable and unwilling to impose order on the Pashtun areas. The history of Pakistani counter-insurgency in the Pashtun tribal areas has been one of incompetence and rank failure. It doesn’t help that elements of the Pakistani Military especially the Intelligence branch are sympathetic to the jihadists’ goals.
Then there is the real worry of blowback. Who knows what will happen in the streets of Islamabad and Lahore in the next few days. Pakistanis are not fools; they can see who the authors of Al-Libi’s death are. They will connect the dots back to Musharraf and the U.S. Long term the possibilities get even dicier. Could this action be the tipping point that sends Pakistan into a nationalist, anti-Western, Pro-Islam direction? Could Musharraf have unknowingly signed his own death warrant? After the death of Bhutto; Pakistan is in a very unstable state, the whole country is just one oops-ah-shucks away from melt-down. The Al-Libi incident can easily strike at the core of injured Pakistani national pride. Who knows what passions this strike will engender in the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people? And if this incident is not the straw that breaks Musharraf’s back will further possible incidents be the tipping point?
And if this new tactic is to have any real success; there will be other such incidents. The Special Operators will have to hit the leaders of Al Qaeda again and again. We have seen this tactic before. It is the very same tactics that Israel is using against Hamas and Hezbollah. The only difference being that Israel is a lot less circumspect about its hits on the leadership of those two organizations. But that tactic has only gone so far in hurting Hamas or Hezbollah. Hamas just blew up a large section of wall by the Egyptian border putting an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Hamas was able to perform a deep organization of the break-out. Hamas planed the operation for months, weakening key sections of the wall prior to the break out. It did this despite constant Israeli pressures and assassinations. Despite over 40 years of Israeli pressures both Hamas and Hezbollah remain strong and defiant. Even the best case scenario for the U.S. is the limited success Israel has enjoyed in its fight with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Fata.
There is no way Pakistan is going to allow the kind of roughshod interventions that Israel performs in Occupied Territories to happen in its tribal areas. Thus whatever benefits Israel enjoys from these types operations will be much more limited for the U.S. Of course the blowback from these types of operations for the US may be much worse. Israel did not exactly cover itself in glory in its last dust up with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Military options only go so far; sooner of later a political solution has to be found. In the Stans (Afghanistan, Pakistan et.al) this means tackling the real issues of poverty and powerlessness that effect these nations. It means empowering women, educating the masses and offering the middle classes a voice in government. It means growing civil society and NGOs. It means less military power and more soft power. Most of all it means abandoning visions of political and economic hegemony.