Al-Qaeda's new Number 2 leader, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, has been struck off the AQ organization chart as the result of a drone strike in Northwest Pakistan, the WaPo reports.
Rahman was seen as a high-priority target in the CIA drone campaign at a time when U.S. officials have described al-Qaeda as near collapse and have said that a small set of successive blows could all but extinguish the organization behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Last month, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said a strategic defeat of al-Qaeda was “within reach” and called for continued efforts to hammer the group’s weakened leadership with a series of attacks.
So, we've now killed AQ's Number 1, and its Number 2, and - of course - a great many of its Number 3s. When does the organization collapse?
Maybe it doesn't collapse. Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit, thinks AQ has already been institutionalized to such a degree that it will survive leadership changes. See his essay on just that question, which was published in The National Interest three days ago:
Being a highly talented combination of seventh-century believer and twenty-first-century CEO, bin Laden built, in al-Qaeda, an absolutely unique Muslim organization: multiethnic, multilingual, organizationally sound and resilient, religiously tolerant and militarily effective. We will see in the next few years if bin Laden was the indispensable glue that kept al-Qaeda together or if his skill, his leadership and its nearly twenty-five years of being institutionalized as an organization created a survivable entity ... My own bet is that al-Qaeda will survive, as it did after near economic ruin in Sudan (1994–96); after the pounding it took from the U.S.-NATO-Pakistan coalition (2001–02); and after the U.S. military helpfully killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s chief in Iraq (2006), whose indiscriminate targeting of Muslims almost pushed al-Qaeda to the brink of defeat.
There are plenty more AQ leaders where al-Rahman came from. And, really, what are a few drone strikes compared to all that AQ has already survived?