In the past few months, Al Qaeda and its allies have been rocked by a series of successful attacks and arrests that have depleted senior leadership ranks. Most recently, U.S. and Iraqi security forces killed the top two leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. This comes following reports that Pakistani authorities have captured the Afghan Taliban's military commander and second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, as well as seven out of 15 members of the Afghan Taliban's leadership council, the Quetta Shura. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence officials claim to have killed more than half of the top 20 Al Qaeda targets on their "most wanted" list with drone strikes over the past 18 months. The two Al Qaeda operatives who apparently gave the orders to Najibullah Zazi, the American on trial for plotting attacks on the New York subway, have also been killed in recent drone strikes.
So, which policies and practices are most behind this string of successes in targeting senior leaders of Al Qaeda and its allies in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and what impact will it likely have on the terrorist organization's overall operations and effectiveness? Do you most credit improvement in U.S.-Pakistan cooperation; an intensifying Predator drone campaign; the improved performance of the Iraqi security forces; improved human intelligence as a result of growing public disapproval of Al Qaeda and its tactics; or some combination of all of the above? Do you believe these successive blows could lead to a "knockout" punch that effectively defeats the organization? Do these successes suggest that the United States and its allies are at long last getting closer to "high-value targets" No. 1 and No. 2, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri? Or are these killings and captures merely a few lucky breaks against an organization that continues to grow and mutate?