The beginning of the new decade has brought Al Qaeda hard core, operating in and from the Afghan/Pakistan border, into a very significant and even critical junction. The end of 2009 has witnessed the continuous process of eliminating senior figures from within the organizational infrastructure by the US army. During the last quarter of 2009 several prominent leaders of the organization have been eliminated. As a consequence by the turn of the new decade Al Qaeda structure is full with empty spots and many and important position of the organization structure are currently not occupied. Mostly damaged with this regard was Al Qaeda military committee since the more dominant figure that were eliminated during that period were Salah Al Somali and Abd Al Sae’ed Al Libi both holding the most prominent positions within Al Qaeda military committee:
Salah Al Somali Aka Abu Hafiz was the head of the special operation unit within AQ military committee, responsible for external operations, and was eliminated in December 2009.
Abd Al Saee’d Al Libi- was the head of the general section within AQ Military committee, responsible for Internal (The Afghanistan/Pakistan border zone) guerilla type and terrorist operations and was eliminated in November 2009.
Al Somali and Saee’d’s elimination came in addition to the elimination of Khaled Habib the overall chief of the military committee (AQ Chief of staff) in late 2008 as well as several regional leaders (equivalent to Army Generals) and international cell leaders that were eliminated during that time frame.
So, by approaching Mid 2010 Al Qaeda approaches a critical cross road with regard to the operational and logistical functioning of its military arm both on the internal and the external fronts.
During the last 9 years since the U.S led coalition offensive in Afghanistan that followed the 9/11 attacks Al Qaeda has gained a reputation of a most adaptable organization that has been able to quickly rehabilitate its chain of command and preserve, for the long run, its formal structure which enable the organization to constantly continue its operational performance on both fronts. Since October 2001 the military committee of Al Qaeda has lost 4 committee leaders - “AQ chiefs of staff” (Mohamed Atef, Saif Al Adil , Abu Faraj Al Libi and Khaled Khabib), 4 Chiefs of the “special operation unit” (Khaled Sheikh Mohamed, Hamza Rabi’a, Abu Ubeida Al Masri and Salah Al Somali) ,at least two chiefs of the “General section (Internal)” (Abd Al Hadi Al Iraqi and Abd Al Saee’d Al Libi) and yet was always able to regroup , find a suitable replacement from within the organization that enable Al Qaeda to continue its operational activity on both fronts, and maintain its status as the most dominant terrorist factor in the Afghanistan/Pakistan Battle zone and the international arena as a whole.
But it seems that the current duration is the most challenging one for Al Qaeda military committee since it is the first time that all the three dominant positions (head of the committee and leaders of internal and external) within the committee ranks are unoccupied at the same time.
According to our assessment Al Qaeda will eventually be able to fill up the missing spots and continue the operational activity of the military committee on both fronts. The most important development with this regards are the increasing indications of the release of Saif Al Adil from Iranian custody and his return to Al Qaeda main arena of deployment in Waziristan along the Afghanistan – Pakistan border zone. Al Adil, one of the founding fathers of the organization is currently the most senior and experienced operational activist of Al Qaeda. He held numerous positions within Al Qaeda military and security branches and was a member of the counseling committee (“Majles Al Shura” sort of Al Qaeda government or cabinet) on a constant basis. Al Adil was for many years the head of AQ security committee (responsible for AQ internal security and counter espionage) as well as the head of the General section (Internal) of the Military committee. Following the death of Mohamed Atef Aka Abu Hafs Al Masri in November 2001 Al Adil was nominated as the overall leader of the military committee and held this position until 2003 when he (along with other seniors AQ leaders) fled to Iran. We believe that upon return from Iran Al Adil will reassume full responsibility over the military committee of Al Qaeda. One can not rule out the possibility that Al Adil will hold the position of the leader of the general section (internal) at the same time and in parallel.
With regards to the external unit we believe that Rashid Rauf is the natural candidate to become the over all chief of the unit and succeed Salah Al Somali. Rauf rose to fame within Al Qaeda external unit due to the major role he held in the eventually dismantled plot to blow up 15-20 American and British jets flying over the Atlantic in the summer of 2006. Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani decedent, was the living spirit and the operational master mind behind the plot and was able to escape to Pakistan and continue his activity within the ranks of the external unit. In recent years Rauf was deeply involved with the Najibullah Zazy and Brian Vinyas plots in the United States and seems to be second only to the leader of the external unit Salah Al Somali. One should remember though with regard to this assessment that during 2008 and the fall of 2009 different reports suggest that Rauf was also eliminated in Waziristan. These reports were never confirmed and unlike in the case of Salah Al Somali and Abd Al Saee’d Al Libi were not officially addressed and announced by Al Qaeda leadership.
We also believe that the release of Adil from Iranian custody is only the first step and other Al Qaeda leaders that were under Iran supervision since 2003 will be released as well within the next few month. One should remember with this regards that the list of AQ prisoner in Iran compose of most senior activists (“Majles Al Shura” members, committee and subcommittee leaders, senior operational planners as well as family members of Osama Bin Laden see annex 1) of Al Qaeda and their release expected to give a significant boost to the ongoing activity of Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda senior leaders and commanders under Iranian custody
Saif Al Adil- the former head of the Military and Security Committees in Al Qaeda and a member of the command council.
Khaled Al Shinqity Aka Abu Hafs Al Mauritani- the former head of the Religious Committee and a member of the Command Council.
Abu Al Kheir- probably the former head of the Political Committee and a member of the Command Council.
Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah Aka Abu Mohamed Al Masri senior operational activist of Al Qaeda may have served as the head of the special operations unit responsible for external activity in 1998.
Saad Bin Laden- the son of Osama Bin Laden.
Suleiman Abu Gheith- Al Qaeda spokesman and member of the Command Council.