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Al-Qaeda’s defeat depends on the demise of two remaining ‘high-value’ leaders: report

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The leadership of the armed al-Qaeda militant network has been reduced to just two figures whose demise would mean the group’s defeat, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday citing U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials.

Once expansive enough to supervise the plot for Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaeda now has two remaining “high-value” leaders: Ayman al-Zawahiri and his second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, who targets of the CIA’s drone campaign against the terrorist organization in Pakistan, U.S. officials said.

Lower-level al-Qaeda fighters and other insurgent groups remain a focus of Predator surveillance and strikes, they added.

Al-Qaeda slain leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a special operation by U.S. forces in Pakistan on May 2.

“We have rendered the organization that brought us 9/11 operationally ineffective,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said. Asked by the Post what exists of al-Qaeda’s leadership group beyond the top two positions, the official said: “Not very much. Not any of the world-class terrorists they once had.”

U.S. officials said that Zawahiri is a more pragmatic leader than his predecessor, with a firmer grasp of the ground-level difficulties faced by the organization’s estimated few hundred remaining followers in Pakistan.

U.S. officials were quoted by the Post as saying that al-Qaeda’s contraction comes amid indications that the group has considered relocating in recent years but that it ruled out other destinations as either unreachable or offering no greater security than their missile-pocked territory in Pakistan.

According to the Washington Post’s report, al-Qaeda’s weakened condition has raised questions for the CIA about its deployment of personnel and resources as the agency’s station in Pakistan’s capital remains one of its largest in the world, and the bulk of the CIA’s drone fleet continues to patrol the country’s tribal region.

CIA Director David Petraeus and other senior officials have resisted moving operatives, drones or other resources away from Pakistan, largely because they believe their unfinished priority is to extinguish the network’s base.

“Now is not the time to let up the pressure,” the Post quoted a U.S. official familiar with drone operations on the condition of anonymity. “We’ve got an opportunity to keep them down, and letting up now could allow them to regenerate.”

U.S. officials stressed that al-Qaeda’s influence extends far beyond its operational reach, meaning that the terrorist group will remain a major security threat for years.

The arrest this week of an alleged al-Qaeda sympathizer in New York underscored the group’s ability to inspire “lone wolf” attacks, according to the Washington Post report.