The US killed a senior al Qaeda military commander during a recent drone strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
Sheikh Yasin Al Kuwaiti, who was killed in a US drone strike on Jan. 8, was a “key al Qaeda paramilitary commander” who was “very high up the food chain,” a US intelligence official who tracks the terror group in Pakistan’s tribal areas told The Long War Journal. Sheikh Yasin was a top commander and trainer for the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, al Qaeda’s military cadre [for more information on the the Lashkar al Zil, see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army’].
Sheikh Yasin was also described as a “foreign tactical trainer” by Reuters and “a senior Al Qaeda operative” by Dawn on the day that he was reported killed.
Two unidentified “Uzbeks,” likely from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or its splinter group, the Islamic Jihad Group, as well as Sheikh Yasin’s wife and daughter, were also reported to have been killed in the airstrike that targeted his home.
Sheikh Yasin, a Kuwaiti citizen, was “married [to] the daughter of a local tribesman,” according to Dawn. Al Qaeda commanders and fighters have lived in Pakistan’s tribal agencies for decades, and often marry locally to cement ties to the Taliban and the tribes.
Sheikh Yasin is part of al Qaeda’s deep bench of leaders who have replaced others killed by drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas and by US airstrikes and special operations raids across the border in Afghanistan. He stepped in for top al Qaeda leaders in the Lashkar al Zil who have been killed in strikes over the past several years, such as Abdullah Said al Libi, the unit’s commander, and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a “general.” Additionally, Pakistani jihadists have played an increasingly important role in backfilling leadership positions for foreign al Qaeda leaders who have been killed in drone strikes and special operations raids in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The targeting of Sheikh Yasin contradicts Obama administration claims that only two senior al Qaeda leaders, Ayman al Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al Libi, were left in the organization, and that the terror group would collapse once the two leaders were killed. Abu Yahya al Libi was killed in a drone strike in June 2012; and five other senior and midlevel al Qaeda leaders have also been killed in strikes since his death. Ayman al Zawahiri remains untouched and has released numerous propaganda tapes indicating that al Qaeda’s infrastructure remains in place. Several other top al Qaeda leaders are also thought to be operating in Pakistan, beyond the reach of the US, as the drones have been confined to small kill boxes in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan.