Published On: Tue, Jun 1st, 2010

Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Afghanistan’s head of al-Qaida has been ‘killed in Pakistan drone strike’

Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, head of al-Qaida in Afghanistan, killed last month, Pakistan and US security officials believe

Pakistani and US security officials say they believe the head of al-Qaida in Afghanistan has been killed in a drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal area.

Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a veteran Egyptian militant close to Osama bin Laden, was hit in a drone strike last month, an official with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) said. “He was killed on the 21st or 22nd, I believe,” he said.

In Washington US security officials told reporters they had “strong reason” to believe Yazid was dead. “In terms of counterterrorism, this would be a big victory,” a source told Reuters.

A website linked to al-Qaida also acknowledged his death.

Yazid, whose nom de guerre was Sheikh Saeed al-Masri, had a hand in al-Qaida training, logistics and finance for the resurgent Taliban insurgency.

US reports described him as al-Qaida’s “number three”, a title frequently bestowed on assassinated Bin Laden associates, although some analysts said it may not be accurate in this case.

There is little doubt, however, that Yazid’s death, if confirmed, marks the passing of a senior Arab militant of long experience and unusually close ties to both Bin Laden and the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar.

In his mid-50s, Yazid was one of the founding members of al-Qaida in the late 1980s and followed Bin Laden to Sudan before returning to Afghanistan with him in the mid-1990s.

He developed a close relationship with the Taliban, learning to speak Pashto and absorbing their culture, which earned him warmer respect than many other Arab fighters whom local Taliban found arrogant.

Mustafa abu al-Yazid photo/ Screenshot from YouTube

Specialised in logistic and finance, since 2001 Yazid became the key link between al-Qaida, which is based in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, according to Michael Scheuer, a former head of the CIA cell hunting bin Laden.

“They put him in charge of Afghanistan, so that al-Qaida could serve as the supporting instrument the insurgency. He would have made sure there was appropriate training, flow of arms, finance.”

Yazid was erroneously reported dead by Pakistani officials after a drone strike in August 2008. But this time US officials are expressing greater confidence, citing chatter on Islamist networks and acknowledgement of his death on an al-Qaida website.

Some militancy experts, however, disputed the description of Yazid as al Qaida’s “number three”, saying the title may more properly belong to Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan militant who escaped from a high-security US military prison in Afghanistan in 2005.

Although US officials are keen to stress his apparent death as a blow for al-Qaida and another success in the controversial drone campaign, it remains unclear what effect it will have.

Several other senior al-Qaida figures have been killed in drone strikes in recent years, and in each case a successor has quickly sprung up. What his death may mark, in fact, is the passing of the al-Qaida torch from one generation of militants to another.

Scheuer, a prominent critic of US foreign policy, said the drones could not compensate for the lack of a wider, politically-based strategy against al-Qaida that defuses Muslim grievances across the world include the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“All this is negated by what the Israelis did to that relief convoy,” said Scheuer. “Whatever we gained from killing Sheikh Yazid, what the Israelis did will just cause more animosity to the United States. But Americans have a very hard time connecting the dots.”


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