The latest in a long line of as-yet-unconfirmed killings that is supposed to be a “game-changer,” US officials are pointing to the apparent death of Atiyah Abdul Rahman, al-Qaeda’s putative second-in-command, as a sign that the organization is on the “brink of defeat.”
The slaying of Rahman, which was announced yesterday through an anonymous leak, has yet to be confirmed. His claim to “number two” status in the group is also unclear.
Beyond the now late Osama bin Laden and his deputy (now leader) Ayman al-Zawahiri, there is considerable speculation about the pecking order in al-Qaeda. It was therefore extremely common to term every killing of a known al-Qaeda leadership figure as “number three” and now that bin Laden is out of the picture, it seems it may simply be moving to “number two.”
New however in the past few months is the willingness of US officials to claim an imminent victory in the seemingly endless war. Though an actual “defeat” of al-Qaeda might be all but imperceptible on American foreign policy, claims from officials like Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that “now is the moment” show a surprising comfort with the massive array of foreign policy nightmares the administration now finds itself embroiled in, and an unrealistic belief that some sort of improbable victory is going to emerge at random from the chaos.