As America nears a 10th anniversary memorial for the deadly 9/11 attacks from Al Qaeda, the U.S. is close to being able to proclaim victory in the war against the terrorist organization. In the latest development, with help from the U.S., Pakistan's main intelligence agency has captured a top al Qaeda commander suspected of planning attacks on American oil pipelines, tankers and other key economic targets.
Officials say Younis al Mauritani, a senior al Qaeda commander, was arrested in the southern Pakistan city of Quetta along with two other senior al Qaeda operatives, Pakistan's military said Monday. The arrests come less than a week before a major memorial is planned in New York for the 10th anniversary of the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center carried out by the organization.
When the U.S. went to war with al Qaeda almost a decade ago after the terrorist organization launched a deadly attack against the U.S., killing thousands and taking down New York's World Trade Center towers, the contest at times seemed unwinnable. Over the past decade, some pundits and experts even labeled it that -- the unwinnable war.
But now that another top al Qaeda commander has been captured after the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden in May and and al Qaeda's second-in-command in Pakistan last month, the organization has been largely disbanded the organization and the U.S. is close to winning its war against the terrorist organization.
The killing of the organization's second-in-command reportedly occurred on Aug. 22. And while it didn't garner the headlines that bin Laden's killing did, it was yet another pinnacle moment in the U.S. war against al Qaeda -- another step closer to victory.
Libyan national Atiyah Abd al-Rahman was the network's former leader who rose to al Qaeda's No. 2 spot after the U.S. killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a raid on his compound in May.
The killing of al Qaeda's second-in-command is another major jolt to the terrorist group that orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. For years after the U.S. attack, al Qaeda leaders were able to hide out and remain loosely organized.
But consistent pursuit by the U.S. has paid off, and now the terrorist organization is near complete defeat. While killing Osama bin Laden was the main objective, taking out other leaders has been required to finish the task.
Last month U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said al Qaeda was close to defeat, but that the U.S. needed several more successful attacks to take out the last remaining key leaders.
Al-Rahman was killed in the lawless Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan, according to an official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence issues, according to The Associated Press. The official would not say how al-Rahman was killed.
But his death came on the same day that a CIA drone strike was reported in Waziristan. Such strikes by unmanned aircraft are Washington's weapon of choice for killing terrorists in the mountainous, hard-to-reach area along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Believed to be in his mid-30s, al-Rahman was a close confidant of bin Laden. He once served as bin Laden's emissary to Iran. Al-Rahman was reportedly allowed to move freely in and out of Iran as part of that arrangement, officials said. They also have said al-Rahman has been operating out of Waziristan for some time.
Born in Libya, al-Rahman joined bin Laden as a teenager in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union.
After Navy SEALs killed bin Laden, they found evidence of al-Rahman's role as operational chief, U.S. officials have said.
The U.S. battle against al Qaeda's terrorist organized has been slow but effective. Panetta said last month that terrorist groups can be defeated, even though America has fought al Qaeda for a decade.
Speaking with reporters aboard a U.S. Air Force jet on his way to Afghanistan in July, Panetta said the U.S. is within reach of finishing al-Qaida, and all that remains is killing or capturing the terrorist group's remaining 10 to 20 leaders.
Earlier this summer, President Barack Obama announced recently the plan to withdraw 30,000 American troops from Afghanistan over the course of the next year and a half, but Panetta's remarks last month have been most definitive to date that the war against al-Qaida can be won.
If we can be successful at going after them, Panetta said aboard the U.S. Air Force jet in July, I think we can really undermine their ability to do any kind of planning to be able to conduct any kinds of attack on this country. That's why I think (al Qaeda's end is) within reach.
Panetta put no timeline on America's victory over al-Qaida, saying only more work is required.
Upon news of bin Laden's death, al-Qaida issued a statement that his end was a curse that chases the Americans and their agents and goes after them inside and outside their countries, and warned that his end at the hands of U.S. forces would not be wasted in vain.
But Panetta, a former California congressman who once headed the CIA before he was chosen by Obama to replace Robert Gates as Defense Secretary, said in June the U.S., in the moment following bin Laden's death, was further turning up its pressure on the terrorist oganization to put maximum pressure on the organization because he believed that if we continue this effort we can really cripple al-Qaida as a threat to this country.
Among the 10 to 20 al-Qaida leaders remaining at large the U.S. needs to kill or capture is Ayman al Zawahiri, an Egyptian who succeeded bin Laden as al Qaeda's top leader when bin Laden was killed. The U.S. thinks Ayman al Zawahiri is hiding in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a remote region along the Afghanistan border. The U.S. has sought Pakistan's help in finding Zawahiri.
Zawahiri is one of those we would like to see the Pakistanis target, along with our help, Panetta said.
And though it took nearly a decade, victory coming near the 10th anniversary of Al Qaeda's 9/11 attack on the U.S. makes for good timing.