The U.S. scored a noteworthy victory last week when an American missile killed Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the longtime leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the global organization’s Number Two. Coupled with unconfirmed reports that an F-15 airstrike in Libya killed jihadist mastermind Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the strikes are a reminder that the war on terror continues, whatever the Administration calls it.
Yet the strikes are also a reminder that while killing senior jihadists has tactical and symbolic value_disrupting terrorist networks while underscoring U.S. resolve_they do not turn the tide of war. “Core” al Qaeda was not defeated after Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011, even if it was humbled. Neither was al Qaeda in Iraq beaten after the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006. Killing the kingpins is necessary but not sufficient for victory.
That much was made clear by the way Wuhayshi met his end_near a beach in the Yemeni city of Al Mukalla, population 300,000. Al Qaeda took control of Al Mukalla in April, seizing close to $80 million from the central bank. The group now controls the better part of southern Yemen.
The same goes with Belmokhtar, who orchestrated the 2013 attack on an Algerian gas plant that killed 38 people and had pledged allegiance to al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri. If reports of Belmokhtar’s death are confirmed_this wouldn’t be the first time he’s been presumed dead_it’s a tactical coup for the U.S. and a moral victory for the terrorist’s victims. But it does little to change the fact that jihadist groups, led by Islamic State, control significant territory in Libya, including Moammar Ghadafi’s hometown of Sirte.
All of which is to say that the U.S. will not defeat its terrorist enemies by going after them one at a time. This is what makes the recent success of the Kurdish Peshmerga against Islamic State so promising. This week the Kurds defeated Islamic State to take control of the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, on the Turkish border. Now the Kurds are headed south to Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.
Success in Raqqa would be the most important victory to date in rolling back ISIS, which is why the U.S. should concentrate military efforts in support of the offensive. The Kurds are among our best anti-jihadist allies, and they deserve more support than the U.S. has provided so far.
— Wall Street Journal,