Why Anwar al-Awlaki is a Significant Target

by PATRICK DUNLEAVY November 23, 2010
Gregory Johnsen's New York Times article on November 19th regarding the targeting of Anwar al Awlaki by US Counterterrorism strategists misses the mark.  He states that Anwar al Awlaki is an insignificant target and that killing him will do little protect the United States from future terrorist attacks.  In his goal to diminish the importance of an individual like Al Awlaki to Al Qaeda, Johnsen lists other ranking members and their roles in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). 
There is no doubt that all of those mentioned, Nasir al Wuhayshi, Adil al Abab, Qassim al Raymi, Ibrahim Asiri, and Suleiman al Rubaysh, are the ranking leadership of that branch of Al Qaeda.  It is also reasonably certain that US Special Operation forces have their dossiers and are actively looking to neutralize them in a quieter much less public manner than Anwar al Awlaki.
What then is al Awlaki's role if he is not the chief strategist, or ordnance maker, or spiritual leader?  He is in fact a much needed facilitator or more importantly a cheerleading motivational speaker, much like Adam Gadahn, to another group of potential terrorists, the homegrown.
In January of this year the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a report regarding the threat of Al Qaeda in Yemen  (pdf document) which in part stated that AQAP was "actively seeking to recruit Americans". 
The report went on to mention that among the targeted group of disgruntled expatriates were a significant number of former inmates from prison, who after their release traveled to Yemen for language training in radical madrassas which then led to Al Qaeda training camps.  And what drew those recruits to the Al Qaeda cause, if not the likes of someone like Al Awlaki who espouses the virtue of jihad and eschews the decadence of Western civilization from personal knowledge and the experience of having once lived in America?
He has already proved an effective motivator in the recent cases of Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood Shooter and also Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day underwear bomber. Al Awlaki has also been an invaluable facilitator for two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhamzi and Khalid Alimhdhar, when he lived in San Diego.
Wars are fought in many places other than the battlefield.  Wars are also fought in the arena of public opinion.  Al Qaeda knows this strategy quite well. 
One of the noted failures of most conflicts has been the habit of underestimating the intelligence, abilities, or strategies of the adversary you are fighting.  In the War on Terrorism the United States must not fall victim to that again.  Anwar al Awlaki is now and will continue to be a viable target that must be dealt with without hesitation or doubt.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributor Patrick Dunleavy is the former Deputy Inspector Generalfor New York State Department of Corrections and author of the upcoming book, "The Fertile Soil of Jihad: Terrorism’s Prison Connection."

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