Center for American Progress

Significance of Awlaki’s Death Should Not Be Overstated
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Significance of Awlaki’s Death Should Not Be Overstated

While Anwar al-Awlaki's death is a clear win for the U.S.-led air campaign against AQAP, that’s the most Awlaki’s death can accomplish.

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The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born terrorist working with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is a victory in the fight against international terrorist groups targeting the United States. Much remains unclear about how Awlaki was killed but it looks like a U.S. airstrike from a jet or drone aircraft. Based on Awlaki’s direct connection to terrorists that attacked the United States, he falls under the scope of the law Congress passed governing the military fight against international terrorism. That makes him a legitimate military target.

The significance of his death for AQAP or on Yemen-based terrorism, however, should not be overstated. It’s true that Awlaki was among the most influential international terrorists adept at spreading the movement using English. But he was not even the most powerful figure in his own terrorist group let alone a potential successor to the leadership role of Osama bin Laden. And his death will have virtually no impact on the AQAP’s strength in Yemen.

So while this is a clear win for the U.S.-led air campaign against AQAP, that’s the most Awlaki’s death can accomplish. And it is woefully inadequate to address the medium- and long-term challenges of AQAP in the region or the multiple ongoing crises facing the Yemeni people.

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