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Anwar al-Awlaki strike: why it's important, but not a death-blow for Al Qaeda

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“He was not the head of AQAP, he wasn’t its deputy, and he wasn’t its bombmaker,” he says. “So while this was a good thing to accomplish, AQAP remains a growth industry, and this isn’t going to change that one iota.”

Since the US special forces raid into Pakistan in May that took out Osama bin Laden, a number of US officials and counterterrorism experts have speculated that Al Qaeda increasingly resembles a spent force.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said shortly after taking his job in July that the US is “within reach of strategically defeating Al Qaeda.” Earlier this month, CIA Director David Petraeus told Congress that the loss for Al Qaeda of not just Mr. bin Laden but leaders like Atiyah Abdul Rahman (in August) had opened “an important window of vulnerability” for the terror organization.

Even counterterrorism experts who warn that Al Qaeda’s weakness is being overplayed – especially in a tumultuous Arab world – say that al-Awlaki’s death is significant, in part because of his influence outside the region.

“Where he had his major impact was in his ability to reach into disaffected and vulnerable communities in the West,” says Christopher Boucek, an expert in security challenges on the Arabian peninsula at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

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