Al Qaeda has replaced its emir, or leader, for Afghanistan, according to a report in the Asia Times. While al Qaeda hasn't officially announced the appointment, the author of the article has been adept at identifying top terror leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he has extensive contacts with al Qaeda, Taliban, and Pakistani jihadists.
Sheikh Fateh al Masri, an Egyptian, has replaced Mustafa Abu Yazid, who was killed in a U.S. Predator strike in North Waziristan on May 21. While Yazid has wrongly been described as al Qaeda's number three in command, he certainly is one of the most senior leaders of the terror network. In addition to his leadership of of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the wider Khorasan, which includes parts of Pakistan, Central Asia, and Iran, Yazid also managed al Qaeda finances. Al Masri is not thought to have assumed Yazid's role as paymaster.
Al Masri's appointment as the top leader in Afghanistan highlights two points: first, that Egyptians continue to make up the backbone of al Qaeda's senior leadership, and second, that al Qaeda is hollowed out and maintains only 50-100 fighters in Afghanistan and several hundred more in Pakistan. Despite what top U.S. intelligence officials may say, al Qaeda has a deep bench of leaders ready to step in an fill the shoes of the handful of leaders killed over time in the Predator strikes in Paksitan.
Meanwhile General David Petraeus gets his first test with the explosive issue of the Rules of Engagement, or ROE, in Afghanistan. Earlier today, Coalition aircraft accidentally killed five Afghan soldiers in an airstrike in southern Ghazni province. From the BBC:
[Afghan Army General] Azimi said the soldiers had been launching a morning ambush on militants in the Sarda dam and Rahim Khail village area when a Nato aircraft opened fire on them without warning. He said two other soldiers were wounded in the attack.
"We condemn this action. Unfortunately this is not the first time such an incident has happened, but we wish that at least this would be the last one," Gen Azimi said.
Civilian casualties and "friendly fire" incidents involving Afghan troops have been a frequent source of friction between Western powers and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The tragic friendly fire incident occurred as General Petraeus is preparing to remove to widely derided policy of 'courageous restraint' instituted by his predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal. Some soldiers have referred to that policy as outrageous restraint. British soldiers have trashed the policy of courageous restraint and claimed it puts their lives at risk while allowing the Taliban to live to fight another day. It will be interesting to see if President Karzai pushes back against the loosening to the ROE. Karzai has been very vocal about accidental deaths in the past.