So as the Western and Arab medias go haywire with this information and plaster it on their front pages, briefly consider a few recent events:
- On May 6th, days after Saleh refused to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) “power transfer” for a second time, reports surface that al-Awlaki has been targeted by U.S. assets and “nearly killed.” The Wall Street Journal confirms through Yemeni sources that Saleh has begun feeding new information to keep himself useful. U.S. counterterrorism support continues as air-strikes escalate.
- On August 28th, with Saleh periodically announcing his return amid the shadowy battle for Zinjibar, AQAP leader Nasir Abdel Karim al-Wuhayshi is reported killed by government officials. His body is never confirmed and fighting continues.
- Having returned to Sana’a from his medical leave in Riyadh, Saleh immediately holds the opposition responsible for Yemen’s "criminal" uprising and the recent outburst of violence in Sana’a, accusing his political enemies of collaborating with AQAP. Saleh then conjures up a flimsy fatwa from a group of Yemeni scholars, which declares protests to be “ungodly” and gives Saleh another excuse to crack down on the revolutionaries. The collective message of his speeches is that Saleh isn’t stepping down before a presidential election is held, at an indefinite point in the future. Then, on the eve of al-Awalki’s purported death, he accuses the U.S. of pressuring an “ally” in the war against al-Qaeda - and presto.
Anwar may in fact be eliminated from Yemen’s equation - several local U.S. journalists have tentatively confirmed - but recent history suggests otherwise. Some sources put his death between the al-Jawf and Ma'rib governorates, while others report a battle in Shawbah governorate, an odd divergence. The final conclusion, however, is that al-Awlaki’s death accomplishes little to nothing on the U.S. side. His tribe has vowed retaliation in the event of an extrajudicial killing and his position will be swiftly filled, if not his unique skill-set. U.S. policy will hoist its trophy but continue hammering Yemen’s southern territories in search of AQAP’s other leaders. Protesters will continue viewing U.S. policy as irreversibly immoral and short-sighted.
And the main beneficiary of al-Awlaki’s death, through no coincidence, would be Ali Saleh, who stands ready to crush the revolutionary spirit out of Yemen.