Security Officer Qassim M. Aklan Killed at US Embassy in Yemen

Security Officer Qassim M. Aklan Killed at US Embassy in Yemen

Another small victory for the enemy:

A masked gunman assassinated a Yemeni security official who worked for the U.S. Embassy in a drive-by shooting Thursday near his home in the capital, officials said, adding the assault bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda’s Yemen branch.

…The officials noted it was similar to a series of other recent assaults by Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch, although they said it was too early to confirm the group’s involvement. Washington considers the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the most dangerous offshoot of the terror network. It has also been increasingly targeting Yemeni intelligence, military and security officials in retaliation for a U.S.-backed government offensive in the south.

AQAP sponsored, or not, I find the uptick in small scale attacks concerning. Granted, these are not catastrophic events that impact national power but they are still human tragedies and still disruptive (sometimes incredibly so) to our mission overseas.

Of course, al Qaeda was famous for aiming incredibly high in its attack planning – and obviously hit that mark quite a few times. Recent events seem to indicate that the strategy of a thousand cuts is on its way to being more fully realized. But is that overarching strategy really being fully embraced or is the increasing downward slide in attack scope more indicative of the enemies reduced capabilities?

I think there’s a little bit of both possibilities at play here. I don’t think there is quite enough evidence yet to suggest that al Qaeda and its affiliates can carry off a sustained and coordinated international campaign of small attacks. One thousand small cuts can bring down a giant but only if they occur in relatively quick succession and with some degree of coordination. This event is probably best viewed in a local context rather than as part of a coordinated international campaign. However, that could change at some point.

For me the possibility of emerging coordination (even if the networks themselves remain quite loose) and increasing frequency of attack raise other questions. How could we conduct our overseas diplomatic and intelligence missions in the face of that disruption? Perhaps it is even better to ask if we are too reliant on those facilities to start with. Could we operate differently and minimize the risk? Have we done enough to anticipate our enemy and negate their impact? After Benghazi I am not so confident that we know the answers to those questions. In fact, I am not even sure that we are asking them.