Kim Sengupta: 'Decapitation' will not stop the Afghan insurgency

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The name for the strategy is "decapitation", eliminating the leadership of al-Qa'ida and the Taliban on the premise that with a broken chain of command it would be difficult for the insurgents to mount successful attacks and may dishearten some of the Taliban foot soldiers enough for them to accept "reconciliation".

Attacks by unmanned drones – the main weapon in the assassination campaign – have gone up significantly under the Obama administration. It is the dark side of the "AfPak" approach which officially recognises that the problems in Afghanistan are intrinsically linked to Pakistan. Pakistan's protests about the violation of its airspace are countered by the American argument that they are forced to use the air strikes because the Pakistani military and ISI, the secret police, have shown reluctance in moving against Islamist groups.

Egyptian-born Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, also known as Sheikh Said al-Masri, was undoubtedly in the top tier of al-Qa'ida, ranking only below Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and commander of the group's Afghan operations.

It is a measure of the esteem in which he was held that Bin Laden made him head of "Khorasan", a region spanning parts of Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and central Asia and the scene, according to jihadist lore, of the Armageddon where the West will be finally defeated.

However, the killing of al-Yazid does not necessarily mean that we are going to see a significant weakening of the insurgency in Afghanistan, the main battleground against Islamists.

Al-Qa'ida has been involved in attacks within Afghanistan, but the vast bulk of the bombings and shootings have come from the Taliban and the Hekmatyar and Haqqani networks.

All these groups have links with al-Qa'ida, but are not dependent on Bin Laden and his followers for their operations. They have access to funds from the opium trade and sympathisers in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and help from the ISI and none of these will be affected by al-Yazid's death.

The 9/11 Commission named Yazid as the "chief financial manager" providing funds for the plot. He has, according to Western intelligence, been involved in other attacks since New York, but has never been described as masterminding any of them and terrorist acts will continue in his absence.