[Ed. – Reports of their death by B. Obama greatly exaggerated]
The worst job in the world, western spymasters used to joke, was being number three in al-Qaeda.
At its peak, the US drone programme – with Hellfire missiles picking off al-Qaeda leaders seemingly at will in the remote mountains of Yemen and the tribal borderlands of Pakistan – meant becoming number three was as good as being dead.
But al-Qaeda has proved to have a Hydra-like quality. Far from withering, it has proliferated. The group and its affiliates have never controlled more land, had as many recruits in their ranks or been as well financially resourced as now.
In recent months, al-Qaeda franchises have scored successes or near-victories in an arc stretching from the Sahel in east Africa through to the Levant via the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Iraq.