By National Security Supervising Producer Adam Levine
An al Qaeda figure identified as the terrorist network's chief of operations in Pakistan has been killed, a U.S. officials said Thursday.
Abu Hafs al-Shari was killed in Waziristan, Pakistan, according to one of the sources. While there was no explanation how he was killed, it is known armed predator drones have been used to kill suspected terrorists.
One US official called it a "blow" to the core of Al Qaeda.
"The loss of their chief of operations in Pakistan, an individual who played a key operational and administrative role for the group, will pose a challenge for Zawahiri. Abu Hafs was a contender to assume some of [recently killed Atiyah abd al-Rahman's] duties, coordinated al Qaeda’s anti-US plotting in the region, and worked closely with the Pakistani Taliban to carry out attacks inside Pakistan."
A senior administration official said the strike will "further degrade" Al Qaeda's ability to recover from the Rahman killing in August because " because of his operations experience and connections within the group."
The pressure on Al Qaeda in Pakistan has been significant with a number of key leaders, most notably Osama bin Laden, being eliminated. Earlier this week, the top intelligence official at the Pentagon said US counterterrorism operations have left the group feeling "besieged."
"Its senior leaders are being eliminated at a rate far faster than al Qaeda can replace them, and the leadership replacements the group is able to field are much less experienced and credible," said Michael Vickers, the Under Secretary for Defense Intelligence at an event in Washington on Tuesday. Vickers said the pressure on Al Qaeda has left it in a "precarious" postiion and predicted that at this rate the group could be eliminated wtihin the next two years.
"We have substantially attrited AQ's mid-level operatives, trainers and facilitators, its recent recruits, including several westerners, and senior leaders and operatives of its safe haven providers," Vickers said.
The head of the Central Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, told Congress on Tuesday that the pressure could lead to Al Qaeda rank and file fleeing Pakistan to Afghanistan or leaving south Asia.
Vickers said that this year alone the terror group has lost eight of its "top 20" leaders and of all its top leaders from 2001 only one, Ayman al-Zawahiri, remains. The killing of al-Shari raises the total to nine.
- Pam Benson, Larry Shaughnessy and Alex Mooney contributed to this report