Predator Kills Important al-Qaeda Leader in Pakistan
The death of al-Qaeda leader Haitham al-Yemeni was not the result of a car bomb, as originally reported in a Pakistani newspaper, but the result of a Hellfire missile strike from an MQ-1 Predator UAV flying overhead. The Washington Post claims that strike capped over a week of surveillance by U.S. intelligence and military personnel working along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The U.S. team was reportedly hoping Haitham al-Yemeni would lead them to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but with the U.S. capture of senior al Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi, CIA officials targeted Haitham al-Yemeni for killing rather than risk his going into hiding.
The Post’s sources said the Predator drone, operated from a secret base hundreds of miles from the target, located and fired on al-Yemeni late Saturday night in Toorikhel, Pakistan, a suburb of Mirali in the province of North Waziristan. A local newspaper noted a “car bomb” attack, with two people killed. It identified the second victim as Samiullah Khan.
As the Washington Post correctly notes:
bq. “The CIA and U.S. military Special Operations forces have been operating inside Pakistan for more than two years with the knowledge of Pakistani authorities. But the U.S. presence is highly controversial with the largely Muslim Pakistani public, which is generally sympathetic to bin Laden and al Qaeda. For that reason, Pakistani officials routinely play down U.S.-Pakistani cooperation.”
Predator UAVs have been used extensively in the War on Terror, from strikes on terrorist leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen to surveillance in Iraq and even Iran. Significant expansion of the U.S. Predator fleet is planned over the next five years, with 12 more squadrons of 12 aircraft each on request. Additionally, sensor upgrades for the Predator fleet and funding for the MQ-9 Predator B successor are underway and receiving funding.
“Some of our greatest successes against al Qaeda have been through the use of the Predator, both in terms of recognizing targets and actual strikes,” said Roger Cressey, a former Clinton administration counterterrorism official. “It’s the area where the CIA has done an extremely good job.”
Additional Readings & Sources
- DID features re: the Predator UAV
- Washington Post (May 15, 2005) – Surveillance Operation in Pakistan Located and Killed Al Qaeda Official
- The Fourth Rail (May 14, 2005) – Fire At Will
- Al-Libbi Profile & Analysis From Counter-Terror Expert Dan Darling