Friday, December 11, 2009

Polecat Drone Takes Out Saleh al-Somali in Pakistan

The New York Times continues the story Cedar Posts blogged about last week about the stealth Polecat drone:

A missile fired this week by a Central Intelligence Agency drone over Pakistan’s tribal regions killed a top Qaeda operations planner, according to American counterterrorism officials.

The strike, which occurred early Tuesday, hit a station wagon traveling in a river bed in the village of Spalga, about seven miles from Miram Shah, the capital of North Waziristan. Three people, including two foreigners, were killed, residents of Miram Shah and a Pakistani intelligence official said.

One American official said there were “strong indications” that the strike killed Saleh al-Somali, a member of al Qaeda’s inner circle who was taking refuge in the mountainous tribal belt in western Pakistan.

The Pakistani official said a Saudi named Abu Huraira was among those killed.

Al Qaeda operatives in the area usually use aliases, which makes identification of individual militants difficult, and the reports came amid a swirl of conflicting information about recent C.I.A. strikes in Pakistan.

Several Pakistani officials said Friday that another top Qaeda operative, Abu Yahya al-Libi, had been killed in a drone attack in Pakistan. But American officials on Friday disputed that Mr. Libi had been killed in a drone attack.

Mr. Libi has in recent years emerged as one of the terror network’s rising figures by posting dozens of radical videos on militant websites, and the rumors of his death spread through jihadi internet forums.

The Obama Administration in recent weeks has approved a C.I.A. plan to expand clandestine operations inside Pakistan, including the number of drone aircraft in the country and flying them over a wider swath of Pakistani territory. The White House plan is still awaiting approval by Pakistan’s government.

Though Pakistan has secretly shared intelligence with the United States for the drone strikes, and has asked the United States to share the technology with it, the government publicly condemns the attacks. Addressing a seminar in Lahore on Thursday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik called the drone strikes a curse for the country.

If Mr. Somali was indeed killed, it would be a significant blow, the American official said. Little is known about Mr. Somali, but one American official said that he was likely responsible for plotting attacks against Europe and the United States.

The official said that was the primary link between Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and the network’s allies in East Africa, including the Somali militant group al-Shabaab.

“He took strategic guidance from AQ’s top leadership and translated it into operational blueprints for prospective terrorist attacks,” said the official.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the information about the C.I.A. drone program is classified.

No comments: