December 11, 2009

Mystery Prize

CBS News, NBC News, and the AP are reporting that a top al Qaeda operative was killed during the latest drone strike in North Waziristan. Unnamed officials tell CBS News that the target was not Osama bin Laden nor his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

An intelligence source told CBS News correspondent Peter Maer that the drone killed one of the top five terrorists on the U.S. wanted list. The source called it a "major hit" whose name will be "recognizable to many" when it becomes public.

The White House must be popping Cristal bottles.

This news comes on the heels of an awkward press conference held by Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit, who said Pakistani security forces did not need assistance from any country. America and Pakistan are obviously cooperating on intelligence. He also said US hot pursuit is out of the question.

“We have credible information that al-Qaeda leadership is not present on any part of the Pak soil,” Basit said.

Apparently Pakistan’s strategy withholds army operations in North Waziristan under a public truce with Hafiz Gul Bahadur, while America “privately” rains hellfire missiles. The White House is probably breathing a sigh of relief to go with its whooping. High profile al-Qaeda kills go along way to sustaining popular opinion.

The question turns to who if not bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. Saif Al-Adel? Abu Yahya al-Libi? Either would be a substantial blow to a group that is commander-based. al-Qaeda doesn’t have the numerical luxury the Taliban enjoys. Or maybe a al-Qaeda affiliated TTP member was killed.

This news, depending on the name, could be a bigger boost than President Obama’s national address or Nobel speech. A mix of counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism is supposed to be the strategy, but these kills are infrequent. Timing matters.

Now was good. He needs another within 18 months build momentum.

[Update: Another intelligence official dropped the name Saleh al-Somali, al Qaeda's external operations boss. The NYT cites a dispute between Pakistan, who believes Abu Yahya al-Libi was killed, and America, who doesn't. GEO TV is reporting otherwise. He would have been the bigger blow.]

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