Preda­tor war on al Qaeda

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

In Novem­ber 2002, a Hell­fire mis­sile launched from a CIA-op­er­ated Preda­tor hit a ve­hi­cle on a road in Ye­men’s Marib prov­ince. The strike killed six al Qaeda ter­ror­ists, among them Qaed Senyan al-Harthi. Al-Harthi organized the Oc­to­ber 2000 ter­ror at­tack on the USS Cole (in the Ye­meni port of Aden), which left 17 Amer­i­can sailors dead.

I wrote a col­umn about the Preda­tor at­tack shortly af­ter it occurred, not­ing that the Preda­tor-B’s suc­cesses against al Qaeda, (in­clud­ing the Novem­ber 2001 at­tack against al Qaeda big­wig Mo­hammed Atef) demon­strated how “arm­ing the per­sis­tent sen­sor” cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties to am­bush even the most elu­sive tar­gets.

Preda­tor was born as an un­armed Balkans peace­keeper, a re­con plat­form that could “loi­ter” over Bos­nia and lo­cate Serb ar­tillery pieces shelling non-com­bat­ants. The U.S. needed “per­sis­tent eyes” over dif­fi­cult ter­rain. Adding laser­guided mis­siles made Preda­tor a sniper with ex­traor­di­nary reach.

The Preda­tor at­tack on alHarthi comes to mind for two rea­sons. The first is al Qaeda has de­clared Ye­men “a sanc­tu­ary” (Strat­e­gyPage.com, Sept. 19). Amer­i­can traitor Maj. Ni­dal Hasan’s spir­i­tual ad­viser, An­war al-Awlaki, is al­legedly hid­ing in Ye­men. It is a chaotic and danger­ous place. Saudi Ara­bia and the Ye­meni gov­ern­ment are cur­rently bat­tling Shia tribes in north­ern and east­ern Ye­men (which may be draw­ing sup­port from Iran).

The sec­ond rea­son was Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­ply to a ques­tion posed in a re­cent in­ter­view con­ducted by CBS News.

CBS’ in­ter­viewer re­marked: “Al Qaeda is in a lot of places be­sides Afghanistan. They’ve got peo­ple in Su­dan. They’ve got peo­ple in So­ma­lia. They’ve got peo­ple in Ye­men.”

Mr. Obama replied: “And we go af­ter them there, too.” A mo­ment later he added “I don’t want to com­ment on cer­tain sen­si­tive as­pects to our ef­forts in this (Afghanistan-Pak­istan) bor­der re­gion. I think it is fair to say [. . .] if we’ve got ac­tual war in­tel­li­gence on high-rank­ing al Qaeda leaders, or for that mat­ter high-rank­ing Tal­iban leaders who are di­rect­ing ac­tions against U.S. troops, then we will take action.”

Mr. Obama is pur­su­ing one of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s key poli­cies of “hold­ing at risk“ ter­ror­ist leaders, which is a eu­phemism for tar­get­ing them. Is this as­sas­si­na­tion? The Novem­ber 2002 col­umn ob­served that (tech­ni­cally) al-Harthi died in an air at­tack. A ter­ror­ist’s ve­hi­cle can be con­strued as a “com­mand and con­trol cen­ter” (a com­mand bunker is a le­git­i­mate tar­get), but do­ing so takes the con­cept to the edge of ab­sur­dity. The U.S. was hunt­ing al-Harthi.

The United States bans po- lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tions, but the U.N. char­ter per­mits mil­i­tary de­fense against at­tack. Al Qaeda wages a war without lim­its. Ev­ery Amer­i­can, in al Qaeda’s war doc­trine, is a per­mis­si­ble tar­get. Al Qaeda’s own de­cen­tral­ized or­ga­ni­za­tion is part of its of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive strat­egy. In­di­vid­ual al Qaeda mem­bers — its sui­ci­dal ter­ror­ists — are in­deed its mil­i­tary weapons, hence Preda­tor hits and spe­cial op­er­a­tions strikes.

Mr. Obama’s re­ply also in­di­cates he him­self is fac­ing one of the most dif­fi­cult prob­lems Amer­ica has in this war: ac­tion­able in­tel­li­gence. Ge­orge W. Bush can tes­tify, and like­wise Bill Clin­ton. When do you pull the trig­ger?

Preda­tors have op­er­ated over Pak­istan for years. More ad­vanced Un­manned Aerial Ve­hi­cles (UAV) are be­ing em­ployed in Afghanistan. Preda­tor strikes in Pak­istan be­gan to in­crease in sum­mer 2008. The ex­act num- ber of strikes is classified. Sev­eral com­men­ta­tors try to keep a tally, how­ever — among them Bill Rog­gio at long­war­jor­nal.org.

Mr. Rog­gio re­ported on Dec. 8 that “U.S. airstrikes in­side Pak­istan have ta­pered off since Septem­ber” and that “U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials said a big rea­son for the scale­back in at­tacks is that al Qaeda and the Tal­iban have adapted to the U.S. tac­tics, im­proved their op­er­a­tional se­cu­rity and have ruth­lessly killed any­one sus­pected of pro­vid­ing in­tel­li­gence to the U.S.”

An irony lurks. Ter­ror­ists crow that they choose the place and time of an at­tack. Their claim of ubiq­ui­tous sur­prise, wher­ever you may hide, in­tends to sow fear. Preda­tors, how­ever, am­bush them. Now, know­ing wag­ging tongues will bring mis­siles, they mur­der their own.

Austin Bay is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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