Who is the American the US seeks to target with drones?
Yesterday's report by Kim Dozier in The Associated Press on the Obama administration's mulling over targeting a US citizen in a drone strike has created a stir in the usual corners. The discussion about executing a US citizen known to fight for al Qaeda brings up familiar legal controversies, which we avoid here. I was quoted by Ken Dilanian The Los Angeles Times on this issue:
Roggio said he believed the administration was "adhering to an unreasonably high legal standard for targeting what is clearly an enemy combatant in a combat zone. If Americans choose to side with Al Qaeda in its war against the U.S., then they should be fair game."
And I stand by that. No one can reasonably argue that al Qaeda leaders and operatives who were killed by the US, such as Anwar al Awlaki, Samir Khan, and Jude Kenan Mohammed, weren't openly waging war on the US. Their actions, their public statements, and their presence with known al Qaeda leaders in war zones (and yes, in my opinion, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia are indeed war zones) legitimately puts them in the crosshairs. My quote is followed by a statement from Mieke Eoyang, director of national security at Third Way, who argues that the US should identify the American before striking:
"When you are going to take steps that are final and there is no appeal, you have to give people a chance to say, 'You got the wrong guy. I'm not really as bad as you think,' " she said. "If you're going to kill somebody, you have to make your case."
I actually agree with Eoyang. If the American citizen wants to turn himself in to plead his case, by all means he should be afforded the opportunity to do so. Additionally, I feel the secrecy that prevents the US from publicly identifying al Qaeda and allied jihadists harms our understanding of the nature of the group.
To turn back to the main topic this post -- the identity of the American the US seeks to target with drones -- the answer is that we don't know at the moment, as US officials are tight-lipped on the subject (again, a major mistake in my opinion). But we can guess. Here is the AP's description of the wanted al Qaeda operative:
Two of the officials described the man as an al Qaeda facilitator who has been directly responsible for deadly attacks against US citizens overseas and who continues to plan attacks against them that would use improvised explosive devices.
The officials said the suspected terrorist is well-guarded and in a fairly remote location, so any unilateral attempt by US troops to capture him would be risky and even more politically explosive than a US missile strike.
Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan approve US military/CIA operations in their territory, so those countries can be removed from the list. And while Iraq may be a possibility, there have been no reports of the targeting or deaths of US military, diplomatic, or civilian personnel there in years.
This clearly puts the unnamed al Qaeda facilitator inside Pakistan and directing attacks against US forces in Afghanistan (he may also be targeting US personnel in Pakistan).
It is possible that the name of operative being targeted isn't currently in the public sphere. But if the operative is known to the public, there is a very short list of Americans known to operate in Pakistan.
Adam Gadahn is the American al Qaeda operative everyone knows to be based there, but his responsibilities are in the propaganda realm. So it is unlikely he is the target.
Two other Americans known to operate in Pakistan are far less famous than Gadahn. They are Sayfullah al Amriki and Abu Ibrahim al Amriki. Pakistani officials told the Press Trust of India in 2010 that both were on the US' target list.
Both Sayfullah and Abu Ibrahim fit the bill as military operatives for jihadist groups operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal over the years.
Abu Ibrahim al Amirki [photo below] first appeared in 2009 in a propaganda video released by EILF Media for a group calling itself the "German Taliban Mujahideen," which is based in Pakistan's tribal areas. Abu Ibrahim appears to be a leader or a popular figure; he is seen raising an AK-47 assault rifle while standing on the back of a truck, apparently addressing a crowd. The German Taliban Mujahideen is actually the Islamic Jihad Group, an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The US killed Najmuddin Jalalov, the leader of the Islamic Jihad Group, in a Predator strike on Sept. 14, 2009.
Sayfullah is shown in a jihadist video in 2010 [video is below] in which he implored Muslims to travel to Afghanistan to wage jihad. Sayfullah first appears in the video at 19:40. Here are some choice quotes from Sayfullah:
"... we must rush to the lands of jihad ...."
"... we must fight ... those who occupy ...."
"Fight those who don't believe in Allah ...."
"I have met many people from around the world, from America, from, from England, from, from Germany, from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, people from all around the world, brothers and sisters ... they wish for one thing, shahada [bear witness] ...."
" ... we are fighting against an enemy that is hoping for a paycheck at the end ...."
"I ask you my brothers and sister to come, make hijra [migration] for the sake of jihad ...."