Fire at Will

The hunt for al Qaeda continues in Pakistan. Less than two weeks after the capture of senior al Qaeda operative Abu Farraj al-Libbi, yet another operative has been taken down in Pakistan (hat tip to Justin C.):

Haitham al-Yemeni, a native of Yemen known for his bomb-making skills, had been tracked for some time in the hope that he would help lead the United States to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, intelligence officials said. But with the recent capture in northwest Pakistan of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, thought to be al Qaeda’s No. 3 man, officials worried al-Yemeni would soon go into hiding, and decided to take action. Al-Yemeni was in line to replace al-Libbi, intelligence analysts said.

There are two important aspects to the demise of Haitham al-Yemeni: 1) he was killed by fire from a Predator drone in Pakistan; 2) he was under surveillance for an extended period of time before it was decided to pull the trigger.

The use of an American Predator drone in Pakistani airspace indicates either the tacit approval of the Pakistani government for American forces to hunt al Qaeda on Pakistani soil, contrary to public statements denying a US presence; or the US disregarded any agreement with the Pakistanis to engage al Qaeda on their soil. As Pakistani cooperation is crucial in the hunt for al Qaeda in the region, the former premise is likely.

The long-term surveillance of al-Yemeni is even more intriguing for several reasons. Any observation of al-Yemeni would probably be conducted by or in conjunction with Pakistani intelligence (ISI – Inter-Services Intelligence). Human intelligence would be required to keep such close tabs on him as indicated by this article, and the ISI would have to be involved at some level. That fact that he could be watched for a long period of time without the ISI leaking this information to al Qaeda or their sympathizers suggests the ISI is not as porous as is believed to be the case. Perhaps Musharraf has exercised some measure of control of the “state within a state”. The capture of al-Libbi by Pakistani agents supports this.

If al-Yemeni was being tracked as closely as reported, his contacts, safehouses, communications and operations have been meticulously detailed, providing further actionable intelligence to be used against the network. Expect further arrests of al Qaeda in Pakistan down the line, and if not, perhaps some Hellfire.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Stock Tip: Buy Hellfire

    Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail relays the news that another senior al Qaeda member has been introduced to the Hellfire missile. From ABC News: Haitham al-Yemeni, a native of Yemen known for his bomb-making skills, had been tracked for…

  • starling says:

    Bill, I agree that more arrests in Pakistan should be forthcoming. The matter of why and to what degree the Pakistani’s, epsecially the ISI, are cooperating is still an open question for me. Yesterday Real Clear Politics provided a link to an LA Times story that offered an intriguing hypothesis about motivations and timing of several high profile captures over the last 3+ years. The article is not written by a regular writer of the LA Times, but rather by one Bernard-Henri Levy, author of “War, Evil, and the End of History.” I think LA Times requires a sign-up to access articles so let me know if you can’t get to the article.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    The article is here for those interested.
    Thanks, Starling. The implication is al Qaeda does not mind its senior operatives getting jugged with the help of Pakistan to placate the US. The assassination attempts on Musharraf show they are not pleased with Pakistans actions. M. Levi’s hypothesis is far too cynical for my liking. I am not saying Pakistan is perfect here, they have their share of problems which I have documented, but we have seen progress in their attempts to disconnect from the jhadis they helped create in the 80s and 90s. This is not an immediate process, as there is much institutonal resistance within grups like the Army and the ISI, but it is hard to argue aganst the success of Pakistan in rounding up or killing approaching 1,000 al Qaeda operatives.

  • Mixed Humor says:

    Check off one more pile of steaming DNA. In the case of Mr. al-Yemeni, aloha means goodbye. It’s been pretty amazing to watch the evolution of unmanned drones over the last few years.

  • zeppenwolf says:

    That fact that he could be watched for a long period of time without the ISI leaking this information to al Qaeda or their sympathizers suggests the ISI is not as porous as is believed to be the case.

    But the fact that they decided to blow him into little bits rather than pick him up suggests it still can’t be trusted…

    Or could it mean something else? I see the “worried…soon go into hiding” part, but still– why blow up the number 3ish guy rather than drag him to the dungeons for qvestionink?

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    Allah wantsa word with you… The death of al-Qaeda leader Haitham al-Yemeni was not the result of a car bomb, as originally reported, but the result of a strike from an MQ-1 Predator UAV. The strike capped over a week…


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