The final results of from the airstrike in the Pakistani border town of Damadola are now known. In addition to Abu Khabab al-Masri, who was al Qaeda’s chief bomb maker, head of the WMD program, and former terror camp commander, two other al Qaeda commanders were killed in the strike. ABC News confirms that Khalid Habib [or Khaled al-Harbi] and Abdul Rehman al Magrabi perished in the attack.
Khaled al-Harbi is al Qaeda’s operational commander in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Al-Harbi splits duty in Afghanistan with Abd al Hadi Al Iraqi, and both are considered “two of [al Qaeda’s] most able commanders”.
Abdul Rehman al Magrabi, a Moroccan, is thought to be al Qaeda’s commander in Pakistan, and is said to have replaced Abu Hamza Rabia, who was killed in Pakistan on December 1, 2005.
According to a trusted source, the DNA tests are complete and the two other other “foreigners” killed are said to be al Qaeda bodyguards. Ayman al-Zawahiri appears to have slipped the net. ABC News provides further important details on the meeting that took place:
Authorities tell ABC News that the terror summit was called to funnel new money into attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan… “Pakistani intelligence says this was a very important planning session involving the very top levels of al Qaeda as they get ready for a new spring offensive,” explained Alexis Debat, a former official in the French Defense Ministry and now an ABC News consultant.
It is clear the reports from earlier in the week that al Qaeda is refocusing efforts in Afghanistan are accurate. With the recent capture or killing of several high-level al Qaeda leaders, including Abu Hamza Rabia and Abu Musab al-Suri before last week’s strike, it is clear U.S. and Pakistani intelligence is gaining a clearing picture of al Qaeda’s network and operations in along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
As al Qaeda amasses strength in the region and grows more confident in its abilities to operate more openly, they expose themselves to intelligence operations and military strikes. The nature of the intelligence on this meeting gives clues as to the nature of intelligence operations in the region: either the U.S. has sophisticate signals intelligence able to penetrate al Qaeda’s communications; there are one or several high value human intelligence sources within al Qaeda and the Taliban; or a combination of the two. Whatever the answer, al Qaeda has lost five senior leaders over the span of five weeks.
The meeting in Damadola was a high value target of opportunity which could not be passed up. U.S. intelligence took the risk, pulled the trigger and bagged three senior al Qaeda commanders. Masri, Habib, and al-Magrabi have been removed from the chain of command, and must be replaced by junior operatives who possess neither their stature, experience or connections. Al-Qaeda has been weakened.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.