Recent Predator strikes aimed at al Qaeda’s external operations network

For a long time, we here at The Long War Journal have noted that the US Predator air campaign in Pakistan has aimed not only at eliminating al Qaeda and Taliban senior leadership based in Pakistan, but has also focused, as a primary goal, on suppressing al Qaeda’s external operations. This LWJ report, from Sept. 19, 2008, titled US strikes in Pakistan aimed at stopping the next Sept. 11 attack, noted that right up front:

US Special Operations Forces have stepped up attacks inside Pakistan’s lawless tribal agencies in part of an effort to prevent the next major attack inside the United States, senior military and intelligence sources told The Long War Journal.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, said reports that the Bush administration is focused on “getting Osama bin Laden,” the elusive leader of al Qaeda’s global network, are overblown.

“Getting bin Laden would be nice, and it would clearly be a victory, but at the end of the day, al Qaeda’s network will still exist,” one source told The Long War Journal. “We need to take down that network to stop the next attack on US soil. Al Qaeda is more than bin Laden.”

Today, both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times noted that the massive increase in strikes this month (20 strikes at the time this was posted) are aimed at al Qaeda’s external operations network, as US intelligence officials fear al Qaeda is close to executing a strike in Europe.


In an effort to foil a suspected terrorist plot against European targets, the Central Intelligence Agency has ramped up missile strikes against militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions, current and former officials say.

The strikes, launched from unmanned drone aircraft, represent a rare use of the CIA’s drone campaign to preempt a possible attack on the West.

The terror plot, which officials have been tracking for weeks, is believed to target multiple countries, including the U.K., France, and Germany, these officials said.

The exact nature of the plot or plots couldn’t be learned immediately, and counterterrorism officials in the U.S., Pakistan and Europe are continuing to investigate. There have, however, been multiple terror warnings in recent days in France, Germany and the U.K.


The senior administration official said the strikes were intended not only to attack Taliban and Haqqani fighters, but also to disrupt any plots directed from or supported by extremists in Pakistan’s tribal areas that were aimed at targets in Europe. “The goal is to suppress or disrupt that activity,” the official said.

Just because a US strike didn’t net a high value target doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful. An al Qaeda operative holding a Western passport can be just as dangerous as a senior al Qaeda leader, and in some respects more so. The last two attacks on the US, both of which failed, were carried out by just such individuals (Times Square plot bomber Faisal Shahzad and Detroit airliner plot underpants bomber Omar Farouq Abdulmutallib).

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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