US kills al Qaeda’s leader for Afghanistan and Pakistan in Predator strike: Report

Unconfirmed reports from Pakistan indicate the US has killed al Qaeda’s newly appointed leader of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Sheikh Fateh al Masri, the leader of Qaedat al Jihad fi Khorasan, or the base of the jihad in the Khorasan, was killed in a recent Predator strike, Pakistani intelligence officials told AFP.

US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said they were aware of the reports and were investigating. One US official confirmed that Fateh was targeted in the spate of recent strikes but cautioned that given the total control that the Taliban and al Qaeda have in North Waziristan, it is difficult to be certain Fateh was killed.

Al Qaeda has not released a martyrdom statement announcing Fateh’s death. Such statements are often released on jihadist Internet forums days or weeks after a leader is killed.

Fateh is thought to have been killed in the Sept. 25 strike in Datta Khel in North Waziristan, a known haven for al Qaeda’s top leaders. In that attack, US Predators or Reapers fired three missiles at a vehicle, killing four “militants.”

Datta Khel is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Despite the fact that Bahadar and the Haqqani Network shelter al Qaeda and other South and Central Asian terror groups, the Pakistani government and military refuse to take action in North Waziristan. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are viewed as “good Taliban” as they do not attack the Pakistani state.

Fatah replaced Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda’s former leader in Afghanistan, who was killed in the May 21 Predator airstrike in Datta Khel in North Waziristan. Yazid served as al Qaeda’s chief financier and paymaster. Al Qaeda has not publicly named Yazid’s replacement for its top financial official, nor is it likely to do so given the job’s importance, intelligence officials said.

Fateh, like Yazid, is an Egyptian who is close to Ayman al Zawahiri. Egyptians hold a significant number of al Qaeda’s top leadership positions.

The Khorasan is a region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. The Khorasan is considered by jihadists to be the place where they will inflict the first defeat against their enemies in the Muslim version of Armageddon. The final battle is to take place in the Levant – Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.

Mentions of the Khorasan have begun to increase in al Qaeda’s propaganda since 2007. After al Qaeda’s defeat in Iraq, the group began shifting its rhetoric from promoting Iraq as the central front in their jihad and has placed the focus on the Khorasan.

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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14 Comments

  • AAndrew says:

    This is excellent news (if true)! Congratulations to the men and women who work hard to protect our way of life on this success.
    As far as what this means, if true, is a continued degradation of leadership. Think of any organization you’ve ever worked in. If the leader left, and was replaced internally, then you will have lost the knowledge and experience of the departed. If the replacement left soon after, the replacement’s replacement will surely lack the knowledge of his predecessors. In this case, if we can keep shortening the time between the elimination of replacements, we will degrade the organization as a whole so that it will make more mistakes (allowing for further degradation of the leadership who will be easier to find) and the organization (led by less experienced leaders prone to mistakes).
    Keep up the good work!

  • kp says:

    If this is actually true then this is a very significant hit.

    It shows that despite AQ not naming their leader (attempting security through obscurity) there is enough intelligence leakage from their org (by whatever means: HUMINT, SIGINT, interrogation of captured AQ/Taliban/HN/etc, interception of couriers, traffic analysis and IMGINT/observation/tracking) to determine who the new leader is and even to follow him well enough to target him.

    AQSL is going to be wondering which technique or techniques mentioned above worked and how to change their opsec to defeat them. This may hinder their operations.

    A serious problem for them is a standard hierarchical organization for both “military” (insurgency) and political purposes requires that everyone know who their boss is and how to meet up with them. Even this strict structure is problematic when a current leader (at any level) is killed how do you find out who the new leader is? Through peers? Through some other communication? Trying to keep the “order of battle” secret is difficult when you are fighting a much larger and more well funded opponent (i.e. the West). They can spend time and effort on both technical means to determine the structure and use HUMINT and interrogation to find out parts of the org chart. A cryptic, low connectivity cellular organization (the sort of structure that AQSL currently has: small, few contacts) would work for organization wanting to direct terrorist attacks in the West (i.e. annoyances that have no real follow up to hold territory) but even they need an operations wings (and everything to support them: HR, training, finance, supply) that needs at least a couple of levels of management.

    A conclusion they have to draw (if they haven’t already) is for AQSL is to stay well away from their senior operational leadership: if we can compromise the most senior operational people then we might use that to find their way to a AQSL meeting. This will make coordinating with their operations people even more difficult through written notes carried by couriers (that are liable to be captured too).

  • S_20 says:

    Agreed! It seems the only way to win is to “kill ’em all” so the sooner the better.

  • kp says:

    Very interesting blog at the NY Times with a first hand account of the Taliban’s reaction to drones in 2009.

    //atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/drones-as-occupational-hazard/

    This (as with quite a few other Islamic group) seems to betray the fatalism of “insh’allah” (“God willing”): “if it’s God’s will that I get hit with a missile now who an I to argue”. It could be a powerful psyops weapon especially against the lower orders.

    I wonder if they still do this sort of thing? Those drones appeared to be mostly doing recce work though he has described UAV attacks and their aftermath in other blog entries. Or if they’ve wised up and gone back to staying indoors for days at a time?

    This article says it’s down to blimps as imaging platforms. Tethered (as used in Iraq and AFG?) or untethered?

    “In a meeting with reporters on Monday, General Petraeus indicated that it was new intelligence gathering technology that helped NATO forces locate the militants killed by the helicopter raids against militants in Pakistan. In particular, he said, the military has expanded its fleet of reconnaissance blimps that can hover over hide-outs thought to belong to the Taliban in eastern and southern Afghanistan. “

    //www.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/world/asia/28drones.html

    It seems we have extended our ways to watch the AFG/PAK borderlands

  • Tom K says:

    I wish I could be as sanguine as the ‘kill em all’ commentators above. The War Against Terrorism in Afghanistan/Pakistan seems rather like taking on that huge fire ant mound in your back yard by sitting down and pinching the heads off of ants one by one by one after two hours of this, surely you must have accomplished SOMETHING but oh my god these bites hurt, and these ants keep pouring out of this mound and oh look, there’s mounds over THERE too sigh keep on pinchin, keep on pinchin, keep on pinchin 

  • sportsisfun says:

    I just think the CIA and military has to continue targeting them.

  • Ram says:

    Tom K,
    You make a very valid point. But, what is the alternative? US & the Western world is not willing to confront the sources of terror at its source – oil money from Saudi & Middle East countries and government sponsored terror from Pakistan. Unless US as the biggest consumer of oil, reduces its oil consumption and also makes a serious effort (not bribing Pakistan) to change, you will be have never see the end of Islamic Terror.
    It would be interesting an thought experiment to see what would happen to Middle East economies if the world suddenly stopped consuming Oil.

  • Neonmeat says:

    @KP
    An interesting point regarding the mind set of Islamic Extremists. I remember reading about some British troops that were training some Iraqi army recruits and how they had to force them to realise that if a member of their team is injured on the battlefield they should try to save him, as previously their mindset was that if I a man is injured and maybe dying it is Allahs will and it should be left to Allah to handle.
    This is good news though, keep hitting them.

  • Charu says:

    @Tom, good analogy. There is a youth bulge in AfPak that, until exhausted (or decimated as during the Iran-Iraq stalemate), will continue pouring out of the mound (or madrassas, which, as @Ram cogently stated, is funded by Saudi Arabia and indirectly by our dependency on oil). I hope that we have the will to press on. Unlike the flawed domino premise of the Vietnam era, this time the potential exists for the war to be brought to our shores from the inside.

  • JRP says:

    If the U.S. Government were to cut off foreign aid to Pakistan and tell the Pakistani Army and the elected Pakistani Government that the tap stays closed till the Pakistani Army goes after all the terrorists at safe harbor in Pakistan and the Pakistani Government reins in the duplicitous Pakistani intelligence service, then you’d begin to see some real cooperation from Pakistan in the war on terror.

  • Cordell says:

    “It would be interesting as a thought experiment to see what would happen to Middle East economies if the world suddenly stopped consuming oil.”
    @Ram
    Ironically, the recession in the oil sector during the 1980’s helped spur the creation of al Qaeda. New Alaskan and North Sea oil supplies, combined with a 50%+ increase in vehicle fleet fuel economy, slashed Middle East oil revenues by over 70% as prices and OPEC shipments plunged. (Both supply and demand for oil are inelastic, creating volatile prices.) With oil revenues funding over 80% of government expenditures in Saudi Arabia, the government slashed infrastructure projects and public aid, leading to widespread unemployment and public dissatisfaction, similar to what is now happening in the EU under austere budgets. Arab men, once enthralled by stories of free-spending Saudi princes and their frequent drunken debaucheries at European resorts, quickly turned resentful, disgusted, and increasingly radicalized against the West by local Wahhabi imams. Like many other radicalized Saudis, the son of a wealthy construction contractor, (now much less wealthy thanks to the oil sector recession), joined the jihad in Afghanistan against the Russians seeking adventure and an outlet for his anger. His name was Osama bin Laden. Not surprisingly, the target he repeatedly chose to attack in the U.S. after the Russians exited Afghanistan was the World Trade Center, both the icon of American power that saved the ruling Saudi and Kuwaiti families during the Gulf War and the place where the world price of oil is set. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

  • AAndrew says:

    @Tom K – Hi Tom, I have to say that I am more optimistic about this approach than you are, and the key for me is that I see the enemy as more of a hierarchical organization as opposed to a flat organization (i.e. your ant analogy).
    If the enemy were analagous to ants, then I would tend to agree with your perspective as long as we were taking out the enemy at a slower rate than they were being replaced.
    My analogy of the enemy is closer to a large company, with a CEO, VPs, AVPs, directors, etc. If you took any large company with seasoned executives, and removed several VPs, then the AVPs would rise to VP roles, and so forth cascading the promtions down. The new VPs won’t have the same experience as the old VPs, and same with the new AVPs, directors, etc that were just promoted, and it would take them years to get there. If you were to keep taking out just VPs at a rate that wouldn’t allow them to gain experience to match them in quality with their predecessors (an effect which would cascade down the succession line), then you’re continually degrading the organization as a whole (as the “promtions” of less experienced leaders cascades down).
    Over time, this strategy will signifiantly degrade any organization, and I’m sure the enemy has already been significantly degraded thus far. Since we can’t put boots on the ground where these strikes are occuring, I think the current strategy will be effective over time as long as we keep taking out relevant HVTs at a rate fast enough to prevent their successors from gaining experience equivalent to their predecessors.
    Less experienced leaders will make mistakes, and that will compound the enemy’s issues.
    Just my opinion, but that’s why I believe this strategy has benefits in a hierarchy (and wouldn’t in a flat organization such as in an ant colony).
    Respectfully,
    AAndrew

  • Ram says:

    Cordell, Many thanks for the detailed response, on what happened in the 80’s it helped me revisit my hypothesis about oil money.
    I wanted to add another perspective based on what I have seen (in India), and read about other places (Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan etc). There is a huge amount of money flowing into Madrassas, Islamic organizations etc in India, that has played a big role (there are other local causes too) radicalization of sections of the India’s Muslim population. Kerala (30% muslim), is an example of highly literate, educated & socially advanced state now going backward. 20 years back, one hardly saw muslim women wearing hijab, now probably the majority of the muslim women wear it. A large number of Indian terror attacks / plots have been traced to Kerala. This place was always ruled by Communist or Left of center parties, so the local muslims should not have any grievance per se.
    I have read that similar trends have been noticed, in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan & other parts of India too. The money for all these madrassas & islamic ngo’s comes from the Middle Eastern countries. Since India, Bangladesh, Indonesia alone account for around 500 million muslims (approx 33% of the world muslims, if we include Pakistan it goes up to 45%). These muslims generally followed a much more moderate form Islam that is unfortunately losing out to the radical version promoted by Saudi Arabia. I would guess, that radicalisation of this population would not be so high but for the money power from Middle East.
    Sure, lack of money can also lead to radicalisation e.g. Somalia, parts of Africa etc.
    After revisiting my hypothesis based on your feedback, I still “feel” overall the world would benefit, if Middle East did not have oil money. Without oil, the moderate islam has a “chance” to take on the the radical version. Without moderate islam winning the war of ideas, I dont see how this conflict can end.
    Ram

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