Following up on our post yesterday looking into the improved success of Predator strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan, I spoke to a couple senior administration officials who added to the conversation.
While not confirming the numbers from the unofficial Long War Journal analysis indicating more al Qaeda and Taliban have been killed in 2009 than in 2007 and 2008 combined, a senior administration official says, "I wouldn’t dispute that there have been more senior as well as mid-level operatives from al Qaeda as well as affiliated groups killed."
Are there more drones in the region than there were before President Obama took office?
"There's an enhanced capability," the official said, "an increased capability."
A senior US counterterrorism official confirms for ABC News that "al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups have lost some of their top leaders over the past year. It’s clear they’re feeling the pinch. Our understanding of these groups continues to grow. That’s a good thing for us and a very bad thing for our terrorist enemies.”
Somewhat wryly — the Predator attacks are seldom discussed publicly — the senior administration official said, "whoever’s dropping these things, theyre being quite successful."
The administration official said the improved success was "partly a result of the maturing of the capabiliies, a maturing of the intelligence," and an improvement in "the cooperation that exists out there as a result of recognition among different elements of the US and the Pakistani governments of a shared concerned and interest in eleimating some of these individuals and groups."
As a Pentagon official told us yesterday – pointing to US counterinsurgency forces in Afghanistan and Pakistani forces on the other side of the border – the administration official agreed there has been a "successful squeeze" of those in the border region, leading to better intelligence, though he said "I don’t want to point to any single element, there's been a lot of pressure being applied leading to opportunities that are being seized upon, and also leading to a lot of mistakes by the enemy."
Some in the Pentagon who support Gen. Stanley McChrystal's push for up to 40,000 more troops for a more aggressive counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan fear that some White House officials are so pleased with the success of the Predator strikes they are likely to support Vice President Biden's push for a narrower counterterrorism strategy, without considering that counterinsurgency efforts are part of recent successes in Pakistan.
Does the senior administration official think counterterrorism would be the right focus given the success of the Predator program? He was non-committal.
"You're trying to do certain objectives that are very sutiable for certain instruments of power," he said. "We want to make asure we understand what out goals are, what our objectives are, and apply our capabilities accordingly. I don’t think anybody believes individual programs or capabilities are going to be sufficient to deal with the array of challenges out there," including "kinetic strikes, military training of Afghan forces, economic development."
"Al Qaeda needs to be destroyed," the administration official said. "It needs to be destroyed as an organization, as a means of inspiration, as an infection of other peoples and groups. Whether its in the Fatah region, or in Afghanistan or whether it's in other places in the world. It is their goal to destoy; they are bent on the destruction of innocents."
Significantly, the administration official said "as we talk about other groups, such as the Afghan Taliban, there may be different types of strategies to be employed. But in terms of al Qaeda — which is a transnational phenomenon which has infected that theater — they're not redeemable."
The following senior terrorist figures have died within the past year or so:
* Khalid Habib (veteran combat leader and operations chief involved with plots to attack the West; deputy to Shaikh Sa’id al-Masri, al-Qaeda’s #3);
* Rashid Rauf (mastermind of the 2006 transatlantic airliner plot);
* Abu Khabab al-Masri (al Qaeda’s most seasoned explosives expert and trainer, and the man responsible for its chemical and biological weapons efforts);
* Abdallah Azzam (senior aide to Sheikh Sa’id al-Masri);
* Abu al-Hassan al-Rimi (led cross-border operations against Coalition forces in Afghanistan);
* Abu Sulaiman al-Jaziri (senior external operations planner and facilitator);
* Abu Jihad al-Masri (senior operational planner and propagandist);
* Usama al-Kini (Marriott attack planner and listed on the FBI’s terrorist most wanted list);
* Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan (involved in the attacks on the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania;
* Abu Sulaiman al-Jaziri (senior trainer and external operations plotter);
* Baitullah Mehsud (leader of the Pakistani Taliban);
* Yahyo (leader of the Islamic Jihad Union);
* Ilyas Kashmiri (senior al Qaeda operations planner).
Note: it’s not a typo that two Abu Sulaiman al-Jaziris are on the list. There were two, and now there are not.