A report published recently in the respected publication, Asia Times, states that Qari Hussain Mehsud, a high ranking al Qaeda deputy who helped organize the murder of seven American CIA operatives last year, was killed earlier this month in a drone attack in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area. Syed Saleem Shahzad, author of the account, writes that Mehsud’s specialty in the al Qaeda organization was “training suicide bombers”, one of whom carried out a horrific suicide attack against CIA personnel at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, last December.
Mehsud’s messenger of death, a Jordanian doctor posing as a double agent with important information, was welcomed at the base where he detonated a suicide vest before he could be searched. The resulting loss of seven CIA operatives, including the station chief, made it “the deadliest attack” against the intelligence agency since the 1983 Beirut bombing.
“But the damage done to the CIA in this attack cannot be overestimated,” claimed one intelligence analyst. “At least one of the agency’s top analysts on al Qaeda was killed. In an intelligence war, this is the equivalent of sinking an aircraft carrier.”
Americans may also be familiar with the Pakistani terrorist’s most recent attempt to kill Americans. Mehsud was the one who recruited in Pakistan American citizen Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, and the eight members of his cell, sending them to one of his “suicide training camps” in North Waziristan. But Shahzad must not have been a good student, since he failed to set off a bomb-rigged vehicle at the famous New York venue last May, for which he received life in prison without parole.
Mehsud’s unlamented demise is the result of the CIA’s highly successful “decapitation” campaign, in which drones target high-level terrorist operatives hiding in Pakistan. Starting in 2008, an estimated 700 al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists have been killed by the drone’s Hellfire missile. Particularly painful for al Qaeda and their allies, according to military observers, is the fact that about two dozen top-level leaders, like Mehsud, and 100 mid-level ones are among the dead. The loss of mid-level cadres is apparently hurting the two terrorist organizations the most, since these are the experienced field commanders who translate their leaders’ plans into reality.
To his credit, realizing their effectiveness, President Obama has increased the number of drone strikes since coming into office. The Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, reported last Thursday there had been three drone attacks in Pakistan in the previous 24 hours alone. The paper goes on to state there have been 19 American missile strikes in October so far, while there were 21 in September, “nearly double the previous monthly record.” Overall, according to Dawn, there have been 150 drone strikes since August 2008 that have killed 1,200 people.
“The United States is demonstrating even isolated, tribal locales where everyone is a cousin aren’t hermetic,” states the military publication, Strategy Page, about the drone campaign. “Al Qaeda pledged a global battle without borders and it is getting one.”
The drone has been settling scores for some time now with terrorists with American blood on their hands – and not just in Pakistan. As far back as 2002, a drone attack in Yemen killed six al Qaeda members, one of whom was Qaed Senyan al-Harthi. Al-Harthi was believed responsible for the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Aden in 2000 that left 17 American sailors dead. The terrorists were riding in a car when they encountered “death from above.”
The CIA had targeted Mehsud in response to the Khost attack and the Times Square bomb plot. In his Asia Times story, Shahzad writes Mehsud had escaped twelve previous American attempts on his life before his luck ran out. He was wounded in a drone strike on October 3 that killed his four guards, but a Hellfire missile found him just four days later and destroyed the vehicle transporting him.
Mehsud, according to Shahzad, was just the “latest in a string of high-level militants” to fall victim to the drone campaign. He notes the al Qaeda terrorist’s death indicates the Hellfire missiles are getting “ever-closer” to important operatives in Pakistan’s tribal regions where al Qaeda and the Taliban have their base areas.
“The mounting casualties show that the net is tightening on the militants and their al-Qaeda colleagues now concentrated in North Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan,” he states.
Western military personnel in Afghanistan have also noticed more senior Taliban leaders are returning home from Pakistan, crediting both the drones and the Pakistani army’s military campaign for making it too dangerous for them to stay in their cross-border hideouts. But Afghanistan may be no safer for them than their previous haunts, as coalition troops reported killing an important Taliban operative who had returned recently from Pakistan.
What angers al Qaeda and the Taliban more than their substantial losses to the drone, however, is the presence of informants who are selling the terrorists’ whereabouts to their American enemy, enabling the decapitation campaign. Over the years, American intelligence has been successful in setting up an effective informant network in Pakistan’s tribal areas that bedevils the terrorists. Despite the bloody reprisals they have taken against suspected traitors, al Qaeda and Taliban losses continue to mount.
According to Strategy Page, the unmanned drone is American military’s symmetrical answer to al Qaeda’s asymmetrical warfare. Osama bin Laden and those of his ilk could never have conceived of such a relentless and deadly high tech weapon as the drone in 2001 and have no response to it except suicide attacks. The terrorists definitely erred in thinking they could hide in the “Earth’s allies” and in the “dark corners” of Afghanistan and Pakistan, while waging “a war without limits” with their asymmetric suicide bombers. As Mehsud’s fate confirms, the drone robot will seek them out and deal out justice for al Qaeda’s victims even in the hidden valleys of Waziristan.