ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A U.S. missile strike that killed a top Al Qaeda commander in Pakistan marked a significant victory for the U.S. in its battle against the terror network after a series of pessimistic assessments of the American-led campaign against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
The death of Abu Laith al-Libi was reported Thursday on Islamic extremist Web sites and confirmed by an American official, who said the veteran Al Qaeda leader died when a missile from a U.S. Predator drone struck a compound in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region late Monday.
The MQ-1 Predator UAV (pictured above) uses a laser designator/rangefinder and has the ability to carry and launch two Hellfire missiles. It’s an armed reconnaissance platform with direct strike capability.
……”Our sources among militants … are telling us that al-Libi died in the U.S. missile attack” along with about a dozen others, said a security official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. A second intelligence official confirmed that account.
Two Pakistani intelligence officials said the missile was fired while al-Libi or some of his associates were using satellite phones and a computer at the house of Abdul Sattar, a local tribal leader known for his links to extremists.
Another official said in Islamabad that Sattar’s home was only a mile from a base used by Pakistani security forces.
……The U.S. says al-Libi — whose name means “the Libyan” in Arabic — was likely behind a February 2007 bombing at the U.S. base at Bagram in Afghanistan during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney. The attack killed 23 people but Cheney was deep inside the sprawling base and was not hurt.
……Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has repeatedly said he would not permit U.S. military action against al-Qaida members believed to be regrouping in the wild borderlands near Afghanistan. Musharraf has downplayed U.S. concerns about a significant al-Qaida presence inside Pakistan.
Pervez has his head buried deep in the sand. Not only is there a significant presence of al Qaida in Pakistan, but there’s a significant presence of al Qaida moles in his army and security service. Al Libi was hiding only a mile from a Pakistani base. Go figure.
However, a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer familiar with the area said al-Libi was probably in North Waziristan to “give tasks” to local militants. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said al-Libi was among the top five al-Qaida leaders with longtime contacts in North Waziristan.
“Al-Libi has been waging jihad for more than 10 years and it will be a blow to both Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but not in a way that will lead to the downfall of those organizations,” said Eric Rosenbach, terror expert and executive director of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
A senior U.S. official said last week that the top two U.S. intelligence officials made a secret visit to Pakistan in early January to seek permission from Musharraf for greater involvement of American forces in trying to ferret out Al Qaeda and other militant groups active in the tribal regions along the Afghanistan border.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity given the secret nature of the talks, declined to disclose what was said, but Musharraf was quoted two days after the Jan. 9 meeting with CIA Director Michael Hayden and Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, as saying U.S. troops would be regarded as invaders if they crossed into Pakistan to hunt Al Qaeda militants.
Hell, in that case, the Predator should come in real handy over Islamabad.
Al-Libi was among the most high-profile figures in Al Qaeda after its leader, Osama bin Laden, and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri.
In spring 2007, al-Qaida’s media wing, Al-Sahab, released a video interview with a bearded man identified as al-Libi. In it, he accuses Shiite Muslims of fighting alongside American forces in Iraq, and claimed that mujahedeen would crush foreign troops in Afghanistan.
A Pakistani intelligence official said al-Libi was based near Mir Ali until late 2003, when he moved back into Afghanistan to take charge of Al Qaeda operations on both sides of the border area. But he retained links with North Waziristan, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
If the al Qaida/Taliban is eradicated from their safe haven in Pakistan, it will be no thanks to Musharraf.