February 29, 2008

Hunt for Al Qaeda: US HUMINT Continues Improving

Hunt for Al Qaeda: US HUMINT Continues Improving -International Terrorism Monitor: Paper No. 374

Source: South Asia Analysis Group
by B. Raman

A missile suspected to have been fired by an unmanned US aircraft early on the morning of January 29, 2008, had destroyed a house, owned by Madad Khan, a local leader of the Taliban at a village called Khushali Torikhel, 12 kilometres south of Mir Ali town, in North Waziristan, where the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Group, another Uzbek jihadi organisation, are based. While Madad Khan reportedly survived the attack, his 10 guests----all believed to be Uzbeks and Arabs---were killed. Two wives of Madad Khan and three of their children were also killed.

2. While the Pakistani authorities did not confirm the identities of those killed, local tribals suspected that one of those killed must have been Abu Laith al-Libi, a Libyan national and an important Al Qaeda leader, whose martyrdom, meaning death while waging jihad, was announced by a web site (ekhlas.org) associated with Al Qaeda, on January 31,2008. His so-called martyrdom has since been confirmed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No.2 to bin Laden, in an audio message disseminated on February 27, 2008.

3.The nine-minute, 59-second message titled "An Elegy to the Martyred Commander Abu Laith al-Libi," was issued by as-Sahab, the group's PSYWAR branch.It described al-Libi as a "knight" of Al Qaeda's holy war. He was "a mountain of Jihad and a lion." It added: "You Americans and you the agents of the Americans: (al-Libi and others) are the pioneers of the march and the good omen of a new dawn.Every time a martyr falls, another martyr grabs the banner from him, and every time a chief goes down in blood, another chief completes the march after him."

4. Immediately after the missile strike, there was speculation in the area targeted by the US that Adam Gadhan, the American convert to Islam, who headed As-Sahab, was also with Abu Laith at the time of the attack and was also killed, but this has not been confirmed so far.

5. In my comments on the missile attack of January 29, 2008, available at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers26/paper2576.html, I had stated as follows: "While neither Al Qaeda nor US sources have associated his reported death with the missile attack, there is a strong belief in local Police circles that he must have died in the missile attack. If it turns out that he died during the precision missile strike, it speaks highly of the improvement in the US intelligence collection capability----particularly human intelligence. It remains to be seen what impact this will have on the on-going confrontation between the Pakistan Army and the Tehrik (e-Taliban Pakistan). Will it once again unite the various factions of the Tehrik under the leadership of (Baitullah) Mehsud or add to the differences? The successful missile strike, if confirmed, would show that the improved US intelligence collection capability should be able to get Osama bin Laden and his No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri one day."

6. In a second precision strike within a month, a missile widely believed to have been fired by an unmanned US plane, struck a house in the Kalosha village near the Afghan border in South Waziristan around 2 AM on February 28, 2008, killing at least 12 persons, of whom four were reportedly Arabs, two Turkmen and two Pakistanis. Three non-Pakistanis were injured and were evacuated by fellow-jihadis. There is so far no indication regarding the identities of those killed.

7. The strike of February 28 was apparently as precise as that of January 29,2008, and would have been possible only with human intelligence (HUMINT) and not technical intelligence (TECHINT). A significant sequel to the January 29 strike was there were no major protest demonstrations against the US by the villagers in the targeted area. This was because the strike and the HUMINT on which it was based were so accurate that there were no collateral civilian casualties. The lack of major demonstrations showed that the villagers do not mind precisely targeted attacks on jihadi terrorists provided the attacks kill only known terrorists and not innocent civilians.

8. In the past, almost every suspected US missile strike in the tribal belt had been followed by violent demonstrations because the strikes were based on intelligence, which proved to have been inaccurate, and resulted in the death of a large number of innocent civilians. Recent strikes by the US forces on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have been more precise and more successful in avoiding innocent civilian casualties.

9. It would be interesting to see whether there is any demonstration by the people of the area against the missile strike of February 28, 2008. It is not yet known whether there were any collateral casualties of civilians.

10. In an effort to improve HUMINT collection, the US intelligence had been announcing from time to time since 9/11 huge cash rewards amounting to millions of dollars to anyone providing accurate information relating to bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and other important terrorists operating from the tribal areas. Till the end of last year, there were not many takers for these reward amounts. Since the beginning of this year, there are indications that these offers of huge rewards have started helping in HUMINT collection.

11. Bin Laden, Zawahiri and co must be worried men.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)

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