Surveillance Operation Located in Pakistan
Washington Post Staff Writer
By Dana Priest
Sunday, May 15, 2005; Page A25
An al Qaeda figure killed last week by a missile from a CIA-operated unmanned
aerial drone had been under surveillance for more than a week by U.S.
intelligence and military personnel working along the Pakistan-Afghanistan
border, a U.S. official and two counterterrorism experts said yesterday.
But after Pakistani authorities early this month captured another al Qaeda
leader, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, CIA officials became concerned that al-Yemeni would
go into hiding and decided to try to kill him instead, said the
counterterrrorism experts. "We had been working hard to see what he would
do," said one expert, referring to al-Yemeni.
Al-Yemeni's importance in the al Qaeda organization could not be learned
yesterday. He is not listed by that name in either the FBI or Pakistani
"Most Wanted" list, but the active surveillance of him suggests his
The CIA declined comment. Pakistan's information minister denied that any such
incident, which was first reported by ABC News, even happened. "No such
incident took place near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border," Sheikh Rashid
Ahmed told the Associated Press yesterday.
The sources said the Predator drone, operated from a secret base hundreds of
miles from the target, located and fired on al-Yemeni late Saturday night in
Toorikhel, Pakistan, a suburb of Mirali in the province of North Waziristan.
In an article dated Sunday, May 8, the Dawn newspaper in Pakistan, whose
correspondents operate in the tribal areas where the hunt for bin Laden has been
most intense, reported that two people had been killed Saturday night by a car
bomb. The newspaper, quoting Pakistani officials, said the car was destroyed and
one of the victims mutilated beyond recognition. It identified the second victim
as Samiullah Khan.
The CIA and U.S. military Special Operations forces have been operating inside
Pakistan for more than two years with the knowledge of Pakistani authorities.
But the U.S. presence is highly controversial with the largely Muslim Pakistani
public, which is generally sympathetic to bin Laden and al Qaeda. For that
reason, Pakistani officials routinely play down U.S.-Pakistani cooperation.
The Predator and other unmanned aerial vehicles have become some of the most
successful new weapons for killing small groups of people or individuals in
Afghanistan and Iraq. The Washington Post reported in February that the
administration also has been flying surveillance drones over Iran for nearly a
year to gather intelligence on the country's nuclear weapons program and air
defenses. The drones were based at military facilities in Iraq.
Al-Yemeni's death is one of only a handful of known incidents in which the CIA
has fired the remote-controlled, missile-equipped Predator to kill an al Qaeda
member. In November 2002, the CIA used a Predator fitted with a five-foot-long
Hellfire missile to kill a senior al Qaeda leader, Abu Ali al-Harithi, as he was
riding in a car in the Yemeni desert. Also killed with Harithi, who was
suspected of masterminding the October 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole,
was a naturalized U.S. citizen, Kamal Derwish.
Derwish, it was determined later, was part of the Lackawanna, N.Y., group of
Yemeni men who admitted to training in al Qaeda camps.
The CIA is permitted to operate the lethal Predator under presidential authority
promulgated after the Sept. 11 attacks. Shortly after the attacks, Bush approved
a "presidential finding" that allowed the CIA to write a set of highly
classified rules describing which individuals could be killed by CIA officers.
Such killings were defined as self-defense in a global war against al Qaeda
The rules have been vetted by the White House, CIA and State Department lawyers.
They allow CIA counterterrorism officials in the field to decide much more
quickly when to fire, according to former intelligence officials involved in
developing the rules.
The Predator drone's primary mission has been to supply real-time intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance. But it has proved highly successful as a
battlefield weapon as well.
According to previously reported Pentagon documents, over the next five years
the Air Force plans to purchase 24 Predators and 35 Predator Bs, which will be
armed with as many as 3,000 pounds of precision-guided bombs or missiles, and
sensors to locate and strike moving targets on the ground.
"Some of our greatest successes against al Qaeda have been through the use
of the Predator, both in terms of recognizing targets and actual strikes,"
said Roger Cressey, a former Clinton administration counterterrorism official.
"It's the area where the CIA has done an extremely good job."
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