U.S. Predator Drone Takes Out Another Al-Qaeda Leader
It wasn’t quite as dramatic as the raid that took out Osama bin Laden, but the United States has gotten another top ranked al Qaeda leader:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — One of Pakistan‘s most wanted militant commanders, Ilyas Kashmiri, was killed in an American drone strike in the tribal territory of South Waziristan, residents and a militant active in the area said Saturday. But Pakistani and American officials cautioned that they had not been able to confirm his death.
Mr. Kashmiri is considered one of the most dangerous and highly trained Pakistani militants allied with Al Qaeda. A former member of Pakistan’s special forces, the Special Services Group, Mr. Kashmiri was suspected of being behind several attacks, including the May 22 battle at the Mehran naval base in the southern port city of Karachi that deeply embarrassed Pakistani officials. He has also been implicated in the terrorist attack on Mumbai, India, in 2008, in which at least 163 people were killed, including some American citizens.
He was reported to have been killed Friday in a strike on a compound in Laman, near Wana, the main town of South Waziristan. Atifur Rehman, a senior government official in Wana, said the strike killed nine people. Mr. Rehman said there had been reports that Mr. Kashmiri had recently set up operations in Laman, and that a sharp increase in drone flights over the area had been noticed in the past few days.
A known Taliban militant in Wana contacted by telephone confirmed that Mr. Kashmiri had been killed. But an intelligence official in the capital, Islamabad, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had not received any independent confirmations of the report. And American officials — who cautioned that previous reports of Mr. Kashmiri’s death had turned out to be false, including a Pakistani claim he had died in a drone strike in September 2009 — said they were trying to confirm the new reports on Saturday morning.
Mr. Kashmiri’s death would certainly be welcomed by both American and Pakistani intelligence agencies, and could go some way to alleviating the strained relations between the two countries that have developed in recent months, in particular since the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden 75 miles from Islamabad. Pakistan has accused the United States of pursuing its own agenda in Pakistan without coordinating with Pakistani security forces, running its own intelligence agents and conducting unilateral strikes that ride roughshod over Pakistan’s sovereignty.
The United States has sent three high-level delegations to Islamabad in recent weeks, the last one led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to try to repair relations. Mrs. Clinton said the United States was looking for specific actions from Pakistan in coming days and weeks, including intelligence sharing, which had all but broken down.
Mr. Kashmiri was wanted by both countries and could have been a good target for renewed intelligence sharing. He is reported to lead a unit called the 313 brigade, and belongs to the group Harkat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami, which is suspected of a number of high-profile attacks, including an attack against the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, the garrison city next to Islamabad.
This sounds like a fairly major strike, especially given this Newsweek piece from last year which described Kashmiri as “the new bin Laden”:
Ilyas Kashmiri, 46, has the experience, the connections, and a determination to attack the West—including the United States—that make him the most dangerous Qaeda operative to emerge in years. “This guy ties everybody together,” says a veteran U.S. intelligence officer who has been watching Kashmiri’s rise to prominence closely but is not authorized to speak publicly. Kashmiri fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, and the Indians in Kashmir and in India itself. He also worked with the Pakistani intelligence service, but turned on Islamabad with a vengeance in 2003, trying to murder then-president Pervez Musharraf. Since then Kashmiri has been linked to planned attacks in Denmark, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, most probably Chicago.
Kashmiri is so active organizing and carrying out guerrilla-style attacks that the jihadis have taken to calling him “the commando commander,” says Hanif. The key to such operations is preparation, and Kashmiri is an acknowledged master. “Kashmiri is the most experienced person in planning, choosing targets, and getting men ready,” says one Pakistani intelligence officer. His reputation for murder and mayhem in the subcontinent goes back years, but—this is what has set off alarm bells in Europe—his current project is to nurture jihadis from the West. “He took care of the special training of chosen newcomers, especially Westerners,” says Hanif. A European intelligence officer tells NEWSWEEK, “Kashmiri is the most important guy linking Al Qaeda with Western recruits.”
In August, the U.S. Treasury Department named Kashmiri as a “specially designated global terrorist,” putting him in the same league with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, men to whom he has pledged allegiance for the past seven years. Treasury singled out his organization, the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, for providing “support for Al Qaeda operations.”
And now, it seems, we’ve gotten him. Taking out bin Laden and Kashmiri within a month of each other is arguably the biggest coup the U.S. has pulled off since the war on al Qaeda started in October 2001. Hopefully it will go a long way toward bringing down the whole house of cards.