While it hasn’t earned him much credit from friends or foes, President Obama– with little bravado– has overseen a highly successful series of attacks on the leadership of Al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan.
David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post:
The latest achievement in this counterterror campaign was the capture in late January of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the No. 2 official of the Afghan Taliban. The raid in Karachi was conducted jointly by the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, both of which kept the lid on the operation for more than two weeks, until it was disclosed Monday by the New York Times.
“We had ‘no kidding’ information that he was at this location,” explained a U.S. counterterrorism official. “That made it easier for the ISI to roll in.” Baradar is now in Pakistani custody, and, according to the U.S. official, “he is providing intelligence.”
The Karachi raid is part of a broad offensive that has sometimes been overlooked in the partisan squabbles over whether the Obama administration should be giving Miranda warnings to terrorist suspects. “The real action has been pounding the hell out of al-Qaeda and its allies around the world,” the official argued.
The numbers show a sharp upsurge in operations against al-Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan since Barack Obama took office. According to the U.S. official, there were 55 Predator drone strikes last year in the Pakistani tribal areas. That’s nearly double the peak level during the Bush years, which reached the mid-30s in 2008.
The pace of Predator attacks has increased further this year. Since Jan. 1, there have been more than a dozen operations. If that rate continues, the total number of attacks this year could roughly double again, to more than 100.
These raids have ravaged the top tier of al-Qaeda’s lieutenants. The victims include Saleh al-Somali, the chief of external operations, who was killed Dec. 8; Abdullah Said al-Libi, the chief of operations in Pakistan, who was killed Dec. 17; and Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who was killed in August.
All told, according to U.S. officials, since the beginning of 2009, the drone attacks have killed “several hundred” named militants from al-Qaeda and its allies, more than in all previous years combined. The drones have also shattered the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban, which has been waging a terror campaign across that country.
On a typical day, there are roughly a half-dozen Predators in the air over the tribal areas of western Pakistan, looking for targets, sources say. This intensive coverage is possible because the Obama CIA requested more resources for the drone attacks last March, during the initial review of Afghanistan-Pakistan policy. By the end of this year, the number of drones available will have increased by about 40 percent since early 2009.
None of this stops Obama’s Republican critics from trying to portray him as soft on terrorism. They have criticized his administration for its plans to try would-be underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in a civilian court rather than a military tribunal. (Of course these critics had no complaints when the Bush administration tried would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid in a civilian court– after reading him his Miranda rights).
And– perhaps to Dick Cheney’s disappointment– it seems federal interrogators have been able to get useful information from Abdulmutallab without waterboarding him.