"It's done to put the fear of the Lord in these guys"

  • From: "Muslim-News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
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  • Date: Wed, 6 Nov 2002 08:34:35 -0000

Silent killer changes rules of engagement

How American agents tracked down and killed top al-Qa'ida targets in
Yemen from thousands of miles away

The hellfire missile from the unmanned drone arrived without warning and
offered little chance of escape. The alleged senior al-Qa'ida official,
Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, and his five companions would literally not
have known what hit them.

All that remained yesterday of the vehicle in which the al-Qa'ida
suspects were travelling in the Yemeni desert was a pile of charred
debris scattered in the sand. Many of the remains were too badly burnt
to allow identification.

But that patch of blackened sand, 100 miles east of the Yemeni capital,
Sanaa, represents a shift in America's war on terror. Washington is now
ready, willing and terrifyingly equipped to launch pre-emptive strikes
on suspected terrorists wherever and whenever it finds them.

Amazingly, it is also able to do so from thousands of miles away,
without risk to its own pilots or ground forces. The agents who flew the
Predator, using a joystick, and who attacked Harethi's vehicle using a
real-time camera and a laser, were most probably sitting in the CIA
headquarters at Langley, Virginia, eight miles west of Washington.

The fact that the Bush administration has made clear, through the usual
"unnamed officials", that it was responsible for the strike is also
intended to send a message to the terrorists: you can run and hide, but
you cannot hide for ever.

The use of such technology could also have important ramifications over
the way any military strike against Iraq is executed. "It means the
rules of engagement have changed," said a former CIA official with a
background in special operations. "[This] would be the first time they
have started doing this sort of thing."

Clifford Beal, editor of Jane's Defence Weekly, said: "It doesn't seem
they were given the opportunity to surrender. They were taken out

America and Yemen have been working together since the start of the year
in the hunt for al-Qa'ida operatives, thought to be hiding along the
northern border with Saudi Arabia, where the largest unbroken swath of
sand in the world stretches to the foothills of Oman, and 500 miles
northwards into Saudi Arabia. More than half of the Yemen-Saudi border
passes over its sands.

The line has been surveyed, but not demarcated, and there is a history
of cross-border trafficking. It is the perfect hiding place for
al-Qa'ida fugitives on the run after the US-led military operation in

It was revealed two weeks ago that American unmanned Predator drones
were being used to scour these vast stretches of desert in search of
al-Qa'ida fighters. The 27ft, £16m aircraft can fly at more than
25,000ft, sending back real-time images from cameras fitted on the
front, to the officers controlling them.

The James Bond-style technology employed means these officers can be
thousands of miles away from the actual scene of the strike. James Pike,
director of GlobalSecurity.Org, a military think-tank in Washington,
said the drone had probably taken off from a short runway in Djibouti,
across the Red Sea from Yemen, where there has been a steady build-up of
US special forces in recent months. But he said it was very likely the
drone was actually flown and the missile fired by officers at CIA
headquarters. "They are literally flying it like a normal aircraft," he
said. "There are reports that when the drones were used in Afghanistan,
they were 'flown' from Langley."

Mr Pike said the use of such technology, and the admission of its use,
was designed to send an unequivocal message to the terrorists. "It's
done to put the fear of the Lord in these guys," he said. "Bumping along
in their car, it's quite possible they would not have known what hit

The strike on Sunday morning was not the first time America has used
missiles fired from Predators against terrorists. In Afghanistan a
Predator was used to kill al-Qa'ida's chief of operations, Mohammed
Atef, and in May one was employed in a failed effort to kill a factional
Afghan leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was trying to topple the
government of Hamid Karzai.

But this was the first time one has been used outside Afghanistan, or at
least the first time the US has admitted it. Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy
defence secretary, said yesterday: "We've just got to keep the pressure
on everywhere we're able to, and we've got to deny the sanctuaries
everywhere we're able to and we've got to put pressure on every
government that is giving these people support to get out of that

Harethi, a former bodyguard to Osama bin Laden and considered one of the
dozen most senior al-Qa'ida officials, had been hunted for some time. He
is believed to be responsible for the attack on the USS Cole in October
2000, when 17 American sailors were killed, as well as the recent attack
on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.

A Yemeni official said Harethi, also known as Abu Ali, had been under
surveillance by Yemeni intelligence operatives for several months, and
these operatives were passing on information to US forces. He had left a
farm and was on the road to the town of Marib when the missile struck
his vehicle.

Other reports suggested Harethi's location had been revealed by
intercepting telephone conversations. One Yemeni security official said:
"They have been ... monitoring the farm in recent months and relayed all
the information they had to the Americans."

The incident highlights the increasingly important relationship between
Yemen and the US, which has resulted in American forces training local
soldiers. Washington has also provided money to Yemen to recruit up to
80 tribal chieftains in the country's lawless interior to provide
information on al-Qa'ida fugitives. Washington refers to these
chieftains as "sheikhs against terror".

Magnus Ranstorp, deputy director of the Centre for the Study of
Terrorism at the University of St Andrews in Fife, said: "The Yemenis
were among the quickest to recognise they could get political and
financial benefits from the war against terror. But the co-operation has
its limits. Ideally [Harethi] would have been captured alive and removed
for questioning.

"Although the Yemeni government was able to help the Americans locate
him, it has little control in the interior of the country, and this was
the next best outcome." 

Source: The Independent


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