INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR---PAPER NO.512
"The war against terrorism has seen intense air strikes in Afghan territory from the beginning. Since Zardari's meeting with Bush in New York in September, it has been seeing an intense wave of air strikes in Pakistani territory. US planes have been flying across Pakistani air space over the tribal belt as if they are flying in US air space without worrying about the proforma criticism from Pakistani leaders and officials and repeatedly attacking suspected Al Qaeda hide-outs. They have killed many, but not the ones that matter. What stands between the US and OBL or Zawahiri is just luck and a little bit of advance intelligence. Both have eluded the US so far. For air strikes, the US has to be lucky only once. OBL and Zawahiri have to be lucky every time. OBL must be constantly moving to deny that one stroke of luck to theUS."
Extract from my article of October 28,2008, titled US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS: WAITING FOR OBL at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers29/paper2899.html
That one stroke of luck, which stands between Osama bin Laden and his Maker, continues to elude the USA's Central Intelligence Agency(CIA).
2. Since President Barack Obama assumed office on January 20,2009, the CIA has further stepped up its hunt for OBL, Ayman al-Zawahiri and the latest on the hunted list Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). There have already been nine missile strikes by Drones (unmanned planes) on suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban hide-outs in Pakistani territory in the nine weeks since Obama took over as against 10 during 2006 and 2007 together and about 30 last year.
3. The eighth strike was carried out on April 1,2009, on the house of Hakimullah Mehsud in the Khadezai area of the Orakzai Agency in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Twelve persons were killed ----- six of them followers of Hakimullah, who is the head of the TTP in the Orakzai Agency, which has no common border with Afghanistan, two women and four other unidentified persons. Hakimullah himself,who was apparently one of the targets, escaped unhurt and has warned of a retaliatory strike by the Taliban in Islamabad. This is the first time a Drone has attacked a target in the Orakzai Agency. Its previous attacks were confined to South and North Waziristan,Bajaur and Kurram in the FATA and the Bannu area in the Provincially-Administered Tribal Areas of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).According to local sources, some foreigners (Uzbecks or Arabs? ) were staying in an adjoining building. They too escaped unhurt.
4. The ninth strike was carried out by the CIA on April 3 on a suspected Al Qaeda hide-out in Miranshah in North Waziristan. Thirteen persons were reportedly killed. Their identities are not known. The CIA has been targeting any hide-out which is suspected by it as being used by the terrorists of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but its main targets are OBL, Zawahiri and Baitullah. It is apparently calculating and hoping that if it keeps identifying the various hide-outs and attacking them one after the other, one of these days it will catch OBL , Zawahiri or Baitullah napping in one of them. It is prepared to face an anti-American backlash from the pro-Taliban tribals.
5. It is intriguing and worrisome that the stepped-up attacks by the Drones have failed so far to kill any of the three high-prized targets and that these attacks have not disrupted the training of more and more suicide bombers and other terrorists, who specialise in commando-style swarm attacks. Al Qaeda and the Taliban face no shortage of volunteers for their operations in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan.
6. There will be two benchmarks for assessing the success of these strikes-----either they kill one of the high-prized targets or they disrupt the flow of trained volunteers for new terrorist strikes. This has not happened so far.
7. In the meanwhile, worried over the possibility of a terrorist attack on Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, during his planned visit to Pakistan next week, the US Embassy in Islamabad is trying to organise most of the meetings for him with his Pakistani interlocutors in the house of the US Ambassador in order to reduce too many road movements by him. He is likely to meet only President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani and Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff, in their respective offices. Others are reportedly being requested to meet him in the US Ambassador's house. (4-4-09)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )