Times 2

Awlaqi latest target in relentless US secret war

WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 (AFP) - US-born Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi is the latest US enemy wiped out by a furtive yet relentless and deadly assault on terror suspects on foreign soil stepped up by President Barack Obama.

The covert warfare, using military and CIA assets, drone strikes and other means has decimated Al-Qaeda's senior leadership and seriously degraded its capacity to mount operations against the United States, top US officials say.

“We will be determined, we will be deliberate, we will be relentless, we will be resolute in our commitment to destroy terrorist networks that aim to kill Americans,” a steely Obama said after an air raid in Yemen killed Awlaqi on Friday.

The White House refused to confirm reports that US CIA drone aircraft and other military assets had mounted the raid, keeping a veil of secrecy over US anti-terror operations. But the strategy, sometimes unilateral, often in fractured nations where extremists seek to exploit lawless conditions to hide, also raises pressing new ethical, diplomatic and legal headaches for US national security planners.

A string of US drone strikes in Pakistan has for instance further antagonized always testy US ties with Islamabad, amid a new row over alleged links between Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence and the Haqqani network.

The relationship had already been rattled by the centerpiece of aggressive US strategy --- the US special forces raid which killed Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in his hideout inside Pakistan in May.

Administration officials confided Friday that at least 23 senior extremist Islamic leadership figures had been killed or captured, in US or allied operations in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere since August 2009.

The organizations targeted included Al-Qaeda; Awlaqi's group, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; Al-Qaeda in East Africa; and Jemaah Islamiyah of Indonesia. Awlaqi's death leaves Ayman al-Zawahiri, named Al-Qaeda's leader after bin Laden's killing, as the network's most high-profile known suspect still at large.

Analysts said the recent spate of killings reflected an evolving and aggressive strategy to snare terror suspects in areas once seen as havens. “It is the marriage of better intelligence and better drone technology along with the increase in the local partnership of intelligence services that allows us to go after people individually,” said Richard Fontaine, of the Center for a New American Security.

Tom Sanderson, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed the latest spate of strikes reflected better intelligence and military expertise and a political impetus injected by the Obama White House.

“Counter-terrorism at the end of the Bush administration had become quite effective and Obama was smart to pick up where (Bush) left off and enhance it,” he said. The result, Sanderson said, was the United States had now “injected risk” into calculations of terror networks, forcing operatives either to go into deep cover or flee, complicating their efforts to plot attacks.

All signs point to an expansion of the operation, with the United States taking aim at a new generation of Al-Qaeda operatives and new concern at the group's affiliates like the Al-Shebab group in Somalia.
John Brennan, Obama's top White House counter-terror advisor, pointed to new fronts in the war in a speech last month at Harvard.

“The United States does not view our authority to use military force against Al-Qaeda as being restricted solely to 'hot' battlefields like Afghanistan,” Brennan said. “We reserve the right to take unilateral action if or when other governments are unwilling or unable to take the necessary actions themselves.

”But Brennan conceded that “international legal principles, including respect for a state's sovereignty and the laws of war, impose important constraints on our ability to act unilaterally and on the way in which we can use force in foreign territories.”The New York Times earlier quoted administration and congressional officials as saying the Obama team was divided on the legal leeway the United States had in killing Islamist militants in Yemen and Somalia.

Since the bin Laden killing, suspected US drone operations and other strikes have killed three senior AQAP operatives in Yemen and Al-Qaeda in East Africa senior leader Harun Fazul was killed in Somalia.
Other top leaders, including senior Al-Qaeda operative Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, and the group's chief of operations Abu Hafs al-Shahri have been killed in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions by US drone strikes.
Particular questions were raised about the killing of Awlaqi because he was a US citizen.

A US official however said that in general terms it would be lawful for the United States to target high-level leaders of “enemy forces” regardless of their nationality, under US and international law that recognized the right of self-defense.

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