May 07, 2011
US went for ‘double play’ but missed Awlaki
A drone strike in Yemen on Thursday narrowly missed Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula spokesman Anwar al-Awlaki, an American born cleric who has been targeted for assassination by the US government.
The attack does not appear to have killed Mr. Awlaki, the officials said, but may have killed operatives of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen.It was the first American strike in Yemen using a remotely piloted drone since 2002, when the C.I.A. struck a car carrying a group of suspected militants, including an American citizen, who were believed to have Qaeda ties. And the attack came just three days after American commandos invaded a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda.
The attack on Thursday was part of a clandestine Pentagon program to hunt members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group believed responsible for a number of failed attempts to strike the United States, including the thwarted plot to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet on Dec. 25, 2009, as it was preparing to land in Detroit.
Although Mr. Awlaki is not thought to be one of the group’s senior leaders, he has been made a target by American military and intelligence operatives because he has recruited English-speaking Islamist militants to Yemen to carry out attacks overseas.
The problem that has plagued drone strikes targeting specific individuals is the red tape required to get approval to fire. By the time all the layers of military decision making have signed off, the target often escapes or moves out of harm’s way.
It’s a clumsy system that needs changing while still giving elected leaders the final say. In the meantime, Awlaki should stay indoors if I were him.