Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The War on Terror: If At First You Don't Succeed

The CIA’s attempt to kill Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenant in a remote Pakistani village near the border with Afghanistan is a timely reminder that nothing comes easy in the War on Terror.

The bad news is that the airstrike Friday on three houses in the village of Damadola in the Bajaur tribal region apparently failed to kill Ayman zl-Zawahiri, who had been invited to a religious dinner there but sent aides instead. The good news is that the attack – carried out with missiles launched from a CIA Predator drone aircraft – did take out a number of al Qaeda terrorists.

The remains of 12 bodies, including as many as eight foreigners, were quickly retrieved by a group of men after the airstrike and buried elsewhere, U.S. intelligence sources told CNN and other news outlets. Pakistani officials said 18 people were killed, including eight men, five women and five children.

There have been previous attempts to assassinate Zawahiri, who has been the public face of al Qaeda since Bin Laden dropped out of sight over a year ago. Zawahiri (pictured above with Bin Laden) has been described as the chief executive officer and primary intellectual force behind Al Qaeda, with Bin Laden more or less acting as chairman. Bin Laden is believed to still be alive, but has adopted a low profile to avoid giving his location.

Is there any question that the strike was justified? Despite the predictable indignation of some Pakistani government officials and on-cue nationwide demonstrations, absolutely not.

The attack is nevertheless an embarrassment for the government of Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who has wanted it both ways: To be a stalwart U.S. ally in the War on Terror, with the attendant military moolah and other financial aid, while trying to make nice with more radical Islamist elements.

Pakistan does not allow U.S. soldiers stationed in Afghanistan to cross the porous border to track down terrorists and has been justifiably blamed to not more aggressively pursuing Zawahiri and Bin Laden on its own turf, especially in the months after the 9/11 attacks. But Musharraf has tended to look the other way when the CIA has launched previous airstrikes on the Pakistani side of the border and it is believed he has given his tacit approval for the forays.

"It's terrible when innocent people are killed; we regret that," Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, told CBS' "Face the Nation."

"But we have to do what we think is necessary to take out al Qaeda, particularly the top operatives.”

Amen to that.

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