The USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has not allowed the death of Osama bin Laden in a raid by US naval commandos at his hide-out at Abbottabad on May 2,2011,to slow down its hunt for other high-value targets of Al Qaeda and its affiliates in the Pashtun tribal belt of Pakistan.
2. Its relentless search for them through newly-created human sources and Drone (pilotless plane) strikes has been kept up. The successful commando raid at Abbottabad has added to the already existing disruption in the command and control of Al Qaeda and its affiliates.Their remaining leaders are on the run re-locating themselves in new sanctuaries due to a fear that their old sanctuaries might already be within the knowledge of the CIA as a result of its scrutiny of the documents and computer material seized from OBL's hide-out.
3. Their hurried efforts towards re-location have provided the CIA and its Drones new opportunities to run them down and eliminate them. Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of the so-called 313 Brigade of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), one of the constituent units of Al Qaeda’s International Islamic Front For Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People, appears to have been successfully hunted down and eliminated along with some associates---all Pakistanis--- in a Drone strike near Wana in South Waziristan on the night of June 3,2011.
4. Though their bodies are reported to have been mutilated beyond recognition and quickly buried by the locals thereby making physical or forensic identification impossible, the admission by a self-proclaimed representative of the HUJI in Fax messages sent to the local media of the fact of Ilyas’ death in a Drone strike has added strength to the widely-held belief in the South Waziristan area that Ilyas is no more.
5. While one cannot rule out the possibility of the HUJI or its 313 Brigade deliberately disseminating a false claim of his death in order to protect him from the relentless hunt by the CIA, one has to note that there has been no instance in the past of Al Qaeda or its affiliates disseminating false claims of death in order to protect their leaders.
6. There had been instances in the past of Pakistani agencies claiming to have killed high-value targets, with the claims subsequently proving to be false. A report in September 2009 disseminated by Pakistani sources regarding the death of Ilyas in a Drone strike subsequently proved to be false. At that time, no claim or admission of his death had been made by the 313 Brigade or the HUJI.
7. Thus, one can be reasonably ---though not totally—certain that the CIA has scored another high-value success in eliminating Ilyas. This will further add to the disruption in the command and control of Al Qaeda and its affiliates. After Rashid Rauf, a Mirpuri from Birmingham, who was reportedly killed in a Drone strike some months ago in the FATA region, Ilyas is the second jihadi terrorist of Kashmiri origin associated with Al Qaeda to have been killed by the CIA. He hailed from the Bhimber area of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.
8. Ilyas was often compared to Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), who orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes inthe US homeland, but he was not of the same class as KSM in conceiving and executing spectacular terrorist strikes.
9. His value to Al Qaeda arose from the fact that he had a wide network of contacts not only in the Pakistani Armed Forces and intelligence agencies, but also in the diaspora of Pakistani origin in the West. This enabled him to find new non-Arab volunteers for Al Qaeda’s operations in foreign soil.
10. However, it has to be noted that his spectacular successes were mostly in the Af-Pak and Indian regions. None of his planned operations in the West---including the plan to blow up the offices of the Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Holy Prophet in 1995, reached a successful culmination.
11.Ilyas did not have a technical bent of mind like KSM, but he developed an expertise in organising complex swarm attacks using the commando tactics of special forces. The increasing number of such successful swarm attacks by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Haqqani network in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan bore his signature and signs of his expertise and training. It remains to be seen whether his death will have any impact on the ability of Al Qaeda and its affiliates to carry out such swarm attacks in future. ( 5-6-11)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com )