Senior al Qaeda figure killed in drone strike

Published: January 20, 2012

US and Pakistani sources say target of the attack was Aslam Awan, senior al Qaeda external operations planner.

WASHINGTON/ISLAMABAD: A militant who acted as a senior operations organizer for al Qaeda was targeted and killed in one of two US drone strikes launched against targets inside Pakistan last week, a US official said.

US and Pakistani sources told Reuters that the target of the attack was Aslam Awan, a Pakistani national from Abbottabad, the same town where Osama bin Laden was killed last May by a US commando team.

They said he was targeted in a strike by a US-operated drone on January 10 directed at what news reports said was a compound near the town of Miranshah in the border province of North Waziristan.

That strike broke an undeclared eight-week hiatus in attacks by the armed, unmanned drones that patrol Pakistan’s tribal areas and are a key weapon in US President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy.

The sources described Awan, who also was known by the nom-de-guerre Abdullah Khorasani, as a significant figure in the remaining core leadership of al Qaeda, which US officials say has been sharply reduced by the drone campaign. Most of the drone attacks are conducted as part of a clandestine CIA operation.

Pakistani officials could not confirm that Awan was killed in the drone attack, but the US official said he was.

One of the sources described Awan as an associate of al Qaeda’s current chief of external operations, whose identity is known to intelligence officials but not to the general public.

“Aslam Awan was a senior al Qaeda external operations planner who was working on attacks against the West. His death reduces al-Qaeda’s thinning bench of another operative devoted to plotting the death of innocent civilians,” a US official said.

Several previous alleged chiefs of external operations for al Qaeda have been caught or killed in drone attacks or counter-terrorism operations, the most notorious being Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington DC  Mohammed was captured and is being held by US authorities in the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention facility.

Because their role in arranging operations involves interacting with militants in the field, external operations chiefs of al Qaeda have found themselves more vulnerable to exposure and counter-attacks by security forces than the movement’s most senior leaders, who until bin Laden’s demise last year appeared to be able to move about the region and issue provocative audio and video messages with near-impunity.

A Pakistani security source based in the country’s border region said that Awan was the remaining member of an al Qaeda cell Pakistani authorities have been trying to roll up since 2008.

“We thought he was very close to Ayman al Zawahiri,” the source said, referring to al Qaeda’s current leader and bin Laden’s long-time deputy, a former Egyptian doctor.

However, a US source said that American experts did not believe that Awan was particularly close to al Zawahiri.

The drone strike that targeted Awan was one of two such attacks last week, in what US sources indicated was a resumption of the US drone campaign following the eight-week pause. In the other drone strike, also in North Waziristan, a group of “foreign fighters” sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda, some of Uzbek ethnicity, were targeted on January 12.

Militants hit near border

The targeted militants were believed to be travelling, possibly in preparation for an operation near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, and some were injured or killed in the attack, the US source said.

US officials said they could not confirm news reports, based on claims from Pakistani sources, that Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the TTP, Pakistan’s most potent domestic affiliate of the Taliban movement, was also killed in the June 12 attack.

Pakistani and US sources said that Mehsud was not targeted in the drone strike, and one Pakistani source said: “He is alive. Hakimullah is alive.”

US officials insisted that the drone strike lull did not represent an official moratorium on such operations by the Obama administration. The officials maintained that any fall-off in the pace of such operations was related to the availability of intelligence and operating conditions, such as weather.

However, some officials did privately acknowledge that the drone lull was at least in part calculated to try to improve strained relations between Washington and Islamabad, which had been on a downswing for much of last year in the wake of Pakistan’s detention of a CIA operative and the secret US commando raid on bin Laden’s Pakistani hideout.

Relations plummeted to a new low following a late November incident in which 24 Pakistani troops were killed accidentally in a Nato aerial attack on border outposts.

Some US and Pakistani officials say that both governments are making efforts to improve relations. As part of this process, a US official said, it is possible that some permanent tweaks could be made in the US drone program which could slow the pace of attacks.

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Reader Comments (39)

  • marty
    Jan 20, 2012 - 10:57AM

    way to go uncle sam,keep droning these barbarians.

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  • Saqib
    Jan 20, 2012 - 11:01AM

    SICK AMERICANS!!!

    How many more reports I need to read before realizing that al-qaida is finished?…. seems as if Al-Qaida owns half the population of the world…………. CRAP!

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  • John B
    Jan 20, 2012 - 11:21AM

    One drone or two, once a month or twice a week, as long as Al Qaeda and their affiliates are under the radar and drone it is a good thing. It also keeps PAK safe although they don’t want to admit it.

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  • Pakistani Agnostic
    Jan 20, 2012 - 11:30AM

    Never knew Al-Qaeda was this big.

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  • Mirza
    Jan 20, 2012 - 12:10PM

    Drones are facilitating the deaths of suicide bombers. More Drones less suicide bombers in Pakistan and the world. Thanks Uncle and thank God for the Drones.

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  • haider
    Jan 20, 2012 - 12:27PM

    sad, our brothers

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  • zain
    Jan 20, 2012 - 1:48PM

    where is world 7th largest army and most disciplined institution?

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  • Ejaz
    Jan 20, 2012 - 3:57PM

    It’s sickening to read comments by John and Mirza who condone such murderous acts committed by the US. No international law permits to carry out extra judicial killings. The US is trying to be the Police, the Judge and the executors. If everyone starts behaving like this; this world would turn into a jungle. There are due legal processes that needs applying in all cases. Would John and Mirza care to condem the killings of Iranian Neuclear scientists by the Mossad, CIA and MI6?

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  • Roflcopter
    Jan 20, 2012 - 4:55PM

    Al Qaeda is dead thanks to ISI. Now killing their “senior” figures is nothing but propaganda to please war weary Americans.

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  • bakir
    Jan 20, 2012 - 6:58PM

    US forces vent thier frustration by firing a missile or two without any one confirming on ground what they hit. US and NATO have been thoroughly defeated in afghanistan and they want to prove it otherwise by firing missiles at nothing on pakistani border, come on US army and NATO what do you have to show the world for your 10 years of war in afghanistan?? if you had to open office in Qatar to beg talibans not to fight you why bother coming to afghanistan and wasting thousands of troops and billions of dollars??Recommend

  • Amir
    Jan 20, 2012 - 7:01PM

    Dude what ever you shoot by drone we are not opening your supply line, you need to “do more”to prove you will not shoot our soldiers again.

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  • John B
    Jan 20, 2012 - 7:19PM

    @Ejaz:
    Tell that to the people who got killed in NY, London, Madrid, Mumbai, Afghanistan, Bali, and to the Sri Lankan Cricket team, and UN AID workers and all others who got blown up in PAK.

    Due process of the law is only for people who live by the rule of the law. If my memory serves correctly, India, Sri Lanka are still waiting for the due process of the law from PAK.

    Welcome to the real world.Recommend

  • Satan
    Jan 20, 2012 - 7:31PM

    Y U PPL SO LIBERAL? Supporting Drone AttackS in our homeland?
    Do we get a visa that way easily? just wondering…

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  • Shahid
    Jan 20, 2012 - 7:48PM

    Please resume drone attacks again with full force. We need to eliminate these people from the surface of earth.

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  • Maryam
    Jan 20, 2012 - 8:25PM

    @Ejaz: Does the Taliban follow rule of Law when they do suicide blasts in Pukhtunkhwa, Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi in which they killed more than 30,000 innocent people in Mosques, shrines, Hujras, Markets etc. Come on Mr Ejaz, be on the right side!

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  • Jan 20, 2012 - 8:34PM

    @Maryam:
    So if Taliban’s donot follow any rules, does it mean US shouldn’t follow any rules? but what it means is that both are same =”TERRORISTS” coz they both act like same

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  • Jan 20, 2012 - 8:38PM

    @Maryam:
    if Cruel Taliban’s dont follow any rules, does it mean the “KIND” Uncle Sam should also not follow any rules? the innocent people who die in these attacks are Pakistani’s not American nationals, why would America care about that?

    But One thing for sure as ur comment supports the fact that both are not following anyrules so they both r “TERRORISTS”

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  • Maryam
    Jan 20, 2012 - 8:39PM

    @Colonel: No this does not mean that both are same. US is killing terrorists and Taliban who otherwise do blasts in our beloved country and kill innocent people. These Al Qaeda people have to Pakistan from some 50+ countries to make havoc in our markets, mosques and shrines. I would be happy if our government could have eliminated them but alas we have to rely on drones which the local people call Ababeel.

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  • SalSal
    Jan 20, 2012 - 8:41PM

    These drones are happening with the permission of the army. You think these drones just aim and kill? No. They are given information of who is where and a chip tracks their location. That’s obviously with Pakistani help.

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  • Jan 20, 2012 - 8:58PM

    @Maryam:
    what about the civilian casualties? what do u think the relatives of dead won’t join those terrorists to return the favor, as it is tradition of tribalism? the more drones the more Terrorist inbreeds grow, Effective dialogue policy and Jirga’s can only help Us instead of WARS AND OPERATIONS

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  • Jan 20, 2012 - 9:01PM

    These drones are not accepted by the majority of Pakistan, doesn’t the violate our sovereignty ? if we can’t win over them by force, we should bring them on table and i m sure we can do that if not then what kind of intelligence service do we have

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  • Jan 20, 2012 - 9:05PM

    @Maryam:
    On release of Malik Ishaq u comment “Thanks to the LHC for releasing our own brother.” and on drones u say drone’s are effective in eliminating the terrorist inbreeds, What double standards are you posing here, Recommend

  • Ashraf P
    Jan 20, 2012 - 9:08PM

    @Colonel Imam: They’re all guilty until proven innocent.

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  • Maryam
    Jan 20, 2012 - 9:10PM

    @Colonel: I don’t agree with you that drones are not acceptable to the majority of Pakistan. You can just look at the recommendations even in this news item on each and every comment. Only the ‘educated’ people in the Urban Pakistan are against these drones. But if you ask the people of FATA & Pukhtunkhwa then these drones are completely acceptable to them. They know that these drones mean eliminating of Al Qaeda and Taliban in their area. You can imagine how targeted these drones are because no one did migration from North Waziristan due to drones. In fact the people of N Waziristan are cooperating with the US to spot terrorists for them. Just leave this sovereignty debate aside because where were you when these terrorists come to FATA on the first place. and where were you when Osama was hiding in Kakul? So don’t do this sovereignty mantra to the people of FATA and Pukhtunkhwa.

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  • Maryam
    Jan 20, 2012 - 9:21PM

    @Colonel: Yes I did comment but Our Own brother was italic, which means that they are not our own people. That was a sarcastic comment to the followers of immi bhai. They are just terrorists and we should not own them. They are not our own brothers. Our own brothers are only those who are killed by people like Malik Ishaq and OBL and Hakeemullah Meshud in suicide blasts.

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  • Jan 20, 2012 - 10:33PM

    @Maryam:
    If these drones are so effective and targeted then whats shame in publicly admitting that these drones carry out strikes by the permission of Paki authorities, why the Military and Gov is silence over admitting this are they afraid of the minority of urban area???? Its because majority is against these strikes thats why they don’t accept the reality. Spare us with this talk that the people of FATA are happy with these Ababeels, I have a friend from Orakzai Agency he tells us that these people don’t have life, where we should go, they can’t leave/migrate because they don’t have resources to do that, and they propose that the best solution is only dialogue which u people don’t understand because u r not suffering, u dont understand what suffering is because u belong to the minority of THOSE URBAN EDUCATED PEOPLERecommend

  • numbersnumbers
    Jan 20, 2012 - 10:44PM

    @Ejaz:
    SO, you say that
    “If everyone starts behaving like this; this world would turn into a jungle. There are due legal processes that needs applying in all cases.”

    Please tell me where the “legal processes” occured when the Militants/TTP killed and maimed people with bombs, guns and suicide bombers, since they must have been included in your above stated “ALL CASES”?

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  • Jan 20, 2012 - 10:59PM

    @numbersnumbers:
    That’s the difference US should make between these terrorists and Itself, USA is not bunch of Talibans in fact they both are terrorists coz they act like same

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  • Ejaz
    Jan 20, 2012 - 11:12PM

    @Maryam: Please refer to Colonel’s comment addressed to you and my views are the same as him/her.

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  • Ejaz
    Jan 20, 2012 - 11:18PM

    @numbersnumbers:
    Try to distinguish between brutal criminals/Talibans etc and the State. State behaves differently and put people on trial and don’t kill people in summary executions. It may kill through the legal process i.e, by firing squad or hanging.

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  • Ejaz
    Jan 20, 2012 - 11:19PM

    @Colonel:
    Well said bro.

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  • faraz
    Jan 21, 2012 - 12:47AM

    @Colonel

    Orakzai agency has never been targeted by drones. So drones don’t explain the insurgency outside Waziristan. And except for high value targets, I oppose drone strikes. The deadliest suicide attack in Pakistan’s history took place in a jirga in Orakzai which killed over 150 tribals, and the attack was owned by TTP. Most of the insurgency in Orakzai is sectarian in nature. The real problem is that army sees Taliban as strategic assets and doesn’t want to eliminate them. It only wants to direct them towards Afghanistan. You are right that tribals are fed up of army because they know the real intent behind those military operations. Army has tried negotiations with Taliban, and believe me, the army is the last one to worry about extremism or radicalization. And educated urban class is not part of Pakistan’s decision making bodies.

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  • Jan 21, 2012 - 12:50AM

    @ Marty and Mirza:

    If unsanctioned extrajudicial massacres on the basis of suspicion, by the US, are to be cheered and supported, then why are far fewer extrajudicial killings allegedly by the Security Forces in Balochistan condemned?

    In both cases the people being targeted are suspected insurgents/terrorists (the BLA/BRA/BLF have been massacring non-combatants and kidnapping and extorting from them).

    Rather hypocritical position is this not?

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  • Salman
    Jan 21, 2012 - 3:33AM

    I want to say only one thing that these drones attacks are not acceptable at any cost.Thousands of people have been killed without any reason.People who are living in South waziristan and North waziristan are not happy with these deadly drone attacks.Our government should not let them do these attacks.Americans are scared of Taliban because they know Taliban are brave than their soldiers.Taliban has also killed many American soldiers in afghanistan. Americans are attacking pakistan it is against our sovereignty.

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  • Maryam
    Jan 21, 2012 - 3:49AM

    @faraz: Thanks Faraz. I have replied the same thing to him but did not know why tribune did not publish that. Thanks for the response.

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  • numbersnumbers
    Jan 21, 2012 - 5:06AM

    @Colonel:
    Wow, so you say Taliban and Americans both act like Terrorists!

    Americans use drones firing precision guided Hellfire missles at targets identified by Army/ISI agents in the target area!

    Taliban uses suicide bombers in Mosques and Bazaars.

    Now please explain to me how much “precision” a suicide bomber achieves at limiting civilian casualties, when just the opposite is the desired result!

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  • JSM
    Jan 21, 2012 - 8:13AM

    Why are the defence forces of Pakistan not shooting down the drones which infringe Pakistans sovereignity. Are the incapable? Or are thet afraid of US retaliation? Or are they conniving?

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  • Pashtun voice
    Jan 21, 2012 - 6:30PM

    Drones are the most effective in eliminating terrorists in FATA. Keep them coming!

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  • Jan 21, 2012 - 10:25PM

    @Maryam:
    @faraz:
    u didnt replied to what i asked, what’s shame in admitting ???

    Recommend

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