US Officials Say Drone Strike Targeted Al-Qaida No. 2

Posted June 5th, 2012 at 4:55 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. officials say a drone strike in Pakistan's tribal region targeted al-Qaida's second in command, but they do not know if the militant leader survived.

The officials, speaking to U.S. media on condition of anonymity, said the airstrike Monday in Hesokhel targeted Abu Yahia al-Libi. They said his death, if confirmed, would be a major blow to the terror group.

Pakistani officials said the attack killed at least 15 people — one of several airstrikes in recent days that killed at least 27 people overall.

The country's foreign ministry on Monday strongly condemned the U.S. drone strikes, calling them “illegal attacks” that violate Pakistan's sovereignty and “go against international law.”

Christopher Snedden, a South Asia analyst with the Melbourne-based security consultancy Asia Calling, told VOA the United States is likely to continue the drone strikes because they are an effective way to go after militants without endangering U.S. forces.

“I expect that they will do that because it's such an efficient way of running an operation. It may be reduced if Islamabad and Washington can actually improve their relationship but there's nothing in the short term that suggests that's going to happen.”

The Libyan-born al-Libi has been running al-Qaida's day-to-day operations in Pakistan's tribal regions as well as its links to regional affiliates. He escaped prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in 2005 and appeared in a series of propaganda videos before rising to become the terror group's deputy leader last year.

Relations between Washington and Islamabad have reached a new low over a series of events, including the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by U.S. special forces in May 2011 and the accidental killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers last November in a NATO air strike.

Pakistan's parliament has demanded a U.S. apology for the deadly cross-border attack and an end to the U.S. drone strikes. Washington refused to end the missions, saying drone strikes are a vital tool in the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban. Islamabad responded by blocking NATO supply routes into Afghanistan and the two sides have yet to reach an agreement on reopening them.

Pakistan's foreign ministry said Monday that “the strategic disadvantages of such attacks far outweigh their tactical advantages, and are therefore, totally counterproductive.”

Senior U.S. defense official Peter Lavoy is set to hold talks with Pakistani officials in Islamabad this week to try and break the deadlock over the supply routes.

Also Monday, police in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar briefly detained three U.S. diplomats after weapons were found in their vehicle.

Police said the diplomats, accompanied by a Pakistani body guard and two drivers, were stopped for a routine check, during which police found several rifles, pistols and ammunition. Police said the Americans also had been questioned because they left Peshawar on a trip and returned without proper documents.