"The killing of a suspected operative of Al Qaeda in Pakistan eight days ago by a missile launched from a remotely controlled Central Intelligence Agency aircraft was the latest such strike in a shadowy effort that both Pakistani and American officials have sought to hide," the Times reports.
The killing of the suspected operative, Haitham al-Yemeni, was first reported Friday night by ABC News, but it was denied the next day by Pakistan's Information Ministry. The C.I.A. has declined to confirm or deny the reports.But an account provided by former counterterrorism officials said the strike occurred May 7 in the Pakistani province of North Waziristan, in tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan. The missile was fired by a Predator aircraft operated by the C.I.A. from a base hundreds of miles from the target, the officials said."The U.S. team was hoping Haitham al-Yemeni would lead them to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden," the Washington Post notes. "But after Pakistani authorities early this month captured another al Qaeda leader, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, CIA officials became concerned that al-Yemeni would go into hiding and decided to try to kill him instead."
The CIA and U.S. military Special Operations forces have been operating inside Pakistan for more than two years with the knowledge of Pakistani authorities. But the U.S. presence is highly controversial with the largely Muslim Pakistani public, which is generally sympathetic to bin Laden and al Qaeda. For that reason, Pakistani officials routinely play down U.S.-Pakistani cooperation...Al-Yemeni's death is one of only a handful of known incidents in which the CIA has fired the remote-controlled, missile-equipped Predator to kill an al Qaeda member. In November 2002, the CIA used a Predator fitted with a five-foot-long Hellfire missile to kill a senior al Qaeda leader, Abu Ali al-Harithi, as he was riding in a car in the Yemeni desert...The CIA is permitted to operate the lethal Predator under presidential authority promulgated after the Sept. 11 attacks. Shortly after the attacks, Bush approved a "presidential finding" that allowed the CIA to write a set of highly classified rules describing which individuals could be killed by CIA officers. Such killings were defined as self-defense in a global war against al Qaeda terrorists...The Predator drone's primary mission has been to supply real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. But it has proved highly successful as a battlefield weapon as well.According to previously reported Pentagon documents, over the next five years the Air Force plans to purchase 24 Predators [wrong; it's more like 144 -- ed.] and 35 Predator Bs, which will be armed with as many as 3,000 pounds of precision-guided bombs or missiles, and sensors to locate and strike moving targets on the ground."Some of our greatest successes against al Qaeda have been through the use of the Predator, both in terms of recognizing targets and actual strikes," said Roger Cressey, a former Clinton administration counterterrorism official. "It's the area where the CIA has done an extremely good job."