4 years ago
From The Los Angeles Times:
The CIA passed up a chance last year to kill Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of an anti-American insurgent network in Pakistan that is closely linked to Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, when it chose not to fire a missile at him from a Predator drone because women and children were nearby, U.S. and Pakistani officials say.
The incident was one of at least three occasions in the last six months when a militant was identified on video and a shot was available, but U.S. officials decided not to fire in order to avoid civilian casualties, said a senior Pakistani official familiar with the drone program.
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The Pakistani official, who spoke on condition he not be named, said allowing high-value targets to escape reflected a decision by the U.S. since August to use greater caution in the drone strikes. A strike Aug. 22 destroyed a militant hide-out in North Waziristan, killing 13 members of the Afghan Taliban but also four women and three children who were living among them, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.
The U.S. officials said there had been no policy change and that there always have been occasions when the CIA decided not to fire at a target in the midst of civilians. Those officials would confirm only the Haqqani incident. But they cited two other occasions in the last year when missiles that had already been fired from drones were diverted off target to avoid killing civilians. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a classified program.
Another factor driving the change, according to a former CIA official, is that the U.S. can afford to forgo an opportunity to kill a senior militant because intelligence and technology improvements to drone operations give the CIA confidence it will get the chance for a clearer shot.
Someone is a “prophet or a son of a prophet,” because we know that we are going to get a clearer shot at one of the most powerful Taliban leaders in the AfPak region, the younger Haqqani who has taken over operational control of the Haqqani network from his father, Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Normally I do not favor the high value target program for mid-level Taliban commanders using Special Operations Forces. I don’t believe that it’s all that effective, especially since we usually engage in a catch-and-release program for the commanders with the deadline for judicial action in Afghanistan being 96 hours. I think there is a better way.
But I favored the targeted killing of Baitullah Mehsud, and called for it months before it occurred. Sirajjudin Haqqani was a very significant target, and it’s remarkable that he was allowed to escape our noose, especially due to rules of engagement. Make no mistake about it. This comes back to rules of engagement and possible collateral damage. But the collateral damage from leaving Sirajuddin Haqqani alive may be catastrophic for some American families, who may lose their sons from massed Taliban force attacks on U.S. outposts, or to IEDs that blow their legs off.
Take particular note just exactly who it is that we left alive, and what he has to say about massing of Taliban forces up to 200-300 fighters at a time. Consider that in the context of the Battle of Wanat and Kamdesh. High value targeted killings by drones or other methods is not the answer to the campaign, but it waxes important when it comes to targets such as Haqqani. We lost that opportunity.