May 7, 2012

Wanted Al-Qa'idah leader killed in Yemen

FBI Wanted Poster - Fahd al-Qus'uفهد القصع  

Message to terrorists who kill American service members, diplomats and citizens: It may take years, even a decade or more, but the military and intelligence services of the United States will hunt you down and kill you.

In Yemen on Sunday, May 6, an airstrike killed wanted al-Qa'idah leader Fahd Muhammad Ahmad al-Qus'u (also rendered as al-Quso). Al-Qus'u was one on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Terrorists for his role in the October 12, 2000 attack on the USS Cole while in the port of Aden, Yemen, in which 17 American sailors were killed.

Although neither the Yemenis nor the Americans have confirmed that the strike was carried out by an American drone, Al Jazeera reported it as an American attack which killed al-Qus'u and an accompanying al-Qa'idah official, as well as wounding six others. This has all the indicators of an attack by a drone-launched Hellfire missile. Of note, the report in Arabic on Al Jazeera stated that al-Qus'u had been "martyred" - any question who's side they are on?

Al-Qus'u had been assigned by al-Qa'idah to videotape the 1998 suicide bombing of the USS Cole, but he fell asleep. To their credit, the Yemenis arrested him and imprisoned him for more than five years. Following his release in 2007, he rejoined al-Qa'idah and became a much more influential member of the organization.

Being from the same tribe as the late (as in also killed by an American missile strike) American-born radical cleric and al-Qa'idah leader Anwar al-'Awlaqi, al-Qus'u was involved in plot by Nigerian-born 'Umar Faruq 'Abd al-Mutalib to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, 2009. In 2010, he achieved what is considered a benchmark for al-Qa'idah leaders: the U.S. State Department designated him as a "global terrorist."

I have been critical of many aspects of President Obama's foreign policy in the Middle East in general and his prosecution of the wars there in particular. His "leading from behind" style and the constant telegraphing of our plans and strategies to our antagonists is dangerous. That said, his willingness to order drone-launched missile strikes on al-Qa'idah terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen is to be lauded.

Hunting down al-Qa'idah leaders in the countries where they have sought refuge is much preferable and more effective than nation building efforts in countries in which al-Qa'idah is no longer a threat.