Obama's drone policy dilemma

 
Screengrab of Abu Yahya al-Libi, file image 25 March 2007 Pakistani officials say two missiles from unmanned aircraft killed 15 people

They came to bury senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi, not praise him.

But American officials are so keen to trumpet their latest drone kill that it sounds like they are about to offer him a job rather than announce they have killed a bitter enemy.

They say he was "experienced", "versatile", played a "critical role" as a "longstanding member of the leadership" who had "gravitas" and "religious credentials".

Rather like some official announcement of the retirement of a colleague, they continue: "[Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-]Zawahiri will be hard-pressed to find any one person who can readily step into Abu Yahya's shoes."

"There is no-one who even comes close in terms of replacing the expertise AQ has just lost," they add.

This rather strange, gushing testimonial to a terrorist is all part of the Obama administration's new-found enthusiasm to open up about their drone wars.

Militants killed by drones in Pakistan

  • June 2012: Senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi
  • February 2012: Al-Qaeda commander Badar Mansoor
  • August 2011: Al-Qaeda commander Atiyah Abd al-Rahman
  • June 2011: Senior al-Qaeda figure Ilyas Kashmiri (according to reports)
  • August 2009: Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud

Indeed, it is part of their hard sell of a new way of warfare, which they believe has clear political advantages for President Barack Obama.

From their point of view, they have achieved a key military objective with no cost to American lives - and so no domestic political toll.

This was a successful operation, but even failures do not impose a heavy price within the US.

As one expert put it to me: "When a drone goes missing, no mothers weep."

But it is not true that there is no cost.

Pakistan has told the US that drones strikes must stop, they are a red line for the country, and are both against international law and a breach of national sovereignty.

For more on this subject, read my piece on President Obama's drone policy.

 
Mark Mardell, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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