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Context of 'May 8, 2005: US Assassinates Al-Qaeda Figure with Predator Drone'

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US intelligence learns through communications intercepts about a meeting of al-Qaeda leaders in Bajaur, in the remote border regions of Pakistan near Afghanistan (one account says the meeting is in nearby North Waziristan instead). Intelligence officials have an “80 percent confidence” that al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri and/or other top al-Qaeda leaders are attending the meeting. One intelligence official involved in the operation says, “This was the best intelligence picture we had ever seen” about a high-value target. [New York Times, 7/8/2007; Newsweek, 8/28/2007; New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Size of US Force Grows - The original plan calls for cargo planes to carry 30 Navy Seals near the target, then they will use motorized hang gliders to come closer and capture or kill al-Zawahiri. The plan is enthusiastically endorsed by CIA Director Porter Goss and Joint Special Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his assistant Stephen Cambone are uncertain. They increase the size of the force to 150 to take care of contingencies. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] One senior intelligence official involved later says for effect, “The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007]
"Frenzied" Debate - But even as US special forces are boarding C-130 cargo planes in Afghanistan, there are “frenzied exchanges between officials at the Pentagon, Central Command, and the CIA about whether the mission was too risky.” Some CIA officials in Washington even try to give orders to execute the raid without informing US Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker, who apparently is often opposed to such missions. [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Rumsfeld Gives Up Without Asking - Having decided to increase the force, Rumsfeld then decides he couldn’t carry out such a large mission without Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s permission. But with the cargo planes circling and the team waiting for a green light, Rumsfeld decides that Musharraf would not approve. He cancels the mission without actually asking Musharraf about it. It is unclear whether President Bush is informed about the mission. The New York Times will later report that “some top intelligence officials and members of the military’s secret Special Operations units” are frustrated at the decision to cancel the operation, saying the US “missed a significant opportunity to try to capture senior members of al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007] It is not clear why the US does not hit the meeting with a missile fired from a Predator drone instead, as they will do to kill an al-Qaeda leader inside Pakistan a couple of months later (see May 8, 2005).

Entity Tags: Stephen A. Cambone, US Special Forces, Porter J. Goss, Pervez Musharraf, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ryan C. Crocker, Central Intelligence Agency, Navy Seals, Donald Rumsfeld, Stanley A. McChrystal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The CIA launches a missile from a remotely piloted Predator drone and kills al-Qaeda leader Haitham al-Yemeni. He is killed in a village in northwest Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. He had been tracked since attending a meeting with other al-Qaeda leaders a few months earlier (see Early 2005). [ABC News, 5/13/2005; New York Times, 7/8/2007] US intelligence officials say they were hoping al-Yemeni would lead them to bin Laden, but after al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi was captured in early May 2005, they worried al-Yemeni would go into hiding and decided to kill him instead. Officials claim that al-Yemeni was going to replace al-Libbi as al-Qaeda’s operations leader. However, little is known about him (including his real name since al-Yemeni means “from Yemen”), and he is not listed in either the FBI or Pakistani “Most Wanted” list. There are no prior media mentions of his name and no publicly released photographs of him either. [Washington Post, 5/15/2005] One anonymous US intelligence source disputes claims that al-Yemeni was high-ranking. [CNN, 5/14/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Haitham al-Yemeni

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A missile fired from a US Predator drone kills at least 16 people in Pakistan. The missile hits a house in the village of Toog in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal region where al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be residing. The house is said to belong to an unnamed militant leader, and several militants are reportedly killed. However, details are scanty. [BBC, 3/16/2008; Newsweek, 3/22/2008]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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