CIA Drone Strikes Taking a Toll on Al Qaeda’s Leaders in Pakistan

Despite fierce criticism of the CIA’s drone program in the wake of revelations that a US drone killed two Western hostages in early 2015, experts say that other strikes have been highly successful in decimating Al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan.

The situation in the Middle East is complicated by the increasing prominence of the Islamic State, but counterterrorism experts say that American successes in using drones to target and kill senior Al Qaeda operatives have left the group’s leadership with difficult choices.

While Al Qaeda had advanced its operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas, the loss of 40 loyalists as a result of targeted drone strikes in the past six months is said to be driving Al Qaeda commanders back to areas they had previously fled, including the Sudan and the mountains in eastern Afghanistan.

Fleeing back to isolated areas indicates that Al Qaeda operatives are on the run, making them less adaptable and less capable of launching effective attacks. American, European, and Pakistani officials all agree that the organization “is a rump of its former self,” according to a recent article in the New York Times.

An unidentified Pakistani security official said that the group is in disarray and struggling to find capable people to lead its reorganization. The militants had put hope in a local franchise in the Indian subcontinent, but this was short lived. Its deputy leader Ahmed Farouq was seen as a promising leader in militant circles, but drone strikes killed him along with at least four other leaders of this group.

Although Al Qaeda is currently struggling to regain its former strength without an organized structure of leadership, officials caution against overstating the significance of this one particular victory. Still, western strategists are hopeful that efforts to fight Al Qaeda will be bolstered by its relocation to Afghanistan. The US military is much better able to launch strikes and raids there, and Afghanistan has elite special ops forces and a reliable intelligence service committed to supporting US efforts to wipe out the terrorist organization.