Unmanned U.S. Predator drones and the newer model Reapers have been real busy in Pakistan over the past month. The United States has launched 21 Predators strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas since Sept. 1, and with two days to go in September, is close to doubling the next most active month (the previous record was 11 strikes in January 2010).
The U.S. may have scored a big hit in a strike in the Datta Khel area in North Waziristan. Reports from Pakistan indicate that Sheikh Fateh al Masri, al Qaeda's leader in a Afghanistan and Pakistan, may have been killed in the attack on Sept. 21.
Sheikh Fateh al Masri replaced Mustafa Abu Yazid, who was killed by U.S. Predators in May. It seems that leading al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan has gotten a lot more dangerous.
But the U.S. Predator campaign in Pakistan isn't only focused on eliminating al Qaeda and Taliban senior leadership based in Pakistan. Al Qaeda's external operations network -- the network assigned to strike in the United States and Europe -- has long been a major focus of the Predator attacks. Yesterday, both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times noted that the massive increase in strikes this month has also targeted a network believed to be plotting attacks in Europe. This account from the Wall Street Journal explains the threat:
In an effort to foil a suspected terrorist plot against European targets, the Central Intelligence Agency has ramped up missile strikes against militants in Pakistan's tribal regions, current and former officials say.
The strikes, launched from unmanned drone aircraft, represent a rare use of the CIA's drone campaign to preempt a possible attack on the West.
The terror plot, which officials have been tracking for weeks, is believed to target multiple countries, including the U.K., France, and Germany, these officials said.
The exact nature of the plot or plots couldn't be learned immediately, and counterterrorism officials in the U.S., Pakistan and Europe are continuing to investigate. There have, however, been multiple terror warnings in recent days in France, Germany and the U.K.
The United States has relied on Predators and Reapers to keep al Qaeda's external operations network at bay. But airpower is no substitute for having boots on the ground and controlling territory. As long as the Taliban, which shelters al Qaeda, controls vast regions in Pakistan, and the Pakistani military refuses to take action against these terror network, the threat of terror attacks in the United States and Europe will remain high.