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Al Qaeda Leader Killed in North Waziristan?

7:07 PM, Jan 30, 2008 • By BILL ROGGIO
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Yesterdays airstrike against a purported Taliban safe house in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal agency resulted in 12 killed just as the Taliban and the government are prepared to sign a new peace accord. But the strike may have claimed a high value al Qaeda leader, ABC News reported today.

Pakistani intelligence sources say they believe a "high-value" al Qaeda target was killed in a missile strike yesterday in the country's tribal region bordering Afghanistan. U.S. officials said there was no indication that the target was Osama bin Laden or his deputy Ayman al Zawahri, but one senior official told ABCNews.com the strike was aimed at one particular figure. "We don't know whether we got him yet, we are sorting through it," the official said, indicating the intended target was a top leader of the terror group.

While the Internet is abuzz with the possibility of Osama bin Laden or Ayman al Zawahiri being killed, the likelihood, as ABC News noted, is low. A series of airstrikes in the tribal areas from earlier 2006 onward has yielded only two mid-level a Qaeda operatives: Imam Asad, the chief trainer of the Black Guard, and Mohsin Matawalli Atwa, one of the architects of the 1998 attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Eastern Africa.

Anonymous Pakistani intelligence officials have misled the U.S. officials about the deaths of high value al Qaeda targets in the past. The Pakistanis claimed six senior al Qaeda operatives were killed in a strike in January 2006. These leaders were: Midhat Mursi al Sayid Umar (Abu Khabab), al Qaeda's WMD expert; Abdul Rahman al Maghribi, Zawahiri's son-in-law and an al Qaeda commander; Abu Obaidah al Masri, the Kunar, Afghanistan operations chief; Marwan al Suri, the Waziristan operations chief; Khalid Habib, the commander of southeastern Afghanistan commander; and Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, a member of al Qaeda's military committee. The Washington Post reported almost two years later that they had, in fact, survived the attack. Abd al Hadi al Iraqi was captured while trying to enter Iraq in April 2007.

I noted yesterday that the strike may have been designed to derail the new peace talks, as happened in October 2006 in Bajaur agency. At that time, the government was negotiating with Faqir Mohammed and his local Taliban forces in Bajaur. The government leveled a Taliban training camp at the Chingai madrassa, killing more than 80 Taliban. The peace talks with the Taliban in Bajaur were sabotaged, but a deal was cut six months later in March 2007.