The Blog

CIA Gloats Over Airstrikes In Pakistan

4:55 PM, Feb 3, 2009 • By BILL ROGGIO
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Here we go again. CIA officials are gloating over the effectiveness of the U.S. airstrikes in Pakistan's tribal areas. NPR reports:

CIA-directed airstrikes against al-Qaida leaders and facilities in Pakistan over the past six to nine months have been so successful, according to senior U.S. officials, that it is now possible to foresee a "complete al-Qaida defeat" in the mountainous region along the border with Afghanistan. The officials say the terrorist network's leadership cadre has been "decimated," with up to a dozen senior and midlevel operatives killed as a result of the strikes and the remaining leaders reeling from the repeated attacks.

Not so fast, a senior U.S. military intelligence official who is an expert on al Qaeda's organization wrote in an email to me earlier today, a portion of which is excerpted below:

I'm not even going to get into the karmic quality of these types of cavalier declarations being offered on the day that our supply lines got cut into Afghanistan. With Swat now recognized by the press as being under TNSM control after more than a year's worth of fighting there and Peshawar essentially in a state of siege, these types of triumphalist declarations from Langley are dubious at best.

The official points to the de-classified 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which states that al Qaeda has regenerated its network in northwestern Pakistan and maintains a safe haven there.

Al-Qa'ida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership.

Despite the ramped up U.S. attacks, which admittedly have had an impact on al Qaeda's operational capabilities, the group still maintains a safe have in Pakistan and is still capable of regenerating its leadership. Of the seven al Qaeda leaders killed (and not eight as many are reporting as Rashid Rauf has not been confirmed killed; you can see the list here), three were members of al Qaeda Shura Majlis,or executive council. "Losing 'only' three Shura Majlis members in the span of 12 months is probably considered acceptable losses to AQSL [al Qaeda senior leadership] given the far more horrific tallies that were inflicted against them in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 that led a lot of observers in and outside of government to declare the group more or less dead by 2005," the official stated.

We need to recognize successes in the war, but need to be extremely careful about making such over-optimistic statements. Taliban and al Qaeda control in Pakistan and Afghanistan has expanded since the 2007 NIE. Despite Pakistani claims to the contrary, the Pakistani Army is losing ground in the northwest while NATO is still searching for the right strategy in Afghanistan, where the Taliban legitimately claim much of the rural regions are under their control. The U.S. attacks have had an impact on al Qaeda's ability to strike at the United States, but by no means does this mean the group has been "decimated." Making such overly optimistic claims only damages our ability to properly assess the nature of the threat.