Isn’t this also why al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups hide in civilian areas — to protect themselves from military attacks? The tragic deaths of hostages Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto resulted from flawed US intelligence on their location, as President Obama acknowledged yesterday. However, it resulted more from a flawed security strategy by a senior AQ commander who thought the US wouldn’t kill hostages to get to him, CBS News’ David Martin reported:
It now appears American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto, the hostages the White House announced Thursday were accidentally killed in a drone strike, were being used to safeguard an al Qaeda senior leader, CBS News’ David Martin reports.
Intelligence analysts never detected any sign of the hostages but did see evidence of a senior al Qaeda operative. That seemed to make it even more unlikely hostages were in the compound since there were no previous cases in which hostages had been held in close proximity to al Qaeda leaders. It now appears the hostages were used as shields for the senior leader, who apparently thought that as long as the hostages were nearby, he was safe from drone strikes.
That leader turned out to be an American named Ahmed Farouq, a longtime al Qaeda operative who once hatched a plot to hijack Pakistani vessels and ram them into American warships.
Several days later, another drone strike killed another American, Adam Gadahn, again without the CIA realizing it.
Unexplained in this story is how Ahmed Farouq thought the US would know the location of the hostages. Isn’t that, er, a big hole in the plan here? That suggests that AQ had done this with other hostages in the past with some success, and perhaps believed that the US knew of it. Clearly, though, the US hadn’t known about it, which either suggests that Farouq was an incompetent — which seems unlikely, given his track record until January — or that AQ may be getting a little desperate in their attempts to ward off drone attacks.
Speaking of which, the targeting of Farouq raises some interesting questions. The White House took pains yesterday to claim surprise at the death of Farouq and also of Adam Gadahn, both US citizens who joined al-Qaeda to make war on the US. If that was the case, though, how did they select that particular house to attack without having some idea of the identity of their target? Martin says that the drones targeted a “senior al-Qaeda leader,” but that seems pretty ambiguous in the politically charged environment in both Pakistan and the US in which these drone attacks occur. In order to avoid civilian deaths, the US would have to have a pretty good idea of the identity of the target and who might be accompanying them, no?
It seems like a circuitous, rhetorical way around the notion that Americans who join AQ should be somehow exempted from the war that they’ve joined on the other side in foreign locations. Both Farouq and Gadahn made that choice themselves, unlike the foreign-aid workers they held hostage for years. Hey, we didn’t set out to kill them, the Obama administration will say, but we’re not exactly sorry they’re dead. In fact, Martin says he got precisely that answer from his White House source:
The White House spokesman was asked if the president felt any regret for having unknowingly killed two Americans fighting for al Qaeda. He said, in a word, “No.”
Unknowing? Doubtful. Regrettable? Hardly.