Libi, the second al-Qaeda deputy commander to be killed in 10 months, was targeted in a drone strike early Monday on a house in North Waziristan, U.S. officials said. Despite reports from Pakistan that more than a dozen people died, U.S. officials said Libi was the only one killed.
A U.S. official described Libi as one of al-Qaeda’s “most experienced and versatile leaders.” His death was viewed as a particularly heavy loss for al-Qaeda because of his standing as both a spiritual figure and operational manager for a terrorist organization that has been struggling since bin Laden’s death at the hands of Navy SEALs last year.
The death of Libi “puts additional pressure on al-Qaeda in the post-bin Laden era,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. It “damages the group’s morale and cohesion and brings it closer to demise than ever before,” he said.
The missile strike also illustrates the Obama administration’s determination to continue the CIA drone campaign despite escalating Pakistani objections, which were reiterated Tuesday when an American diplomat was summoned to Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry in Islamabad.
U.S. charge d’affaires Richard Hoagland “was informed that the drone strikes were unlawful, against international law and a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” according to a statement from the Islamabad government.
The message was delivered amid a flurry of drone activity in Pakistan, with three strikes since Saturday. U.S. officials said Libi was among a total of three operatives killed.
The pace of the drone campaign reflects the extent to which the CIA has continued to patrol Pakistan with unmanned aircraft, even as the terrorist threat has shifted. U.S. officials now see al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen as significantly more dangerous than the core group in Pakistan, but the number of strikes this year in each country stands about even.
According to the Long War Journal Web site, there have been 22 drone strikes in Yemen and 21 in Pakistan.
Libi’s death “underscores we cannot give in to Pakistan’s demand for an end to drone operations,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who is a counterterrorism expert at the Brookings Institution.
‘He was an absolutist’
Libi was among a collection of aliases used by a militant whose given name was Muhammad Hasan Qaid, according to the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism.
He was one of the last surviving members of the generation of al-Qaeda fighters who battled against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He was admired among the group’s rank and file and served as a bridge between al-Qaeda’s Pakistan leadership and affiliates around the world. Libi also possessed credentials that allowed him to issue religious edicts and operational mandates to the group’s adherents.