- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002


Remote-controlled Predator aircraft armed with Hellfire missiles have become a deadly tool in the war on terrorism, killing top al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Yemen.

Missiles fired from lurking Predators have killed Osama bin Laden's operations chief and, earlier this week, a top al Qaeda operative in Yemen. The deadly drones give the CIA a way to track and kill terrorism suspects without putting U.S. pilots at risk, though with the possibility of unintended civilian casualties.

As effective as the Predator is as a killing machine, it can also be a powerful psychological weapon, showing terrorists that a fiery death can come seemingly out of nowhere.

"It's a demonstration that al Qaeda can run but they can't hide," said Daniel Mulvenna, a terrorism expert at the Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies in Washington. "Eventually the technological reach of the U.S. intelligence community is going to produce these opportunities."

The Yemen strike killed Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, al Qaeda's chief operative in Yemen and a suspect in the October 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors, U.S. officials said.

Five other persons, also believed to be al Qaeda operatives, were riding in al-Harethi's car and also died in the attack.

Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lundh condemned the strike as a "summary execution that violates human rights."

"Even terrorists must be treated according to international law; otherwise any country can start executing those whom they consider terrorists," she said.

The air strike on al-Harethi's car was reminiscent of Israeli air strikes targeting the vehicles of the radical Islamist group Hamas, a practice the U.S. government has criticized.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher deflected questions yesterday on the attack in Yemen but said U.S. opposition to "targeted killings" of Palestinians by Israel remains.

"If you look back at what we have said about targeted killings in the Israeli-Palestinian context, you will find that the reasons we have given do not necessarily apply in other circumstances," Mr. Boucher said.

The White House, meanwhile, defended the operation.

"Sometimes the best course is a good offense," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday.

"The president has made clear that we fight the war on terrorism wherever we need," Mr. Fleischer said. "Terrorists don't recognize any borders or nations."

The use of the armed Predator was apparently the first outside Afghanistan, where CIA-operated drones have fired at least four times. One of those attacks, a November operation that included strikes by U.S. military aircraft, killed al Qaeda military leader Mohammed Atef.

The United States developed the Predator after the 1991 Persian Gulf war to give military commanders a view of the battlefield without having to put a pilot there.

It was first used in 1995, and the remote-controlled spy plane can lurk in an area for as long as 16 hours, unseen and unheard at 15,000 feet, its cameras transmitting live video, infrared or radar pictures to military commanders or intelligence officials anywhere in the world. The video is sharp enough to be able to spot a person from five miles away, officials say.

The CIA was the first to fly Predators modified to carry one Hellfire missile under each wing. The 125-pound missiles were originally built as anti-tank weapons for Army helicopters. They streak through the air faster than the speed of sound to deliver about 17 pounds of sophisticated high explosives.

The Bush administration has ordered 22 more of the aircraft and their associated ground stations at a cost of about $160 million. The Air Force has about four dozen of them, and the CIA has an unknown number.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide