- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

A son of Osama bin Laden is believed to have been killed within the past several months in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region just as U.S. drone strikes are playing an ever-increasing role in defeating extremist terrorist groups in the region, a counterterrorism official told The Washington Times.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, did not elaborate on reports of the death of Saad bin Laden but told reporters at a Pentagon press conference that the drones have proven highly successful in targeting some of the world’s most wanted terrorists and that future technological developments in the system will make it more difficult for them to hide.

“[Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] have been very important, they have been very effective,” Gen. Deptula said regarding the use of the unmanned drones in Afghanistan. The general would not elaborate on current operations, but he said that the “overarching priority” for the Air Force is how the Predator and Reaper drones can best integrate into the joint task force commanders’ priorities.

There have been more than 45 missile attacks with drones in Pakistan’s tribal region since last August. The drone attacks have focused mainly on foreign al Qaeda militants and Taliban leaders such as Baitullah Mehsud, whom the U.S. and Pakistani governments consider extremely dangerous.

Though many in the intelligence community believe bin Laden’s son is dead, they cannot say so without a doubt.

“There are some indications that he may be dead, but it’s not 100 percent certain,” the U.S. counterterrorism official said. “If he is dead, Saad bin Laden was a small player with a big name. He has never been a major operational figure.”

National Public Radio cited an interview with an unnamed intelligence official who said Saad was not considered a key person in his father’s organization and was not the target of the strike, but rather was killed during a strike intended for someone else.

He was born in 1982 and is one of 19 children of Osama bin Laden.

According to reports, Saad was thought to have fled Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. He went to Iran and was reportedly held under a form of house arrest from 2003 to 2008. He returned last year to Pakistan, where his father is thought to be hiding in the lawless borderland.

A senior Pakistani diplomat in Washington said relations between the Pakistani military and the United States have improved considerably over the past several months with regard to intelligence sharing. Many Pakistani officials over the past year have complained that U.S. defense and intelligence officials were not sharing significant information with Pakistan.

“As far as the Pakistan government is concerned, it has improved considerably over the past few months. There is better coordination … more robust intelligence sharing and coordination.”

The Pakistani official said Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency are working closely with the United States “to target al Qaeda and its associates.”

“In the border area or inside Pakistan, they have to be eliminated,” the official said.

Gen. Deptula said the Air Force is working closely with numerous agencies and allies regarding the Unmanned Aerial Systems but said he could not elaborate on current operations regarding Pakistan, which are under “combat and control.”

“The services organize, train and equip,” he said. “We provide capabilities.”

The one difficulty with the drone strikes may be in identifying the remains of the targets.

“It’s a very difficult mission to collect evidence after a strike,” said a U.S. military official with knowledge of operations in the region. “You have to have positive ID - DNA evidence or something of that sort. Sometimes it takes a bit of time to collect it, and sometimes you don’t get the chance at all.”


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