08 February 2008

Gadahn Be Gone?

There is news circulating at the American born al-Qaida member Adam Gadahn (nee Adam Pearlman) may have been killed by a CIA drone that successfully targeted another high level al-Qaida leader in northern Waziristan.

Gadahn, who also went by the nom-de-guerre Azzam al-Americki (Azzam the American) had been acting as the radical jihadi version of Tokyo Rose in several long winded propaganda videos produced by As Sahab, the al-Qaeda’s video wing. Gadahn was indicted for treason in 2006 and is on the FBI’s most wanted list.

The Preditor attack on January 31, 2008 successfully eliminated Abu Laith al-Libi, al-Qaeda’s #3 leader. Intelligence officials are chary about indicating that Gadahn died in the attack, but they are having difficulty identifying all thirteen of the people killed in the attack.

I was suspect of the report when it was simply reported by the Pakistani news source The International News, but MSNBC also picked up the news peg as a deep background report. Thus, it is not definitive but I am inclined to give the story more credence.

This confusion illustrates the byzantine nature of the War on Terror. Fighting is not just on the battlefield, it is involving intelligence and public perception. Gadahn may well have met his maker, but Americans want to be sure. Moreover, it might not be to NATO’s advantage to make a martyr. The strike was also in Pakistan, which might erupt in internal strife if it is publicized that it was the Americans who launched a military strike in their country. Since we are probably relying on Pakistani military to do the leg work, there could be jihadi sympathizers in the field that muck things up or that Pakistani forensic teams might not be as up to speed as Western forces.

The American public prefers clear cut battles with tales of heroism attached. Alas, in an epic asymmetric conflict, it does not work that way. Intelligence and propaganda are just as lethal of weapons as a missile.

Even though it might be satisfying to announce that “Gadahn be gone”, continued success in vanquishing al-Qaeda might be contingent on obfuscating this fact.

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