Afghanistan Head of al-Qaida 'Killed in Pakistan Drone Strike'

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The Guardian/UK

Afghanistan Head of al-Qaida 'Killed in Pakistan Drone Strike'

Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, head of al-Qaida in Afghanistan, killed last month, Pakistan and US security officials believe

by
Declan Walsh

Al-Qaida leader in Afghanistan, Mustafa abu al-Yazid, was killed last month in Pakistan, security officials believe. (Photograph: Reuters Tv/Reuters)

Pakistani and US security officials say they believe the head of al-Qaida in Afghanistan has been killed in a drone strike in Pakistan's tribal area.

Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a veteran Egyptian militant close to Osama bin Laden,
was hit in a drone strike last month, an official with Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) said. "He was killed on the 21st or
22nd, I believe," he said.

In Washington US security officials
told reporters they had "strong reason" to believe Yazid was dead. "In
terms of counterterrorism, this would be a big victory," a source told
Reuters.

A website linked to al-Qaida also acknowledged his death.

Yazid, whose nom de guerre was Sheikh Saeed al-Masri, had a hand in al-Qaida training, logistics and finance for the resurgent Taliban insurgency.

US
reports described him as al-Qaida's "number three", a title frequently
bestowed on assassinated Bin Laden associates, although some analysts
said it may not be accurate in this case.

There is little doubt,
however, that Yazid's death, if confirmed, marks the passing of a
senior Arab militant of long experience and unusually close ties to
both Bin Laden and the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar.

In his
mid-50s, Yazid was one of the founding members of al-Qaida in the late
1980s and followed Bin Laden to Sudan before returning to Afghanistan
with him in the mid-1990s.

He developed a close relationship with
the Taliban, learning to speak Pashto and absorbing their culture,
which earned him warmer respect than many other Arab fighters whom
local Taliban found arrogant.

Specialised in logistic and
finance, since 2001 Yazid became the key link between al-Qaida, which
is based in Pakistan's tribal areas, and the Taliban insurgency in
Afghanistan, according to Michael Scheuer, a former head of the CIA
cell hunting Bin Laden.

"They put him in charge of Afghanistan,
so that al-Qaida could serve as the supporting instrument the
insurgency. He would have made sure there was appropriate training,
flow of arms, finance."

Yazid was erroneously reported dead by
Pakistani officials after a drone strike in August 2008. But this time
US officials are expressing greater confidence, citing chatter on
Islamist networks and acknowledgment of his death on an al-Qaida
website.

Some militancy experts, however, disputed the
description of Yazid as al Qaida's "number three", saying the title may
more properly belong to Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan militant who
escaped from a high-security US military prison in Afghanistan in 2005.

Although
US officials are keen to stress his apparent death as a blow for
al-Qaida and another success in the controversial drone campaign, it
remains unclear what effect it will have.

Several other senior
al-Qaida figures have been killed in drone strikes in recent years, and
in each case a successor has quickly sprung up. What his death may
mark, in fact, is the passing of the al-Qaida torch from one generation
of militants to another.

Scheuer, a prominent critic of US
foreign policy, said the drones could not compensate for the lack of a
wider, politically based strategy against al-Qaida that defuses Muslim
grievances across the world include the Israel-Palestine conflict.

"All
this is negated by what the Israelis did to that relief convoy," said
Scheuer. "Whatever we gained from killing Sheikh Yazid, what the
Israelis did will just cause more animosity to the United States. But Americans have a very hard time connecting the dots."

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