CIA Director Leon Panetta said Wednesday an aggressive campaign has driven Usama bin Laden and other leaders deeper into hiding and left Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal regions in disarray.
“Those operations are seriously disrupting Al Qaeda,” Panetta told The Washington Post in an interview. “It’s pretty clear from all the intelligence we are getting that they are having a very difficult time putting together any kind of command and control, that they are scrambling. And that we really do have them on the run.”
Drone strikes in Pakistan’s border region, largely conducted by the CIA, have escalated in recent months, proving an effective way to target Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders hiding in the rugged mountainous border. While Pakistani officials have criticized the strikes, it is widely believed that Islamabad privately supports the attacks and works with the U.S. to provide intelligence.
The remarks came as an Al Qaeda leader believed to have played a key role in the bombing of a CIA post in Afghanistan last December was apparently killed by an American missile strike last week, a senior U.S. official said.
The counterterrorism official said Hussein al-Yemeni was believed killed in a strike in Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
Al-Yemeni is considered an important Al Qaeda planner and explosives expert who had established contact with groups ranging from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to Afghan and Pakistani Taliban militant groups. He is also known as Ghazwan al-Yemeni.
The counterterrorism official said al-Yemeni was in his late 20s or early 30s and was a conduit in Pakistan for funds, messages, and recruiting but that he specialized in suicide operations.
A jihadist Web site linked to Al Qaeda recently announced his death, said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who now is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center.
“This is another sign that drone operations and stepped-up efforts against Al Qaeda are having an impact in the tribal regions,” Riedel said Wednesday. He said al-Yemeni served prison time in Yemen in 2005 before being released and has since moved through Afghanistan and Iran and was a trainer for the Taliban.
In the CIA base attack, a Jordanian suicide bomber killed seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer. The bomber, a Jordanian doctor identified as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, detonated his cache of explosives at Camp Chapman, a tightly secured base in Khost.
CIA officials has cultivated al-Balawi in hopes of obtaining information about Al Qaeda’s second in command, but he turned out to be a double agent. In a video broadcast after his death, the bomber said the attack was meant to avenge the death of the former Pakistani Taliban leader in a CIA missile strike.