US expands its drone war in push for victory over al-Qa’ida

The strikes bring to six the number of countries where the drones have been used. US officials increasingly identify the East African country as a major terrorist base

The CIA is reported to have used unmanned drones to target leaders of al-Q'aida's affiliate in Somalia for the first time, attacks coinciding with the unveiling of a new US counterterrorism strategy shifting the war on terror away from costly battlefields and toward expanded covert operations.

The strikes in Somalia, which last week apparently wounded two leaders of the al-Shabab militant group, bring to six the number of countries where the missile-armed drones have been deployed: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Iraq, and now the lawless country in East Africa which officials here increasingly identify as a major terrorist base after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

US officials quoted by The Washington Post yesterday claimed the two individuals targeted had "direct ties" to Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born cleric now based in Yemen who is believed to be a senior planner in al-Q'aida's operations. In May, al-Alwaki himself was targeted by a drone attack, but managed to escape.

There were also indications that al-Shabab intended to widen its operations outside Somalia. The group had become "somewhat emboldened of late" and as a result, the officials declared, "we have become more focused on inhibiting their activities". If confirmed, the strikes in Somalia would fit the new approach set out in the 19-page "National Strategy for Counterterrorism" released this week by the White House, and presented by John Brennan, President Barack Obama's top anti-terrorism adviser.

In some respects, this Administration is following the path trodden by the Bush Administration before it, placing the highest priority on protecting the US homeland from attack. In others though, it differs notably.

There is no mention of the Bush era "global war on terror". As Mr Brennan emphasised, the strategy is "not designed to combat directly every single terrorist organisation in every corner of the world". Instead, America has in its sights those groups who could pose a threat to the US mainland, and that still means al-Q'aida, despite the killing in May of Bin Laden, and the elimination of other senior commanders in the group.

In his address to a Washington think-tank, Mr Brennan was careful to insist that al-Q'aida still remained a threat. But rarely has a senior US official been as boastful about the inroads made into the organisation that in September 2011 carried out the deadliest-ever attacks on the American mainland.

Since Mr Obama had taken office, al-Q'aida's leadership had been "decimated," and "virtually every affiliate" had lost one or more of its top operatives, he proclaimed. Evidence recovered by Navy Seals from Bin Laden's hideaway in Abbottabad, Pakistan, had only confirmed that impression, he said.

For the first time, Mr Brennan explicitly raised the prospect of final victory over America's arch-enemy in the foreseeable future. "If we hit al-Q'aida hard enough and often enough, there will come a time when they can no longer replenish their ranks with the skilled leaders they need to sustain their operations."

In this campaign, America's main tools would be intelligence and Special Operations forces, backed up by the rapid deployment of what he called "unique assets", a reference to the drones that are becoming smaller and deadlier. But the deployment of drones is controversial, with frequent strikes in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas inflaming anti-American sentiment and creating tensions with Islamabad, already strained after the border-busting raid to kill Bin Laden. Human rights activists also say the civilian toll of the strikes is hard to calculate, given that the areas targeted by the drones are hostile and inaccessible, the very reason they are attractive to the militants.

Washington's new approach also reflects America's general weariness with large-scale foreign conflict at a moment when the economy is struggling, and the country is burdened by unprecedented debt. Only this week, an independent study reckoned the overall cost of the post 9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan might top $4trn, equal to a quarter of the entire US annual economic output.

The mood was caught exactly by the outgoing Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, in a February speech at West Point, when he declared that any successor of his who advised the President to send an American land army into Asia, the Middle East or Africa "should have his head examined".

Mr Gates took his formal leave yesterday at a Pentagon ceremony, attended by Mr Obama, at which the latter, unannounced, awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honour. A surprised Mr Gates noted in his reply that, as recent events have shown, "Mr President, you're getting pretty good at this covert ops stuff".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick