New Year's Day attack takes out two al-Qaeda bigwigs

While we were all trying to get over our hangovers from New Year's Eve on January 1, al-Qaeda was getting a big headache of their own courtesy of some great work by the spooks at the CIA:

A New Year's Day CIA strike in northern Pakistan killed two top al-Qaeda members long sought by the United States, including the man believed to be behind September's deadly suicide bombing at a Marriott hotel in the Pakistani capital, U.S. counterterrorism officials confirmed yesterday.

Agency officials ascertained this week that Usama al-Kini, a Kenyan national who was described as al-Qaeda's chief of operations in Pakistan, was killed in the Jan. 1 missile strike, along with his lieutenant, identified as Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, the sources said. Both men were associated with a string of suicide attacks in Pakistan in recent months and also allegedly helped plan the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Kini, who had been pursued by U.S. law enforcement agencies on two continents for a decade, was the eighth senior al-Qaeda leader killed in clandestine CIA strikes since July, the officials said. He and Swedan were ranked among the 23 most-wanted terrorists by the FBI, with a bounty offering of $5 million for their capture.

The CIA declined to comment on the strike, citing the extreme secrecy of its operations along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where al-Qaeda is believed to be based. However, a U.S. counterterrorism official confirmed that the two died in a CIA strike on a building that was being used for explosives training.

South Waziristan is lousy with al-Qaeda so it's not surprising that a missile strike was directed there. The question is how much leeway we would have to go after al-Qaeda targets elsewhere in Pakistan? The Swat district in the NWFP is also a hotspot of terrorist activity and is mostly controlled by tribes loyal to the Taliban. But the Pakistani government is apparently involved in some delicate negotiations there and even though it is a target rich environment, we will probably not have the go-ahead to hit anyone in that part of the NWFP.

This points up the problems with the Pakistani government. They blow hot and cold about going after the terrorist threat and can't seem to make up their minds whether to hate us or allow our excellent intel and weapons make a difference for them. Right now, they are distracted by the tragedy in Mumbai and well they should be. But one of the first things Obama is going to have to decide when he takes office is how agressive we want to be in Pakistan by going after the source of Taliban pressure being put on Afghanistan.