The Drone War

The Drone War
by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann
Are Predators our best weapon or worst enemy
The New Republic, June 03, 2009

The Al Qaeda videotape shows a small white dog tied up inside a glass cage. A milky gas slowly filters in. An Arab man with an Egyptian accent says: "Start counting the time." Nervous, the dog starts barking and then moaning. After flailing about for some minutes, it succumbs to the poisonous gas and stops moving.

This experiment almost certainly occurred at the Derunta training camp near the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, conducted by an Egyptian with the nom de jihad of "Abu Khabab." In the late 1990s, under the direction of Al Qaeda's number two, Ayman Al Zawahiri, Abu Khabab set up the terrorist group's WMD research program, which was given the innocuous codename "Yogurt." Abu Khabab taught hundreds of militants how to deploy poisonous chemicals, such as ricin and cyanide gas. The Egyptian WMD expert also explored the possible uses of radioactive materials, writing in a 2001 memo to his superiors, "As you instructed us you will find attached a summary of the discharges from a traditional nuclear reactor, among which are radioactive elements that could be used for military operations." In the memo, Abu Khabab asked if it were possible to get more information about the matter "from our Pakistani friends who have great experience in this sphere." This was likely a reference to the retired Pakistani senior nuclear scientists who were meeting then with Osama bin Laden.

In the pandemonium following the fall of the Taliban in the winter of 2001, Abu Khabab disappeared into the badlands on the Afghan-Pakistani border. The United States put a $5 million bounty on his head and, in January 2006, attempted to kill him and Zawahiri while they were believed to be in the Pakistani hamlet of Damadola, targeting them with a missile launched by a drone aircraft.

Initial press reports said that Abu Khabab was killed in the strike, but, when the dust cleared, 25 civilians, including a half-dozen kids, were dead--and Abu Khabab was not among them. Unsurprisingly, the civilian death toll sparked protests in the region. In one, several thousand tribesmen chanted "Death to America," and the issue of innocents killed by U.S. rockets quickly became a potent Pakistani Taliban propaganda point. A couple of weeks after the botched missile strike, Zawahiri himself appeared in a videotape, saying that the Damadola strike was a "failure" and taunting President Bush as a "butcher."

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