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CIA Operation Similar To Tactic Obama Advocated, Bush Criticized

First Posted: 03/28/08 03:46 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 01:25 PM ET

Bush Cia Obama

On the front page of Tuesday's Washington Post was an article detailing how in late January U.S. forces, acting with autonomy inside Pakistan, were able to target and kill Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda commander.

The strike, which came without the Pakistani government's knowledge and helped eliminate an individual who had long eluded the spy-agency's capture, was an obvious boon in the War on Terror. But the political implications of the operation were just as fascinating.

In August, Sen. Barack Obama had made the argument that, as president, he would target Al Qaeda officials in Pakistan even without the country's acquiescence -- the type of attack that, six months later, proved to be successful.

At the time, Obama was roundly criticized for his remarks, both by his Democratic competitors for the White House and by the Bush administration.

"We think that our approach to Pakistan is not only one that respects the sovereignty of Pakistan, but also is designed so that we are working in cooperation," said then-Press Secretary Tony Snow.

And just one week ago, President Bush himself lambasted Obama's approach to foreign affairs.

"I certainly don't know what he believes in," Bush said on February 10, about Obama. "The only foreign policy thing I remember he said was he's going to attack Pakistan and embrace Ahmadinejad."

To be sure, not everything is known about the extent and execution of the CIA's operation. But, on the surface, it carries similarities to Obama's stated approach towards Pakistan's terrorism problem, the same approach Bush trivialized.

Here is Obama's August 2 statement at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:

"I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges... But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. ... If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will."
And here are some excerpts from Tuesday's Washington Post article.
In the predawn hours of Jan. 29, a CIA Predator aircraft flew in a slow arc above the Pakistani town of Mir Ali. The drone's operator, relying on information secretly passed to the CIA by local informants, clicked a computer mouse and sent the first of two Hellfire missiles hurtling toward a cluster of mud-brick buildings a few miles from the town center.


The missiles killed Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda commander and a man who had repeatedly eluded the CIA's dragnet. It was the first successful strike against al-Qaeda's core leadership in two years, and it involved, U.S. officials say, an unusual degree of autonomy by the CIA inside Pakistan.

It is an approach that some U.S. officials say could be used more frequently this year, particularly if a power vacuum results from yesterday's election and associated political tumult. The administration also feels an increased sense of urgency about undermining al-Qaeda before President Bush leaves office, making it less hesitant, said one official familiar with the incident.
Having requested the Pakistani government's official permission for such strikes on previous occasions, only to be put off or turned down, this time the U.S. spy agency did not seek approval. The government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was notified only as the operation was underway, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.
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