US launches special secret drone operation in Syria targeting Islamic State leaders
- A secret targeted killing campaign launched by the CIA and US Special Forces aims at suspected terrorists in Syria. Drones have been flown over Syria and used for strikes. The campaign is separate from the overall offensive against the Islamic State
Several recent targeted drone strikes have been against senior Islamic State operatives according to officials. One of those killed was actually a British militant who is said to have planned IS use of social media to incite attacks in the United States. An article here claims this strike raises a number of questions about the U.S. program.The British militant was Junaid Hussain, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Raqqa a city in Syria occupied by the Islamic State. He is believed to be an Islamic State recruiter. He is also is credited with helping to radicalize one of the shooters who attacked a cartoon drawing contest in Texas earlier this year. John Reid asks what the position of the UK government is on the targeted killing of a UK citizen. In the U.S. there was considerable discussion about the targeted killing of several Americans. Reid suggests that it is problematic when a government is unable to comment quickly on the targeted killing of one of its citizens by another country. He wonders too, if there has been UK involvement in the new program. Reid questions whether a targeted killing program is really an effective way to fight terrorism or a "martyr-machine that spits fuel onto the fire of anti-western Islamic militancy." Reid suggests the targeted killing program raises other questions for journalists:The new attacks are an escalation of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center (CTC) in the war in Syria. Although the CTC has been given an expanded role in identifying and locating senior Islamic State figures, U.S. officials said the strikes are being carried out exclusively by the Joint Special Operations Command(JSOC). No one from the CIA or US Special Operations Command that oversees the JSOC would speak to the press on the new program. Other officials discussed the program only anonymously.Syria is now a new front in expanding secret operations involving drone strikes. Drone strikes are now returning to Pakistan even though Pakistan troops have launched the anti-terror operation on the ground that the US long demanded. The strikes are continuing in Yemen even though the government authorizing the strikes is in exile in Saudi Arabia. The U.S. has also launched a strike in Libya and continues with strikes in Somalia.The Syria operation represents cooperation between the CIA and the JSOC who have often been seen as in competition or even conflict with each other over their roles in drone warfare. The US military and EU allies operate aircraft from the Muwaffaq Salti Air Base in Jordan but the US launches drones from bases in Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar. The al-Udeid base in Qatar is the Middle East headquarters of JSOC.There appear to be other drone attacks in Syria. The Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front was attacked when it launched an attack on rebels trained and supported by the US.
Does this strike mean that the US thinks enemy hackers, propagandists, and online recruiters are fair game for targeted killings? Or, was the decision to kill Hussain borne out of a self-defense rationale thanks to his identifying Americans as potential targets for attack? What is the level of online recruiting necessary to land an individual on a targeted kill list? The media needs to start asking such follow up questions.