Intelligence: The Complexity Of Kill Confirmation


July 18, 2011: In early July, the U.S. confirmed that it had killed al Qaeda leader Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri. His death was first announced on June 3rd, as a UAV missile attack in Pakistan's South Waziristan, which also killed eight of his followers. But it was a tentative kill, subject to collecting and analyzing more information before final confirmation could be provided. Now that confirmation has been made, and no details of how that was done were revealed. This is important, because the U.S. uses numerous electronic and human sources inside Pakistan to track the effectiveness of these UAV attacks. The electronic element is obvious, and even the terrorists know that their radio, cell phone and Internet communications are probably monitored. To get around that, various codes are used. These can be cracked, but it takes time. News from local informants takes time to get out of Pakistan. You can't hurry this without risking the lives of your spies. You risk the effectiveness of electronic eavesdropping if you reveal too much about how it actually works. But the intel system does apparently work, because most of the al Qaeda leaders confirmed dead over the past few years turned out to be truly deceased.

Kashmiri was often mentioned as one of the men who might replace Osama bin Laden as head of al Qaeda. The U.S. had long offered a $5 million reward for the death or capture of Kashmiri, who was the chief military commander of al Qaeda. He will be missed by the terrorists he supervised, but not by the potential victims of the attacks he was planning.