A six-month campaign of Predator strikes in Pakistan has seriously damaged the Al-Qaeda structure there, forcing militants to turn on one another as they search for culprits, The Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday.
Citing unnamed US intelligence and counter-terrorism officials, the newspaper said on its website that the pace of the attacks has increased dramatically after the administration of former president George W Bush made last August a previously undisclosed decision to abandon the practice of obtaining permission from the Pakistani government before launching strikes from the unmanned aircraft.
Since the end of August, the CIA has carried out at least 38 Predator strikes in northwest Pakistan, compared to 10 reported attacks in 2006 and 2007 combined, the report said. And the Obama administration is set to continue the strikes.
"This last year has been a very hard year for them," the paper quotes a senior US counter-terrorism official as saying of Al-Qaeda militants. "They're losing a bunch of their better leaders. But more importantly, at this point they're wondering who's next."
The official also said that Al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan "have started hunting down people who they think are responsible" for security breaches.
"People are showing up dead or disappearing," the official added.
According to The Times, the stepped-up Predator campaign has killed at least nine senior Al-Qaeda leaders and dozens of lower-ranking operatives.
Among those killed since August are Rashid Rauf, the suspected mastermind of an alleged 2006 transatlantic airliner plot; Abu Khabab Masri, who was described as the leader of Al-Qaeda's chemical and biological weapons efforts; Khalid Habib, an operations chief allegedly involved in plots against the West; and Usama al-Kini, who allegedly helped orchestrate the September bombing of the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the paper said.
Many of the dead are longtime Osama bin Laden loyalists who had worked with him since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the report said.
They are being replaced by less experienced recruits, according to The Times.