Osama Bin Laden strike shows shift in U.S. policy under Obama to shoot to kill targeted terroristsBy Joseph Straw AND Alison Gendar
May 31, 2011
WASHINGTON - U.S. terrorist hunters shoot first - and don't worry about asking questions later.
The mission that took out Osama Bin Laden is only the most high-profile example of what has become standard operating procedure in the war on terror: kill the foe before even trying to capture him.
"I can't think of any high-value targets that have been captured, they have been taken out," Rep. Peter King (R-Nassau) recently told The News.
"I don't mourn their deaths, but sometimes intel is lost. Osama was unusual in that it was a win-win. He was killed and we got a treasure trove of intel."
King suggested the "take-no-prisoners" approach is the result of the Obama administration's stalemate over what to do with captured prisoners.
Intelligence sources and counterterrorism experts said it was more likely the result of harsh realities on the ground than concerns about where to stash captured Al Qaeda or Taliban leaders.
"You often don't have the luxury of making a conscious choice. Rarely can you say, 'Well, I've got this target, and I could do a raid but I may use a Predator'," said Fran Townsend, President George W. Bush's counterterror adviser.
"Usually you use what's available to you, and you want to save putting U.S. forces at risk for ultimate - like a Bin Laden - where you say, 'You know what, I'm willing to take that risk,'" Townsend said.
Those in the field said the success of Predator drones only increases their use, though not for the obvious reasons.
"A successful drone strike means that all your future targets are on the move that much more," an intel official said. "They stay one night at a location and never circle back to the same place twice.
"If you have information about the location of someone, chances are it is a very slim window of time - not enough to scramble a (unit) to try for capture." Ground troops are also restricted to locations where they can actually operate.
While it might be possible to deploy a capture team in a place like East Africa, "you just can't drop down a team into the tribal areas of Pakistan, at least not without accepting the risk of high casualties," another source said.