WASHINGTON (AP) — The CIA has carried out a half-dozen drone strikes in Pakistan in less than two weeks, the latest targeting al-Qaida's second in command, as the U.S. pushes ahead with the controversial program despite Pakistani demands that it stop.
A CIA drone strike Monday targeted Abu Yahia al-Libi in Pakistan, but it was unclear whether he was among those hit, U.S. officials said.
U.S. officials say fewer than five people were hit, although Pakistani officials say more than a dozen people were killed in two days of strikes in Pakistan. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the classified drone program.
U.S. officials said they did not know yet whether al-Libi was among those killed, but said they were "optimistic."
A senior Pakistani intelligence official said they could not confirm whether al-Libi had been killed. U.S. officials do not share information on targets, "so we don't know who they are targeting," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with agency policy. "We either hear it from the media or get confirmation from the ground, which we don't have yet."
Al-Libi would be the latest in the dozen-plus senior commanders removed in the clandestine U.S. war against al-Qaida since Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden last year.
The White House maintains a list of terrorist targets to be killed or captured, compiled by the military and the CIA and ultimately approved by the president.
The State Department's Rewards for Justice program had set a $1 million reward for information leading to the Libyan-born fugitive, who had filmed numerous propaganda videos urging attacks on U.S. targets after he escaped a prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in 2005.
Al-Libi took the second-in-command spot when Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri took charge of al-Qaida after bin Laden's death. As al-Qaida's de facto general manager, al-Libi is responsible for running the group's day-to-day operations in Pakistan's tribal areas and manages outreach to al-Qaida's regional affiliates.
"This is one of the more prominent names" among the targets of drone strikes in Pakistan, which helps bolsters the CIA's push to continue the drone program despite the continued political resistance from Pakistan and collateral damage, added former CIA officer Paul Pillar.
Al-Libi's death would be "another reason not to accept Pakistan's demand for an end to drone wars," added Brookings Institute's Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and adviser to the White House on Afghanistan and Pakistan policy.
Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana in Islamabad and Sebastian Abbot in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.
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