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Drone strikes: Should US capture, and not kill, Al Qaeda leaders?

The White House hailed the killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi as bringing Al Qaeda 'closer to its demise than ever.' But some say the drone strike policy is squandering sources of valuable intelligence.

By Staff writer / June 6, 2012

An MQ-1B Predator Drone from the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron takes off from Balad Air Base in Iraq, in this June 2008 file photo.

Courtesy of Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/U.S. Air Force/Reuters/File

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Washington

The White House on Tuesday trumpeted the killing by drone strike of Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, as bringing the terrorist organization responsible for the 9/11 attacks “closer to its demise than ever.”

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But by killing off Al Qaeda leaders and operatives by means of the unmanned drones rather than capturing them, is the US losing out on valuable intelligence on an evolving organization – and thus on information that might also be crucial in defeating the terror group?

While few voices are lamenting the demise of the man considered to have become Al Qaeda’s global ambassador for Islamist extremism following the death last year of Osama bin Laden, some critics are beginning to find fault with President Obama’s increasing use of the drones in targeted killings.

Their reasons are not concerns about international law or the violation of other country’s territorial sovereignty that others have raised, but rather that the US is wiping out potential troves of intelligence – think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind held for years in detention in Guantanamo.

Terrorism experts concur that there can be a “loss’ in terms of uncollected intelligence in an over-reliance on drone strikes. But they also note that the alternative is boots-on-the-ground intervention, even if only by small special-operations teams, that incur their own risks and potential costs.

Other critics even accuse the White House of relying on the high-profile strikes, and in particular of building up their national-security impact, as a means of boosting Mr. Obama’s image as a successful anti-Al Qaeda warrior.

After a recent New York Times article – based on White House leaks – described Obama’s close involvement in the deliberations on targeting key terrorist figures, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona blasted the leaked information as intended to “enhance President Obama’s image as a tough guy” before the November election.

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