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Killing of top Al Qaeda militant Ilyas Kashmiri only a small US victory

Efforts to chip away at the most wanted list and chase militants from one Afghanistan-Pakistan border region to the next come with high costs and are not yet putting militant outfits out of business, say experts.

By Staff writer / June 5, 2011

A supporter of the Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami shouts during a rally against drone attacks Saturday, in Karachi, Pakistan. Ilyas Kashmiri, a top al-Qaida commander and possible replacement for Osama bin Laden who is accused of the 2008 Mumbai massacre, was killed in an American drone-fired missile strike close to the Afghan border.

Fareed Khan/AP

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Peshawar, Pakistan

The details surrounding the apparent death of top Al Qaeda militant Ilyas Kashmiri late Friday show a short-term win for the US approach toward Pakistan, but little long-term headway in the war.

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Mr. Kashmiri helped plot attacks ranging from the 2008 Mumbai massacre to an effort to strike US defense firm Lockheed-Martin, which makes drones. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he’s “98 percent sure” that Kashmiri is dead, cut down by a drone late Friday near Wana in the South Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan.

The death of Kashmiri would appear to be the latest fruit of US persistence, pushing onward despite Pakistani demonstrations against drones, bruised relations with the Pakistani military, and an American public skeptical of continued engagement here.

But these efforts to chip away at the most wanted list and chase militants from one region to the next come with high costs and are not yet putting militant outfits out of business, say experts.

Militancy has decentralized and “now they have come to the point where even if the leader is dead, the network still persists,” says Safiullah Gul, a senior journalist from Waziristan.

Locals living near the drone strike report Mr. Kashmiri arrived on Thursday, says Mr. Gul. The residents said Kashmiri arrived from neighboring North Waziristan, a region infested with international terrorists.

With US pressure on Pakistan to launch a military offensive on North Waziristan, says Gul, “the militants have started moving” out of that area. “The locals were talking that he might have come for some negotiations” with a local warlord, either for shelter or safe passage onward to Afghanistan.

End game in Pakistan

The Afghan War’s endgame is playing out in Pakistan. The US strategy has been to target militant leaders with drones and press the Pakistani military to remove borderland sanctuaries. The military has tried to resist both, whipping up anti-US sentiment in an effort to preserve some militants to influence affairs in Afghanistan. Both are trying to enter a larger Afghan peace process with the best possible facts on the battlefield.

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