Dec 12, 2013
Inside America’s Dirty Wars
Posted on Apr 25, 2013
Two brothers, Abdullah and Musa’d Mubarak al Daghari, known among the members of AQAP as the al Harad brothers, were speeding to Awlaki’s rescue. As the drone hovered overhead, the US personnel running the op could not see what was happening below. A former JSOC planner, who read the after-action reports on the strike, told me that the mission had satellites that provided only “top-down imagery.” With such satellites, he said, “You’re looking down at ants moving. All they saw were vehicles, and the people in the vehicles were smart.” Dust, gravel, smoke and flames had shielded the High Value Target. The Harad brothers quickly marshaled Awlaki and his driver into their Suzuki Vitara SUV and took Awlaki’s vehicle. They gave Awlaki directions to a mountain area where he could take shelter. Awlaki hastily said goodbye and sped off in the Suzuki. The Harad brothers then headed in the opposite direction, driving in the truck the Americans had tried to blow up moments earlier.
As JSOC celebrated what it thought was a successful hit, Awlaki performed his evening prayers and reflected on the situation. That night, he later recalled, had “increased my certainty that no human being will die until they complete their livelihood and [reach their] appointed time.” He fell asleep in the mountains.
As news spread of the attack, anonymous US officials confirmed that the strike had been aimed at Awlaki. And for a time, they thought they had accomplished the mission. The US drone operators “did not know that vehicles were exchanged and resulted in the wrong people dying and [that] Awlaki [was] still alive,” a Yemeni security official told CNN.
In April 2011, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali man with alleged links to his country’s militant Islamic group Al Shabab, was captured by JSOC forces in the Gulf of Aden. He was taken to a military brig aboard the USS Boxer, where Warsame was held incommunicado for more than two months before being transferred to New York and indicted on charges of conspiracy and providing material support to Al Shabab and AQAP. Warsame had recently met with Awlaki, and his interrogation sessions in JSOC’s custody, along with his seized computers and drives, yielded intelligence about the latter’s movements in Yemen.
Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the oldest son of Anwar al-Awlaki, was born in Denver. Like his father, he spent the first seven years of his life in the United States, attending American schools. After he moved to Yemen with his family, his grandparents—Anwar’s mother and father—played a major role in his upbringing, particularly after Anwar went underground. Anwar “always thought that it is best for Abdulrahman to be with me,” Anwar’s father, Nasser al-Awlaki, told me. Anwar believed that his wife and children “should not be involved at all in his problems.”
Abdulrahman admired his father and had even chosen Ibn al Shaykh, “Son of the Sheik,” as his Facebook user name. But Abdulrahman was not his father; he loved hip-hop music and Facebook and hanging out with his friends. They would take pictures of themselves posing as rappers, and when the Yemeni revolution began, Abdulrahman wanted to be a part of it. As massive protests shook Yemen, he would spend hours hanging out in Change Square with the young, nonviolent revolutionaries, sharing his vision for the future and, at times, just goofing off with friends. But as the revolution continued and the government was brought to the verge of collapse, Abdulrahman decided to follow his urge to see his father.
One day in early September, Abdulrahman woke up before the rest of the house. He tiptoed into his mother’s bedroom, took 9,000 Yemeni rials—roughly $40—from her purse, and left a note outside her bedroom door. He then snuck out the kitchen window and into the courtyard. Shortly after 6 am, the family’s guard saw the boy leave but didn’t think anything of it. It was Sunday, September 4, 2011, a few days after the Eid al-Fitr holiday marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Nine days before, Abdulrahman had turned 16.
* * *
1 2 3 4 5 NEXT PAGE >>>
Previous item: Don’t Ignore How Others See Us
New and Improved Comments