Drone strike on Awlaki reflects ongoing counter-terrorism shift

The killing of U.S.-born, al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen Sept. 30 by armed drones is yet another example in recent months of how the United States is placing increased reliance on precision airstrikes over conventional warfare to counter radical Islam, reports USA Today.

"This is clearly the weapon of choice when it comes to military action against al-Qaeda,” said Rick Nelson, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in the USA Today article.

Drone strikes, which are less expensive and pose less risk to American lives, are a necessity in hard economic times that make it difficult to continue large operations, such as those winding down in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to USA Today. 

Awlaki, who was the chief of external operations for al Qaeda’s Yemen branch and an experienced propagandist on the Web for the Islamist cause, was slain by missiles fired from multiple CIA drones, reports Reuters. Several others were killed in the attack, including Samir Khan, another American who aided propaganda and recruitment for radical Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula.

The Yemen-based al Qaeda group is considered by U.S. officials to be one of the movement’s most dangerous groups, according to Reuters.

The killing of Awlaki by a pair of Predators was the fifth major terrorist kill this year by armed drones, reports The Daily Beast.

General Atomics of San Diego, the company that makes the armed Predator and Reaper drones, is now considered to be the Pentagon’s top performer, according to The Daily Beast.

These drones can carry Hellfire missiles, originally designed as tank and armored vehicle busters, under their slender wings. Aided by laser-guided targeting systems, they can easily lock in on a convoy carrying enemy operatives and destroy the vehicles killing those inside.

Each drone costs about $70 million, which is a fraction of the cost of a $2.8 billion B-2 bomber.

The tricky part is that for drones to be effective there must be timely and accurate intelligence, provided by undercover agents or special forces inserted into the area, who gather and furnish the information that leads to the drone strike.

The assassination of Awlaki, who had escaped several previous drone strikes, must have involved intelligence gathered on the ground, The Daily Beast concludes.

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